A collection of stories and observations collected from people who went to the Bill Naughton Information Centre (March to June 2018).
- A man came in to the Centre who as a young man in April 1969 was an assistant manager at the Swan on the Churchgate/Bradshawgate junction, a hotel of some significance then. Originally all the cast filming the location scenes for the film Spring and Port Wine had been staying at the Last Drop, above Bromley Cross, but according to this bloke big drinkers had caused a bit of a stir and were cast out to stay at the Swan. One of the outcasts was James Mason. He asked the assistant manager how many bottles of champagne they had, to which the young man gave some reply. James Mason just asked to ‘keep on bringing them’. He also said that James Mason’s daughter visited once, Portland Mason, but he said people thought she was snooty.
- Robert Smethurst came in. He’s 80 or so and from Farnworth. He wanted to tell us about the Mass Observation Humphrey Spender picture of the two boys, five or six years old, on waste land. This is from the famous series of 850 photos Spender took of Bolton in 1937/38. In this photo the boys are weeing, possibly to provide the final ingredient for mud pies. This was used on the front of Naughton's third autobiography ‘Neither Use Nor Ornament’. Remember it? According to Robert (long standing CP member, who worked in Russia at one point) the boy on the right of the photo was his older brother Jim Smethurst, born c. 1934 now deceased. The boy on the left, he said, may have been Dave Warburton, but he was not sure - it was the curly hair made him think it might be Dave Warburton. Robert said the building in the background was the Ellesmere Street Methodist Church, which is no longer there. The Methodist Church was at the end of Bridgewater Street in Farnworth, not Bolton as the notes against this picture often suggests. Robert says that Humphrey Spender could not have taken the photo as he never went to Farnworth. (Humphrey Spender did go to Farnworth at least once. Photographs of the canvassing and speeches [including Clement Attlee himself] during the Farnworth by election in 1938 show that, so he may have taken the photo of the two little boys then). Robert Later brought in an LP by ‘Everything but the Girl’. The same photo is on the cover of their LP Love not Money, 1985. EBTG were a duo from Hull consisting of Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt. We had it framed and put on the wall.
- ‘My husband, he’s passed away now, lived on Johnson Fold and can remember Bill Naughton sitting in his garden writing’.
- Marian Powell came in with the Golden Girls group and told us that her mother in law had been Jimmy Wilcock’s ‘lady friend’. Jimmy was Bill Naughton’s father in Law, Nan’s father and his wife Kathleen had died in the early 1940s. He had taken up with Mrs Powell during the war and Anthony Powell as a boy remembers visiting London to see Bill in his lodgings, which had been bombed out.
- Doreen Firth came in with her son Peter. She had been brought up in Raphael Street, Halliwell (near where Bill Naughton began his married life in Rawsthorn Street). Doreen was brought up largely by her grandmother. Her family were Methodists and her Grandmother did not like Catholics, would not let Doreen play with them and banned her from watching the St Joseph’s walking day procession. Doreen of course made it her business to sneak out and watch the procession. Local paper boys who were Catholics plagued Doreen and her friends, clattering them with their newspaper bags and calling them ‘proddy dogs’. Tony Janicki’s mum was born and brought up in Bolton, but his dad had arrived in the UK during the war and served with the Polish airforce. After the war Franek, subject to distrust of foreigners, could only get a job in the pit, despite being a highly trained fitter. He and his family lived near to Doreen off Bridge Street near the Palladium Cinema and Tony talks of plenty fighting with other local lads, who took a dim view of the boys being ‘Poles’.
- Another of the Golden Girls was with a group of 16 years olds who hung around Victoria Square the night that the scene in The Family Way in which Arthur Fitton (Hywel Bennett) and Jenny (Hayley Mills) are talking on the town hall steps was shot. The set up and filming took so long that the trams had stopped by the time it had finished and the young girls knew they’d be in trouble for getting home so late. Crossing the road as they left – Newport Street running across Victoria Square was still a roadway then - was Hayley Mills. She saw lots of traffic passing through the square took the hands of two of the girls and accompanied them across the road.
