Thursday, January 19, 2006

Geoff Collins NEARLY Discovers Duggie Wakefield

Last night Ivy and I did something we've never done before - and if I'd suggested this sort of thing to my ex-wife, she would have been disgusted and horrified.

We watched a Laurel and Hardy movie.

It was Sons of the Desert, that classic opus which has spawned thousands of bowler-hatted twats in "tents" all over the world, and I don't need to comment on it any further other than to say that Ivy thought it was hilarious; by the end of it she genuinely cared about their characters, and she now refers to them as Stan and Ollie. This is a major achievement; most women, in my experience, pretend to be fans of Laurel and Hardy, in order to appear polite, and then refer to them as "the fat one" and "the thin one". Jesus Christ. It makes your flesh creep.

But let's not talk any more about The Boys. They don't need our help; they're hardly Third Banana material as they're universally recognized (except by most women!) as great comedians. So we'll move swiftly on to the main point of our discussion.

Having watched this marvellous movie once again after an absence of several years, curiosity got the better of me and I had a flick through Randy Skredvedt's Laurel and Hardy - the Magic Behind the Movies... where on page 269 there's a production shot of the parade scene, with Babe, director William Seiter, Stan, and a little fellow described as "English comic Billy Nelson". Billy Nelson? The old memory bank is suddenly open for business; the pieces of a forgotten puzzle are starting to fit into place.

Leonard Maltin's The Great Movie Shorts, page 4, has a photo (with no accompanying text) of Hal Roach's All-Star Trio: Don Barclay, Douglas Wakefield, and Billy Nelson.

Douglas Wakefield? That's a bit formal; let's call him Duggie. Most people did anyway. It seems a bit odd for me to be writing about one of the very few 1930s comedians I've never seen on film, but this is where our readers can help. Duggie was born in Sheffield in 1899 (or 1901 - again, it depend on which version you read) and died in 1951. He started as a child performer in Gerald Mount's Juveniles, alongside Alfie Dean (see Alfie's obituary elsewhere on this site). He was a small, turned-up-nosed "gormless" Northern slapstick comedian - and he was Gracie Fields' brother-in-law, which probably accounts for his appearance in Gracie's films This Week of Grace and Look Up and Laugh. Without Gracie's help, he starred in an approved-by-Halliwell solo starring vehicle, Spy For a Day, as well as some cheapies (mostly lost, but The Penny Pool still survives) for Northern crap-movie-merchants Mancunian; details can be found under www.itsahotun.com. He toured in British variety for many years in knockabout sketches,accompanied by a team of stooges: Chuck O'Neil, Jack Butler and Billy Nelson; and by some miracle (did Stan invite these fellow-Northerners over?) by October 1933, when Sons of the Desert was being filmed, Duggie and Billy Nelson were in Hollywood, working for Hal Roach.

"Google" is wonderful if you know how to use it - and I'm still learning. You can type in a word and get eight million references. Nevertheless, with judicial use of inverted commas, I typed in "Wakefield " "Hal Roach" "Billy Nelson" [sic] and tracked down the following movies, all two-reelers:

Twin Screws (1933) directed by James Parrott; with Duggie, Billy, and Jack Barty (another unique English comedian, the mad butler in Oliver the Eighth)

Crooks' Tour [no apostrophe is shown so I'm assuming there's more than one crook] (1933) directed by Robert F. McGowan; with Duggie, Billy, and Gertrude Astor [a tall, lovely Goddess, so memorable in The Strong Man]

Mixed Nuts (1934) directed by James Parrott; with Duggie, Billy, Jack Barty - and am I right in assuming a guest appearance by The Boys Themselves? Why else would this movie be on "Laurel and Hardy - The Lost Films; Volume Seven"? Help me out, readers!

I'll Be Suing You (1934) directed by Gus Meins; starring Thelma Todd and Patsy Kelly; with Duggie and Billy.

And that's it, really. Or is it? There may be more Roaches lurking in the archives [what a horrendous prospect!] Presumably after their Hollywood adventure, Duggie and Billy went back to the British variety circuit; Look Up and Laugh was made in 1935. But their Hal Roach two-reelers still exist. If any of you have seen these movies, or anything else featuring Duggie Wakefield, let's hear from you. As Bud Abbott often says "Do I have to do all the work?"

Come on, readers. Duggie didn't do anything for Pathe, unfortunately; but ANYONE who starred in Hal Roach two-reelers, no matter how obscure, has to be considered for some sort of immortality.

Duggie's a rare one. Let's find out how good he really was.

Help us out.

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8 Comments:

Blogger Ivan G. said...

To the best of my knowledge, Mixed Nuts' only reason for being on the L&H Volume 7 DVD is because it's there.

1:56 AM  
Anonymous Greg said...

Have you heard anything about a print of "Hats Off" turning up in Europe somewhere?

10:58 AM  
Blogger Aaron Neathery said...

I keep hearing that rumor, but nothing concrete has turned up so far as I know. The Dutch titles, however, have been uncovered.

8:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i am interested in reading about duggie wakefield and his "gang"
as jack butler was my father.
j.m.b.

4:01 AM  
Blogger Aaron Neathery said...

No kidding?? Wow! Tell us more! Contact me at aaronneathery@gmail.com if you'd like..

10:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my mother had a long-standing affair with jack butler, as a result i was born in 1937, the year they made the "THE PENNEY POOL".J.M.B.

5:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gus Meins was a great director and a gentleman and he is best known for directing Little Rascals and Our Gang. Ladies and gentlemen from Hollywood were shocked about his premature death. Meins claims he is innocent of the crimes. He was born in Germany. Meins' real name was Gustav(e) Peter Ludwig Luley.

9:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone out there know anymore about what happened to The Gang after they stopped working together? Especially Jack Butler, he was my Dad but he and my Mother never married. I would like to know more about him. i,e where was he born when did he die, did he marry did he have other children/

5:28 AM  

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