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Manchester Television, Film & Broadcasting Celebrities

Mike Harding

Mike Harding, the Rochdale Cowboy

(b. 1944)
A local lad of wit and humour, known as the 'Rochdale Cowboy', Mike Harding came with a ready line of comic songs accompanied by the guitar, and he was a popular local radio presenter in the 1970s and 80s, who still makes occasional appearances now and then.
He was actually born in Lower Crumpsall in 1944 into a working class Irish Catholic family, though his father was killed in the Second World War, before Mike was born.
Did a variety of menial and manual tasks before getting his degree in English, and embarking on an early career as a playwright. His first play "Fur Coat and No Knickers" broke the box office at the Oldham Coliseum. He has written many successful plays, but he is best known as a broadcaster and radio raconteur. A keen cyclist and rambler, he now lives in Dent in Cumbria and works in studio recording from his converted barn home.

Caroline Aherne

Caroline Aherne, Mrs Merton, Manchester comedienne

(b. 1963)
TV Comedienne, creator of television's "Mrs Merton" , and now well known for her part in Paul Whitehouse's "The Fast Show" and in "The Royle Family" , Caroline Aherne was born on Christmas Eve in 1963 in Wythenshawe, the daughter of an Irish railway worker.
She attended the Hollies Convent Grammar School in West Didsbury and then went on to the (then) Liverpool Polytechnic as a drama student. She worked for a time as a secretary at the BBC in Manchester where she met her co-writers Craig Cash and Henry Normal. Caroline also has a cult following on the Manchester live comedy circuits, and worked for a time with Cash on a pirate radio station, where the character of Mrs Merton was developed. After a few shows, both Caroline and Cash were sacked, but their show was picked up by BBC Radio 2, where the character was further developed, and paved the way for her better known television series later.

Will Hay

Will Hay

Born in 1889, this early film and radio comedic actor developed his dotty schoolmaster characterisation on the basis of stories told to him by his sister, a school teacher in Cheetham Hill. His early years were spent working as an engineering apprentice in his father's company in Manchester, (though he had been born in Stockton-on-Tees).
In his spare time he learned French and German, and acted for a time as an interpreter for the Calico Printer's Association in Manchester. He married his wife, Gladys Perkins at the age of 19 (she was then 16) at a church in Higher Broughton. Success in an audition at Manchester's Palace Theatre gave him a year's paid acting work.
Here he met the then famous Fred Karno's Army troupe e, joining them in such 1930s movies as "Those Were the Days", "Boys will be Boys", "Where there's a Will" , and in the 1940s "The Goose Steps Out" and "My Learned Friend" . Hay was actually no mean scholar, either - he actually appeared on the BBC's "Brain Trust" , was a noted astronomer, as well as a pilot. He died in 1949 aged 60 years.

Warren Clarke

Warren Clarke

(b. 1948)
Actor, often comedic, best known for his role in TV's "Dalziel & Pascoe", but he has a long list of other appearances to add to his CV: "The Manageress", "Gone to the Dogs", "The Locksmith" and "A Respectable Trade" amongst them, as well as his early appearance as Dim in the film "A Clockwork Orange".Born in 1948 in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, the son of a stained glass maker, Clarke joined the Manchester Evening News straight from school, aged 15, as a copy boy. He soon moved onto amateur dramatics and performed at Huddersfield Rep and the Liverpool Playhouse, before becoming more serious and taking up acting as a professional full-time career. He went on to perform at the Manchester Library Theatre, Newcastle Playhouse, and began to appear in television soap operas. In 1969, his career was well underway and he moved to London. He now lives in Buckinghamshire with his wife and child.

Stuart Hall


Robert Donat

Robert Donat

Popular 1930s and 40s Hollywood actor, best known for his role in "Goodbye Mr Chips" in which he gave the definitive performance. Born Fitzgerald Robert Donat in March 1905 at 42 Albert Road (later renamed Everett Road) in Withington, Manchester. He attended the Central Grammar School for Boys and then studied to go on the stage in Manchester. He appeared subsequently in many repertory theatres, including Birmingham, Manchester and Cambridge and London's West End.
His big movie opportunity came with a part in the 1932 version of John Buchan's "The Thirty-Nine Steps" , later in "The Citadel" and "The Count of Monte Cristo" . But he is best remembered as Mr Chips, whom he modelled on one of his own old schoolmasters.
Ill health and chronic asthma meant that he only ever appeared in 19 films, and actually needed an oxygen mask between takes on the filming of "The Inn of the Sixth Happiness" , in 1958, his last film, as he died, at the age of 53, within days of its completion.