- Stewart Ball was 21 in 1969 and was on the verge of completing his training for his teaching certificate. On a late April morning in 1969 he was at home in Ernest Street with his mum. He answered a knock at the door and who should be standing there but Michael Medwin! (Michael who you ask? He was an actor, very famous at the time from a starring role in a long running TV sit com, The Army Game, Medwin had by then branched out into film production. Anyway, Michael Medwin turning up on your doorstep then was like David Tenant or Benedict Cumberbatch standing there today). ‘We’re filming over the road’, he said, ‘any chance you could make us a cup of tea?’ Stewart said his mother became all of a flutter thinking the house was not tidy enough, but how could anyone say no? So during the morning the shooting took place the actors and crew wandered across occasionally from tea and biscuits. Now Stewart said he was too cool to ask for autographs but had a camera and during the morning he took a roll of film of the cast and crew going about their business.. The photos, some of which are in Live from Worktown’s mobile Bill Naughton’s Bolton display, show a street crowded with crew lighting, vehicles and on lookers. The crew were there all morning apparently and the scene in which Arthur [Keith Buckley] arrives in his yellow Landrover bringing Florence Crompton [Hannah Gordon] to live at his mother’s house [Marjorie Rhodes]. In the film the scene last about 40 seconds.
John Finlay came in telling us that his dad Bill Finlay had been brought up around Cannon Street and as a Catholic attended SS Peter and Paul’s School with Bill Naughton. Though Bill Finlay was three years younger John says that he told tales of the same characters as appeared in Naughton’s work – people like Johnny Cleanclogs and Skinny Nancy.
A lady and her son called in. She said she was an extra in The Family Way. The lady’s parents ran the Commercial Hotel where the cast and crew of the film stayed. The Commercial Hotel was on the corner of Victoria Square. The young lady who was a Mod (this was 1966) had just come back from a holiday in Spain and had some really cool clothes. Hayley Mills tried on a lot of her dresses and wanted one in particular – but the Bolton Mod was not to be persuaded to give it to her. The lady was an extra in two sequences in The Family Way, once in the travel agents with a very tall man and the second time walking down the street with that same very tall man.
Kevin Dennis Burton came in and told us that his dad had been a pal of Jud Burns. Jud Burns is mentioned several times by BN as a denizen of ‘Big Corner’ (certainly in ‘June Evening’ [pp29 – 31] and ‘Saintly Billy’ [p 7 and pp 162 – 172]). Kevin’s dad Billy (William James) Burton himself appears too. Bill Naughton, described Jud as a ‘big handsome miner’ and uses him as a device to keep the narrative moving, asking questions and so on, seeing Jud as something of a leader. His real name was George Burns, ‘Jud’ being occasionally used in the US as a diminutive form of George. Kevin says that later in life Jud became a builder, who worked on airport runways and was a very decent man. Kevin says Jud’s daughter, Anita, is still around. Kevin said his dad lived on back Cannon Street having been born in Foundry Street and his brother Thomas John Burton could mark a pack of cards as soon as look at them. Kevin too was brought up in Back Cannon Street. He also said that another pal in this group ‘Knocker Bolton’ had the trick of killing rats by biting them.
Geoffrey Anderson called in. He had been a coal bagger with the co-op in Tyldesley from the late 1960s. His first job working a lathe didn’t suit him – he said that he only got £2 10s a week for dangerous work and with unprotected blades. So while he was still 15, in his spare time he bagged up coal with a his neighbour who was a coal lorry driver and sold it to older people for 2s a bag. When vacancy came up with the Co-op he applied and was taken on. The work was shifting 12 ton of coal a day, bagging it up, putting it on the lorry and delivering to hundreds of homes a week, just two of them, him and the driver. It was hard work but ‘bloody good money’, and ‘it had superannuation, the co-op was a good employer’. Bill Naughton talks about the fiddles the coal men had in the 1930s, but Geoffrey said that by his day weights and measures equipment was so precise that nothing like that was possible.
- Several people mentioned the head at SS Peter and Paul’s school in the 1940s, a sister Imelda who was reckoned to be very strict…as strict as Miss Veronica Brown and Fat Alice?
