First off, I have to tell you that this page wouldn't have taken place without the enormous help of Pete Reidy, whom you have already met through a previous interview. He contacted me, saying I really should include Frankie Whittle in our series, as he has had such a colourful career in the entertainment industry. Only problem is, Frankie doesn't own a computer, and has no interest in owning a computer, making it a little difficult to make enough contact for an interview when I am in Winnipeg, Canada, and he is in Blackpool, UK. Thankfully Pete offered to be the go-between, and we had a very interesting three way conversation:
Hi Frankie, can you tell us please how it all started for you?
Well, my solo career officially started in 1968 when I became a Red Coat at Butlins in Clacton, Essex, but I started well before that, I was touring with my parents at age four playing the clubs around Bolton. In fact my first performance was a rendition of 'She Wears Red Feathers and a Hula Hula Skirt' at Gilnow Road Sunday school. I used to be in a family show with my mum, my dad and my sister, 'The Whittle Family'.
I then went on to be involved in the amateur theatre scene in Bolton, taking part in productions by the Sweetloves and Bolton Amateur Operatic Societies.
How did you enjoy your days as a Butlins Red Coat, and how long did you do that?
I was there for three years, best years of my life! I've got lots of memories. We'd meet a lot of people and do a lot of shows. The job was the perfect start to a career in entertainment. In those days being a redcoat was good experience. You learned to use a microphone and meet people, and the performing side in the redcoat shows was a highlight of the week.
It's all changed now. Years ago, when it was all full board, you all got in the dining room, everybody met each other. When it went self-catering, it lost the atmosphere a bit. In the old days, people would stay in the camp and join in on all the competitions and the get-togethers.
You also met your wife there didn't you?
I did! Christine was also a Red Coat. We were together for 45 years, married for 42 of them. She sadly passed away two years ago.
I am so sorry to hear that, you must miss her very much.
What did you do after Butlins?
I decided I wanted to try other things in showbusiness so I moved to Paignton where I became resident compere at the Mermaid Inn, it was there that I was spotted by an agent who persuaded me to do Pantomime. Since then I have appeared in summer shows and more than 30 Pantomimes up and down the country including Liverpool Empire, Nottingham, Theatre Royal, Leeds City Varieties and many more playing panto roles such as Simple Simon, Dame and have been an ugly sister in more than one panto.
I have also had a role - 'Funny French Frank', created specially for me in John Spillers Productions version of Beauty And The Beast, which sold out in Scunthorpe every year for four consecutive years.
I met many British celebrities during these years - and some have become fans. Carry On and EastEnders star Barbara Windsor was in the audience when I was doing panto in Liverpool. She was really lovely. She spoke to me afterwards and said she thought the show was really good. She came to see me a few times. I have a picture of myself with her in my gallery.
I have been looking at your panto pics too, and must say - you make a horrible woman! Ha ha! What can you tell us about other celebrities you have worked with?
I also shared the stage with George Sewell and Dougie Chapman in Cinderella, which is my favourite pantomime, at the Nottingham Theatre Royal, Sewell, who played Prince Charming, is better known for his roles as Detective Inspector Brogan in 'Z Cars', Detective Chief Inspector Alan Craven in 'Special Branch' and Superintendent Cottam in 'The Detectives'. George was a great guy to work with. We had a great time in Nottingham."
I also have great admiration for Anne Nolan, one of the Nolan Sisters, with whom I shared a stage, again in Cinderella.
I also did a show called "And There's More", with Jimmy Cricket, whom I also met at Butlins, doing a comedy sketch and playing the part of a dustman.
Have you appeared in any films?
Yes, I appeared in the Film 'Treacle' Starring Stephen Tomkinson Of Wild at Heart fame and DC I Banks.
I admit I haven't seen that, but looked it up. It was released in 1988, and also starred Peter Gunn, who is currently playing Brian Packham in Corrie. I see you were listed as a Clown/Winking Man. I wish I had seen it now! It was nominated for a Bafta too.
So where does Coronation Street fit into all this?
I have been a regular Background Artist on Corrie for 20 years. I worked direct for Granada when I started doing Corrie and fitted it in with my Panto work, doing Corrie in the summer months and Panto at Christmas time. You can still see me either in the Rovers or Roy's Cafe from time to time. They're all very nice there, like a big happy family. It's a really good Northern show, and some really big stars have gone through it as well.
I understand you hail from The Haulgh, but now reside in Blackpool. How did that come about?
I went on to run the Metropole, Butlins only hotel in Blackpool, and had a regular slot at Churchill's Bar in Topham Street.
Do you still entertain there Freddie?
Not regularly, I do it more for charity these days. I still live in Blackpool though.
One last question that I ask everyone. Can you think of anything funny that happened during your time on Corrie?
Off hand, I can't think of anything that has happened on the cobbles, but I do remember that when I worked in panto with Graham Cole (Of The Bill Fame) he fell into the orchestra pit. Does that count?
Ha ha, yes that counts. Thank you so much for giving us a little peek at the life behind the entertainer. Now let's look at your pictures: