the coming weeks, I intend to post some sidelight stories,
focussing on a sprinkling of prestigious guest celebrities,
who 'Pop' Blakeley shrewdly head-hunted, to star in his
winning Northcountry film comedies.
These will include, the lovely superstar, and former Rank
starlet, actress, Diana Dors - who had a stormy ride,
when she shared top-billing, with Frank Randle in 'It's
A Grand Life !' circa 1953.
also plan to include snippets about such actresses as
Pat Pilkington (aka Pat Phoenix, or Elsie Tanner, of 'Coronation
Street' ), who made her film debut, with Mancunian in
'Cup-Tie Honeymoon' (circa 1948), and had subsequent roles
in several other Blakeley film successes, before she graduated
to Granada TV, and that equally famous 'Street'.
'Street' star, who had an earlier - but equally successful
- track record with Mancunian, was the late Bernard Youens.
I would be glad to hear from anyone, who might want to
pass-on, any interesting anecdotes about Bernard's connection
with Manchester's No.1 film studios, in the late Forties,
and early Fifties.
youthful Mancunian shining light, was the lovely Sally
Barnes - later to become a big television star comedienne,
in her own right - who starred alongside Randle, in 'Holidays
With Pay' (circa 1948), and in 'Somewhere In Politics'
was a delightful, and talented lady, and I hope to be
including a lengthy piece about her - and her involvement
with Mancunian, and Mr. Randle - in the very near future.
In the meantime, if anyone has any other recollections
of Sally - either in the Manchester theatres, and at Mancunian
Film Studios - please drop me an E-mail, and I will be
glad to post your memories of her, on the site.
young students, from Xaverian College, Rusholme, went
into Mancunian Films - as child extras - because Johnny
Blakeley utilised their school playground, on account
of it's close proximity to the studios, in Dickinson Road.
plan to do a small 'bullet' on the individual recollections
of any of these forgotten 'child actors', if any surviving
'kiddie' veterans would care to contact me. This applies,
equally, to any other Mancunian recollections; no matter
shouldn't be forgotten that, many of us older Manchester
folk, indentify very closely with Mancunian Films: the
Studios' output was our 'Great White Hope', and escape
vehicle, in the days of the Collyhurst slums, 'Jam Butties';
'Chip Butties'; candles, gas mantles, toffee coupons,
Co-op 'Divi', and donkey-stoned doorsteps.
- along with Randle - espoused that aspect of our Manchester
culture: it was a labour of love...and that is the secret
of Mancunian Film Studios' enduring success.
with your memories.
years I have lived and worked in London; but in my boyhood
I was a supporting actor on Pop Blakeley's sound stages,
working in awe, alongside Lancashire icons, like Randle,
and others, whose names now read like milestones, on a
journey through the platignum-plated age of Variety"
best quote I ever heard, purporting to come from John.
E. Blakeley, was from Jimmy Jewel, recalling when - immediately
prior to shooting 'What A Carry On !', in 1949, with his
partner Ben Warris - he confronted 'Dadda', and asked
him for the script.
"Script, what script ?: oh, just stand in front of that
camera, and 'be funny' for five minutes !"
I am not saying this to disparage, Johnny Blakeley - anything
but - the fact is, he shot Variety troupers, doing their
acts, in proscenium-style, and any use of story text was
incidental; rather his unique format provided a vehicle
to present, on film, what they excelled-in, and were famous
for, on stage, in the provincial halls...hence the value
of these films today. Indeed, they are not just vintage
movies: they are 'time-capsules', retaining and preserving
the mercurial quality of Variety genius.
generally accepted - and particularly where Frank Randle
is concerned - that for each 'take', Blakeley just kept
the camera running, while the toothless wizard pulled
every subliminal, inspirational spark of genius, out of
his bag of tricks...and the rest of the operation was
concluded in the cutting room, with a goodly proportion
of the day's shoot, left on the floor.
usable footage, however, was nothing short of 'liquid
gold'...and that showed-up, every time, at the box-office
!" - Gerry
great news about 'Under New Management'. When we discovered
that the UCLA Film and Television Archive in California
were holding a copy of the film in their archives, we
thought they probably didn't know what it was. More importantly
we wanted to know what condition it was in. After much
letter writing and more recently e- mailing back and forth
between them and me, they were persuaded to examine the
film; especially when I explained that, it was almost
certainly classed as a 'lost' picture over here. The film
turned out to be a 35mm acetate composite master positive
(fine grain) that they received from Paramount Pictures.
