ALL comedians need a catchphrase. The best instantly bring a face to mind and a smile to your lips. Nice to see you to see you – nice: Bruce Forsyth. It’s the way I tell them: Blackpool legend Frank Carson. Just like that: Tommy Cooper.
Now the guessing game is on to see just how many make it to Blackpool’s new Comedy Carpet on Central Promenade.
What speaks volumes is the fact so many of the most famous comedians in the world have played Blackpool.
Including those of the enduring international appeal of Laurel and Hardy. Others, such as Frank, Roy Walker, and classic comedy entertainers such as the late Hylda Baker and George Formby among many more have chosen to make their homes here.
Whether Hylda Baker’s best known catchphrase – She Knows Y’Know! – has made it to Blackpool’s comedy carpet remains to be seen.
The wraps don’t come off the Festival Headland’s funniest feature until October. It’s a celebration of catchphrases and the people who made them or make them famous. More of a Golden Smile than a Golden Mile.
And this uniquely Blackpool interpretation of humour looks set to be crowd-pleaser.
Meanwhile, one Blackpool based fan is doing his level best to ensure at least one comedy legend’s legacy lives on – even if it isn’t set in stone.
Eurwyn (pronounced Irwin) Jones, of North Shore, worked in TV for 35 years, is a big fan of classic British films, and has spent years tracking down Hylda’s little seen comedy She Knows Y’Know.
Today almost half a century since it was first seen, the film is back on sale thanks to Eurwyn’s efforts, after learning just one copy, in ailing condition, was in official existence in British Film Institute archives. As with lost episodes of some classic TV comedies, it’s thought reels survive stashed in sheds and attics, having been misappropriated or forgotten.The film was first seen in June 1962, and has been digitally restored and remastered for future generations, as well as older enthusiasts.
Hylda, 4ft 10in but larger than life, was bold, brassy, liked booze and younger blokes.
She broke box office records here from 1955 to 1971, at one stage performing twice nightly in two theatres, arriving by cab at North Pier from the Queens Theatre, and being whisked by wheelchair to the stage to save her energy.
At South Pier, the cast crowned her queen at a makeshift coronation during one of her celebrated champagne and fish‘n’chip suppers.
A flag bearing her favourite catchphrase (after Have You Been?) was run-up whenever she was in residence at her Cleveleys home. It also adorned the flashy American car she drove up and down the Golden Mile.
Yet she died, after years of booze fuelled excesses, in obscurity in a mental hospital in 1986 at 81, victim of the senility which had haunted her since her funnyman father’s death. Eurwyn admits: “She was a great talent but that came at some cost to her.” In the film, Hylda is typecast as Hylda Worswick, a devoted mother who suddenly finds her studious son has fallen for blonde bimbo.
Eurwyn says the plot was flimsy, but of its time, a vehicle for Hylda’s rising stature as an actress. She was on the stage for 35 years, and appeared in several kitchen sink dramas, before becoming a household name with 1970s sitcoms Nearest and Dearest and Not On Your Nellie, initially playing Nellie Pledge (sister to on screen brother Jimmy Jewel’s Eli) and then Nellie Pickersgill. On screen bickering between Hylda and others extended off screen – and backstage when Nearest and Dearest played a season at the Grand Theatre.
Years later, Olivier award-nominated actress Jean Fergusson’s tribute to Hylda came to Blackpool, as the National Theatre of Variety, to ensure Hylda’s comedic brilliance lived on.
Eurwyn sees Hylda’s film She Knows Y’Know as one of the holy grails of British comedy. “We’ve lost so much over the years and I’m convinced many are still out there. You have to know where to look. Jean tried the BFI, but the film wasn’t in good condition so I put feelers out as a past film collector and went, let us say, to see a man about a dog! I found the film in immaculate condition. Nobody had watched it for half a century. It was a really good feeling, and I couldn’t wait to see it.”
He negotiated use of the print, tracked down copyright holders to ensure it could be shared with fans across the world, and teamed up with Renown Pictures, who restore classic movies, putting the print through modern technology to present a crystal clear picture quality and sound. She Knows Y’Know is now out on DVD.
Eurwyn concludes: “Hylda was one of the funniest women ever. All those hours I’ve spent tracking down this early example of her talent have been worth it, and the digital transfer results are brilliant. The film shows she was not only a brilliant comedienne, but an actress of great note, too, which she later proved in films such as Up The Junction and Oliver.”
The DVD can be ordered from high street and online retailers or hyldabaker.webs.com