Real Name: Robert Harper
Born: 28th January 1944
Location: Boundary Park Hospital, Oldham, Lancashire
School: High Crompton Secondary, Shaw, Oldham
Married: To Yvonne since 1971
Children: 3, Joanne, Robert & Darren
Lives: In Lytham St. Annes
By this time Bob had two sons Robert and Darren from his first marriage to Joan which ended in 1968. He then married Yvonne in 1971 and to complete the family, their daughter Joanne was born. Robert and Darren also have their own comedy/musical duo and work all over the country as The Harper Brothers. Their Facebook Page can be found by clicking here.
By the end of the seventies Bobby and Tommy had toured the
pubs and clubs enough to be in the right place at the right time to
end up with their own TV Series.
Max spoke to him, talked his worries through and passed on some reading material. Bobby read a copy of Journey Into Life, he prayed and decided that this was the path for him. He realised that what was said and what he read made sense to him and decided to give his life over to Jesus and became a Christian. People around Bob at the time thought that this was a passing fad and that it would pass but Bob proved them wrong and stuck fast with his faith. To this day it is something very important to him.
Bobby now takes 4 months out of his schedule every year to tour with a gospel show and speak at various venues to spread the word. Bobby doesn't believe in preaching to those who have no interest, everyone has their own opinions on such matters but is happy to discuss his own experiences with those who want to listen.
Bobby has recently re-discovered the pleasure of watching an
American comedy duo named The Smothers Brothers who Cannon and
compared to when they first went to work in America. If you'd
like to know more about The Smothers Brothers please visit
Real Name: Thomas Derbyshire
Born: 27th June 1938
Location: Oldham, Lancashire
School: Henshaw Secondary School, Oldham
Married: To Hazel
Children: 5. Janette, Julie, Zoe, Kelly-Anne and Luke
Lives: on a farm near Selby, outside York
Tommy was born in Oldham and by his teenage years was working as a welder. Here he met Robert Harper and they became friends. Tommy went with Bob to his gigs, singing, on a weekend. Over time, he became part of the act which evolved from singing as a duo, a trio, and a musical act to what we know today, a mixture of the two. They can easily turn their hand to either one when necessary. The balanced product is what we all love about seeing Cannon and Ball, anything could happen!
Tommy names as his comedic influences, Abbott and Costello, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis and he also loved Morecambe and Wise and Tommy Cooper.
Tommy was married to Margaret for 30 years and had two children, Janette and Julie. He later married Hazel and they then had another three children, Kelly-Anne, Zoe and Luke. Tom is a very private person and loves to spend as much time as possible with his family. Wherever possible, even when away on tour, Tom will drive home after each gig to ensure that he is at home with his children when they wake up each morning.
Tommy wished Bobby well after he found religion in the mid 80s. He wasn't interested in it himself but knew that if it made Bob's life happier and healthier then it must have been the right thing for Bob. For seven years he watched on as Bob lived happily in his newly found faith. Whenever asked, he insisted that it wasn't for him. After this amount of time, he was attending a service in church with Bob's family and that weekend he and Hazel both felt that the time was right for them too to accept the Lord into their lives and also become Christians.
When speaking of his faith, Tom has stated that "We have a faith, it's nothing serious. We are basically very happy with our beliefs but it's not religious. We don't walk around with crosses around our necks."
Tom lives happily in his idyllic home near Selby,
outside York. He owns a farm and has in the past run an
organic produce company. His farm includes plenty of land, he
has horses and sprawling fields, a perfect setting to bring up your
family in peace and quiet.
It was the 1960's. Robert Harper and Thomas Derbyshire found themselves working at the same factory in Oldham, Lancashire, as welders.
They got on well and as Robert had a sideline at the weekends of singing in local clubs, he invited Thomas to go along one weekend with him. Robert was singing under the name of Stevie Rhythm. They spent more time together and eventually Thomas became part of the act. The sang as a duo under the name of The Sherrell Brothers and later called themselves The Harper Brothers. They spent time as a duo and also a trio at times but later decided that they worked best as a double act.
They spent time concentrating on their vocal act but as Robert was naturally funny and as time passed, the smooth, natural rapport between them became apparent and they started to add small comedic parts to the act. It has been said that they saw that comedians received a tenner more per night and that's why they started to add comedy, but as we now know, they are just funny together so no doubt it would have evolved that way whether it was a conscious decision or not.
As the act grew, they earned their stripes trawling the pubs and clubs of Lancashire and beyond. It was hard work. As any of the acts of the day will tell you now, they were not easy audiences to please and you had to be pretty thick skinned to make it through unscathed. They battled on and won over the audiences and grew to ensure they had regular work for quite some time.
Towards the end of the 60s they decided that they were earning more money from their act than they were welding and they made the decision to give up their day jobs to concentrate on the act full time. This way they could give the act the attention it deserved and they also liked the fact that they had the whole day to themselves and didn't have to turn up at the club for work until the evening time. They changed their name to Cannon and Ball and turned professional. The name worked. Can you imagine them as anything else now? It was perfect.
