MANY books have a twist at the end, but here is one that has it in both title and content, attempting to set the record straight on the early life of legendary music hall and film comedian Frank Randle.
It is now just over four years since Memory Lane featured Wired to the Moon, the acclaimed Randle biography by brothers Philip and David Williams.
The inaccessibility of material covering the star’s early days in showbusiness led to the authors only partially covering this period.
Since then, several archives have become more accessible, and with the benefit of further oral testimonies, the brothers have produced The Theatrical World of Arthur Twist, offering a clearer picture of Randle’s early years before he hit the big time.
Wigan-born Randle, real name Arthur McEvoy, lived in Blackpool from his early teens and is buried in Carleton Cemetery. To thousands of holidaymakers during the 1940s and early 50s he was the undisputed comedy king, making his first ever – amateur – stage appearance at the resort’s Palace Theatre at 14 and one of his last at the Queens aged just 55.
This new book explains how it was a chance meeting with two other Blackpool teenagers, Harry and Fred Roy, in Harold Gregory’s Rigby Road gym, that started Arthur on the road to stardom.
Philip and David dismiss previous stories that the Roy Brothers were already an established act seeking a new partner – indeed, at their first meeting we learn that Harry was 15, Fred just 12 and Arthur was 13.
Having left school and without employment, the three spent many hours at Gregory’s Gym becoming close friends. The Roy family ran a small hotel in which Harry and Fred often helped out. When on kitchen duties and to relieve boredom, Fred would toss potatoes in the air in an attempt to juggle them, eventually become quite competent.
He decided to enter a talent contest at the Royal Pavilion, which to his amazement he actually won. This feat prompted his brother Harry and friend Arthur McEvoy into joining forces to try out a gymnastic routine. Harry was a local medal winning gymnast while Arthur had acquired some rudimentary skills from the gym. In due course, they too entered one of the regular talent competitions at the Royal Pavilion – alas without the same success as gained by Fred. This ‘let down’ temporarily brought to an end to any showbusiness dreams.
Until now it had been widely accepted, even by the Williams brothers, that Arthur had joined a troupe called The Three Ernestos, working with them in a summer season at the Tower. Their new book now proves this not to be so.
Harry and Arthur decided to form a new act to include Fred. Harry and Arthur would perform their gymnastics with a little slapstick from Arthur, while Fred would contribute his juggling. This was to be the birth of Roy Brothers and Mac, with Arthur obviously being Mac.
The trio’s first engagement was entertaining patients at the King’s Lancashire Military Convalescent Hospital at Squires Gate, known locally as The Camp. Other local bookings began to follow and by late 1921 the three friends considered themselves good enough to go professional. But it wasn’t long before the act split in two. Harry and Arthur became known as Oliver and Twist, a comedy bar act (with Arthur taking on the name of Twist). Meanwhile, Fred Roy went by the name of Fred Retter solo juggler. Although two separate acts, they often appeared on the same bills, touring and travelling together.
Early signs of the devious plotting and scheming which became a Randle trademark soon began to emerge. One of the earliest examples as Arthur Twist was when, in a most unprofessional way, he decided to break away from partner Harry Roy. Sadly, the now unwanted Harry gave up showbusiness and returned to Blackpool where he died in 1934 at the early age of 35.
The Theatrical World of Arthur Twist, with an interesting foreword by comedy legend Ken Dodd, reveals many interesting and previously unknown facts of Randle’s rise to stardom, such as his partnership with Yorkshire comic Tom Penny and how the transformation to Frank Randle actually came about.
The book stands alone as a fascinating read following the journey of a young aspiring comic destined to become arguably Britain’s greatest ever comic character actor. The struggles and efforts he put in to reaching the top are highlighted, along with the usual traits associated with Randle that gradually unfold – the drinking, the jealousies and his temper.
The book also features many of the stars with whom Randle shared a stage including George Formby, Max Miller, Max Wall, George Robey and Gracie Fields.
Wired to the Moon has been reprinted to coincide with the new book. Published by History on your Doorstep, price £8.75, Twist also contains a 14 track audio CD. Hit www.hoydpublishing.co.uk, email email@example.com or ring (0161) 3083013.
We have two copies to give away. Answer the question: What was Frank Randle’s real name?
Send your entry to: Twist Book Competition, Memory Lane, The Gazette, Avroe House, Avroe Crescent, Blackpool, FY4 2DP.
Closing date is February 1, 2011. Usual Gazette competition rules apply.