Frank Randle was a star comedian in British variety theatres in the 1940's and 50's - a huge star, especially in the North of England (although, contrary to myth, he was also very successful in the South where he toned down his Lancashire accent). His career faded in the mid-1950's (he suffered from alcoholism and tuberculosis, and seems to have had mental health problems) and he died in 1957. However, he is still a legendary figure, fondly remembered by those who saw him, and of increasing interest to nostalgia buffs.
Randle only made 12 films and some of those are now regarded as lost so this is a rare chance to see the legend at work. Unfortunately it must be said the film is cheaply made and looks it. You have wade through a fair bit of dross to enjoy the brief moments when Randle does his thing.
The "plot" revolves around Randle and family going to Blackpool for their annual holiday. On the way their wreck of a car breaks down but they are rescued by a pleasant young man who has a seaside landlady for a friend and he arranges for them to be given accommodation. The young man also takes a liking to Randle's eldest daughter (played by Sally Barnes, Randle's real-life lover). The film then involves the family in 'fun at the seaside'. These scenes were filmed on location in Blackpool in front of staring holiday crowds who keep looking at the camera while Randle and Co do their (rather silly) slapstick shtick. The scenes were also filmed silent and a pretty terrible fake soundtrack added in post-production. For no good reason there is also a trip to the Isle of Man with more falling out of rowing boats, etc.
True to its theatrical roots the film takes in a seaside show where Josef Locke ("Britain's greatest tenor" it says here which must have pleased Peter Pears no end) gets a chance to belt out a song (he was one of Randle's boozing buddies). This section seems to have been cut quite a bit. Randle's wife is played by Tessie O'Shea, herself an accomplished entertainer, who is seen preparing to perform but the performance itself doesn't appear on screen. Randle and O'Shea were notoriously competitive on-set (she would stamp on Randle's foot when he got too out of line) and as Randle owned shares in the film company he may have ensured O'Shea lost her solo spot.
After this Randle's family are thrown out of their guest-house and have to join the young man in his 'haunted' mansion (a rival cousin has already had him mugged and thrown off Blackpool pier while he was fishing at midnight only to be saved by Randle's daughter). Various fake spooks are unleashed in an effort to scare the young man away from his inheritance but of course the plan is thwarted, right prevails, and a wedding forms the happy ending. Randle himself enters as a real ghost in his 'old man' character, but only for a too brief exchange of dialogue and one 'boyeee' - his trademark burp.
The film as a whole is more cheap than cheerful. What makes it worthwhile is seeing the energy of Randle when he is allowed free-rein. He must have been able to work a theatre audience brilliantly by the flash of an eye or a knowing grin. It's a geat pity that his performances haven't been better preserved for posterity (we have only one sound recording of him working live in 1938).
In a sense Randle was his own worst enemy, a self-confessed 'vulgar' comedian, always in trouble with self-satisfied 'guardians of public morals' and a difficult personality (throwing poor quality food at the wall of his hotel room was the least of his foibles), but by losing a lasting record of his best work the history of British popular culture is far poorer.