Their first TV appearance came in 1968 when they entered Opportunity Knocks. This must have been terrifying for two working class blokes from Oldham. They gave it their best shot and hoped for the best but their dreams were shot down when they came last in the competition. They plodded on though and kept working as they had done beforehand. Not all of their attempts would end the same way.
On May 18th 1974 they appeared on an episode of the variety show, The Wheeltappers And Shunters Club. Set in a working men's club environment, their act stood out showing a glimmer of what was hiding beneath the surface waiting to jump out and take the world by storm. Tommy came out wearing a swanky brown suit and gold platforms, suave and sophisticated singing a song, full of confidence. Bobby was sat in the audience, baggy suit, timid looking with a wicked centre parting in his thick bush of hair. He jumped up, shocked to see his friend on stage performing and began trying to get his attention. He eventually got up on the stage to the amusement of the audience and involved himself in the act. Classic Cannon and Ball, a career built on this concept and one that we never tire of seeing. Many people hold this performance in high regard and deservedly so.
In 1978 Cannon and Ball were asked to film a run of sketches to be shown on the current Saturday night event of the time, Bruce Forsythe's Big Night. Sadly, the sketches were never used but their performances lead to them being spotted by the powers that be at ITV and they were offered their own TV show. The first series was shown in 1979 and went down with audiences brilliantly. Within months of their failed Brucie appearance, they were topping the bill in Blackpool. Their popularity grew and grew. Throughout the 1980's they had annual TV series, Christmas Specials, Summer Seasons, a film (The Boys In Blue), musical albums and pantomimes. They were truly the most sought after act around at the time. No one could touch them. Someone lit the blue touch paper and their careers soared.
In 1982 they booked a 6 week run at The Dominion Theatre in London and before the show even opened every seat for every night had been sold out. They spent time working in America and were the only British double act to ever have played the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. Their 1988 season at The London Palladium broke all box office records and theirs were the largest takings in the theatre's history. They had made the almost instant transition from £20 per week welders to £50,000 per week performers. In 1985, their Summer Season outsold Bruce Springsteen's British Tour, that puts into perspective how big things had become.
Cannon and Ball were the hottest act around but as is true of anything, the hotter it is, the more chance there is of getting burned! Popularity, fame and fortune were to take their toll. These two normal northern lads were flung from their quiet lives into a life of hustle and bustle, money, vices and adoration. It had to have some effect.
Who is there to counsel people when things like this happen? Who is there to help keep their feet on the ground? It's everyone's dream to suddenly be able to have everything you ever wanted, to have people scream your name and love you. When it happens though it must be terribly difficult to deal with. Who wants to know you for you? Who wants to know you for who you are and what what you can give them? Who just wants to be associated with the name? How does an everyday bloke deal with that? Well, a lot of the time, they don't!
Bob and Tom lived the celebrity lifestyle to the max. They bought cars, boats, houses, football clubs, nightclubs. Loved the adoration they received from their fans of which there were countless numbers. It took it's toll heavily on their family lives. They weren't at home much. they were out partying, they were drinking, women were throwing themselves at them and life got thrown up into a whirlwind of excess.
The lads went through a really low patch where they were so caught up with their own lives and their own demons that they didn't want to be around each other any longer. They still worked but apart from that time that they spent together, they didn't see each other and they didn't speak for a number of years. Things were at an all time low. The high living and the way that they were being pulled in all directions tore these everyday lads from their roots and they didn't know what had hit them.
Bob admits that he was lost. He was drinking heavily, he was womanising, and he was becoming violent, getting into fights when he was out, looking for any excuse to start a fight whenever he felt like it. It was not the person he had ever been and not the person he wanted to be. He has said in the past that as much as he had, it never seemed to be enough and the more he filled his life with these things, the emptier his life felt, he felt dirty and ashamed.
Times were changing with regards to work too. Work was drying up. The tide was turning on the comedy circuit and people weren't looking for the same old acts that they had enjoyed for the last decade. Alternative comedy was taking over. The likes of The Young Ones, Alexei Sayle and Ben Elton and their sharp, brash way of expressing their comedy was what they young audiences were wanting to hear and the television schedules changed to accommodate such feelings. Cannon and Ball's last TV series was shown in 1991.
The lifestyle pulled at them as people. They weren't behaving the way they had always done as they were being pampered and fussed over everywhere they went. Everything was being done for them, they never had to lift a finger. Anything they wanted was theirs and all they had to do was click their fingers and there it was, they were losing the ability to do anything for themselves. They got used to having money very quickly. They were spending it as quickly as it was coming in and they admitted that they did it a lot of the time, simply because they could. They didn't need the things that they were buying, they were buying things for the sake of buying something, anything. It had become a habit.