Bernard Manning

Bernard Manning

Another local comedian, very popular on TV in the 1970s, who has performed solely in his own Embassy Club since the decline in the popularity of his rather racist and rude act.
Born in Ancoats in 1930 and brought up in Faulkener Street in Blackley, he sang in the school choir and began as an entertainer with impressions of George Formby. Joined the Oldham Empire as a singer at £15 a week. He later persuaded his father to help him buy the old billiard hall on Rochdale Road in Harpurhey, which he opened as the Embassy Club in 1959.
Short of cash he looked for young rising stars who only commanded low pay rates - Mike Yarwood, Matt Monroe and Jimmy Tarbuck all began their careers at this venue. Came to more general notoriety when he appeared on Granada Televisions "The Comedians" in the 1960s. Bernard recently retired due to ill health and his son, Bernard junior has taken over at the club. Bernard Manning is also chairman of Radcliffe Football Club.
Bernard Manning died at the age of 76 on Monday 18 June 2007 at North Manchester General Hospital where he was being treated for a kidney condition.

John Thaw

John Thaw

Inspector Reagan in "The Sweeney" in the 1970s, "Kavanagh QC" in the early 1990s to "Inspector Morse" in the late 1990s - John Thaw pursued a most celebrated career as a British television actor. A one-time potato porter in Manchester's Smithfield Market, Thaw was at one time the highest paid actor on British television, earning a reported £50,000 per hour on set. Born in 1942 in Longsight, the son of a lorry driver, his family later moved to Burnage, where Thaw had his first acting experience at a Burnage Community Association party. Having done badly at school, he succeeded in raising an LEA grant to study at the RADA stage school, from whence he never looked back. He was married to the actress Sheila Hancock. Shortly after his last television appearance in "Goodnight Mr Tom" he died, sadly, and much loved, in February 2002 after losing a long battle with cancer. His full official biography is available at the website:

Harry H Corbett

Harry H Corbett, Hariold Steptoe of Steptoe and Son

Best known as Harold Steptoe in the 1960s and 70s TV series "Steptoe & Son" , Corbett was actually born in Burma in 1925, but when his mother died he was sent back to England (aged three) to be brought up by an aunt in Ardwick.
Later, inspired by a favourite teacher at Sharston Senior School, he wrote his first play before leaving school at age 14. A series of dead-end jobs ensued, grocer's delivery boy, plumber, male nurse, car sprayer, until he joined the Chorlton Repertory Company at the age of 23, and later the Theatre Workshop Company in Manchester working under Joan Greenwood. He appeared in many comedy films, including the "Carry On" series, "The Bargee", "Crowns and Coronets" and "The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins" . In 1962 he auditioned and got the role in a "one-off" play called "Steptoe & Son". It was such a success that the series ran on television for 13 years. He was named Actor of the Year in 1962. He died of a heart attack in 1982 aged 57.

Fred Dibnah MBE

Fred Dibnah, Lancashire Steeplejack from Bolton

Born in Bolton, Fred Dibnah came into public notoriety when a local BBC Television broadcast had included a news item showing him gilding and installing the topmost finial of Bolton Town Hall. His earthy cloth-capped common-sense attitudes, personable 'old world' philosophy, love of all things mechanical (and particularly steam engines), and his unashamedly workingman charm, immediately endeared him to millions of viewers, and he became an overnight national celebrity. Actually, by training and trade, Fred was a joiner, but he is now probably best known for felling chimney stacks. His new-found celebrity status was confirmed in 1979 when he was invited to take part in the making of an hour long television film series about people with unusual occupations. The film won two awards and was entitled was called "Fred Dibnah - Steeplejack". Several other TV series have followed, covering various topics, including his work as a steeplejack, the restoration of his steamroller and various industrial archaeology programmes. Another less celebrated series covered Fred's divorce and the effects of being a television personality. In 1994 the BBC released a book called "The Fred Dibnah Story". Other independent videos have been subsequently released, on topics close to his heart, including "The Ups and Downs of Chimneys" and "All Steamed Up" illustrating his devotion to his many steam restoration projects. As a result of his considerable experience and expertise in steam restoration, which is really his first love, he was asked to undertake a major restoration project at Glynllifon Parc, Caernarfon, where the restored steam engine and boiler won a heritage award.
In 1996, Fred divorced his second wife Sue, mother to sons Jack and Roger. In 1998 he married Sheila Grundy from Blackpool. In his latter days he made a series of six programmes with a working title called "Fred Dibnah's Industrial Tour of Britain" and an accompanying book and set of videos followed.
In the Queen's new Year's Honours List in 2004 he was awarded the MBE for his services to our industrial heritage.
With the onset of cancer he cancelled all engagements in September 2004 after he was taken ill during filming his last television series, "Made In Britain" . Fred Dibnah lost his fight with prostate cancer only weeks after filming this final television series, and died peacefully at 12 noon at Bolton Hospice on Saturday 6th November 2004 aged 66. He was surrounded by friends and members of his family. Fred's final wish was that his beloved traction engine "Betsy" should carry his coffin, as he said he would like this. His final 12 part television series was broadcast in 2005. Fred Dibnah's signature television programmes are regularaly shown on cable and satellite television channels.

See also: Fred Dibnah's Memorial Statue, Bolton

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This page last updated 15 Dec 11.