Manchester Stars & Celebrities of Television & Film
Cannon & Ball
Bobby Ball (born 1944), Tommy Cannon (born 1938) These two former Lancashire welders formed the comedy partnership of Cannon & Ball in the 1980s, and were popular television entertainers for most of that decade. Bobby Ball (far left picture) was born on the 28th January 1944 at Shaw in Oldham, and Tommy Cannon (near left picture) was born on the 27th June 1938 also in Oldham.
They began their professional careers as a singing duo called ‘The Harper Brothers’ around local clubs, while being factory workers during the daytime. When they appeared on Hughie Green’s television talent show “Opportunity Knocks” they changed their name to Cannon & Ball, and were a popular audience choice for best act. Within a year they had been voted the Variety Club Showbusiness Personalities of the Year, voted clubland’s best comedy act, as well as topping various newspaper and magazine popularity polls. In 1979 they starred in their own London Weekend Television show “The Cannon & Ball Show” . They have also been the subjects of “This is Your Life” programmes, as well as starring in one film “The Boys in Blue” . Their fortunes have fared less well in the 1990s, though they appear still in local clubs, feature at Blackpool shows and are regular characters in Christmas Pantomimes in the region.
Alistair Cooke, KBE
(1908-2004) Alistair (Alfred) Cooke, the celebrated journalist, author, commentator and broadcaster was born on the 20th of November 1908 in Manchester. However, most of his upbringing was in the USA and he has subsequently taken American citizenship. He is perhaps best known for his long-running BBC Radio 4 programme “Letter From America” , which he has regularly broadcast since 1946. At Cambridge (England) he gained a BA degree in 1930, and anticipated a career as an actor, having joined the dramatic society, the Cambridge University Mummers in 1928 as a founder member. He was also editor of the student’s literary journal “The Granta” , and from 1931 he made many contributions to the American periodical “Theatre Arts Monthly” . On a one-year Commonwealth Fund Scholarship, in 1932 he went to America and visited Yale and Harvard Universities. Here he “fell in love with America”, and within 3 years had become a permanent resident, and obtained full US citizenship by 1941. However, his ties with the land of his birth remained firm and affectionate. He has continued to be a major contributor to British newspapers, and has been American feature writer for the Daily Herald, and Roving Correspondent for The Times. He was at one time a BBC Film Critic, as well as being ‘The Manchester Guardian’ Newspaper’s Chief US Correspondent for many years, and has worked for various American Radio Stations as a specialist in British affairs. He continued writing, mostly in theatre and film criticism, and published the book “Garbo and the Nightwatchman” in 1937. He first appeared on television in the 1930s with a short programme entitled “Accent in America” , although his television masterpiece was in the 1980s with his definitive 13 part series “America”, which was subsequently a best selling book for several years after publication. This book achieved critical acclaim for its objective and personal analysis of the birth and development of that nation, and for Cooke’s customary modest, frank, affectionate and incisive manner of delivery. He was made a Knight of the British Empire (KBE) for his work in broadcasting and for the way he is seen to represent the Englishman abroad. Many Britons thought he was the archetypal American, while to most Americans he was the quintessential Englishman. After presenting his “Letter from America” for some 58 years, he finally retired in February 2004, and died a month later on 29th March 2004.
(Born 1941) Born 14th June 1941 in Bredbusy, Stockport, Mike Yarwood was arguably Britain’s number one impressionist during the 1960s and 1970s. After many years as a semi-professional working around local clubs, his career really took off with his appearance on “Sunday Night at the London Palladium” on Independent Television in 1964 in which he was an overnight national success. His impersonation of the then Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, captured the audience’s attention, and he became very much in demand as a top entertainer in variety and chat shows on British television. He had several of his own series of television showcases. Other characterisations which he perfected included impressions of well-known contemporary football manager Brian Clough, rugby football commentator Eddie Waring, comedy character Alf Garnett, television interviewer Robin Day, and later the Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath. In the 1980s his popularity declined as he failed to create new characterisations, or to compete with the more lively, topical young impressionists (like Rory Bremner). Many believed that it was the election of Margaret Thatcher to Prime Minister in 1979, which was the death blow to Yarwood’s act – he had never successfully impersonated women, and Mrs Thatcher defeated him. His personal life was also beset by problems. Despite several abortive attempts at staging comebacks, he failed to regain the limelight. His main television series included “Will the Real Mike Yarwood Stand Up”, “Look – Mike Yarwood” , and “Mike Yarwood in Persons” . In the mid-1990s, Yarwood returned to the stage as prime minister John Major, but failed to re-establish himself with audiences. He claimed that one of the difficulties in impersonating John Major and Tony Blair was that they were “nice guys”. In July 1990 Yarwood suffered a mild heart attack. The following year he gave up alcohol and has been teetotal ever since. In October 1999, he underwent treatment for depression at the Priory Clinic, Roehampton.