All ten reels appeared to be in acceptable condition except
for reel 8, which had a slight vinegar odour, indicative
of beginning acetate deterioration, and the final reel,
which turned out to be in a fairly advanced stage of deterioration.
They then contacted Paramount with the information, and
after checking their records; Paramount confirmed that
they no longer had any rights in the film. They also stated
that they were willing to have the fine grain repatriated
to Britain if the British Film Institute wanted it.
the BFI accepted their offer stating that indeed they
did very much wish to have the fine grain for their collection.
The BFI is currently negotiating with Paramount for transfer
of the fine grain to the NFTA, where presumably it will
be copied onto modern polyester stock as quickly as possible.
This is of course good news. My only slight disappointment
being, that the film is going to the BFI and not to the
North West Film Archive (based in Manchester), which is
what I originally suggested to them.
have always used the phrase 'so-called lost films', as
16mm prints are almost certainly out there in private
hands - hence our appeals. It would be wonderful if the
NWFA could build up a complete collection for their archive.
If they had most of them I'm sure they would make them
more widely available.
the way, 'Somewhere in Civvies' was certainly a Frank
Randle film, but it was not a John E. Blakeley or Mancunian
news! Great to know that we have got that film - ' Under
New Management' (circa 1943), back in the UK, after all
- you are quite right, Philip - 'Somewhere In Civvies'
wasn't directed by Johnny Blakeley, as I previously stated;
rather those honours went Roger Maclean, with Ron West
handling scripting and screenplay.
rough scenario - of Randle's greedy cousin, conspiring
to drive him barmy, in order to snatch his inheritance
- ends with Randle pulling a master-stroke, and turning
the tables in his favour.
I DID say, the 1943 movie - starring Randle, with Suzette
Tarri, (a famous wartime ITMA voice), and good old H.
F. Maltby - was made at Nettlefold Studios, Walton-on-Thames,
and it was re-issued by Butchers Film Service, in 1947"
love to see a copy if 'Under New Management' ever turns
up on video or someone's made a VHS. How on earth did
it end up in LA? Incidentally is the Belle Vue circus
stuff on tape? Has anyone ever written a history of Belle
have a copy of 'Under New Management', on VHS, but according
to Mike Blakeley, it is incomplete. I don't know how the
recently discovered version ended up to be in LA: but
Mancunian had strong links with a US film director, who
- in addition to assistant-directing some of the earlier
Blakeley movies - later went on to direct Laurel and Hardy,
for Hal Roach, in California.
this guy was sent the film, in order to lure him back
to England, I don't know, or maybe it was just sent to
the USA, in the hope of inducing UK ex-pats 'buy British',
and thereby, expand the marketing platform over in the
States, for Lancashire comedy films ?
although it is now described as a Mancunian film, in truth,
it was made in London, in 1946, for distribution through
Butchers Film Service.
E. Blakeley directed and produced it. Arthur Mertz Snr
- who wrote 'Boots, Boots !', along with George and Beryl
- wrote the screenplay, in company with Rodney Parsons,
and Anthony Toner.
cast included: Norman Evans; Nat Jackley, Dan Young (the
Dude Comedian), Betty Jumel, Aubrey Mallalieu, Hay Petrie,
and Bunty Meadows. Percival
Mackay & His Orchestra, provided the score, with musical
contributions and songs, from Cavan O'Connor, Lynda Ross,
the Donovan Octet, and Mendel's Female Sextet.
film, which Butchers re-issued in 1948, under the new
title 'Honeymoon Hotel', was the last film of its genre
to be made in London. From then on, John.E.Blakeley would
make his films at the chapel, in Rusholme.
Inheriting a hotel, Joe Evans, and his crazy chums, get
the place ship-shape, and in full swing, whilst being
blissfully unaware that the site is earmarked for a major
development scheme, including the building of a new airport.
land speculator, and his crooked associate try to seduce
Evans with a tempting cash offer, for the hotel, but their
dubious plans are foiled by a young accountant, who has
fallen 'cap-over-the-windmill' for Evans's lovely daughter.
plans by the crooks fail to materialise, and finally Joe
Evans wins the day, and marks his triumph with a celebrity
party, when guests toast the young accountant and his
prospective bride (Joe's daughter), in the hotel cocktail
As to Belle Vue, and the circus films - there were at
least two, by the way - I don't know what is, and what
isn't available, in either case. I'll have to check that
out, with Mike Blakeley. 'International Circus Revue'
was the second Blakeley film to be made in Manchester,
and the third to be released from there.