- Bernie Smidowitz was a hackney carriage driver in 1968 and late that year he picked up a fare at Trinity Street station. The bloke asked him what he charged for the day – as a cab driver Bernie had no idea, taking fares of individual journeys only. The bloke offered him twenty quid, which Bernie jumped at. This fellow was scouting for locations for the filming of Spring and Port Wine. He had some leads and Bernie took him to all of them. As a result when the crew and cast arrived in late April the following year Bernie was taken on as a driver full time. Not only did he drive cast and crew members around but each evening he was dispatched to Preston station with the day’s film, to put on a train to London. He then waited a short time for the train coming up from London with the previous day’s developed film, drove back to Bolton, where the director Peter Hammond, editor and so on watched the previous day’s film at the Capitol after it had closed. Bernie enjoyed the experience with the crew and said he got on well with the actors and crew. James Mason (‘Jimmy’) he said was a joker. Bernie was sent out once to get some painkillers for a headache Mason had. Knocking on his hotel door with the tablets, Mason said ‘come in’, and Bernie entered proffering the packet of pills. ‘Too Late’, shouted Mason, clutching his chest and falling back on the bed. Then one day as he was driving Peter Hammond somewhere, the director asked Bernie if he had a suit. ‘Yes’ said Bernie. ‘Alright then’, said Hammond, ‘wear it tomorrow, I’ve got a little part for you’. So the following day the scene was shot. Bernie driving a blue mini, following Arthur Gasket’s yellow land rover, down Bury road, under the railway viaduct and up Churchbank – still possible then as St Peter’s Way had not been built. The scene however shows a sea of rubble under the viaduct where Church Wharf and all the buildings there had been pulled down. The ‘chase’ continues, culminating on Grisdale Road when the two vehicles pullup outside the Crompton’s house. Bernie and ‘Gasket’ jostle to get to the front door and Bernie hands ‘Gasket’ a big cardboard box – which contains the coat for Rafe, around which a key plot element revolves. Bernie points out that of all the cast with a credit in Spring and Port Wine who was Bolton born and bred.
- Immy came in with his wife and two daughters. He said his uncle had a floor in Swan Lane mill where he made ladies hosiery, ‘Deluxe Hosiery’. The machinery he used was ancient, having bought in the early 1990s from Damart. Damart themselves had bought the hosiery factory at the foot of Deane Road from Holt’s Hosiery (Although Holts also had a works close by Derby Mill). In the end when Immy’s uncle packed it in he sold the hosiery machinery to a firm in Pakistan.
- Margaret Rishton, Bill’s Naughton’s neice (brother Jim’s daughter), said that Bill had told her he was responsible for the Guinness TV advert in the 1950s/60s that had Bernard Miles in it. (We had a look and the advert was not for Guinness, although close. It was Mackeson, in which Bernard Miles takes a swig of Mackeson and says, ‘Looks good, tastes good and by golly it does you good’ So did Bill write this?)
- A fellow came in and said that his mother had taught Bill Naughton’s granddaughter Karen. She was very proud of that. Unfortunately Bill Naughton had no granddaughter called Karen. This sort of thing happened quite a lot and is probably based on their being a few different strands of the Naughton family locally. Bill’s line has several nieces and nephews and their offspring still living in Bolton, and Bill’s uncle Michael’s line seem to have more still descendants around.
- Denise Gildea called in, wife of Michael Gildea, who sadly passed away 18 months ago. Michael had run a popular hairdresser’s on Deansgate, which he had taken over from his father Joe. There is a photograph just inside the front cover of Bill’s third autobiography, Neither Use Nor Ornament, showing a group of lads, dressed up to the nines going out dancing. The lad in the top right is Bill Naughton, at the age of about 18 and to the front, sitting in a light coloured suit is Joe Gildea, Denise’s father in law. Denise said that her father in law had fallen out with Bill over his treatment of Nan when he left for London in 1940. (But see below).
- Several people have come in saying they lived in the house on Grisdale Road used for the filming of Spring and Port Wine.
