Bobby Ball, one half of the comedy double act Cannon and Ball, has died at the age of 76 after testing positive for coronavirus.
In a statement, his manager, Phil Dale said: “It is with great personal sadness that on behalf of Yvonne Ball, and the family, and Tommy Cannon, I announce that Bobby Ball passed away at Blackpool Victoria hospital on 28 October 2020, approximately 21:30.
“Bobby had been taken to the hospital for tests as he started with breathing problems. At first it was thought to be a chest infection but a test proved positive for Covid-19. His wife, Yvonne, said the hospital and staff could not have been more wonderful, as they were outstanding in their care of duty and they did everything possible for him and she cannot praise them enough.
“She said that the family and Tommy would like to express their sincere thanks to the many, many people who have been fans of Bobby and they know that they will all share in part the great loss and total sadness that Yvonne, the family and Tommy all feel.
“Yvonne added that their need for privacy at this time has to be a priority. No further announcements or statements will be made.”
Ball was born Robert Harper on 28 January 1944. A keen amateur singer, he found fame on the comedy circuit and later The Cannon and Ball Show, opposite his lifelong friend Tommy Cannon.
The pair, who met in Oldham, Lancashire, where they worked at a welding factory, began their careers playing pubs and clubs before their first forays into television on Opportunity Knocks in 1969 and on Granada TV’s The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club in 1974.
In 1979, The Cannon and Ball show was first broadcast on ITV, where it would continue to air until 1988, garnering huge audiences.
Though their popularity on TV later waned as tastes changed, the pair continued to perform in theatre and panto together into the 90s and the next decade, as well as appearing on television.
Ball also appeared in TV series including Last Of The Summer Wine, Heartbeat, Mount Pleasant, Benidorm, The Cockfields and Not Going Out, and, with Cannon, he took part in the reality contest I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here! in 2005.
In an interview in 2014, Ball recalled falling out with Cannon for three years in the 1980s: “We started on the shop floor as welders, we went through 18 years in the clubs and then we got big … We were surrounded by all these people who were gossiping. They wanted to divide and conquer and instead of sitting down and saying, ‘What’s wrong?’, we stopped speaking.”
The pair later made up, and both became devout Christians, eschewing the hedonistic lifestyle they had enjoyed at the height of their fame. In 2015, it was reported that Ball had begun giving comedy lessons to vicars so they could liven up their sermons.
In a statement quoting Ball’s catchphrase, ‘Rock on, Tommy,’ Cannon said: “Rock on, my good friend, I can’t believe this, I’m devastated.”
His wife of 46 years said: “I will always miss him, he was so joyful, full of fun and mischievous.”
Dale described Ball as “a true comedy star who loved entertaining people and he loved life itself. I spoke to him every day and it would always end in laughter.”
Leading the tributes online, the comic Jason Manford said he was “so heartbroken”, and “the comedy community is a poorer place without him”. The presenter Les Dennis described Ball as “a true entertainer with real funny bones”.
He is survived by Yvonne and by his children Robert, Darren and Joanne.