Belfast Telegraph

Dan Gordon's new Frank Carson play is a cracker

By Ivan Little

It's the way he's going to tell it - actor Dan Gordon is writing a one-man play about Belfast's most loved comedian, Frank Carson.

The east Belfast writer hopes the show about the north Belfast legend - Frank Carson: A Rebel Without a Pause - will be a cracker.

Dan, who will portray the comedian himself, says: "Frank was hilarious. And unlike other comics, his life story wasn't ruined by tragedy. He always had a smile on his face and he had a happy family life."

Frank, who lived in Blackpool for many years, died of cancer in 2012 and scores of showbiz and golfing friends attended his Requiem Mass at St Patrick's Church in Donegall Street, near where he was born and bred in an area called Little Italy.

Mourners included Lenny Henry, Stan Boardman, Roy Walker, Dennis Taylor, Barry McGuigan, Pat Jennings and Eamonn Holmes, who was a family friend.

Frank's son, Tony, revealed last year that while clearing his father's apartment in Spain after his death, he found 10 cassette tapes with 16 hours of interviews Frank gave to an Irish journalist about his life and views on a wide range of subjects, including religion.

Dan Gordon has had access to the tapes and has met Frank's children and friends including retired Catholic Bishop of Derry, Dr Edward Daly, who got to know the comic well in the '60s when he was a regular on shows he organised, including up to 100 pantomimes.

"Frank was apparently contracted for three weeks at St Columb's Hall but stayed eight years," says Dan, who hopes to finish writing the play in the next two months.

"I've been watching lots of videos of TV shows including This is Your Life and listening to hours of radio stuff too. But Frank was never very serious in interviews. He was always performing, so getting real material is very difficult.

Dan heard many amusing stories about the funnyman, who was knighted by Pope John Paul II into the Order of St Gregory in 1987 for his charity work.

"One of my favourites is about him handing a Waterford glass decanter to the Pope, who gave him an audience lasting 17 minutes while US President Ronald Reagan only got 11 minutes.

"The decanter is said to have had 'Stolen from Frank Carson' engraved on the bottom of it.

"He was extremely intelligent and the reason he lasted the course while other comedians fell by the wayside was that he kept re-inventing himself, from the Comedians TV show to the kids' show Tiswas."

Dan met Frank only once. "That was backstage at the BBC on a programme about the shipyard," he explains.

"And after someone told a rambling story about Harland and Wolff, Frank turned to me and whispered 'Well, that shortened the winter'."

Dan plans to try the show out in smaller venues before finding a bigger stage for it. The Grand Opera House has already been suggested as a possible location.

And it was in the theatre that a tribute show was held for Frank two years ago, with a glittering guest list including actor Adrian Dunbar, Eurovision winner Dana and Frank's comedian friend Tom O'Connor.

But it was in the tiny halls and cabaret clubs of Belfast that Frank honed his comic skills before hitting the big time after winning the British TV show Opportunity Knocks three times.

He'd worked as a plasterer and electrician and later joined the Parachute Regiment, whose tie he still wore in Belfast at the height of the Troubles, despite the obvious risks. Even though he settled in Blackpool, Frank said his heart was always in Ireland and for a time he moved to Balbriggan, near Dublin, where he spent his honeymoon with his wife Ruth.

He was twice elected as mayor of the town, which he said was one of his favourite places in the world.

Ruth Carson died earlier this year in Blackpool and was buried alongside her husband in Milltown Cemetery, after a funeral service in St Patrick's Church.

Belfast Telegraph


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