Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Frank Randle

Barney Smith, the landlord of the Black Swan in Leek, produced a series of articles reminiscing about his time as a theatrical agent in Manchester in the years immediately after the Second World War. The articles appeared in the Post and Times in early 1975 and are a roll call of post war entertainers that Barney knew. I was interested in his relationship with the legendary North Country comedian Frank Randle. In the late 40s Barney was managing  the Plaza Ballroom in Manchester and got to knew him through some of the people involved in the revue “Randle's Scandals and through this link found himself one day in 1949 on the set of Randle’s latest film “Somewhere in Politics”. Randle used the studios of Mancunian Films based in an old chapel in Rusholme- it was later used by the BBC for “Top of the Pops”, Mancunian Films were an independent film company which made very popular comic films which for a time ranked in popularity with Hollywood. Stars like Frank Randle, Jimmy James and Norman Evans worked there and it was a world into which Barney was drawn.

But first a word about Frank Randle who in 1949 was at the top of his game and easily the most popular comedian in the north. He knew his audience and rightly thought that his act would not fit well with London audiences. By the same token the Brighton based Comedian Max Miller did not do well north of Watford. Randle was difficult man. Born in 1901 in Wigan Randle in many ways was the antithesis of fellow Wiganer George Formby whilst Formby was cuddly and innocuous, Randle was abrasive and rude, but still his audience loved him and he sold out his summer shows in Blackpool.

 A combination of paranoid personality, alcohol misuse and possession of a Luger pistol made him a dangerous person to fall out with. Following a conviction for obscenity he hired a light aircraft to bomb Blackpool with toilet rolls after falling out with the puritanical Chief Constable of the town.  And if heckled, would hurl his false teeth at the offending miscreant. He would often not turn up for a venue usually being drunk and incapable. My Mother tried to see Randle who should have been appearing in Southport in 1940, but didn’t as he was sleeping it off somewhere. She did get her money back.

Barney Smith was present at a script reading at the studio while “Somewhere in Politics” was being made. One of the cast members  Tessie O’Shea encouraged him to try his luck in the film and he appeared in a minor role as a hotel manager. Also present was the Irish singer and Randle’s drinking partner Joseph Locke.

 Barney Smith’s other brush with British comedy history is that he was present when Jimmy Jewell received a letter from his long term partner straight man Ben Warris in a Manchester hotel in 1966 informing Jewell of the end of their 40 year partnership.