INTERVIEW: Cannon and Ball

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AFTER five decades as a duo, Cannon and Ball are still making ‘em laugh. Katy Wheeler caught up with Tommy Cannon ahead of the pair’s return to Wearside.

Think you know the legendary tale of Robin Hood and Maid Marian? Think again.

Rib-tickling duo Cannon and Ball are moving the story a decade on from when the traditional tale ended and the famous couple have had a messy divorce.

The funny men have just started touring with the comic romp Ha Ha Hood! And the Prince of Leaves alongside Su Pollard, a tour which will touch down in Sunderland this autumn.

Tommy Cannon, one half of the comic act that became a household name with their ’80s TV show, said they’re looking forward to returning to an old favourite theatre.

“The last time we were at the Empire was years ago, they presented us with a framed picture of acts that had performed and we were the only ones on there to have sold out the venue. That was back in the ’80s with our comedy show, so we’re looking forward to coming back, we love performing in the North East. My dad was a Geordie and I have great memories of going to derby games.”

He added: “The north east can be a tough crowd for comics, but that’s only right. Working class people have paid good money to be there and you should be giving them what they want. It’s only right they complain if you don’t.”

The Ha Ha team is well-versed in taking classic tales and historical figures and injecting them with humour after successful runs of Ha Ha Holmes!, Ha Ha Hitler! and Ha Ha Hamlet!

This new show focuses on Robin and Marian ten years after a divorce when they are forced back together to fight the Sheriff once more.

Little John and Friar Tuck, now considerably older and rougher around the edges, join the merry pair to try and save the citizens of Nottingham.

Tommy, who takes on the roles of the evil Sheriff of Nottingham and Little John, said: “The producer asked if we were interested in doing it, but at that point we hadn’t heard of the Ha Ha shows, but they’re very funny. It’s a bit panto, a bit carry-on, a bit variety – it’s all round comedy.

“It’s the story of Maid Marian and Robin Hood, but ten years on and they’re divorced. Bobby plays three parts in the show and I play two parts. There’s a lot to do, it’s fast-paced, nonstop.

“There’s sixty dates on the tour with very little time off, but you can’t beat performing to a live audience. When we did the TV show there was an audience of 500 and we’d try and perform to them, but the director would have to tell us to look into the camera instead. Back then, you did the working men’s clubs, pubs and theatres and, if you were lucky, you did TV.”

Cannon and Ball’s knack for telling jokes saw them propelled to stardom. The Cannon and Ball Show ran for nine years and the pair have two sitcoms and countless theatre/pantomime appearances under their belts.

But it hasn’t always been plain sailing for their funny friendship.

“We’ve been open and honest about falling out and not speaking in the ’80s,” said Tommy. “The thing is we had different entourages and they would say things like ‘do you know what Bob is saying about you?’ and vice versa to him. Instead of talking to each other we just believed them. On TV no one knew we weren’t speaking as we loved the act so much. But I think three years of falling out in 52 years isn’t that bad.

“We are best mates, we are always working, always in each other’s pockets. Bob lives in Blackpool and I’m in York and even when we’re at home we are always on the phone.”

Though their TV appearances are not as frequent as they once were – aside from the pair’s 2005 appearance in I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here – their stage career is still going strong.

“When we’ve been doing these rehearsals there have been people outside asking for autographs,” said Tommy.

“We’ve been doing this for 52 years and it’s great that people still remember us. People ask us why we’re not on TV anymore, but our type of comedy isn’t popular on TV anymore. The audience who liked us in the ’80s are in their 70s and the young ones haven’t heard of you.

“But showbiz is always changing, it has to or else it would come to an end, and our type of comedy will come back.”

He added: “I think I’m a Celebrity helped bring us to a new audience. It’s funny because people think you go to a hotel at night, but it’s a real jungle, you never know what’s going to happen in there. We went in there and thought it was great, we thought we were Rambo.”

In a career of highlights, Tommy says one moment stands out for 
him.

“I think This is Your Life was a brilliant moment,” he said. “They had told us were doing a night shoot at Drury Lane and they made us drive around the block and then Eamonn Andrews dropped out of this cannon. My mum had just died and I had tears rolling down my face for the show.”

•Ha Ha Hood is at Sunderland Empire on November 16. Tickets, priced £17, can be purchased in person from the Box Office on High Street West, Sunderland or from £19.90 from the Ticket Centre on 0844 871 3022 and online at www.ATGtickets.com/Sunderland.

We’ve teamed up with Sunderland Empire to give away a pair of tickets to Ha Ha Hood. To be in with a chance of winning, answer this question: which reality show did Cannon and Ball appear in?

A)I’m a Celebrity

B)Towie

C)Made in Chelsea

Email your answer and contact details to Katy.Wheeler@jpress.co.uk. Closing date: September 11.