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EXCLUSIVE: An Interview with Bobby Ball

Bobby Ball
When the Summer Winos got wind of the fact that legendary British comedy duo Cannon and Ball were touring in a fascinating-looking new stage production called The Dressing Room, we couldn’t resist going along… and cheekily asking for an interview for the website! The duo appeared in three episodes of Last of the Summer Wine; The Swan Man of Ilkley (2005), Who’s That Talking to Lenny? (2006) and Get Out of That, Then (2008).

On Wednesday 27th July 2016, The Dressing Room came to Middlesbrough Theatre, and Bobby Ball very kindly agreed to meet us for a chat a few hours before the curtains went up; so we found a quite corner of the foyer, and settled down for a chinwag. Tommy was still stuck in transit on his way to the theatre at this stage, but Bobby was more than happy to natter away!

Here’s how the conversation went…

So how did you end up in Last of the Summer Wine? Can you remember the approach?

Last of the Summer Wine came to me for a small part – Lenny, he was called – and it’s such an iconic programme that I got a bit nervous about it. But I said yeah, I’ll do it… and I loved every minute of it. They really made me welcome. And then they asked me back a few times!  It’s a wonderful thing to be able to say ‘I’ve done Last of the Summer Wine.

There’s a bit in Alan Bell’s book, where he says that – before casting you – he came to see you and Tommy playing live in concert, to check you out…

It’s a funny thing… we went to sign merchandise at the end of the night, and there was this feller just stood there looking at me. I thought ‘He’s a bit weird, him!’ He never bought a book or anything, he was just looking at me. So me and Tommy went over afterwards and Tommy said ‘Are you alright, pal?’ And the feller said; ‘I don’t want to talk to you, it’s him I want to talk to. I’m Alan Bell, the director and producer of Last of the Summer Wine, and we’d like you to be in it!’

I thought, ‘Oh wow, he’s come all this way to tell me that, in front of a theatre’…  but it was great. It was smashing.

Was Tommy always going to be in it as well? He has a cameo right at the end of The Swan Man of Ilkley (Bobby’s giant, inflatable water-bound swan gets caught on the back of a barge, the driver of which is revealed to be Tommy…) 

They wanted him in it, so yes… and I said ‘They’ve got you in it, Tommy’. He said ‘Have you seen my part? I’m just sat in a boat, and I look at you!’ I said ‘Well, we’re together, aren’t we?’ and he said ‘Yeah… you’re right!’

You spend a lot of time in the water in that episode… did you do all your own stunts?

I did really… there was nowt to do, just walk in the water! ‘Lenny, the Swan Man of Ilkley’… I loved it. With that big swan! I’m a bit sick me, really, because when it comes on TV, I look to see how I am in it…

You can watch yourself on TV, then? Lots of actors can’t!

Oh, aye! Ego like you can’t believe!

Last of the Summer Wine always had a superb main cast, and we wondered about your memories of working with them. Peter Sallis, of course, was in every single episode of the show… how was he to work with?

Absolute legend. I know people say this, but it’s true…  there wasn’t one person on that programme that had an ego. They were just nice people, they helped you along and they made you feel right. Wonderful people, every one of them.

There’s a really nice bit in Alan Bell’s book where he says that – in the middle of filming your first episode – Peter Sallis took him aside, slapped him on the back and said ‘Good casting, Alan…’. Talking about you!

Did he really? Oh, that’s nice! I didn’t know that. That’s lovely. I’m a bit big-headed now, that’s fantastic!

How was Frank Thornton to work with, too?

I loved him. Off camera we’d have these little sneaky laughs… I can’t explain it, but he’d say ‘How are you, Bobby?’ and his little eyes used to glint! He was fantastic, I loved him.

And Brian Murphy as well?

Oh, aye! What did he used to call me? ‘The turn!’ ‘Here he is, the turn!’. I’d say ‘I’m an actor now’, and he’d say ‘No you’re not, Bobby… you’re a turn!’ (laughs)

When you did that first episode, did you expect to be asked back for further episodes?

No… that was one of the earliest acting jobs I ever did. So no, I thought it was a one-off, but then they asked me back a couple of times, which was fantastic. And then I would have gone into it regularly, but I had another job come up, and someone else had to take my place. So that was it.

So there was the offer for you to be a regular?

There was the offer, but I couldn’t do it… I was doing Mount Pleasant (for Sky 1), something like that.

Is acting onscreen a very different discipline to performing onstage, then?

Yeah, it’s a lot different. Onstage, you can do what you want. But with acting, you’ve got to stick to the words, and give your feed line to the next person… it’s a different kettle of fish. I like them both, but I prefer live.

BobbyBallGrab3We watched your second episode today, Who’s That Talking To Lenny?… in which you hear the voice of God, with a Barnsley accent!