- Carole Penny called in with her husband on April 6. She brought in a range of material with her, commemorating her appearance in the 1960 BBC TV version of Bill Naughton’s June Evening. This had been performed on BBC’s Third Programme in 1958 and although there had been short stories about gambling and groups of boys before June Evening appears to have been written fresh for radio. Carole Whittle, as she was then, remembers her mum being a frustrated performer. She worked in Woolworths but had ambitions to be a magician’s assistant. It was however her dad who saw a notice in the paper looking for young people to audition for a part in the TV play – early 1960 this would have been. Carole went to the audition in Piccadilly, Manchester and was chosen to play ‘Phyllis’ in the TV play. Carole was 15 at the time but says that the production team were looking for people over school age who looked younger so they were free of the stringent requirements for employing school age children. By that time Carole had left school and was working in a weaving shed – this was, as it happens, Holt’s Hosiery, just behind the Tivoli Cinema on Derby Street, which under earlier ownership would have been Kershaws – the very weaving shed that Bill Naughton and his sister May worked in. Carole says the children were put up in a German woman’s house in Finchley Road, a bunch of them in a dormitory type arrangement. They rehearsed in Alexandra Palace which was a major BBC venue at the time and the play was shot at the new White City studios. In all, says Carole they were away for three weeks, finished on the Friday, got home on the Saturday and the programme was screened on the Sunday. Of course when Carole arrived back at work on the Monday a great fuss was made of her. While they were in London she said Bill Naughton invited all of them to a meal at his flat in St George’s Square, Pimlico. This was a two room affair and they all squeezed in, Carole remembers, sat round a big table – this would have been about eight of them. She remembers the toilet in particular which had books piled high in it. She thought Bill and his wife, Erna, were lovely and very ordinary. She says that Bill took the lads swimming in the Serpentine – a characteristic act, as Bill Naughton was spending a lot of time in Hyde Park playing football. He also promised to call in and see Carole next time he visited Bolton, something Carole dismissed as a simple courtesy without meaning. Bill Naughton never seems to have developed ‘airs’ when he became famous, keeping up with old friends as much as he had done earlier in his life and never relished literary society But anyway at this time he was not famous. He’d had a few plays on the radio, and written for three TV series, but this was the first play he had had on TV, and no one in the literary world knew who he was. Anyway a few months later Bill called in on Carole, as he had promised. Carole said he did this after calling in on Gildea’s hairdressers on Deansgate. She thought the owner was a relative of Bill’s. (This is 1960 so the ‘fall out’ between Bill and Joe Gildea seems to have been patched up…)
- The TV play which Carole Whittle was in, June Evening, achieved some notoriety, being referred to as very early ‘kitchen sink’ drama. What is meant by this I think is that it is entirely about working people living their lives where they live. An ensemble piece there is no focus on one set of characters, but the action shifts this away and that between different families and friendship groups of women and children and the links between them. Although some action takes place in houses, the main stage is the street itself on this warm June evening so lots of people are outside. A Methodist Church is nearby and although not mentioned both shops and pubs would have been close by. The background to the piece is a long running miner’s strike in the spring and summer of 1921 which caused lay-offs across the textile industry not just in the pits. So for many money is short. It is also Derby Day, and Steve Donoghue on Humourist has won it – something which many in the street is interested in. The radio play has over 50 characters and the TV play that Carole Whittle appeared in had 39 actors. So the TV play was a major undertaking. Later notoriety is based on Bill Naughton’s claim that Tony Warren stole the idea for Coronation Street from June Evening. While it is impossible to say what influence, if any, Tony Warren was aware of in coming up with his idea, there are intriguing links between the two. The street setting and ensemble approach of both is identical: there is a family called Tatlock in both, a mission mentioned in one, a Methodist church in the other. There is a corner shop in both. On the corner of Coronation Street is the Rovers Return and the Flag is ‘round the corner’ in June Eveneing. The feel of Coronation Street is the same as June Evening: the ‘action’ relating to domestic tensions and dramas amongst the residents in a working class street: the focus being families and groups of friends: the ‘star’ of each being the street itself. The world outside each ‘street’ is referred to but distantly: each street is a world unto itself. Tony Warren’s explanation for