Bobby Ball, Half of a Hit British Comedy Duo, Dies at 76

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This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

Bobby Ball had a look that fit his slapstick humor. He was a slightly stocky 5-foot-3, with a head of dark, bushy hair, a similarly impressive mustache, a gaptoothed grin and a habit of snapping his red suspenders. His signature line, addressed to his comedy partner, Tommy Cannon, was “Rock on, Tommy!” The two were among Britain’s biggest television stars in the 1980s.

Mr. Ball died on Oct. 28 at a hospital in London. He was 76. His manager, Phil Duke, who confirmed the death, said Mr. Ball had been admitted to the hospital because of breathing problems and tested positive for Covid-19.

Cannon & Ball,” which ran from 1979 to 1988, drew as many as 20 million viewers on a Saturday night. The show alternated between goofy comedy bits — about things like unpredictably reclining airline seats, obsessive-compulsive bartenders and a “West Side Story” gang encounter involving a very old man — and earnest musical numbers.

Between skits, Mr. Ball and Mr. Cannon would put on tuxedos and sincerely sing well-known songs, often romantic ballads, like “Send In the Clowns” or “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before.”

Toward the end of the show’s run, Mr. Ball, unhappy about his bad habits (drinking, womanizing and a propensity toward violence, the press said), turned to religion. He wrote “Christianity for Beginners” and began teaching vicars how to incorporate humor into their sermons.

Robert Harper was born on Jan. 28, 1944, in Oldham, England, a manufacturing town near Manchester. Although he showed some interest in show business in his youth, he took a traditional job after high school: welder at a local factory.

But in his spare time, he sang at cabarets around northern England. When a new welder, Thomas Derbyshire, joined the company, the two became friends. Soon they were a singing duo, calling themselves Bobby and Stevie Rhythm, then the Sherrell Brothers, then the Harper Brothers. Later they changed their surnames and became Cannon and Ball.

The duo once said that they decided to expand their act to include jokes because comics were being paid three pounds per hour (more than $ 6 back then) more than singers.

After their series ended, the two returned to television as shopping mall security guards on the sitcom “Plaza Patrol” (1991), but the show lasted only six episodes. Mr. Ball continued to act, mostly on television, evolving into grandfather and father-in-law roles.

He was a regular on “Mount Pleasant” (2011-17), a family comedy, and did three episodes of “Last of the Summer Wine” (1973-2010), the long-running BBC series about retired men in Yorkshire.

Mr. Ball’s last screen appearances — both in 2019 — were in “The Cockfields,” a mini-series about a family birthday celebration on the Isle of Wight, and “Not Going Out,” a series on which he had a recurring role as the feckless father of the star (Lee Mack).

He and Mr. Cannon also continued to work together onstage. They played Las Vegas as recently as 2018.

Mr. Ball and Joan Lynn married in 1964 and divorced in 1970. His survivors include his second wife, Yvonne Nugent, whom he married in 1974; two sons, Robert Harper Jr. and Darren Harper, now a comedy team, from his first marriage; and a daughter, Joanne Ball. According to The Oldham Times, his hometown newspaper, there were also 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

He didn’t plan to retire. “If no promoters booked me, I’d be out there busking,” Mr. Ball told The Mirror in 2015, referring to British sidewalk performers who sing or dance for spare change.

Entertaining people had been an honor, he said, adding, “That’s all I want written on my gravestone — ‘He gave us a laugh.’”

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