(formerly Joanne Whalley-Kilmer)
(Born 1964) Born Joanne Whalley on August 25th 1966 in Salford and raised in Stockport, this striking brunette stage and screen actress was married to the American actor, Val Kilmer, and subsequently has changed her name to Whalley-Kilmer. Later, after divorcing, she reverted to her original surname of Whalley. As a stage actress she appeared at the Royal Court Theatre in London, and on Broadway in New York. Since the 1980s her career has involved her almost exclusively in movie films, of which her most celebrated leading role was as Christine Keeler in “Scandal” , which told the story of the Profumo Trial in the 1950s. She also appeared on British television in Dennis Potter’s play “The Singing Detective” with Michael Gambon in the early 1980s. Other films to her credit include “Edge of Darkness”, “The Wall” (Pink Floyd – 1982), “Dance With a Stranger” (1985), “Willow” (1988), “Kill Me Again” (1989), “Shattered” (1991) and “Storyville ” in 1992. In 1994 she played Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind” in a made-for-TV adaptation of the sequel novel, Scarlett. She also starred in the 1997 film “The Man Who Knew Too Little” . In 2000 she starred in the leading role for the elevision film “Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis” and after her divorce she worked with the pop-punk band Blink-182 and in 2005, she appeared as Queen Mary I in the BBC television serial “The Virgin Queen” . Other appearances have included “Life Line” , a 2006 two-part drama on BBC1 and in 2008 in the ITV mini series “Flood” opposite Robert Carlyle. Also in that year, she appeared on stage in Los Angeles in Billy Roche’s “Poor Beast in the Rain” at The Matrix Theatre. She played one of the female leads, in the historical drama “The Borgias” and made a guest appearance in season 4 of “Gossip Girl”.
(Born 1953) Actress, entertainer, scriptwriter and comedienne, Victoria Wood was born in Prestwich in 1953, and attended Bury Grammar School for Girls. She went on to study at the University of Birmingham. She was ‘discovered’ on the “New Faces” TV talent show in 1975, and within a year was writing topical and satirical songs for Esther Rantzen’s “That’s Life” programme on BBC Television. Noted for her witty use of satirical wordplay, and catchy “improvised” music with bitingly topical themes, she has endeared herself to millions in her television appearances, and her own Victoria Wood TV shows. On the “That’s Life” programme she met Julie Walters, with whom she has performed many times since, including in their own “Wood & Walters” show. Other one-woman shows have included “Victoria Wood – As Seen on TV” , as well as “An Audience with Victoria Wood” . She was at one time married to magician Geoffrey Durham (also at one time known as the Great Soprendo). Her latest success has been with the television comedy series “Dinner Ladies” , starring herself with Thelma Barlow and Anne Reid. In 2006, she won two BAFTA awards for her ITV drama “Housewife, 49” . The next year she directed a revival production of “Acorn Antiques: The Musical!” with a brand new cast, which opened at The Lowry in Salford before going on tour throughout the UK. She was also the subject of an episode of “The South Bank Show” in March 2007 followed soon after by her own travel documentary show on BBC1 called “Victoria’s Empire” , tracing the history, cultural impact and customs of the British Empire. On New Year’s Day 2011 she appeared in a BBC drama “Eric and Ernie” as Sadie Bartholomew, mother of Eric Morecambe. For the 2011 Manchester International Festival, she wrote and directed “That Day We Sang” , a musical set in 1969 with flashbacks to 1929, involving a choir singing with the Hallé Orchestra in the Manchester Free Trade Hall (now the Edwardian Hotel) most of the score for the musical being written by herself.
