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CAN YOU UPSTAGE THESE MEMORIES? Fond Recollections of Mancunian Super-stars by Gerry George
Mancunian Films

Over 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.

I 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'.

Another '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.

Another 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' (circa 1949).

Sally 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.

Many 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.

I 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 how trivial.

It 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.

Blakeleys - 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.

Contact Gerry George with your memories.


In awe of Frank Randle
Mancunian Films

"For 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" - Gerry George.


Script - What script?
Mancunian Films

"The 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 !"

NB: 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.

It's 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.

The usable footage, however, was nothing short of 'liquid gold'...and that showed-up, every time, at the box-office !" - Gerry George.


Missing Mancunian 'gem' turns up in Los Angeles (posted by Philip M. Williams 9/4/2001)
Mancunian Films

"It's 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.

Naturally, 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.

I 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.

By the way, 'Somewhere in Civvies' was certainly a Frank Randle film, but it was not a John E. Blakeley or Mancunian production.!"


Somewhere In Civvies (posted by Gerry George 9/4/2001)
Frank Randle

"Brilliant news! Great to know that we have got that film - ' Under New Management' (circa 1943), back in the UK, after all these years.

Sorry - 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.

The 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.

As 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"


Under New Management VHS and Belle Vue Circus (posted 10/4/2001)

"I'd 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 Vue?"



"I 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.

Whether 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 ?

Remember, although it is now described as a Mancunian film, in truth, it was made in London, in 1946, for distribution through Butchers Film Service.

John. 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.

The 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.

The 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.

Synopsis: 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.

A 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.

Further 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 bar.

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.

The 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.

Circus 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 Censors.

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.

The 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."


WHICH FILM WAS FRED COOPER IN? (posted by David R. Cooper 17/05/2001)

"Dear Gerry,

I 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 you.

As 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.

I 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.

My 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."


IN SERACH OF THE ELUSIVE FRED COOPER FILM (posted by Gerry George 17/5/2001)

"Dear 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.

Pat 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.

Did 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.

I 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!."






Many thanks to Gerry George for the invaluable contribution to Pride Of Manchester. You can contact him at Gerry_George@btinternet.com

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