Neither of them wanted their lives to carry on the way that they were. Bobby knew that he was behaving badly and was wracked with guilt. He wasn't being a good friend, a good husband or a good father to his children and he knew something had to change. Whilst doing a stint of pantomime in Bradford, he met up with a friend of his, the theatre chaplain at The Alhambra where the pantomime was being performed, Max Wigley. He talked to Max at some length about his life and his problems. Max listened, helped Bobby discuss what he wanted to do to sort his life out and gave him some reading material. He gave him a copy of Journey Into Life and Bob went away and read it. One thing Bob remembers is that Max said to him, " God loves you you know, no matter what!" Bob heard this, prayed and broke down in tears. He knew at that moment he had been touched by the Lord and that this was the path for him to follow to get his life back on track and give it purpose and meaning once again.
A new start for Bob and Tom was to come when after his realisation, Bob approached Tommy at The Alhambra and made amends. He explained what had happened to him, he told Tommy that he had become a Christian and that he knew that things had to change and a fresh start was made from then. In the years that have followed, the pair have become closer than they ever were. A new bond was formed and grows stronger year on year.
Everyone around Bobby thought it was a phase he was going through and would wear off as fads do but it was something that made a massive change in his life ad he stuck with it. So happy to see this change in Bobby was his wife Yvonne. She had bore the brunt of his past behaviour at home. When Bob was drinking he was very selfish and she had to live with the man she loved changing before her very eyes. She became agoraphobic and needed to take pills in order to be able to sleep. She had to bring the children up and explain to them where their dad was and why he wasn't at home, it was a lot to deal with alone. To this day, Bobby knows that he was lost and that he became desperately close to losing Yvonne. He says he didn't deserve her to stay and forgive him but he will be eternally grateful to her that she did. Two months after seeing the difference it had made to Bob's life, Yvonne too decided to become a Christian and both have been so ever since.
The high living years didn't let Tommy escape untouched either. As with Bobby, he enjoyed the superstar lifestyle for a while until anyone could see that it had become too much. His family life suffered as he whilst working, he began an affair with a dancer in one of their shows, again in Bradford. This lead to his 30 year marriage to his wife Margaret breaking down. He built his life back up though and pulled through the bad times. He and Hazel are still together and married to this day. They live happily with their children on their farm and love their settled family life. Tommy is a very devoted dad, he has five children in all (two with Margaret and three with Hazel) and will drive home after each gig to be sure that he is there every morning when his children wake up.
After Bob gave his life over to Christianity, he spoke to Tommy about doing the same thing many times. He tried to explain what a difference it had made to his own life and even though Tommy could see the difference in Bobby, he insisted that it wasn't for him. He held out for seven years until he was at a service with his own and Bob's family both in attendance. He was invited by Bob's daughter Joanne to attend her son's dedication to God. Tommy was asked if he and Hazel would like to have their own small son done at the same time. They at first refused but some days later changed their minds. That weekend something touched him and both he and Hazel became Christians and haven't looked back since.
He has said of his faith, "We have a faith, it's nothing serious. We are basically very happy with our beliefs but it's not religious. We don't walk round with a cross around our necks." Everyone has a different level of faith and if you find one that suits you and it makes you comfortable then what more can you wish for?
Both Bobby and Tommy now take four months per year off from their comedy performances to tour with their gospel shows. They have also produced gospel books, videos and CDs. Look out for them speaking at a church near you, their gospel shows run countrywide and there are lots coming up soon.
Even though they haven't had their own TV Show on air since the early nineties they have never stopped working. They still work approximately 45 weeks out of the year and are constantly touring with their own comedy shows, Summer seasons, plays, and pantomimes and they are constantly making personal appearances and guesting on other television programmes. Both have had roles in shows such as Last Of The Summer Wine and Heartbeat. Bobby spends some of his time giving laughter master classes at a drama academy and other such activities such as judging the Search for A Star competition in Blackpool.
In recent years their profile was raised when they both entered the jungle on top ITV show, I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here. They have since done comedy tour after tour, pantos , a tour of the stage play Big Bad Mouse and headlined the second Best of British Variety Tour. Both Bobby and Tommy along with their friends have starred in plays written by Bobby in 2014/2015 and continuing into 2016. Rock Off, Tommy was the first one, the one continuing into the current year is The Dressing Room, also starring Kate Robbins, Johnny Casson and Stu Francis. Keep an eye out for it at a theatre near you!
The picture below was taken backstage at The Best Of British Variety Tour in Bradford at St. Georges Hall in 2008.
Both Bob and Tom spent some time with us, had a chat, took some piccies and the atmosphere was brilliant, we knew it was going to be a good show. The guys were given a presentation record of this site as it was when it was first launched. They can keep them to refer back to as this site will hopefully expand and grow as the years go on.
** Bob and Tom,
Right: Tommy and Bobby both with their website presentation records. Bob shows his to Ian Krankie and Brotherhood of Man as well as others not seen in the picture. Thanks for the photo Roz x
The next few months are sure to be taken up touring the country
with The Dressing Room, their own show, gospel appearances and
repeat performances of the shows at Blackpool Viva, alongside The
Harper Brothers. We'll update the the
Live Shows page for details as and
when they are verified.