(Born 1947) A local Bury man, born 14 March 1947, the son of Councillor Jack Skellern, Mayor of Bury from 1971-72, Peter Skellern is a musician, entertainer and composer. A pianist, with several musical hits to his name in the early 1980s, notably the classic “You’re a Lady”. He had played trombone in the school band and served as organist and choirmaster in a local church before attending the Guildhall School of Music from which he graduated with honours in 1968. He went on to join the group called “March Hare” which recorded a country-pop album under the name of “Harlan County”, before disbanding in 1971. He married and has two children. Later he worked as a hall porter in Shaftsbury in Dorset, before gaining international recognition with his UK number 3 hit “You’re a Lady” . Later albums included “Peter Skellern Not Without a Friend” which were mostly his own compositions. In 1975 he produced “Hold On to Love” which established him as a purveyor of wittily-observed if homely love songs. Skellern’s credibility as an original composer-musician was confirmed and enhanced when ex-Beatle George Harrison assisted in the production of the “Hard Times” album, of which the title track was recorded later by Ringo Starr. In 1978 he had a minor hit with “Love is the Sweetest Thing” (which featured a backing by the Grimethorpe Colliery Brass band) winning the Music Trades Association award for best MOR Album of 1979. Subsequently he wrote and performed six autobiographical programmes for BBC Television, followed by “Happy Endings” , (a series of musical plays), and hosted the “Private Lives” chat show in 1983. In 1984 he formed “Oasis” with Julian Lloyd Webber, Mary Hopkin and guitarist Bill Loveday in an attempt to fuse mutual classical and pop interests, though that project has, as yet, failed to make any major impact.
We are indebted to Mr Eric Ball who kindly supplied most of the biographical information on Peter Skellern.
Photo courtesy of Bernard Wrigley
(Born 1948) Bernard Wrigley was born in 1948 and attended Thornleigh Grammar School in Bolton. After leaving school, he spent 2 years working in the Customs & Excise before turning professional at the Octagon Theatre as half of “Dave & Bernard.” He started his solo act(s) at the beginning of 1970. Singing and acting formed, from the outset equal parts of his career. He began by singing in folk clubs, and then became involved with documentaries produced at the new and dynamic Octagon Theatre in Bolton. This carried on into plays, and then the Ken Campbell Roadshow, where the acting and singing combined. Here he wrote such gems as the “Ballad of Knocking Nelly” . From here, as well as singing all the while, he appeared in numerous Alan Bennett films, including “Day Out, Afternoon Off, and Me” and “I�m afraid of Virginia Woolf” . Then came a steady trail of appearances in such TV programmes as “Coronation Street”, “Emmerdale”, “Wood & Walters”, “Children�s Ward” , and adverts, including singing and acting in a prestigious Guinness TV campaign. He appeared at a Royal Command Performance during the Queen�s Jubilee year. Back to the Octagon in the 90s for “Waiting for Godot” with Mike Harding, and in “Road”, at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester. TV appearances include “Last of the Summer Wine” , “Coogan�s Run” , Asphalt in Terry Pratchett�s “Soul Music” , and on film the union official in “Brassed Off” . 1997 saw his tenth album – “Albert, Arthur and the Car Park “, as well as a radio play, and “Emmerdale” as Barry Clegg, the rocket building husband of Zak Dingle�s girlfriend, Lisa. Then “Snow White and the Seven Dwarf”s ” at Southport Theatre, “Cold Feet”, “The Cops” , and Northern Broadside�s Passion play. 1998 saw him playing “The Limestone Cowboy” at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry. All detailed on his website at www.bernardwrigley.com. Appearances in 2001 include Steve Coogan�s film “Parole Officer” , and in Peter Kay�s “Phoenix Nights” , together with his own radio programmes and a series of concerts with the Oldham Tinkers. He played two different characters in Victoria Wood�s “Christmas Special” on Christmas Day, and earlier in 2000 he was the prisoner in a TV advert for Walls� Sausages, was murdered in “Harbour Lights” in May, and in June released “Magnificent Monologues” , a CD of all the most famous ones including “The Lion and Albert & The Battle of Hastings” – with piano accompaniment. In 1999 he was the Rev. Marvin Winstanley in “Coronation Street” , then to Norway for a lottery commercial. Summer saw him presenting Jim Bowen�s morning show on Radio Lancashire & doing the programme jingles; concerts with the Oldham Tinkers followed and October saw a book of his songs and monologues from Landy Publishing. Guest spot on the Houghton Weavers� “20 event Christmas Tour” ended the year, with two Christmas episodes of “Dinner Ladies”.
