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
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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'.
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
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
"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.
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."
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.
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).
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.