George Formby’s 1940 film Spare a Copper followed a tried and tested formula to provide some much-needed escapism in the early war years.
The Wigan-born entertainer played a hapless policeman pitted against saboteurs trying to blow up a warship – at the same time as belting out four songs on his trusty ukulele.
There was also the customary crazy car chase – this time involving Formby driving a motorised toy car round a fairground wall of death.
But one thing was different about this Formby movie. Lurking uncredited in the cast was a future Tony, BAFTA and Olivier Award winner making her film debut.
The actress was none other than Manchester stage and screen star Beryl Reid, who went on to became a household name in the trail-blazing play and movie The Killing of Sister George.
She also starred as the flawed but brilliant intelligence officer Connie Sachs in the highly acclaimed TV dramas Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley’s People.
In addition, Reid has appeared in countless TV sitcoms and dramas, award-winning stage productions and a string of films. They include The Belles of St Trinians in 1958, Inspector Clouseau in 1962 and Entertaining Mr Sloane in 1970.
Many will also remember Reid for playing the elderly feminist and politically subversive Sylvia in the 1987 TV series The Beiderbecke Tapes.
Born in Hereford in June 1919, Reid grew up in Manchester after her Scottish parents moved to the city. She attended Levenshulme High School, but left education at the age of 16 to go on the stage.
After making her music hall debut at Bridlington’s Floral Hall in 1936, Reid spent the war years appearing in variety shows and pantomimes.
She came to prominence in the early 1950s playing the naughty schoolgirl Monica in the popular BBC radio show Educating Archie, starring ventriloquist Peter Brough and his dummy Archie Andrews.
It’s hard to imagine the appeal of a ventriloquist on radio, but Educating Archie averaged more than 15 million listeners with a fan club of 250,000.
Reid also portrayed the Brummie character Marlene on the show – an accent she was to repeat to great effect in future roles.
In 1960, Reid played Miss Pringle in the comedy film Two-Way Stretch starring Peter Sellers, Lionel Jeffries and Oldham actor Bernard Cribbins.
The plot involved inmates breaking out of prison to commit a robbery – then breaking back in again to create the perfect alibi.
Four years later, Reid played the principle role in the stage version of The Killing of Sister George, which premiered at the Bristol Old Vic in April 1965 before moving to London’s West End.
Also in the original cast was Oldham actress Lally Bowers as Mercy Croft and Eileen Atkins as Childie. The trio also played the roles when the production moved to New York’s Belasco Theatre in October 1966.
In the play, Sister George was a district nurse in a radio series portrayed by cigar-smoking and hard-drinking actress June Buckridge (Reid). She lived with younger women Alice ‘Childie’ McNaught.
Things fall apart for Buckridge when she learns that her character is due to be killed off, especially when radio executive Croft starts interfering personally and professionally.
Reid’s portrayal of Buckridge won her the 1966 Tony Award for the Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Broadway production.
In 1968, the play was released as a film starring Reid as Buckridge and Susannah York as Childie. Reid was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Actress.
The film contained many memorable dramatic moments, including one bitter-sweet scene where Reid and York dress up as Laurel and Hardy.
On stage, Reid won the 1980 Olivier Award for Best Comedy Performance for the play Born in the Gardens and followed it up two years later with the BAFTA TV Award for Best Actress.
She received the accolade for her portrayal of Connie Sachs in Smiley’s People, playing alongside Alec Guinness as spymaster George Smiley.
There were echoes of Archie Andrews later in Reid’s career when she presented the Children’s TV programme Get up and Go with Stephen Boxer and a green talking puppet called Mooncat.
Her final TV appearance came in 1988 when she played Mrs Moss in an episode of The Comic Strip Presents.
Reid, who was married twice, died in Buckinghamshire at the age of 77 in October 1996.
*Unmissable images of Manchester and the North West feature in Clive Hardy’s latest hardback book, The Home Front – Britain 1939-45, published by iNostalgia Ltd. It’s on sale at £14.99 including UK postage and packing.
Just go to inostalgia.co.uk/shop to order your copy or call the order hotline on 01928 503777.