Filming the movie Charlie Bubbles was almost like a homecoming for Pendleton actor Albert Finney in 1966.
There were uncanny parallels with his own career as he played a highly successful writer driving north from London to rediscover his roots.
Finney was brought up in Salford before going to RADA and becoming an international star in films like Tom Jones, the Entertainer and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.
He came face to face with his own past when his character Charlie Bubbles visited childhood haunts in Manchester and met old friends from his youth.
Charlie was the ultimate local boy made good, flaunting his wealth by driving round the streets of Salford in a gold Rolls Royce convertible with his secretary – also his lover – in tow.
The secretary was played by a young Liza Minnelli, especially flown in to Ringway Airport for the role. Charlie’s former wife, still living in the north, was portrayed by the brilliant actress Billie Whitelaw.
The film’s screenplay was the work of Salford playwright Shelagh Delaney, the author of the trail-blazing kitchen-sink drama A Taste of Honey.
Although there are comic tones, Charlie Bubbles includes moments of stark realism as the contrast between north and south, politically and economically, comes into focus.
Minnelli’s character Eliza takes photos of back-to-back terraces earmarked for demolition from the back of the Rolls while Charlie visits amusement arcades and cafes he used to frequent.
In one memorable scene, a hotel waiter played by Ordsall actor Joe Gladwin remembers Charlie’s father and asks Finney: ‘Are you still working, sir, or do you just do the writing now?’
Charlie gives a knowing smile and replies: ‘No, I just do the writing’ and presents the waiter with a bank note.
The film Charlie Bubbles was Finney’s debut as a director which may explain why he leaned so strongly on his own past.
Finney was born in Pendleton, Salford, on May 9th 1936. His father, also called Albert, was a bookmaker.
The young Finney was educated at Tootal Drive Primary School and Salford Grammar School before winning his place at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA).
He then joined the Royal Shakespeare Company and made his first appearance on the London stage in 1958 in Jane Arden’s The Party.
A year later Finney stepped in for a sick Laurence Olivier to take the lead role in Coriolanus at Stratford.
But his real breakthrough came in 1960 when he played a disillusioned factory worker in the film version of Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. His co-star was Shirley Anne Field.
The movie Tom Jones followed in 1963 and Finney was voted the ninth most popular star at the box office in the same year. He had come a long way from the grime of Salford.
In Charlie Bubbles, Charlie drives his Rolls Royce Silver Cloud III (with the personalised number plate CB 1E) up the M1 – encountering a millionairess played by Yootha Joyce at a service station on the way
He also picks up a soldier portrayed by Alan Lake. Both characters have stories to tell before Charlie and Eliza arrive at Manchester.
Charlie goes up in a hot air balloon to clear his head and then meets his ex-wife Lotti (Whitelaw) at the farm he has bought her in Derbyshire. He also takes his son Jack to watch a football match at Old Trafford.
He hires a private box at the ground, but later loses Jack. Frantic with worry, he later discovers his son has found his own way home.
The scenes between Charlie and Lotti, as they finally talk through the gulf between them, earned Whitelaw a BAFTA award for best actress.
The movie was praised by critics, but was never a commercial hit. Finney reckoned this was partly down to its late release as it was delayed until 1968.
Finney never directed another box office film, but went on to star as Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express in 1974.
His portrayal of Winston Churchill in The Gathering Storm in 2002 won him both BAFTA and Emmy awards for Best Actor. He also played gamekeeper Kincade in the 2012 James Bond film Skyfall.
On TV, Finney starred in the BBC productions The Green Man in 1990 and A Rather English Marriage with Tom Courtenay in 1998.
After being treated for kidney cancer, Finney died of a chest infection at the Royal Marsden Hospital in February 2019.
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