I ONCE accidentally stalked Bobby Ball.

It's not as sinister as it sounds. Prior to interviewing him over the phone, I'd written his mobile number on my notepad. The day after the interview I was sitting in a café, meeting someone for a work appointment. After about 20 minutes she hadn't arrived so I left a message on her mobile.

Within seconds my phone rang and a rattled broad Lancashire voice said: "I've got a message about meeting you in a café. I don't know anything about it. Who is this?"

There were two mobile numbers scrawled on my notepad. One of them was Bobby Ball's. I tried to explain that I'd rung him by mistake, but I don't think he was entirely convinced I wasn't a stalker.

All the kids at our school loved Cannon and Ball. "Rock on Tommy!" was a playground mantra. Anyone under the age of 30 won't appreciate just how huge Cannon and Ball were. They were prime time Saturday night telly - the Ant and Dec of their day. They were old school, slapstick and silly, and they made us laugh till we cried.

The death of a TV star that we treasured as youngsters feels particularly sad, and quite a personal loss. I felt it when John Noakes and Brian Cant died, because their voices were such a part of my childhood. I felt it again when I heard that Bobby Ball was dead.

I interviewed Bobby back in 2006, the year after he and Tommy were on I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here. They were the surprise late arrivals on the hit ITV show and their first bushtucker trial saw them swinging over a ravine, harnessed into a seesaw on a tightrope.

It gave them a new fanbase, but they'd always had a broad appeal; beloved by everyone from students to grannies. Like many northern comics, their roots were in industry - Tommy and Bobby had been mates since meeting as welders in the 1960s - and years of grafting took them through the club circuit to TV success, via Opportunity Knocks and The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club.

They started out as a vocal duo. "We were rubbish," Bobby told me. "We started introducing more comedy into the act and it took over. We still like a good song though."

Reflecting on fame, he said: "In this game you should aim to be a star, not a celebrity. You need to train, do an apprenticeship, learn your craft, just as with any job. I've been performing since I was 15 when I used to sing and dance on stage with my sister, and even if I wasn't famous I'd still be doing it."

I first saw Cannon and Ball in an Alhambra panto - Tommy ran out on stage pushing Bobby in a wheelbarrow, and I was beyond excited. Three decades later I saw them again in Bradford, in the Best of British Variety Show, sharing the bill at St George's Hall with Paul Daniels, Frank Carson, The Krankies and Jimmy Cricket. I went with my dad and we laughed together, like we did watching telly when I was a kid. Cannon and Ball were great - they had the comic skill and timing of a class Vaudeville act.

A couple of years later I interviewed Tommy and he recalled the early days: "I'm a great believer in fate; there were 500 men on that shop floor and Bob was the first one who came up and spoke to me when I clocked in. We've been together ever since.

"You did the social clubs, nightclubs, theatres, then TV if you were lucky. The clubs were noisy places - waitresses walking between tables, people chatting, clinking glasses, eating chicken and chips in a basket. You had to grab them by the scruff of the neck to get them to listen! Talent-spotters came out of their ivory towers and went along to clubs, that's how people got discovered.

"We've had a fantastic career and we still have a laugh. What more could you want?"

Rock on, Bobby. Keep snapping those red braces. Thanks for the laughs.