When I was a young boy I can remember watching The Comedians on television. Though it was thirty minutes of non-stop jokes I mainly recall The Banjo Boys who played...er..banjos... at the start and end of the programme. My gran even made me a white suit like theirs and I twanked away on a tennis racket.
I can remember two of the northern comedians on that programme - Bernard Manning and Frank Carson. Here I am at the Blackpool home of the latter. He was born in Belfast and grew up in the poor “Little Italy” Catholic area (was a choirboy at the local church.)
He was spent three years in the Middle East in the Parachute Regiment (he made 40 parachute descents) and even shot an armed Zionist terrorist dead. Even though he took a bullet in the leg he was lucky: a bomb exploded outside a cinema and seven RAF men he was with died. In civil life he worked as a bin-man, electrician and plasterer. He lived in Balbriggan in County Dublin and was the mayor twice.
Though he won on the talent-spotting show Opportunity Knocks (three times) I can only remember seeing him on The Comedians telling jokes. He had the sort of face you remembered. Or people remember phases so perhaps I remember his two, "It's a cracker!" and "It's the way I tell 'em!". I’m not sure I’d watch it nowadays as I rarely find stand-up comedians funny and often think to myself, “Surely they’ve got a job and this is a hobby.”
He moved to Blackpool to the home I’m outside here in Layton near the North Pier. For decades his bread-and-butter money was doing the circuit of cabarets, clubs and summer seasons. He was a big fan of Blackpool Football Club and attended regularly (was also the director of Chasetown Football Club.) He was also a member of St.Annes Old Links Golf Club. He was married to Ruth and had a daughter and two sons.
Aged fifty he had an operation on his heart (he had a pacemaker) then carried on working. At 60 he raised £130,000 for the Royal Victoria Hospital Children's Cancer Ward. Pope John Paul II must have heard for the next year he awarded Frank a papal knighthood.
In his eighties his health was eroding - a hernia and malignant tumour in his stomach then death at 85 of stomach cancer. Here I am outside his home near Blackpool Zoo where he lived and died.
His body was taken back to Belfast and the St Patrick's Church where he had married Ruth over 60 years earlier (they now lie together.)
Money matters remain complicated. I read he wanted two leave two houses in Ireland to his sons but this wasn’t possible as, after debts were paid, the estate was worth £8,000. However there was a property in Spain.
I’ve visited this house a few times and the masks on the gates have been repainted each time.
The house is in a pleasant area not far from Blackpool Tower…
On a previous visit…
Frank’s grave. He’s on my list…