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

(1889-1949) 
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.
 

Robert Donat

Robert Donat

(1905-1958)
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

(1930-2007)
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

(1942-2002)
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: https://johnthaw.topcities.com/johnthaw/

Harry H Corbett

Harry H Corbett, Hariold Steptoe of Steptoe and Son

(1925-1982) 
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

(1938-2004) 
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.

Cannon & Ball

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

Alistair Cooke

(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.

Mike Yarwood

Mike Yarwood

(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.

Joanne Whalley

(formerly Joanne Whalley-Kilmer)

Joanne Whalley

(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”.

Victoria Wood

Victoria Wood

(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.

Peter Skellern

Peter Skellern

(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.

Bernard Wrigley

Bernard Wrigley
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

John Mahoney

John Mahoney

(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”.

John Blakeley

John Blakeley

(1888-1958) 
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.

Jane Horrocks

Jane Horrocks - Actress

(Born 1964)
Born 18th January 1964 in Rossendale, Lancashire, Jane Horrocks first came to the broader public consciousness as ‘Bubbles’ in the “Absolutely Fabulous” television show, although she had already been acclaimed for her role in Mike Leigh’s 1990 film, “Life is Sweet”. In 1998, she appeared as the singing heroine in “Little Voice” with Michael Caine. In its wake and as a result of this success, the play “The Rise and Fall of Little Voice” was written especially for her.
Jane Horrocks grew up, the youngest of three children, in a working class home in Lancashire, where her mother was a ward aid in a local hospital and her father a door-to-door salesman. She went to the RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) and was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company but confessed to finding it “incredibly boring”.
She currently lives with writer, Nick Vivian and their son, Dylan, and daughter, Molly. Jane’s success as the timid singer in the award winning film “Little Voice” demonstrated a broader range than had been hitherto realised, and on the release of her debut album, “The Further Adventures of Little Voice” , she spoke publically about her lifelong love for music.
She also appeared for a time as the dippy computer, Holly, in the cult series, “Red Dwarf” , appearing with Craig Charles and Chris Barrie; she was also the voice of Babs in Nick Parkes’ “Chicken Run” . As a successful character actress, she won great acclaim in “Bring Me The Head Of Mavis Davis” . In 2003-2004 season she appeared in Stephen Poliakoff’s play “Sweet Panic” in the West End of London. She also appeared in the late 1990s TV advertising campaign for Tesco Supermarkets as a long-suffering daughter alongside fussy mother played by actress Prunella Scales. She also played the role of Gracie Fields in the film “Gracie “.

Eric Knowles

Eric Knowles - Antiques Expertt

(Born 1953)
Born in Nelson, Lancashire in 1953, (where his parents still live), Eric Knowles is a respected antiques expert, but has become a well-known television celebrity, largely through his regular appearances on the BBC’s ‘ Antiques Road Show’ . As a young man in the 1970s he worked in both engineering and for an antique shipping company. His love of antiques was inherited from his parents and in 1976 when he joined the London auctioneers, Bonhams as a porter in the ceramics department. By 1981 he had become head of that department and in 1985 he was offered a full directorship.
Eric is a Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts and a leading expert on European and Oriental Ceramics from 17th to the 20th century, of Tiffany and Lalique, and 19th and 20th century decorative arts. In 1992 Eric was responsible for setting up Bonham’s offices in Bristol and later continued directing the Decorative Arts Department in the London branch. His numerous television appearances and credits include ‘Crimewatch UK’, ‘Selling the Family Silver’, ‘Going for a Song’, ‘The Great Antiques Hunt’, ‘The Antiques Inspectors’, ‘It’s a Gift’ and ‘You Can’t Take It With You’ , as well as cameo appearances on shows like ‘Jim Davidson’s Generation Game’, ‘Countdown’ and the ‘Jimmy Young Show’ on BBC Radio 2. He has written many books on antiques topics such as Victoriana, Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Royal Memorabilia and he remains a regular contributor to the BBC ‘ Homes and Antiques’ magazine and other periodicals.
Eric has lectured extensively in the UK including at the Victoria and Albert and the British Museum in London, as well as lecturing in America and Canada. He is a patron of several charities and is an ambassador for the Prince’s Trust. Eric reputedly also enjoys listening to 18th century music and jazz.

Jimmy Clitheroe

Jimmy Clitheroe - the Clitheroe Kid

(1921- 1973)
Born in Clitheroe, Lancashire in 1921, the diminutive little performer spent much of his early life in Blacko, near Nelson. Having begun acting in the local Methodist chapel for Sunday School concerts, Jimmy Clitheroe was to star in Variety shows, radio and television in a career spanning five decades from the 1930s to the 1970s. Affectionately known as “The Clitheroe Kid” , he starred with such variety show stars as Arthur Lucan (Old Mother Riley), George Formby, Frank Randle and Jewel & Warris. He also made two films for the Manchester Film Studios. Best known in the north of England, he was a long-standing regular in Blackpool ‘end of the pier’ variety shows, but gained wider popularity on radio and later in television shows.
In Blackpool he worked with the likes of Jimmy James and the up-and-coming comedian, Ken Dodd as well as appearing in pantomime with Tessie O’Shea. His final panto performance was in 1971. On radio in the mid-1950s, he was heard in Jimmy James’s show “The Mayor’s Parlour” and his own series, “Call Boy” , and, from 1957 his best known show, “The Clitheroe Kid” , which ran for a further 15 years.
From 1963 to 1968 he was performing on television with ABC Television’s “That’s My Boy” and “Just Jimmy” . In 1967, Jimmy Clitheroe made his last film, but continued to tour in Variety shows until his death in 1973. Jimmy never grew taller than 4 feet 3 inches and predominantly played a character role of an 11 year old schoolboy, complete with cap and blazer, even in old age – the boy who never grew up. See also: www.JimmyClitheroe.co.uk

