The entertainment world united in grief yesterday after it was announced that Hollywood legend Sir Dickie Flute had died aged 98.
St Helens born Dickie, a founding member of the notorious ‘Twat pack’ during the halcyon days of 40s and 50s Hollywood, passed away yesterday morning after falling down the stairs of his Eccleston home.
Police believe Flute was trying to re-enact the ‘Stairway to the Stars’ tap dance routine from his 1948 movie ‘The Hottie’s or Bust”, as he was still sporting his top hat and tails when his agent discovered his body at around 7am.
Detective Sgt John Willie of St Helens police said, “Although we’re not looking for anybody else in connection with the incident, we are treating the death as suspicious as Mr Flute lived in a bungalow”.
Speaking from the scene, Flutes agent Gill Vanetti said, “Dickies journey from Sutton workhouse to darling of the silver screen was by no means an easy one, but with hard work, the planet’s in perfect alignment and a little sprinkling of stardust…anything is possible”, she was then charged with possession of Cannabis and taken to College street police station for questioning.
Although regarded by many in the film industry as one of the greatest actors of all time, Dickie will be best remembered locally for the fierce and sometimes vicious rivalry he endured with Wigan entertainer and musician George Formby. The abject hatred each man felt for the other was notorious within the acting community and was almost certainly the catalyst for the intense rivalry shared by the two towns today.
Here, in an excerpt from the 2014 biography, ‘My Struggle – The Dickie Flute Story’, Author Willie Piper describes the early days of Dickies career and that much publicised falling out with George Formby.
As great an entertainer as he was in the early days, Dickie was considered a cursed man in that he had the charm of Cary Grant but the face of Adolph Hitler, yet rather than see it as an affliction, Dickie saw an opportunity and soon found himself starring in the first of 7 wartime movies in which he played the Nazi leader. Two of those movies, ‘Ooooh Mr Hitler’ and ‘Goose-stepping Out’, would later earn him Academy awards for best leading actor.
That first appearance though was in the 1940 George Formby movie, ‘Let George Do It’, in which a hapless Englishman played by Formby interrupts a Nazi rally by punching Hitler in the face. It was during filming of the scene that Dickie sustained a broken nose when the amiable Formby violently attacked him with his ukulele after momentarily thinking him to be the actual Nazi leader.
It was an embarrassing moment for the usually placid George and one he was immediately keen to play down blaming the attack on exhaustion and his anger at the wartime rationing of his favourite meal, pie.
Wishing to avoid any negative press, Formby extended several apologies toward Dickie over the course of filming which the St Helens man bluntly refused earning him the nickname ‘Resolute Flute’ amongst cast and crew.
Inevitably things came to a head on the last day of filming when Dickie, looking for a little retribution over the attack, broke into Formby’s dressing room before cutting the strings and writing graffiti on the entertainer’s prized Ukulele, a move that would begin a vicious feud between the two stars which would continue for another 21 years. Reports at the time suggested Formby was enraged at the vandalism to his instrument, which was believed to have had his well known and well loved catchphrase “MOTHERRRRR” scratched in to one side, and “FUCKERRRRR” on to the other.
Putting the Formby incident behind him, Flute moved on to his next Hitler roll in the 1941 hit comedy, ‘Dedicated Follower Of Fascism’, playing a male model who is mistaken for the power hungry oppressor whilst on a photo shoot in Munich. It was while filming this movie that Dickie met and fell in love with German female weightlifter and wrestling champion Ingrid Svine, who had been cast as Hitler’s right hand man and confidante Hermann Goring.
The pair became inseparable over the course of filming and announced their wedding plans just 5 months later when they appeared together at the now infamous ‘Dedicated Follower of Fascism’ movie premier at the Hippodrome in St Helens.
It was while leaving the premier that Dickies dispute with Formby reared its ugly head once again when a still enraged George hurled a stale pie at the couple as they exited the Hippodrome’s stage door. As Formby’s Rolls Royce sped off in the direction of Billinge , Flutes fiancé Ingrid lay motionless on the ground having sustained a broken arm and fractured skull, injury’s that would ultimately curtail her weightlifting and wrestling careers.
Formby was arrested over the attack after hundreds of eye witnesses alleged they saw him at the scene, however at the subsequent trial he was found not guilty after his lawyer Marcel Varnel managed to convince the Judge and jury that his client could not possibly have been responsible as no Wiganer would ever waste a pie, not even a stale one, a point that even Dickie didn’t bother to argue with.
Fast forward to the present day and Sir Dickie Flute was as popular in his beloved St Helens as he’d ever been, after all it’s where it all began….and it ended here too, but his legacy will undoubtedly live on, as will his most famous and most quoted line from the 1974 zombie movie ‘Attack on Wigan Pier’, in which his character, Major Tom Fowler, having just blown the head off of a blood thirsty Zombie, takes a suck on his cigar and says, “STICK THAT IN YOUR CRUST PIE-EATER”.
Sir Dickie Flute: 1917 – 2015
Story by The Zimmerman