Manchester’s post-war gloom was lifted by some Britain’s brightest comedians and entertainers in the 1950s and early 1960s.
Norman Wisdom, Tommy Cooper, Ken Dodd, Bob Monkhouse, Des O’Connor and Bruce Forsyth all made numerous visits to the city.
There was a wealth of home-grown talent too with the likes of Ken Platt and Ken Goodwin taking the stage with a fledgling Les Dawson waiting in the wings.
Classic comic Norman Wisdom was at the height of his fame when he appeared in Robinson Crusoe at the Palace Theatre in 1959.
He’d already starred as the hapless but lovable Norman Pitkin in a string of movie comedies starting with Trouble in Store in 1953. His performance earned him the 1954 BAFTA award for the most promising newcomer to film.
Many regarded Wisdom as the post-war successor to Wigan entertainer George Formby as he played the same put-upon, unpretentious characters who often broke into song.
Wisdom’s movies may have had more slapstick and knockabout farce, but the pathos was the same. Just like Formby, Wisdom became a big star at the box office even though critics often looked down on his films.
The gormless but endearing Norman Pitkin character surfaced again when Wisdom played the lead in The Wonderful Lamp in Manchester in 1956.
The production was a modern adaptation of the traditional pantomime Aladdin with Wisdom in trademark cap and ill-fitting jacket and trousers.
Wisdom was back at the Palace in 1964 in the Leslie Bricusse musical The Smell of the Greasepaint, the Roar of the Crowd. Our photo captures the comic reflecting on the production’s eight-week run before transferring to London’s West End.
George Formby also had a big influence on Leigh-born comedian Ken Platt who bought his first ukulele at the age of 15. He then toured the North West billed as George Formby the Second!
Platt found his feet as a comedian and singer in World War II, entertaining troops across Europe after signing up for the army in 1942.
But his career went into the doldrums when he returned home – so much so that he opened a grocery store in Leigh and told all his jokes to his customers.
Word of his comic talent eventually spread and in 1951 he became the resident comedian on the BBC radio show Variety Fanfare.
Platt’s act harped back to the music halls and he employed a string of catchphrases. Two of his favourites were ‘If you can laugh at this you can plait sawdust’ and ‘Ee I’m as daft as a brush!’
Manchester-born comedian Ken Goodwin was another great Formby fan and also played the ukulele around the North West in the 1960s as part of his act.
Goodwin’s famous catchphrase was ‘settle down now’ which became a feature of the 1970s TV show The Comedians – the programme that brought him national fame.
Tommy Cooper was already a household name when he appeared in the panto Puss in Boots at Manchester Hippodrome in December 1956.
He portrayed King Napoleon and his co-star, Queen Appleblossom, was none other than Reg Varney who later played cheeky driver Stanley Butler on the ITV sitcom On the Buses.
Cooper perfected his comedy act as the fumbling magician whose tricks always went wrong during the 1950s – and had adopted his trademark fez headgear by the time he came to Manchester.
Liverpudlian singer and comedian Ken Dodd starred in Aladdin at the Palace Theatre in 1957 and was back at the Opera House in the 1968 production of Robinson Crusoe.
Dodd also hosted two TV shows from Manchester – Doddy’s Music Box at the ABC studios from 1967 to 1968 and Ken Dodd and the Diddy Men at the BBC studios in Dickenson Road, Rusholme, from 1969 to 1972.
Quick-fire comedian Bob Monkhouse made his panto debut playing Buttons in Cinderella at the Palace Theatre in 1958. He’d just appeared in the first Carry On film, Carry On Sergeant.
Bruce Forsyth was already the compere of Saturday Night at the London Palladium when he came to Manchester to star in 1961 to star in Turn Again Whittington at the Palace Theatre.
As well as making a string of club and theatre appearances in Manchester, Des O’Connor teamed up with Manchester band Freddie and the Dreamers in Aladdin at the Palace in 1965.
He was back at the Palace in 1967 playing Buttons in Cinderella with singer Vince Hill and Carry On star Jack Douglas.
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