What are we to make now of the '80's phenomenon that was Cannon & Ball? An alternative comedy revolution was underway, yet a pair of old school Northern comics were still able to come out of nowhere and hit the big time. The former was tall and urbane, the latter short, moustached, and hyperactive. After years as a nightclub act, Thomas Derbyshire and Robert Harper - to give them their real names - got their big break in 1978 when London Weekend Television were putting together its mammoth variety show 'Bruce Forsyth's Big Night'. Or so it should have been. Due to overrunning, their 15-minute sketches kept being dropped. Head of Light Entertainment Michael Grade took pity, and gave them their own series. They caught the public's fancy, and "Rock On, Tommy!" soon became a national catchphrase. Even Eric Morecambe was a fan. 'C & B' had the good fortune to come along soon after Morecambe and Wise shot themselves in the foot by crossing over to Thames after years on the B.B.C. While they did not rival Eric and Ernie in terms of spectacular ratings, they would be in constant demand throughout the decade, with hit series after series, and even landing a film - a poor remake of Will Hay's classic 'Ask A Policeman' entitled 'The Boys In Blue'. Ball later described it as being 'not bad for a first attempt'.
A lot of talented people worked on their shows, including Sid Green ( one of Eric & Ernie's top writers ), Bryan Blackburn, Paul Jackson ( producer of 'The Young Ones' ), Humphrey Barclay, and David Bell. There were some impressive guest-stars too, such as Irene Handl, June Whitfield, Bruce Forsyth, Maureen Lipman, and ( surprisingly ) Rik Mayall. But, like Little & Large before them, they seemed incapable of progression. Bobby would stand on stage gurning furiously whilst tugging his braces, and Tommy would insult him at every opportunity. They were still doing this years later.
Their penultimate series was called 'Casino' and was a Saturday night game show. You sensed that they knew they were running out of time. It flopped, as did their one and only sitcom - 'Plaza Patrol' - which cast them as security men. It was the end of the road for them. Most recently, they have seen in commercials and the sitcom 'Last Of The Summer Wine'. I personally think the best thing they ever did was a sketch in Kenny Everett's B.B.C. show which had Bobby as a priest and ended with him, Tommy and Kenny wrestling on the studio floor.
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