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"John E Blakeley's Mancunian films were generally coarser than the later films of Formby and Fields, and cheaper too. Storylines would feature stock characters: the dim toff, the gormless Lancashire lad and the toothless, gossipy old matron." - Dave Haslam in 'Manchester, England'
mancunian films

Mancunian Films

In 1947 - after a highly successful two decades, making movies in London - former Ardwick boy film renter-turned-director, John. E. Blakeley, brought 'Hollywood' to Manchester, when he put Lancashire Comedy on a Henry Ford-style, production-line to success.

He sank 70,000 - that's mega-millions, in today's money - into equipping the best 'state-of-the art' film studio, outside London, and housing it, in a converted grime-blackened, Wesleyan chapel, in Rusholme, on the corner of Dickinson Road, and Oxford Road. And from there - between 1948, and 1953 - he turned out some of the best, most significant, and authentic Lancashire comedy films, on record.

However this was no new venture for the dogged hard-driving film academist Blakeley: he had already put several Lancashire comics into star spots on celluloid - at his London studios, pre-war - and not least the burgeoning star, George Formby, who he discovered, in Variety, in Warrington, and lured him South, where he made two comedies, which captapulted the ukulele-playing comedy genius into the top studios in British Movieland.

In addition, at Manchester, Blakeley made major documentaries, and even a film about Belle Vue Circus, with George Lockhart, Manchester and Blackpool's legendary ringmaster, taking centre-stage, and playing himself.

Simultaneously - by design, rather than accident, he, in the same operation, captured on film, for posterity, most of the top Variety acts, that were then playing the halls, before the passage of time, and the unforgiving 'combined harvester' of television, hacked them down, and baled them up...never to be seen in the same medium again.

Through his efforts - and those of his fellow director, the box-office money-spinning Lancashire comedian, Frank Randle - this country now has a memory bank of all those wonderful artistes, who, but for Johnny Blakeley and Frank, would have been lost and forgotten, forever.

Randle himself made upwards of 10 record-breaking comedies at Mancunian, and working alongside him were stars like the Irish tenor, Josef Locke; Sandy Powell; Duggie Wakefield; the diminutive 'boy' comic Jimmy Clitheroe; Hilda Baker; Jimmy Jewel & Ben Warris; Tessie O'Shea; Harry Korris, Bobby (Enoch) Vincent, of the BBC Home Service, 'Happidrome' programme; Jimmy James and Ely Woods; Norman ('Over The Garden Wall') Evans; Gladys Morgan, Betty Jumel, Nat Jackley, Gus Aubrey, the black pianist, Winifred Atwell; Anne Ziegler & Webster Booth, the radio singing group, 'The Kordites', and a host of other stars, mainly recruited from all the top theatre venues in Blackpool and along the Fylde Coast...not to mention every provincial Variety theatre, within a 50-mile radius of All Saints.

Known as 'Dad', or 'Pop', to most of the happy family team that ran the Mancunian, John. E. Blakeley - in his familiar seemingly irremovable Homburg hat - was a stalwart of the old school, who took pride in putting his home-town on the map, while simultaneously cocking a snook at the stuck-up London studios, who poured scorn on his heady aspirations, and on the joint efforts of an amalgam of Northern artistes, who many Southerners dismissed as 'uncouth', 'gormless' and 'common'.

But whatever the Southerners may have thought, at the time, there is no doubt that the arrival of Mancunian can be seen in retrospect as a harbinger, and precursor to the advent of television, and the emergence of Granada TV Studios.

Indeed many of Mancunian's original workforce transferred to Granada, when the new studios went up, alongside the old Samuel Gratrix building, in Manchester's Quay Street, situated diagonally across the road from the Opera House.

Former Mirror Group News journalist, Gerry Nicholas - now, actor and author, Gerry George - who spent his early years as a staff reporter on the Ashton-under-Lyne Reporter, and, subsequently, on the Oldham Chronicle, writes: "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 platinum-plated age of Variety."

Although the studios were located in Rusholme, Mancunian's registered office: Film Studios (Manchester) Limited, was more centrally located, at 3, The Parsonage, Manchester; occupying a prestigious suite in the old Calico Printers Association building, which towered over the rear of Deansgate.

Mancunian was started as a family business: John. E. Blakeley was assisted by his sons John E. Blakeley Jnr, and the late Tom Blakeley, who, in the Forties and early Fifties, was camera operator, on many shoots. John Jnr directed several of their films too.

When the company ceased production, in Manchester, at the end of 1954, Tom Blakeley went on to direct many successful films, for various studios, in London.

The Blakeley name is still synonymous with films and filming, by the way. Tom's son, Mike Blakeley - Granada TV's award-winning, former 'World In Action' camerman - now runs his own studios, assisted by his sound-recordist son, at Over Peover, near Knutsford, not far from Mere Corner, where another Mancunian film discovery, George Formby, used to have a luxury estate, during his Forties, film hey-day.

Mancunian Films

Lost for decades, a rare immediate post-war Northern comedy film - 'Under New Management', starring Norman Evans, Nat Jackley, and Dan Young (the Dude Comedian), has turned up in Los Angeles.

Mancunian Film Studios' entire film archive was lost, when a blaze swept through Kay Laboratories, in 1980, resulting in the total loss of all the original nitrate masters, of every film made by the studio, between the Forties and mid-Fifties.

It was only by chance, that five years later, copies of most of the 35mm originals - in a cache of more than 2,000 cans - were unearthed by Mike Blakeley, grandson of the legendary J. E. Blakeley, while clearing out a vault, prior to renovation of the giant Calico Printers Association building, in The Parsonage, Manchester, which formerly housed Mancunians' prestige headquarters.

"I knew there would be something there", said Mike, who now runs his own film company, based at Knutsford, in Cheshire, "but I didn't realise there would be so much.

"It only hit me, when I saw all these cans, and then I realised that this was a storage area, from where the various features were despatched, to cinemas in the North West, and further afield.

"As a result, we were able to recoup virtually all of our lost archive, but we still need to find a few titles, to complete the collection."

Now Mike is using the worldwide web to scour the globe for copies of the missing films, and already one movie 'Under New Management', made by Mancunian Film Studios' founder, John. E. Blakeley, for Butchers Film Service, in 1946, has turned up, in Los Angeles.

Other films that Mike is looking for include two gems, made by Northern box-office busting film and stage icon, Frank Randle. These are: 'Somewhere In Civvies' (made at Nettlefolds Studios, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, in 1943), and 'Somewhere In Politics' (Mancunian Studios, 1949).

Please contact me, if you think you may be able to help Mike in his search. Anything - no matter how trivial - concerning Mancunian Film Studios, is always of interest.

Many thanks to Gerry George for this invaluable history of Mancunian films. You can contact Gerry at Gerry_George@btinternet.com.
 mancunian films

latest releases
Hooray For Jollywood

GEORGE FORMBY (A Troubled Genius)
This biography explores the lives of George and Beryl Formby, and their contribution to the war effort. listing all the songs and movies including those made with Mancunian Films. (April 2001)

by Brian Hornsey [ISDN 1901425371]. (Jun 1999) BUY THE BOOK

Biography that looks at the local careers of Dave Morris, Hylda Baker, and Jimmy Clitheroe [ISDN 1898413053]. (Dec 1999)

Biography that looks at the local careers of Frank Randle, Harry Korris and Al Read [ISDN 1898413029]. (Dec 1995)

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