Hooray for Jollywood

The life of John E. Blakeley & the Mancunian Film Corporation


May 2022 marked the occasion 75 years ago when John E. Blakeley opened Manchester’s one and only feature film studio.


To commemorate this point, HOYD Publishing has reissued a limited edition of the book. ‘Hooray for Jollywood’ which tells the story of John E. Blakeley's lifetime in the film industry and of a devoted family man.


It also looks behind the scenes of filmmaking for Blakeley’s Mancunian Film Corporation, both in London and Manchester.


2022 also marks the 21st anniversary of the book’s original publication in 2001.



Newly revised with expanded text and extra photographs to commemorate

 the opening 75 years ago of Film Studios Manchester.


'Hooray for Jollywood’ is a 9”x6” paperback with over 280 pages with many photos and illustrations

 and can be ordered through local bookshops

 (ISBN 9781916022515)


priced at £15.00.


For a limited time only the book is available via this website for the

 special price of only £12.00

 with free postage (normally £3.00).


 Send cheque payable to: PM Williams,

 15 Welbeck House, Welbeck Street South, Ashton-under-Lyne, OL6 7TB.

Payment can also be made by Paypal contact us for details.


+While books abound on the British film industry and the famous British film studios, the likes of Elstree, Shepperton and Pinewood. That of the regional studios was for many years woefully neglected. The most prominent of these studios was Mancunian’s ‘Film Studios (Manchester) Ltd’.  ‘Hooray for Jollywood’ by Philip Martin Williams and David L. Williams tells the life of The Mancunian Film Corporation and the man behind it John E. Blakeley.


  John E. Blakeley was a rare breed in the annals of British film history for all the films he made were produced solely for northern audiences. Indeed, it's probably fair to say that they were despised in the south of the country. Through necessity, his films were initially shot in London, although they were planned and conceived in his home city of Manchester. Made on a shoestring budget and usually bereft of a storyline his stock company of popular northern music hall eccentrics made them extremely popular with the Lancashire working-classes. His stars included George Formby, Nat Jackley, Norman Evans, Duggie Wakefield, Jewel & Warriss, Josef Locke and of course the inimitable Frank Randle.


 In 1947 at a time when the film industry was virtually on its knees, Blakeley did the unthinkable and opened his own studio in Manchester. At a cost of £70,000, Film Studios (Manchester) was equipped and housed in an old Wesleyan Church, on Dickenson Road, Rusholme. Known locally as the 'Fun Factory' or 'Jollywood' the studio carried on turning out the popular comedies.


This book tells the story of John E. Blakeley his lifetime in the film industry and of a devoted family man. It also looks behind the scenes of film making both in London and Manchester. Many stories are told of the stars that worked at 'Jollywood' and many are featured in this book.


The story, however, starts many years before the studios were opened in a converted Methodist church on Rusholme’s Dickenson Road in 1947. For the beginnings were back in 1908 when James Blakeley entered into the fascinating world of cinema exhibition and film rental. His son, John E Blakeley after leaving school joined his father in the business. John E. (pronounced Johnnie) while distributing films around the area soon noticed how the audiences of the mill towns eagerly received the slapstick humour and pratfalls offered by Chaplin and his contemporaries.


Over the years, he realised just what the northerners wanted more than anything, and that was to laugh. By the 1930s, and at a time when variety in the theatres was stillhighly popular, John E. Blakeley had formed his own production company and had the idea of putting the top music-hall names, especially northern comedians, into his films. Lancashire lad George Formby, who was destined to become Britain’s top box office draw, made his film debut in the Blakeley production of 'Boots! Boots!' which was completed in just two weeks at a cost of only a few thousand pounds. Other northern greats such as Norman Evans, Jimmy James, Sandy Powell and Frank Randle soon followed to leave a legacy of laughs on film. The first productions, while all conceived and edited in Manchester, were actually shot in London, where Blakeley used rented space either at the studios of Riverside, Albany, or Walton. Blakeley would often direct as well as produce and with no more than just a thought in his head would ask the stars to be funny. The formula proved to be a huge success with the working-class audiences in the North-West of England and the industrial areas of Wales. However, London based critics slammed them all. But what did they know about good old working-class humour anyway? Of Blakeley’s 20-odd feature films, none lost money, so whatever he was doing he was obviously doing right.


As well as the well-known names in the leading roles, there were also the rising stars who appeared in support, including Jimmy Clitheroe and Diana Dors. The company’s first production from Rusholme was 'Cup-tie Honeymoon', which starred Sandy Powell, Dan Young and Betty Jumel. This musical burlesque was, as the title suggests, a mix of football and romance and was made on a budget of £45,000 and, like it’s London-filmed predecessors, proved a winner with
the cinema-goers of northern England.


In its six-year residency in Manchester, the studio remained a profit-making operation thanks in part to its star performers, and none more so than the incomparable Frank Randle. Wigan born Randle, who was still a huge attraction with his vulgar live shows, had built up a larger following through such Mancunian offerings as 'Somewhere in England', 'Somewhere on Leave', 'Holidays with pay', 'School for Randle' and 'It’s a Grand Life', there were plenty of others all of which exploited Randle’s earthy and lecherous humour to the full. Another side to Randle was that of the businessman, for he also held a position on Mancunian’s board of directors and no doubt had his say in how the company operated.


 With television making its mark in the 1950s, John Blakeley, at the age of 65, decided to call it a day and retired from the business. With the closure of the studio in 1953, a unique chapter in British film history came to an end. Mancunian however, continued production, with John E’s son Tom Blakeley at the helm. The company moved into the lucrative ‘B’ movie market with a succession of crime films. This virtually unknown part of the Mancunian story is also covered in Hooray for Jollywood’.


'Hooray for Jollywood' also contains several transcripts from the filmed sketches of George Formby, Frank Randle, Harry Korris and Norman Evans.

"The book is a splendid evocation of a golden era of Mancunian and Lancastrian humour…a book I could happily read over and over again". Manchester Evening News.

"…a must for all movie buffs". Tameside Reporter.


"This book is a 'must-have' for anybody interested in the subject matter contained here. I cannot think of any other work which so comprehensively tells us about this much-missed man and the films he made". Peter Pollard - George Formby Society.


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