Wigan comedian and singer George Formby, once the UK’s highest paid entertainer, had decided to hang up his ukulele for good in 1950.
Hugely popular for more than two decades with songs like When I’m Cleaning Windows and Chinese Laundry Blues, he was now weighed down with tax problems and poor health.
Formby declared: ‘That’s it. So long as the government keeps bleeding me dry, I shan’t be in much of a hurry to work again!’
He even went into temporary retirement in Norfolk with his wife Beryl – turning his back on show business at the age of 46.
But that all changed a year later thanks to a brand new musical, written especially for the chirpy Lancastrian, which had its critical first run-through at Manchester’s Palace Theatre.
The musical was called Zip Goes a Million and it was based on the 1902 novel Brewster’s Millions by G. B. McCutcheon.
The plot involved the leading character having to spend a million dollars in a year to inherit a vast fortune.
Writer Eric Maschwitz joined forces with theatre impresario Emile Littler to cast Formby in the title role of window cleaner Percy Piggott. Sara Gregory played his love interest Sally.
Formby was offered £1,500 plus a share of the takings – and the show started its pre-West End run at the Coventry Hippodrome in September 1951.
It was far from plain-sailing as the show was labored and over-long. So a second try-out took place at Manchester’s Palace Theatre where several musical numbers were cut.
The reshaped production played to full houses from September 17th to October 16th before transferring to the Palace Theatre, London. It ran for 544 performances.
Just as Formby was enjoying a rebirth in Manchester, a group of future stars were experiencing their formative years in the city.
Davy Jones, later to become lead singer of the Monkees, played Ena Sharples’ grandson Colin Lomax on Coronation Street when he was 15.
The Openshaw-born performer also starred as the Artful Dodger in the stage version of Lionel Bart’s musical Oliver in 1960.
Phil Lynott, front man of rock group Thin Lizzy, was at Princess Road Junior School in Whalley Range in the late 1950s.
He later moved to Dublin to be raised by his grandparents, but returned to live with his mother in Manchester during school holidays. She owned the Clifton Grange Hotel.
Thin Lizzy later wrote their iconic song The Boys Are Back In Town about visits back to Manchester. It became a worldwide hit in 1976, reaching No. 8 in the UK charts and No. 12 in the USA.
Future super group the Bee Gees were taking their first musical steps in the late 1950s while living in Chorlton-cum-Hardy. The Gibb brothers Barry, Robin and Maurice formed their own skiffle group the Rattlesnakes in 1957.
The Gibb family emigrated to Australia in August 1958 where they pursued their pop career, releasing their first album in 1965.
Back in the UK in 1959, a young Rhythm and Blues singer from Leigh called Georgie Fame signed his first contract with music producer and manager Larry Parnes at the age of 16.
Fame went on to become the only British pop star to achieve three number ones with his only Top 10 chart entries – Yeh Yeh in 1964, Get Away in 1966 and The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde in 1967.
One song-writer already active in the 1950s was Broughton-born poet and playwright Ewan MacColl. He penned the classic anthem Dirty Old Town about the streets of Salford in 1949.
MacColl also wrote one of the greatest love songs of all time – The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face – for the American folk singer Peggy Seeger in 1957.
As well as growing its own talent, Manchester played host to the biggest pop stars of the decade during the 1950s – including Marty Wilde, Tommy Steele and Bill Haley and the Comets.
Wilde topped the bill at the Free Trade Hall in July 1959 and American R&B singer Johnnie Rae played Belle Vue in November 1956.
Bill Haley and the Comets belted out their latest hits See You Later Alligator and rock Around the Clock at the Manchester Odeon in February 1957.
Louis Armstrong and his six-piece jazz band The All-Stars packed the King’s Hall, Belle Vue, in March 1959.
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