A Legacy Of Laughter

This year, legendary comic and Fylde coast resident Bobby Ball would have celebrated his 80th birthday and his 50th wedding anniversary. Here, Alma Stewart talks to his widow Yvonne, who reflects on life with and without him

We sit in the iconic Clifton Arms Hotel on Lytham’s front, a site that holds many memories of the late Bobby Ball. Bob was one half of comedy duo, Cannon and Ball who passed away from the effects of Covid in 2020.

I remember meeting Bob here back in 2018 where he backed the NHS’ 70th birthday campaign in video form. Also here was the Bobby Ball Tribute Lunch in the same year for the Variety Children’s Charity, organised by then trustee Deni Middleton of the Variety Lancashire Committee.

The first fundraiser since Bob’s passing was organised by their friends Debbie and Mark Baxter, which raised funds towards his statue that now stands proud in Lowther Gardens. The Bobby Ball Fundraiser and Variety Show weekend followed in 2021, in aid of the Bobby Ball Foundation, a charity that supports good causes in Bob’s name.

Yvonne and Bob’s story starts in 1970 when Yvonne was working at the famous Fiesta Club in Stockton-on-Tees. This self-confessed party girl worked as a Fiesta Fawn, a take on the popular Bunny Girls at the time. One night, Yvonne got a phone call from a pal at another club, telling her about a party.

Yvonne recalls: “When I walked into this party, I spotted Bob sitting on an armchair next to a crate of Newcastle Brown Ale. He was really my type – the dark hair and moustache – but when he stood up, I decided he wasn’t for me – I am 5ft 10 and he was 5ft 4! However, we sat and chatted all night, until 8.30 in the morning and he phoned me every day after that.”

At the tender age of 18, Yvonne soon fell for the 25-year-old Bobby and the pair eventually lived with Bobby’s sister, sleeping in a single bed balanced on bricks: “Some people have said I married Bob for his money, but they don’t realise we had very little in the early days. Thanks to an insurance policy, it was me that bought our first house. Life was not glamorous at all,” says Yvonne. But that was about to change.

Cannon and Ball went on to become one of the top acts of their time, commanding 20 million viewers on their Saturday night TV show. They enjoyed years of success playing at theatres all over the UK, Royal Variety Performances and even made a film, the Boys in Blue: “We couldn’t go anywhere without being recognised,” explains Yvonne. “Bob was so well known we just got used to having little privacy, even abroad.”

In 2005, Bobby was approached to appear in I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here! This appearance triggered a role in Sky TV’s successful series Mount Pleasant, followed by Lee Mack’s Not Going Out and then to more acting work including parts in Last of the Summer Wine, Benidorm and the TV movie the Fattest Man in Britain with Timothy Spall.

Yvonne says: “Bob loved working in TV and made some amazing friends particularly with Lee Mack and also the cast of Mount Pleasant. In fact, the whole cast and crew of Mount Pleasant were like one big family and Sally Lindsay, Sue Vincent and Dan Ryan all recently attended a celebration in honour of Bob’s 80th birthday – a black-tie event held in February.”

Yvonne and Bobby have lived on the Fylde for 28 years: “Bob absolutely loved Lytham. We used to live on a remote farm in Yorkshire, but we were both so social that we felt too isolated. Cannon and Ball had a three-month summer season in Blackpool so we rented a house up in Bispham.

“A friend was selling his house on Clifton Drive in St Annes and it was love at first sight. It was a beautiful house but eventually just became too big. We moved to a smaller version of it on Beach Road before heading to Lytham. It’s a really friendly town and living pretty central, I have everything I need close by. Bob was well known here and the support I have received since he died has been fantastic – I am very lucky to be surrounded by some amazing friends with my close friend Deni even moving in with me for the first few months after Bob died. The whole community has been so lovely.”

Some of those dear friends have gone on to become trustees of the Bobby Ball Foundation: “Bob and I were patrons of Blue Skies Hospitals Fund and the Lowther Theatre and I still wanted to help. Then Peter Taylor, of Cuffe and Taylor, approached me about an idea for a charity which could donate to both charitable trusts and also continue to support other worthy causes going forward. And so in 2021, we launched the charity with a star-studded show and the first black-tie event – the Bobby Ball Ball at the Winter Gardens on the same weekend. We were delighted to raise £57,500 for each of our patron charities plus some money towards the planned statue. The Foundation has since gone on to raise money for local causes,” Yvonne explains.

Of course, Bobby was no stranger to fundraising himself. He supported a number of causes including creating the Let the Sunshine In Variety Show at the Lowther Theatre in 2017. This was put on to raise money for the patient garden at Lytham St Annes’ Clifton Hospital. Bob had often joked that he wanted a statue of himself when he died. And that is exactly what he got.

The unveiling of the Bobby Ball statue, created by talented sculptor Ben Twiston-Davies, went ahead in August 2022. The nine-foot bronze Bobby stands proud opposite the Lowther Pavilion Theatre.

A public crowdfunding campaign, coupled with a generous donation from local businessman Tom Gallagher, raised the funds needed and time and resources were generously donated by John Camilleri, Fylde Borough Council, Greg Anderton, Pete Foy and others.

The reveal was attended by a host of celebrities, dignitaries, fans, family and friends. “On special occasions I will go and leave flowers for him at his statue, but I also go as often as I can – it’s nice to be able to see a version of him still. The family were also granted a memorial rose garden at Lytham Hall, kindly offered by Peter Anthony and Paul Lomax who manage the estate. My grandson Christian bought a bench so we can also sit and enjoy the flowers and think about Bob and my other grandson Sam purchased the rose bushes, so it’s a real family affair.”

There are so many fond memories that Yvonne shares which also include some famous names including George Michael, Adam Ant, Eric Clapton and even Prince Phillip: “Tommy and Bob were invited to meet the royals and Bob was really nervous. He kept stopping for a pint on the way there to settle his nerves. They were told the protocol of calling Prince Phillip ‘Your Majesty’ if they hadn’t met him before. Tommy managed this, but Bob, through a combination of nerves and beer, said: ‘Hiya cock, how are you?’ Prince Phillip returned the favour at a later Royal Variety Performance – when working down the performers’ line, he said to Bob: ‘Hiya cock, how are you?’ Bob thought that was absolutely fantastic!”

Though there are plenty of plans in the pipeline, the next Bobby Ball Foundation event will be held in the Lowther Gardens in August when guests are invited to bring a picnic and drinks.

Yvonne concludes: “The trustees and I absolutely love raising money for the Foundation, especially if it helps worthy charities – Bob would be very proud. We all still miss him. I miss holding hands and laughing with him, we were inseparable for 50 years, so it is a huge adjustment. At first, I didn’t leave the house, but eventually you get stronger. People often ask me about grief – you have just got to get on with life and it’s up to each individual how they deal with it. I am very lucky. I have years of fantastic memories plus our wonderful daughter Joanne and family. Everyone has a story about Bob – how fortunate am I that I still hear them wherever I go.”



Tedd Walmsley

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