Founded by John E. Blakeley, the company produced films in London on extremely low budgets. Blakeley’s first studio consisted of a single soundstage in a loft space above a taxi garage. Whenever the filmmakers wanted to shoot a scene, they would first have to signal the mechanics below to stop working, so the noise from below wouldn’t register on the soundtracks. Blakeley’s first production was Boots! Boots! (1934), starring the young variety entertainer George Formby. Production values were so low that some scenes were filmed in semi-darkness, to hide the lack of set decorations. Despite the technical flaws, the debut film was a huge success in the local provinces, recouping Blakeley’s investment several times over and launching George Formby as Britain’s leading screen comedian. Within the year “Blakeley’s Productions, Ltd.” had become “The Mancunian Film Distributors, Ltd.”
Escalating costs and a desire to cater for the robust tastes of northern industrial audiences led to the establishment of the two-stage facility in a former Methodist Chapel on Dickenson Road, Rusholme. Starting with Cup-tie Honeymoon (1948) starring Sandy Powell, over the next six years the films went on to feature northern favourites.
Randle himself made upwards of 10 record-breaking comedies at Mancunian, and working alongside him were stars like the Irish tenor, Josef Locke; (I am getting old as I saw him perform on Blackpool Pier as a kid alongside Tessie O’Shea), Sandy Powell; Duggie Wakefield; the diminutive ‘boy’ comic Jimmy Clitheroe; Hilda Baker; Jimmy Jewel & Ben Warris; Harry Korris, Bobby (Enoch) Vincent, of the BBC Home Service, ‘Happidrome’ programme; Jimmy James and Ely Woods; Norman (‘Over The Garden Wall’) Evans; Gladys Morgan, Betty Jumel, Nat Jackley, Gus Aubrey, the black pianist, Winifred Atwell; Anne Ziegler & Webster Booth, the radio singing group, ‘The Kordites’, and a host of other stars, mainly recruited from all the top theatre venues in Blackpool, not to mention every provincial Variety theatre, within a 50-mile radius of Manchester.
All films were made on a shoestring, made a little profit but Blakely decided to retire when he reached 65 and sold his studios to the BBC, where the first editions of TOTP were made in 1964.
- Boots! Boots! (1934)
- Off the Dole (1935)
- Cup-tie Honeymoon (1948)
- International Circus Review (1948)
- Holidays with Pay (1948)
- Showground of the North (1948)
- Somewhere in Politics (1948)
- What a Carry On (1949)
- School for Randle (1949)
- Over the Garden Wall (1950)
- Let’s Have a Murder (1950)
- Love’s a Luxury (1952)
- Those People Next Door (1952)
- It’s a Grand Life (1953)
Lost Mancunian Film “Under new management” surfaces in Los Angeles
by Gerry George
Lost for decades, a rare immediate post-war Northern comedy film – ‘Under New Management’, starring Norman Evans, Nat Jackley, and Dan Young (the Dude Comedian), has turned up in Los Angeles.
Mancunian Film Studios’ entire film archive was lost, when a blaze swept through Kay Laboratories, in 1980, resulting in the total loss of all the original nitrate masters, of every film made by the studio, between the Forties and mid-Fifties.
It was only by chance, that five years later, copies of most of the 35mm originals – in a cache of more than 2,000 cans – were unearthed by Mike Blakeley, grandson of the legendary J. E. Blakeley, while clearing out a vault, prior to renovation of the giant Calico Printers Association building, in The Parsonage, Manchester, which formerly housed Mancunians’ prestige headquarters.
“I knew there would be something there”, said Mike, who now runs his own film company, based at Knutsford, in Cheshire, “but I didn’t realise there would be so much.
Other films that Mike is looking for include two gems, made by Northern box-office film and stage icon, Frank Randle. These are: ‘Somewhere In Civvies’ (made at Nettlefolds Studios, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, in 1943), and ‘Somewhere In Politics’ (Mancunian Studios, 1949).
Many thanks to Gerry George for this invaluable info on the lost film. You can contact Gerry at Gerry_George@btinternet.com