Rock on Tommy
Most people will have heard that saying as a catchphrase from a very talented comedian, actor, entertainer, who sadly passed away last year, writes Tracy Hargreaves
Seventy-six-year-old Bobby Ball died in October last year, after being diagnosed with Covid-19. An entertainer through and through, I spoke to his daughter Joanne about the man off screen and the man who was her dad.
Robert Harper, or Bobby Ball, as he was known in the profession, had been an entertainer from as young as eight years old when Bobby and his sister used to sing on the stage of local clubs. They were soon discovered and got a contract with the BBC singing on the radio and in the evenings their parents would take them round the working men’s clubs to perform. By the age of 14, he was regularly performing seasons at theatres around the north west.
He married his first wife in 1964 and had two sons, Robert and Darren, who are now comedians and entertainers in their own right under the name ‘the Harper brothers’, but it was his second wife Yvonne, with whom he spent more than 50 years with, who he doted on. They went on to have a daughter, Joanne.
Originally from Oldham, Yvonne and Bobby and soon all the family moved to Lytham St Annes, where they lived for the last 25 years and called their second home.
Joanne said: “My dad was an amazing person. He loved Lytham. It was close to Blackpool where he performed regularly and everybody knew him. He was very much part of the community. He would give advice to anyone who asked for it and even those who didn’t, be happy to open any new shops or events in the town, do lots of charity shows and was a patron of the Lowther Pavilion. He literally would give the shirt off his back to help someone. He wasn’t just my dad he was my friend and we had a special relationship.”
But Bobby’s success didn’t come easily. While he was performing at an early age, he took up welding so he would have a trade, but his showbusiness side never stopped. Bobby used to sing and was a drummer in a band. He met Tommy Cannon in the welding factory, along with another colleague and for a while there was three of them.
“I remember my dad telling me that when they were queuing up to be paid for singing, they overheard that the people in front were getting paid £3 more than they were,” said Joanne. “It was because they were comedians and that was how Cannon and Ball became a double act.”
Now, as a legacy to the funny man, a statue will be placed in his honour in the grounds of the Lowther Pavilion, where he had performed many times and helped raised money for the theatre and gardens with The Friends of Lowther Pavilion.
Joanne said: “After dad passed away, we had so many tributes and messages and a couple of councillors contacted us to see if we would mind them putting the idea forward to have a statue in memory of him.
“It’s a bit ironic really as he always joked about having a statue of himself and said he would never get one. The Council have been very supportive and asked us what sort of things we would like. We said there needs to be a twinkle in his eye, with one leg slightly forward and pulling on this right brace with his right thumb. We think that’s how most people will remember him.”
Leader of Fylde Council, Karen Buckley said: “Bobby was a very special, talented and unique individual, who was adopted by the locals of Lytham. His memorial statue will ensure he can go on giving that joy to visitors and residents.”
Time Lince, Lowther Pavilion’s theatre manager added: “Bobby supported many of the amateur acts that we had on at the theatre. He was a real community player and he would often drop in with his mischievous laugh coming down the corridor.”
Lowther Gardens Lytham Trust and Fylde Council are raising money for the special memorial statue of the local legend Bobby Ball and have set up a just giving page if anyone wants to donate – justgiving.com/campaign/bobbyballstatue
Joanne added: “My dad was entertaining right up until the end and was even laughing and joking with the nurses when he was in hospital. As a family we are delighted that he can remain a fabric of the Lytham community with this statue. He will be sadly missed by a lot of people.”