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Gerry George's Memories - 12
The nostalgic memories of a television kid of the '50s



Doin' it, without words, is sometimes the best way to *meck it up*: that's right, the way they often did it in film comedy, at a unique film studio in King Cotton's Manchester, way back in the 1940s.

This reminds me of a story once related to me by actor/comedian Jimmy Jewel, when he and his stage partner, cousin Ben Warris turned up at Manchester's Mancunian Studios - a converted Wesleyan Chapel, in Dickenson Road, Rusholme - to make their first film *What A Carry On* along with star Irish tenor Josef Locke.

It was 1949, and Jewel and Warris were topping bills at Variety theatres all over England, and the duo were even more famous for their blockbuster BBC Home Service radio show *Up The Pole* co-starring comic actor Claude Dampier and comedienne Betty Paul.

"Where's the script ?" asked Jewel, as he approached looming and broody director/owner John E Blakeley, who stood illuminated by a solitary Klieg light in the brand new edifice he had begged and borrowed to build, expressly to hit back at the undisguised bigotry of the plum-in-the-mouth film snobs in the South.

"What script ?", Blakeley snorted - permanently clad, as usual - in his three-quarter length black crombie and bowler hat, "we don't 'ave scripts 'ere lad: just look at that camera an' be funny for five minutes !"

Jimmy recalled that he was gob-smacked at the time, but amazingly the comedy worked...and that's how Blakeley continued to make pictures at Mancunian, again and again.

The fact is, he was dealing almost exclusively with tried-and-tested *troupers* and they didn't need words to get the laughs in some film, that they were getting, anyway, every night in Variety theatres up and down the country.

Frank Randle, a regular performer at his studio - and a part-owner - was surely the best exponent of this style of delivery, and modus operandi.

This Wigan-born comic genius didn't need scripts - the spontaneous words were in his head, and the comedy was in his glinting gimlet eyes, his jutting lantern jaw and eccentric body movements, coupled with his mercurial talent and rare ability to let his own zany brand of gummy toothless Tom-foolery flow between him, the audience... and whoever might be feeding him at the time; if at all.

It was a language which the Northern mill folk knew by heart, and they showed their appreciation by packing out the houses wherever Randle worked; aye, right up until the very last death throes of Variety and that raw knock-about brand of film comedy in Britain; the demise of which coincided with the death of Randle and then George Formby...the Lancashire icon-in-waiting, who actually saved Ealing Studios from extinction, in 1936, arriving as he did - in the nick of time - as a Heaven-sent box office money-spinning phenomenon.

I suppose, in truth, these players worked to an innate tried-and-trusted formula, where comedy was concerned; simply interpreting and revelling in the fun as it happened, and in the same breath, deliberately giving voice to the applauding audiences, as opposed to themselves.

You seem to have rediscovered that winning *unscripted dialogue* recipe...so here's wishing you all the success and laughs in the world, for many more belly laughs, giggles, titters and cardboard moons to come.

Every good wish.   Sincerely, always,   Gerry George

Check-out these URLs if you are interested to know more about these great fun phenomenons:


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