the idea of Coronation Street makes sense. He became a regular on BBC Radio Children's Hour and acted in many radio plays, performing with actors who became household names through Coronation Street, most notably Violet Carson who played Ena Sharples and Doris Speed who played Annie Walker. In his memoirs, Over the Airwaves, Children's Hour producer, Trevor Hill, explains how Warren was an excitable young teenager at rehearsals, so much so that on one occasion Violet Carson warned "If that boy doesn't shut up, I'll smack his bottom!" During a later unexpected transmission break from London while performing at the Leeds studio, Carson played and sang to the children a dialect song called "Bowtons Yard" in which the storyteller speaks about his neighbours. Starting at Number 1 and ending at Number 12, he describes each person in turn and Warren later admitted this is what gave him the inspiration for Coronation Street. See youtube for performance of Bowton’s Yard. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-GMTWJIPT88
There are also inadvertent connections. The cast of June Evening included Violet Carson as Fanny Brighouse. She of course played Ena Sharples in Coronation Street. Jennifer Moss played Edna Whittle in June Evening and went on to play Lucille Hewitt in Coronation Street. Davy Jones, soon to be the Artful Dodger in Oliver! (and later a Monkee) played Benny Whittle in June Evening and was in one episode of Coronation Street in March 1961 playing Ena Sharples’ grandson. There are other connections between June Evening and other Naughton productions. Marjorie Rhodes played Lizzie Sedwin in June Evening, Lucy Fitton in the Broadway production of All In Good Time, repeated the role in the film The Family Way and played a cameo role of Arthur Gasket’s mother in Spring and Port Wine. The baby in June Evening played by Frances Cleverdon was probably the daughter of Douglas Cleverdon who produced several of Bill’s BBC radio plays. And:
- i. John Sharp (Harry Sedwin, the bent bookie’s runner in June Evening) also appeared in the film Spring and Port Wine.
- ii. Nan Marriot-Watson, Gran Tatlock in June Evening played Ena Sharples in the pilot episode of Coronation Street in 1960.
- iii. William Roache - Coronation Street’s Ken Barlow - starred in the 1971 Liverpool staging of Lighthearted Intercourse.
- iv. and the voices of Peter Kay and Maxine Peake can be heard in the 2012 Octagon version of the same play.
- v. Brian Peck and Mary Quinn of June Evening both appeared later in Coronation Street.
- A lady came to the Jamie Sherriff concert on April 15. She said that in 1972 she had come into Bolton on a Saturday to do her shopping. Walking round with her shopping bags she thought she’d see if she could get into see the play at the Octagon. ‘All sold out today’, she was told, but was advised to wait to see if they had returns. Sitting in a lounge area, which had no café then, she met a young man who somehow had a cup of coffee. They got to talking and the young woman was told that she’d got a ticket. The young man then said he had to go. ‘Oh, are you going somewhere else?’, ‘no, but, I’ve got a job to do’. He said he’d be free after the performance would she like a drink with him. She said yes. In the auditorium the play began and she was surprised to see ‘her’ young man appear as Arthur Fitton in Spring and Port Wine which was the show that evening. They met up after the play, he took her number and…they married. (The ‘young man’, the actor who played Arthur Fitton, said that during one of those performances, as Arthur confronts Rafe Crompton there was an interjection from the audience. In the scene the young man duly became enraged as Arthur, who got his courage up and shouted, ‘you’re a bully’ at the family tyrant. From behind him the actor heard a woman in the second row loudly agree. ‘Yes, that’s right’, she said, ‘You Are!’).
- Kay Williams came in and said her mother went out with Bill Naughton in the thirties. Her mother Hannah Grant, known as ‘Nan’, was one of twelve children, daughter of Edward Grant. This was on Mount Street and Harding Street Halliwell. He had a grocer’s/fruit shop, but his real income derived from his bookie’s business. Obviously the shop was a perfect front for a bookie, as there was a simple explanation for the numbers of people going in and out. Kay said that the police tipped him off when a raid was planned and the business carried on from the shop next door until the raid had taken place or the danger was passed. His business was a success – he bought houses for each of his children. Kay’s mum Hannah said that Bill Naughton used to wait on the street corner for her. They seemed to have met at one of the dance halls. Kay says the romance only lasted a short while as she met Kay’s father shortly after – this was Walter Spence a trombonist in a band which played at the Palais. They married in 1934. As Hannah was born in 1915 presumably, if true, she would have been with Bill for a short time from something like 1930 to 1933, when she was between 15 and 18. If Bill met her on a street corner in Halliwell, does that mean he ‘went out’ with Hannah while he was living in Rawsthorne Street with his wife Nan. Does this make sense?