Christian comedian Bobby Ball 'rocked on' Norfolk 

Christian comedian Bobby Ball, who has had audiences across Norfolk rocking with laughter, has died at the age of 76 after contracting Covid-19.

Part of classic comedy duo Cannon and Ball with friend Tommy Cannon, Bobby was on TV sets across the country in the 1970s and 1980s with their popular variety series The Cannon and Ball Show.

The duo regularly performed summer seasons at the Britannia Pier in Great Yarmouth in the 1980s and 90s, and in 2008 they appeared at the Salvation Army Citadel in Norwich as part of one of their Gospel tours - both performers were committed Christians.

Bobby was born Robert Harper in 1944 and met Tommy on a factory floor in Oldham where both were welders and they became life-long friend. They went on to form a singing duo called The Harper Brothers, performing in local pubs and clubs, but soon turned to their comedy act.

After the long-running Saturday night ITV show, Bobby also appeared in TV series’ including Last Of The Summer Wine, Heartbeat, Mount Pleasant, Benidorm and Not Going Out, and the duo appeared on I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! in 2005.

Speaking at the Citadel in Norwich in 2008, Bobby spoke very frankly about the kind of person he had become – a heavy drinker and womaniser, who didn’t care about the hurt he was causing his wife and family. It was a vicar who first challenged him to think about the claims of God on his life.

Bobby became a Christian and for about three years, the couple didn’t speak to each other and went their separate ways. Bobby finally persuaded a reluctant Tommy to come to his grandchild’s christening. Tommy had bad memories of church from childhood – especially vicars! – so he was pleasantly surprised when he met the one doing the ceremony, who certainly wasn’t the stereotype he’d imagined. He felt welcome, and at home – and that was the beginning of his own faith journey.

After Bobby died in Blackpool Victoria Hospital on October 28, close friend, colleague and biographer Chris Gidney, told Premier Christian Radio: "I was there when Bobby was searching for a meaning to life and helped him through those initial stages of checking all sorts of things out and when he found that, for him, Christ was the answer."

Chris knew Bobby for over 30 years and said he saw a "phenomenal" transformation when Bobby was born again: "I mean if you've ever seen a change in somebody, like a St Paul conversion, it was Bobby Ball. I mean absolutely phenomenal in so many different ways, particularly in lifestyle. Don't forget, Bob and Tom came from simple working class backgrounds. Then suddenly, literally overnight, they are top of the tree, earning more than anybody else in show business at that time and of course, it went to their heads and they did everything that they wanted to do and had the money to spend left, right and centre and in some ways, it was pretty devastating on their lives. 

"But for Bobby, it made him refocus on: what is life about? He suddenly became so passionate about God, he loved to talk about God - hence us doing these gospel tours. We did a 47-day tour across the UK once and Bobby became a preacher! He loved preaching! And of course, he was so funny all the time.

"He was never ashamed of his faith in public because it has such an effect on him, a dramatic effect in his lifestyle and his family. And it changed it so much that he couldn't have one foot in the commercial camp and one foot in the Gospel camp. He was just like a stick of Blackpool rock - you break Bobby and the word Jesus runs all the way through the middle!” 

The last word must of course go to Tommy, who said: “Rock on, my good friend.”

Read our previous story about Bobby Ball

Article extracts from Premier Christian News

Pictured above are Tommy Cannon and Bobby Ball at Norwich Salvation Army Citadel in 2008. Photo by Ian Munday.

Keith Morris, 30/10/2020

Published: 30/10/2020
Keith Morris