Nige resurrects a comic monster…

The other day I found my mind turning to the Lancastrian comedian Frank Randle. I’ve been uneasily fascinated with this monster of comedy ever since reading King Twist: A Portrait of Frank Randle by – of all people – Jeff Nuttall, whose Bomb Culture was on every bookshelf in my student days.

The above clip from BBC4 series Rude Britannia gives a flavour of Randle, a comic hugely famous in his day, who was to Blackpool what Elvis was to Las Vegas, though a lot less wholesome. It is hardly surprising that his fame did not outlive him – he was absolutely of his time and place and belonged to a particular phase in the history of impolite popular entertainment. And yet there is something so Dionysiac, so anarchic, so darkly clownish about him that he is bigger than that, almost archetypal. He represents, perhaps, a particular twist (King Twist) on the Shakespearean fool at his darkest and most unruly. Perhaps.

Randle, who seems to have spent much of his life drunk, was also brilliant at playing drunk scenes, so one was invariably included in the handful of low-budget feature films he made (in one of them, mind-bogglingly, he appeared with Diana Dors). The best of the drunk scenes involves Randle negotiating a grand staircase while barely able to stand – I couldn’t find that one, but here’s a taste of Randle in action, making good use of one of his catchphrases, ‘Geroff mi foot!’ Those were the days…

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  1. Ben on Wednesday 28, 2012

    I remember in pre-internet days havin a faint inkling of Frank Randall as a sort of hardcore George Formby, but never being able to find out anything about him. I guess the near-modern equivalent is Bernard Manning, which is pretty depressing. Peter Kay’s way too cuddly.

    Incidentally, my grandad used to work in the same factory as a bloke who claimed to be George Formby’s brother. Every time the bloke ran out of cash he magicked up a ukulele which he claimed had belonged to George and flogged it for beer money.

    Grandad also had a good line in false teeth gags which he may have copped from Frank, his favourite was clattering them as percussion while he played The Spaniard Who Blighted My Life on the piano.

    • Worm on Wednesday 28, 2012

      Isn’t the modern version Roy Chubby Brown??

  2. Ben on Wednesday 28, 2012

    Damn, I spelt Randle wrong!

  3. Nige on Wednesday 28, 2012

    An Ben – I wish I’d seen yr Grandad’s act – sound wonderful!

  4. John Halliwell on Wednesday 28, 2012

    A lovely little tribute, Nige.

    Diana clearly didn’t rate Frank – according to this report on Mancunian Films official web site:

    ‘Her appearance in Mancunian’s It’s A Grand Life in 1953 was a kind of punishment meted out to her by Rank for some alleged misconduct. She regarded travelling to Manchester as the equivalent of being sent to Siberia and loathed working with Frank Randle who she described as a “disgusting, dirty old drunk”

    I remember Frank from childhood days listening to radio and I loved him. I can still see my mother and father giving each other somewhat nervous glances accompanied by repressed chuckles as Frank told what were probably outrageous jokes. Thinking back now, I guess they were hoping that my youth and ignorance would protect me from Randle’s corruptive comedy. I followed him every week in the comic Film Fun and on one occasion at the cinema. I was sat with my pals on the front row and my mother, possibly unknowing of my presence, was sat forty rows back. To this day I can hear her distinct, unrestrained, laughter in that cinema-full audience.

    Randle’s played a marvelous drunk, as shown in the clip. He was right up there with the wonderful Jimmy James. Randle and James together after a night on the piss, improvising around a great script, would probably have been comedic perfection. Here is an example of James as the drunk; superb acting as he was, apparently, teetotal:

  5. Mr Slang on Wednesday 28, 2012

    For more on Randle, and other UK comedians of that and other eras, I recommend John Fisher’s 1973 book Funny Way to be a Hero.