Welcome to the History page - enjoy the following article about the history of the Mancunian Film Studio by CP Lee and also scroll for links to Studio photographs, articles about the formation of the Studios and for a chapter on Frank Randle and Mancunian Film ...
Thanks to Bruce Anderson for the cutting from the Manchester Guardian below right (Dec 2010)
The opening of the Mancunian Studios (1947) L-R: George Formby - Frank Randle - Betty Jumel - John E Blakeley - Sandy Powell
The story of the Mancunian Film Company began in 1908. Market trader James Blakeley entered the world of entertainment when he decided to buy a cinema of his own accord. It would have been what was known then as a ‘Penny Gaff’, a building, often a converted shop or chapel with rows of benches on a sloping floor, a projector and a sheet for a screen. Cinema was in its early days and parts of it were still considered by many to be too rough and ready for a sophisticated audience, yet James managed to pack in the crowds. Seeing how lucrative the film business was, much like the Honda accord parts online business of today, James sold the cinema and set up a film rental company with his two sons – James Jnr and John E.
Blakeley’s Central Film Agency scored a major coup in 1915 when John E persuaded his father that a movie called Tillie’s Punctured Romance would be a big hit. Tillie starred Charlie Chaplin in his first full-length comedy and other rental firms thought it would be too long to hold an audience’s attention. Blakeley’s got exclusive rights for the North West of England and in very little time had a major hit on their hands. This is the first example we have of John E’s remarkable ability to intuitively provide what audiences wanted.
In 1927 John E talked the family into taking the plunge and making their own films. With his canny gift of guessing correctly Blakeley produced a series of what we might call ‘silent musicals’ – or ‘singalong silents’. Once again these were highly successful and led to John E trying his luck at making a feature film. The result – Two Little Drummer Boys starred Wee Georgie Wood and recouped its costs in no time. Even though these films had to be shot in London studios it remained John E’s dream to set up a studio in Manchester. After all, his avowed aim was “Northern films for Northern people” – Why couldn’t he make them in a local studio!?
The 1930s and sound led to even more success for the Mancunian Film Company, John E, having more or less taken charge, introducing to the world the talented George Formby in his first two movies Boots Boots and Off The Dole. Made for very little overheads in a film studio over a London garage they proved to John E once and for all that his seemingly simple formula for making movies – no fancy camera work, simple plots, very little editing combined with the best talents the Northern Variety Halls had available – was all you needed to make a highly profitable and successful movie.
The Second World War saw a series of cheery comedies emerge from Mancunian, all of them eagerly lapped up by a wartime audience that needed morale boosting movies that would lift the spirits. Three of them starred Lancashire comic Frank Randle who was, at that time, the highest paid comedian in England. After the War Randle and Blakeley (with several other partners) became directors of the Film Studios Manchester and in 1947 John E’s dream came to fruition with the opening of the Dickenson Road studio in Rusholme. The first Manchester made feature film to be released was called Cup-Tie Honeymoon and starred Sandy Powell and also featured a very young Pat Phoenix as his wife! It was the first of many similar films to be made in Rusholme, all of them panned by the critics but loved by audiences. Mancunian films regularly outdrew Hollywood productions in cinemas around the North West.
1953 saw the last film to be made by both Frank Randle (It’s A Grand Life, co-starring Diana Dors) and John E Blakeley. It was also the last film to be made at the studio. Once again John E had gazed into the future and felt that TV was soon going to become more popular than the movies. He sold the studio to the BBC and it became the first regional TV studios outside of London and home, in its time, to shows ranging from Top Of The Pops to Grandstand. It wasn’t the end of Mancunian though – production carried on (back in London studios again!) until the mid 1960s in the hands of Tom Blakeley, John E’s son.
Over a period of forty years Mancunian produced over sixty movies, of which over half were feature films. It was the only feature film studio outside the greater London area and its contribution to the history of this country in particular and film in general is criminally overlooked. This website is here to redress the balance and place Mancunian where it rightfully belongs.
For more on the history of the studio read Hooray For Jollywood, available through Angelfire.
Mancunian had many logos, the one above for Film Studios Manchester was classic art-nouveau in style.
Not actually a logo, but the above image appears at the beginning of School for Randle.
Another wonderful logo (above) is used at the beginning of Over the Garden Wall.
The logo above finds its place at the start of Cup Tie Honeymoon.
Finally, the logo above was used for films produced by Mancunian and distributed by Butcher's (the Company not the editors).
click here for MANCUNIAN STUDIO PHOTOGRAPHS AND TALES - the building and behind the camera!
click here for the background to and the formation of Mancunian Film Studios
click here for CP's Frank Randle and Mancunian Film chapter
If you have any memories or information about the Studio or the Stars please contact - Dr CP Lee, University of Salford, Adelphi Campus, Manchester, M3 6EQ or email CP Lee
Golden Films Ltd - 60-66 Wardour Street, London, W1 - Do you know anybody who worked for this Company? Did you obtain any Mancunian Films from Golden Films? Please contact - Dr CP Lee, University of Salford, Adelphi Campus, Manchester, M3 6EQ or email CP Lee