Cannon And Ball’s Casino (ITV, 1990)
Tommy Cannon and Bobby Ball have been a comedy double-act for over 50 years. They contributed to Bruce Forsyth’s Big Night in 1978, and got their own series on ITV in 1979. This then ran throughout the 80s and was successful, although the format changed several times throughout the years. And then for what was technically their 11th series, there was another big change in an attempt to bring their act into the 90s.
Cannon And Ball’s Casino was a 45-minute show shown on Saturday nights, that was sort of four-in-one. As well as featuring comedy, it would also feature pop music, variety, and even a game show element. Looking back, I wonder if this was an attempt at doing a new show in the style of 3-2-1 that had ended in 1988. The show would begin with Tommy and Bobby doing a sketch, and then we’d get to the game.
Three couples took part, and firstly they chose what star prize they wanted to play for, either £4,000, a holiday, or a car. The first round would be based on a fruit machine. There would be several categories along with some cash amounts up to £100, wherever they all lined up would be what the question was worth, so for example, science for £70. Whoever buzzes in first and gets it right, wins the money. Some questions also had a bonus prize, including a microwave! The lowest-scoring team is then eliminated.
Every edition would also feature two musical acts and one variety act. Groups who appeared on the show included Fuzzbox (who performed “Your Loss My Gain”, which reached No. 100), The Beloved (although they didn’t perform “Hello”, which would’ve been appropriate for this show), and Jesus Jones. The variety acts included Paul Zenon (of Tricks And Tracks fame), Rob Newman (off The Mary Whitehouse Experience), and Bradley Walsh (in one of his very first TV appearances).
In the second round, the two remaining teams have one minute to guess various phrases all on the same category. They will be offered verbal clues by Tommy, and visual clues by Bobby. So this round would usually descend into chaos as Tommy starts shouting while Bobby waves his arms around like he’s on Give Us A Clue. There’s £30 for every correct answer, and again the lowest-scoring team are eliminated.
The remaining team go into the final, where they have to crack the code. They have one minute to answer five questions. Every answer is a number, corresponding to one of the numbers in the five-digit code. If they get all five right, they open the safe and win the star prize! Then it’s the end, and here’s a tip: make the credit sequence rather long so the studio audience have to applaud you for a minute whether they like it or not.
Cannon And Ball’s Casino only ran for nine editions in one series, maybe they should’ve got more than one fruit machine in. There were also some scheduling problems, with some editions being postponed because of World Cup coverage, and then finally being shown weeks later. A year later, Tommy and Bobby returned with another new format, the sitcom Plaza Patrol. I don’t remember it myself, but by all accounts it really wasn’t a decent ITV 90s sitcom, and their 13 years with a regular TV show came to an end.