(Biography as supplied by Bernard Wrigley himself). www.bernardwrigley.com
(Born 1940) A veteran of film, stage and television, John Mahoney, (probably best known in the UK as Frasier Crane’s father in the TV comedy series “Frasier” ) was born in Manchester on 20th June 1940, the son of a local baker, one of eight children, and emigrated to the United States after finishing school. In the US he joined the army. Subsequently, he became a naturalised America citizen and received his bachelor’s degree from Quincy College and a master’s degree in English from Western Illinois University. At 37, Mahoney took the decision to pursue a lifelong ambition and began a career in the theatre, enrolling at the St Nicholas Theatre, performing alongside the likes of John Malkovich, who invited him to join the Steppenwolf Theatre. Mahoney has since appeared in more than 30 Steppenwolf productions. In addition to a Tony Award, he received a Clarence Derwent Award and a Drama Desk nomination for his performance in “House of Blue Leaves” as well as a second Drama Desk nomination and Theatre World Award for his part in an off-Broadway production of “Orphans.” Among his many film credits are: “Tin Men”, “Moonstruck”, “Barton Fink”, “Suspect”, “The Russia House”, “Frantic”, “Betrayed”, “Eight Men Out”, “Say Anything”, “The Manhattan Project”, “In the Line of Fire”, “Article 99”, “Striking Distance”, “The Hudsucker Proxy”, “Reality Bites” and “The American President.” Television appearances have included “The Human Factor”, “H.E.L.P.”, “Lady Blue”, “Favourite Son”, “Dinner at Eight,” “The Image” and “The Water Engine.” Most recently his portrayal of Kelsey Grammer’s father in “Frasier” has won many television awards. He presently lives in Chicago. I n 2011, Mahoney appeared in the new play “The Outgoing Tide” at Northlight Theatre in Chicago as well as making two guest appearances on the TV Land sitcom “Hot In Cleveland” which reunited him with his “Frasier” co-stars Jane Leeves and Wendie Malick, who was also his co-star in the movie “The American President”.
Born on 1 October 1888, John E. Blakeley was the man behind The Mancunian Film Corporation – one of the woefully neglected film studios of the region. He opened the studio in Manchester in 1947 at a cost of �70,000, in an old chapel in Dickenson Road, Rusholme. It was known locally as “The Fun Factory” or “Jollywood”. Films produced by this studio had a distinctly northern flavour (which may explain why they found little favour in London and the South). Made on a shoestring budget with various northern hall performers as cast, they were extremely popular with the working people of Lancashire, though London critics slated these films. Stars included the likes of George Formby, Nat Jackley, Norman Evans, Duggie Wakefield, Jimmy James, Jewel & Warris, Josef Locke, Jimmy Clitheroe, Diana Dors, and Frank Randle. His father James had first opened studios in Rusholme in 1908, and John soon followed in his footsteps, making some 20 or so films during six year in Manchester, (though early films were actually shot in London), and the studio remained in profit for the whole of that time. The arrival of television in the 1950s marked the end of Mancunian comedies and at the age of 65 Blakeley decided to call it a day and retired. The studio closed in 1953. Mancunian Films, did continue however, with his son Tom taking over the production of a series of B-picture crime movies. John E Blakeley died oln 20 February 1958 in Stockport. The story of John E Blakeley and Mancunian Films is the subject of the book “Hooray for Jollywood” by Philip Martin Williams and David L. Williams. Find out more at the website: https://www.angelfire.com/ab7/history_doorstep/jollywood/
We are grateful to Philip & David Williams for suggesting this topic and providing material on John Blakeley and Mancunian Films.