Tommy CANNON (1938-) and Bobby BALL (1944-2020)

Cannon and Ball This Is Your Life

programme details...

  • Edition No: 578
  • Subject Nos: 574-575
  • Broadcast date: Wed 11 Nov 1981
  • Broadcast time: 7.00-7.30pm
  • Recorded: Thu 15 Oct 1981
  • Venue: Royalty Theatre
  • Series: 22
  • Edition: 5
  • Code name: Armoury

on the guest list...

  • June Whitfield
  • Diana Dors
  • Faith Brown
  • Margaret - Tommy's wife
  • Julie - Tommy's daughter
  • Jeanette - Tommy's daughter
  • Ian - Tommy's son-in-law
  • Yvonne - Bobby's wife
  • Joanne - Bobby's daughter
  • Darren - Bobby's son
  • Robert - Bobby's son
  • Ken Kent
  • Hilda - Tommy's cousin
  • Gladys - Tommy's cousin
  • Joan - Tommy's cousin
  • Shirley - Tommy's cousin
  • Irene - Tommy's cousin
  • Edith - Tommy's cousin
  • Joyce - Tommy's cousin
  • Alice - Tommy's aunt
  • Fred - Tommy's cousin
  • Mavis - Bobby's sister
  • May - Bobby's mother
  • Bob - Bobby's father
  • Trevor - Bobby's brother-in-law
  • Dennis Henthorn
  • Ronnie Ravey
  • Nellie Holland
  • Charlie Drake
  • Brotherhood of Man
  • pupils of Greenbank School, Oldham
  • Filmed tributes:
  • pupils of Greenbank School, Oldham
  • Glyn Griffith

production team...

  • Researcher: Brian Klein
  • Writers: Tom Brennand, Roy Bottomley
  • Directors: Paul Stewart Laing, Terry Yarwood
  • Producer: Jack Crawshaw
  • names above in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
related pages...
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Screenshots of Cannon and Ball This Is Your Life

Cannon and Ball's autobiography

Tommy Cannon recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in their book, Rock on Tommy...

As the months passed, our friendship started to heal and I began to open up too. We avoided talking about the years of silence as it was still far too painful to open up that subject, but we discussed Bobby's new-found faith amicably and I knew it was for real. I found that I was jealous of the peace that seemed to surround him and was eager to discover it for myself.

Oddly, it was during this time in 1985 that we were given the honour of being chosen for This Is Your Life. Had it been a few months earlier, I don't think the strain in our relationship would have allowed us to go through with it. Bobby and I were on a hectic tour at the time with very few days off. We got a phone call from our manager, telling us that we had to go into London on one of our rare free days to do some filming for one of our TV Christmas specials on LWT.

'There's no way we're doing that!' I said firmly to our manager. 'It's our only day off, so they'll just have to wait until we've finished the tour.'

I can just imagine the shock on his face. Little did I know that the summons to London was planned to catch us for This Is Your Life. He couldn't give the game away, of course, and must have been thinking about all the crew and all the work that had been put into the preparation for months - and now here I was, telling him we weren't going to turn up. Apparently my response created mass panic at Thames Television, the makers of This Is Your Life, with everybody rushing around saying, 'What are we going to do? They're not coming!'

The manager phoned me back a few hours later and eventually persuaded me that we had to go. I gave in and Bobby and I went reluctantly down to London on our day off.

Sadly, my mother had died by this time and I just wished she had been there to see it, because it was a wonderful experience. Having been told we were filming in Drury Lane, we were instructed to ride a tandem bicycle round to the front of the famous theatre and stop in front of the cameras waiting there. They had stamped 'LWT' on the cameras and had even used our own crew, people we knew, so that we wouldn't suspect. It was cleverly made to look just like a normal shoot, when in fact it was all set up by Thames Television.

We started to pedal our tandem around the theatre and every time we reached the front, David Bell, the director, would stop us and make us do it all again. Bobby and I wondered why we had to keep repeating the action, not realising that Eamonn Andrews, the man with the big red book, was not yet ready to jump out on us. After the third time of being stopped, Bobby and I decided it was time to lighten things up, so the next time round, instead of stopping in front of the cameras, we agreed we would ride right past.

As we approached, David shouted, 'Stop!' but there was no chance, we just kept going. 'Stop! Stop!' he shouted at us. When he realised we weren't going to stop, he threw himself in front of the bicycle. Of course we stopped then, and burst out laughing.

To my right I noticed a huge cannon and saw that someone was sliding out of the barrel. I recognised Eammon with his famous red book, but I still didn't twig. I was too busy laughing at David, who was still prostrate on the ground. Meanwhile, Eammon was trying to slide gracefully out of the cannon and land on his feet, but he fell out and landed flat on his backside. This only made me laugh more, looking at two people on their backs in the street. It must have looked a real fiasco, but then, as smooth and professional as ever, Eammon came straight over to us and said those famous words: 'Tonight, Cannon and Ball... This Is Your Life!'

Suddenly the penny dropped and I realised it was all for Bobby and myself. A wonderful feeling of exuberance filled me. From the time we walked into the studio to the time we walked out after the show, I never stopped crying. It was a very emotional experience for me. Bobby kept digging me in the ribs and saying, 'Dry your eyes, you tart!' It was one of the most fantastic events of our career.

Tommy Cannon and Bobby Ball recall their experience of This Is Your Life in their book, The Cannon and Ball annual 1983...

Tommy and Bobby chalked up another 'first' in their careers when they became the first comedy double act ever to be featured on Thames Television's This Is Your Life.

Surprised by host Eamonn Andrews - who appeared out of a cannon, no less - they thought they were filming an opening sequence for a TV show, in which they would be seen arriving at the theatre on a tandem. They almost fell off that bike when they realised the real reason they were being filmed!

Neither Tommy nor Bobby had any idea whatsoever that the show had been planned, and they had a fantastic time, both during the show, and at a party for family and friends which was held afterwards. And as for that big red book - that's a prized possession now.

Tommy and Bobby were both thrilled and astonished when they realised how much planning had gone into the TV show - and all without them knowing a thing about it.

[ editor: actually, the first comedy double act to appear on This Is Your Life was Mike and Bernie Winters in 1972]

Cannon and Ball This Is Your Life
Roy Bottomley This Is Your Life book

Scriptwriter Roy Bottomley recalls this edition of This Is Your Life in his book, This Is Your Life: The Story of Television's Famous Big Red Book...

The Life surprise on comedy duo Cannon and Ball came close to backfiring.

Eamonn loved elaborate pick-ups, and very good he was in them, so the names of Tommy Cannon and Bobby Ball were too good not to suggest an idea.

They were about to appear in the West End and a photo-call was being staged. Outside the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, we had a giant 'props' cannon built, and the 'ball' was supposed to be Eamonn. So he was bundled inside the 'barrel', all set to pop out and surprise the couple. But they walked straight past our 'cannon' - not knowing Eamonn was stuck inside.

The camera crew hauled him out in time to chase after Cannon and Ball with the book.

Series 22 subjects

Bob Champion | Bill Fraser | Wayne Sleep | Ian Botham | Cannon and Ball | Rob Buckman | Angela Rippon
Julia McKenzie | Jackie Milburn | Paul Shane | Peter Adamson | Kiri Te Kanawa | Mickie Most | Anita Harris
Mike Brace | Faith Brown | Robin Bailey | Rod Hull | Bob Monkhouse | John Toshack | Wally Herbert
Joe Gormley | Roger Whittaker | Alan Whicker | Peter Davison | Douglas Bader