Danny Ross

Danny Ross, The Oldham Comedian, The Clitheroe Kid
Danny Ross Image © 2006 Stephen Poppitt

(1931-1976) 
Born in Oldham in 1931, the Lancashire comedian Danny Ross became most famous on radio, playing “daft Alfie” alongside Jimmy Clitheroe (above) in the long-running BBC radio comedy series “The Clitheroe Kid” .He was originally a stage actor. His first professional job was at Oldham Repertory Theatre as a 14-year-old character juvenile.
After national service he resumed acting and his qualities as a comic actor gained recognition playing alongside Arthur Askey and Glenn Melvyn in the hit stage comedy “The Love Match” , the 1953 summer show at Blackpool Grand. Its subsequent tour brought him his first West End appearance. He later returned to the Grand for five very successful summer seasons with Glenn Melvyn, including a record-breaking run in the comedy “Friends and Neighbours” in 1959.
The association with Arthur Askey led him into movies with the 1955 film version of “The Love Match” in which all the stage cast appeared in their original roles. He went on to appear with Arthur Askey in two further films, “Ramsbottom Rides Again” in 1956 (a spoof of the film ‘Destry Rides Again’ ), and the film version of “Friends and Neighbours” in 1959. But he’s best remembered for his 13-year radio partnership with Jimmy Clitheroe, which began in 1960.
He was invited to join the established cast of “The Clitheroe Kid” , which was made in Manchester. As gormless Alfie Hall, he played the boyfriend of Jimmy’s sister, and the butt of endless jokes. For five years he also played a similar role on television, in Jimmy’s ITV comedy series “Just Jimmy” , which began in 1964. Danny Ross was always billed in the theatre as “the Oldham Comedian”.

In appearance and comic style, he owed something to George Formby, an association which he fostered by performing songs associated with Formby, and appearing in the Formby role in a revival of the stage comedy “Zip Goes a Million” . When he made a pop record he included a Formby number, “The Old Bazaar in Cairo” , on the B-side. After the final television series ended in 1968, he returned to the theatre, playing in summer shows and pantomime in and around Lancashire.

His radio work with Jimmy Clitheroe continued until his the latter’s death in 1973. Danny Ross was taken ill on New Year’s Day 1976, en route to London with his manager to arrange a new show. He died of a heart attack, aged just 45, at Blackpool’s Victoria Hospital six weeks later.

We are indebted to Stephen Poppitt & Sandra Skuse for this entry and for the photograph of Danny Ross. See their website: www.JimmyClitheroe.co.uk

Chris Evans

Chris Evans

(Born 1966)
Born in Warrington in 1966, Chris Evans was once regarded as the brightest and most promising Breakfast Show presenter on Virgin Radio, noted for his wit, his outlandish pranks and his total irreverence. His earlier jobs had included running a local newsagents shop, as well as his own Kiss-o-Gram and Private Detective agencies.
He began his broadcasting career at Piccadilly Radio in Manchester, but became known to a wider audience in 1992, as anchorman of Channel 4’s new early morning programme, “The Big Breakfast” . He had already created a reputation as a witty prankster on the BBC London radio station GLR with ‘Round at Chris Evans’ .
In its day, The Big Breakfast even beat ITV’s new breakfast station, GMTV, which had been launched in 1993, in the audience viewing ratings. Evans’ style quickly turned him into a cult personality to a national celebrity.
Later he launched his own production outfit, Ginger Productions, responsible for his first prime-time TV show, the Channel 4 quiz “Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush” . The format was sold around the world, bringing in funds to help him build up his media empire.
In 1994 he left the Big Breakfast and was recruited in the following year by BBC Radio 1 to present the breakfast show, and signed an 8-month contract reported to be at a salary of £1 million. The show was revitalised by Evans and by late 1996 listeners had increased to 7 million weekly. His style was frequently over-the-top, crude and sometimes offensive, though his liberalising influence dramatically changed the style of Radio 1, which hitherto a little safe and stuffy.
In January 1997, as a result of another debacle and demands to work a four-day week, Evans was sacked from Radio 1.
By now he was a very wealthy man, and his Ginger Media Group went on to purchase Virgin in late 1997 for £85 Million. Later it was sold on to the Scottish Media Group for £225 Million and Chris Evans was fired in June 2001 after failing to turn up for work 5 days in a row. His radio career came to an end after a very public three-day drinking binge, when he repeatedly failed to turn up to present his breakfast show. Subsequently his £8.6 million damages action against Virgin for unfair dismissal was thrown out and the sacking was upheld. During the trial, Evans was described as a “binge drinker”.
Recently, Chris Evans has tried his hand at TV production. His shows have included Boys and Girls, Live! and the Terry & Gaby Show .
In 2003, he was married to former pop star Billie Piper and the couple lived together in London, before their divorce in 2005.
Billie Piper went on to star in several television roles – in a BBC1 drama of Chaucer’s ‘The Miller’s Tale’, as the sidekick and supporting role to David Tennant in the “Doctor Who” series, and in the title role of the television version of “Fanny Hill”. Chris is currently co-hosting BBC 1 Television’s “The One Show”.