cast were: Patrina Bowman, Sonny Burke, Fred Grenville,
Bernard Youens, George Lockhart (Belle Vue Circus's legendary
Ringmaster), and Tom Spedding. Circus performers were:
The Three Austins (clowns); Gilbert Houcke (tiger trainer);
The Amazing Tagora (fire-eater); Aimee Fontenay and Rozec
(trapeze); Michaela Constance (horses), assisted by Hans
Strasbourger; Coll's Chimpanzees; Sam Linfield & His Comedy
Midgets; The Skating Typhoons; Adamski's Trained Bears;
Les Rays; The Amazing Kovacs, and Tarzan & Pongo.
sequences were shot, during Belle Vue's 1947-48 International
Circus Season. The footage ran to 4,000ft, andthe film
was given a 'U' certificate, by the British Board of Film
It's a simple tale of the difficulties encountered by
a probationary publicity manager, as the circus unfolds,
culminating with his crowning success, by the finale,
which prompts him to announce his forthcoming marriage
to the boss's secretary !
'Showground Of The North' (circa 1949), represents a departure
from Blakeley's run of comedies. A miniature travelogue,
it was shot at Belle Vue Zoological Gardens - originally
with the sole intention of gathering background sequences,
that could be used in later pictures, but today it amounts
to an authentic documentary record of Belle Vue Zoo, and
the adjacent gardens, at that particular time.
film's 3,150 feet of celluloid takes cinema audiences
on a tour of 8O acres of fairground amusements, zoo, and
stadium, where they see a Rugby match, and Speedway highlights.
Open air dancing, and firework displays also feature,
as do George Lockhart, and animal trainer, Gilbert Hook.
'Over The Garden Wall' (circa 1950). Some of the dance
sequences were filmed in Belle Vue's expansive ballroom.
'Elephants Come To Town' (circa 1949). John. E. Blakeley's
son, Tom (Mike's dad), filmed this. It was made on location
- with Chipperfields' Touring Circus, and at the chapel
studios, in Rusholme. It ran into 2,990ft, and also spawned
a later two-reeler, entitled 'Visit To The Circus'. Tom
Blakeley, produced and directed, both these circus mini-epics."
am writing from the Costa del Sol in southern Spain. I
am originally from Oldham and still have a large family
there. Recently one of my relatives sent me an article
from the Oldham Chronicle. It was written by John Gaunt
about the Mancunian Films studios in Manchester. The article
ended with your E-mail address and hence my writing to
I said, I am originally from Oldham and my father Fred
Cooper was quite a well known local tenor in the late
1940's and 1950's. His agent's name was Harry Gunn. Apparently
my father was in a film made in Manchester sometime in
the late forties. From what my elderly aunts tell me,
he was the singer in a nightclub scene.
I am afraid that I do not know the name of the film but
one of my older relatives believes that it was a Frank
Randle film and that Patricia Pilkington may have also
had a small part. I have tried in vain to identify the
name of the film at the British Film Institute and had
just about given up when the Olham Chronical article arrived.
would give anything to identify and obtain a video copy
of the film and would be more than willing to make a donation
to help with the preservation and care of the Mancunian
Film Archives. I would really appreciate any help you
could give me with my quest.
father died tragically at the age of 32 and to be able
to see him on film, if only for a few moments, would bring
great joy to my brother and I."
David, I was really saddened to hear of your father's
tragic death, at such an early age. You may rest-assured
that I will do all in my power to find out which film
he was in.
Pilkington ( AKA Pat Pheonix, of 'Coronation Street')
was in several Mancunian Films, so it is quite difficult
to pinpoint the film, using that clue. However, the nightclub
scene - and such scenes appear in most of Frank Randle's
films - might reveal the title we are looking for.
your dad have a favourite song - one that he was noted
for singing - in his repertoire? It could be that he sang
that one, in the elusive film, you see.
will telephone Mike Blakeley, in Manchester, and see if
he can shed some light on this poser. In the meantime,
every good wish, to you and yours...sunning yourselves
on the delightful Spanish Costa of my dreams!."
thanks to Gerry George for the invaluable contribution to Pride
Of Manchester. You can contact him at Gerry_George@btinternet.com