I do! Looking up into the sky! Why do we always think God is in the sky? I don’t get that! We do that, don’t we?

Yes, ‘Him up There!’ We were fascinated by that, with you being a Christian yourself… do you know if that was written especially for you, and whether Roy Clarke knew about your experiences with your faith?

I really don’t know… but I am a Christian, and I enjoy it. And the thing with ‘that’ (looking up)… there would have been some religious people saying ‘Oh, he’s taking the mickey’, but I would never do that.

It’s very respectfully done.

Course it is… and if it hadn’t have been, I wouldn’t have done it. I enjoyed that one… well, I enjoyed them all.

You worked with Stephen Lewis in that one, who we’re kind of fascinated by…

Gggggghhhhhghghghhghghghg! (At this point all three of us descend into Stephen Lewis impressions, with a few inevitable ‘I ‘ate you Butler’s thrown in! It takes a while to compose ourselves)

What was he like in real life?

He was that! That’s him! I’m serious! ‘Ghghghgngngngngn, Bobby…’ (laughs)

Your third episode, Get Out Of That, Then has you spending quite a lot of time in a strait jacket.

Oh, I remember that! Tommy’s in it as well, so I was pleased about that. He’s a bit late today! He’ll be on his way somewhere. I really enjoyed them all, and it’s nice of you to do this, and keep it going.

Well, we grew up with it!

They should bring it back, but I’m not sure whether – if it was a different cast – it would work the same.

It evolved a lot over the years, but yeah… would it work without – say – Peter Sallis in it? He was the core of the show.

I think they should have a go, because they’re bringing all the others back! I’m old enough to be in it now, properly!

Who else would go in it, then?

Tommy! Tommy would be the corpse! (laughs)

Tommy gets a lot to do in Get Out Of That, Then… you become a double act again in that episode, but it’s a different double act to your normal stage personas…

That’s the only trouble with putting me and Tommy together in something, the minute you put us together, we cease to become the characters, and we become Cannon and Ball. In peoples’ minds. We can play the two separate characters, but they associate us with ‘Oh, it’s Cannon and Ball…’ so that’s what’s difficult for writers to do. Really difficult. And that’s why we don’t do a lot together, acting-wise. Lee Mack wanted us in Not Going Out, and put Tommy in as the vicar, but it still comes over as Cannon and Ball.

Is that something you’d like to try and overcome, then?

Sure, I’d like me and Tommy to work together on something on TV that was serious. Together. But I doubt it’ll ever happen, because they just see Cannon and Ball.

You should do The Sunshine Boys together!

Oh, I’d love to.

All of your Summer Wine filming was done on location, so you must have spent a lot of time around Holmfirth… it’s a beautiful town, did you enjoy being around the place?

Yeah! I think, you know… I lived for a while in a place called Todmorden, so I’m not sure if I was doing Summer Wine then. So I wasn’t so far away!

So you knew the area pretty well already?

Yeah, and I knew what the people were like, because when I first bought the farm, I went into the pub and one of the local guys kept staring at me… and he came over, and said ‘What are you doing here?’ I said ‘I’ve just bought the farm up the hill…’ He said ‘Yeah, but what are you doing here?’ I said ‘I’ve… just.. bought… the… farm… up… the… hill…’ He said ‘No, you don’t understand… I’ve just seen you on television, how have you got here?’ (laughs)

True story, that!

And we’re all here today because you and Tommy are onstage in a show called The Dressing Room… which sounds fascinating. Tell us a bit about it…

I had the idea of doing a play with my mates, so everyone who’s in this… we’re all very close friends. And it’s about what goes on in a dressing room, and I’ve called it a ‘playriety’… so it’s a play, and a variety show. So we go into the dressing room, then the compere goes out and does a ten-minute spot, then back into the dressing room, and the play goes on. It’s been very successful!

The Dressing Room is indeed great fun; and stars Cannon and Ball alongside Stu Francis, Jonnie Casson and Ann-Marie. It’s on tour throughout the rest of 2016, and the full dates are here…

Thanks so much to Bobby and to everyone at Middlesbrough Theatre for being so kind to us; it’s a lovely theatre and it’s always worth keeping an eye on their events…


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    August 25, 2016 8:59 pmPosted 5 years ago

    Good interview 🙂 Bobby was great in the show, they were 3 very good episodes too.

    Wasn’t Johnny Casson in a few episodes of LotSW as a landlord too?

    • Visit site
      August 25, 2016 9:34 pmPosted 5 years ago
      Bob Fischer (Author)

      Yes, right at the end of the run… I only realised this today!

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    March 31, 2019 1:15 pmPosted 3 years ago
    Stephen Hatfield

    Of course God (if he does exist , that is) has a Barnsley accent , goes wi’art sayin’!

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    October 29, 2020 6:56 pmPosted 1 year ago
    William Callaghan

    Rest in peace, Bobby


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