Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Freddie Parrotface Davies book signing at Blackpool Waterstones Saturday 2nd August 1.00-3.00pm

Freddie Davies and Blackpool go way back - about sixty years, in fact - so he's delighted to be having a book signing at Waterstones Blackpool this Saturday, August 2nd, between 1-3pm.

Freddie's long-awaited autobiography Funny Bones: My Life in Comedy, cowritten with Anthony Teague, was published on July 31st - fifty years after his TV debut on Opportunity Knocks.

Freddie was brought up in Salford but Blackpool helped give him the taste for performing. As a teenager he would travel there for the day to see the shows, waiting outside the stage door for a glimpse of a star and the chance of an autograph, enjoying comedians such as Bill Waddington (later Percy in Coronation Street) and Joe Church, and singer David Whitfield.

Freddie was entertainment manager at the Butlins Metropole Hotel in Blackpool in the early sixties, a time he remembers fondly. "In those days Blackpool was a great place to go if you wanted to have a look at most of the premier acts of the age. On a good day, there was nowhere nicer: a walk along the prom then a star-studded show in the evening. Blackpool always enjoyed a longer season than most with the famous Illuminations extending it. And the stars shone bright in 1962 with Doddy at the Opera House, Tommy Cooper and Nina and Frederik at the Queens; all the piers had big stars at the top of the bill. It was quite a season for us as well, as they launched Smirnoff vodka from the Metropole!"

In 1963 Freddie made the big decision to leave the security of Butlins in order try his luck as a full time comic. Blackpool was the obvious choice for a base: "In the sixties there were still about ten major summer shows in Blackpool plus big nightclubs and pubs, all needing acts."

Samuel Tweet spluttered his first in a Manchester club, but the homburg hat which started it all was bought in a nearly new shop in South Shore for two and sixpence (12½p). "It was for an impersonation of Arthur Lowe, who was in Coronation Street at the time, but when someone shouted out for a joke about a budgie I put it on and the voice somehow just came out. A few months later I got the call from Opportunity Knocks and that was it - the next twenty years just flew by."

Freddie appeared in many summer shows in Blackpool over the years, and there is still footage of his 1966 appearance at the ABC Theatre, introduced by Tony Hancock: "I was playing on the same stage I was working on every night," recalls Freddie, "so it was easy - a home crowd, you might say. I remember going onstage around that time, and the audience was really going 'Wow!' Such wonderful memories."

Freddie lived in Blackpool until the early seventies and returned to produce pantos there in the early eighties. Later the Disney film Funny Bones was shot there in 1994, featuring Freddie and George Carl as double act the Parker Brothers, along with Jerry Lewis and Lee Evans. "It really captured the spirit of Blackpool as it used to be and is now seen as a cult classic," Freddie says.

Funny Bones: My Life in Comedy by Freddie Davies with Anthony Teague is published by Scratching Shed. There is a 19.99 limited edition hardback and a 14.99 paperback edition. If you can't make it to Waterstones you can order a copy on the Scratching Shed website here.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

What a Crazy World DVD review

I have just added the following review of the Network DVD release of What a Crazy World to a well-known shopping website. It rehashes some info from posts on this blog, so it's nothing regular readers won't already know, but I was keen to get something up quickly, and it might work here as an introduction to the posts about Alan Klein (click here) if you haven't read them.  

Readers directed to this blog by Network's newsletter may be interested to know that I have cowritten Funny Bones, the autobiography of veteran comedian Freddie "Parrotface" Davies, who was at Butlins Skegness around the same time as Alan Klein.

The stage version of What a Crazy World came about in 1962 when Gerry Raffles heard Joe Brown sing Alan Klein's song of that name on TV and commissioned him to write a musical for Theatre Workshop. Klein had tired of singing exclusively American songs during a stint at Butlins and wrote a song in the style of George Formby which didn't try to emulate the subject matter of American songs.

The resulting musical was a popular success despite some adverse critical reaction. Robert Stigwood offered to put it on in the West End with Mike Sarne in the lead but Klein opted for Michael Carreras' offer to make a film of it because "a film's gonna be there forever." And thank goodness he did, because now, more than fifty years on, we can still enjoy it on this Network DVD.

Existing fans of the film can be reassured that the restoration is fine. It's a joy to see such sharpness and clarity compared to the ropey off-air copy I have had to make do with until now. True, when the film begins, and at a few other points like a conversation between Joe Brown and Harry H Corbett, you hear a little faint scratchiness, but that's far preferable to overprocessing of sound. So to anyone who has been hesitating, worry no more - it's worth getting. And the film deserves a whole new generation of fans.

Monday, 7 July 2014

What a Crazy World DVD ... yes, it's good!

This is not a review of the film but simply a note to reassure anyone with doubts that the Network DVD release of What a Crazy World is indeed a good 'un. I have watched about half an hour so far, skipping ahead to see some of my favourite sequences (like Independence, filmed just off Denmark Street) and the picture quality compared to the ropey ebay copy I've had to tolerate up till now is remarkable: it's a joy to see such sharpness and clarity.

When the film begins and at some other points like a conversation between Joe Brown and his old man, Harry H Corbett, you can hear a little scratchiness, but that's far preferable to overprocessing. So to anyone who has been hesitating, worry no more - it's worth getting.

There is also something which Rich Podolsky, author of a recent book on Don Kirshner, would call ironic about the fact that a restored A Hard Day's Night has also recently been issued. I watched what I presume is the new version on TV last night. A Hard Day's Night was the film whose release suddenly made What a Crazy World look like a period piece, but here's hoping that now both films can be seen and appreciated without any need for comparison.