Gerry On The Mersey

The Merseyside Movie
By Bill Harry
 

Gerry & the Pacemakers'Ferry Cross The Mersey' could well be the anthem of the Mersey music scene. Gerry Marsden, ebullient leader of Gerry & the Pacemakers, noted for his toothy grin and distinctive voice, treading the decks of a Mersey ferryboat singing the song he wrote for his film debut, is an image firmly rooted in the lore of British beat music of the 1960s.

The movie was the first and only film about beat music made in Liverpool during the Mersey boom.

Gerry & the Pacemakers were the second group to be signed by Brian Epstein and they leapt to the top of the charts with 'How Do You Do It?' Ironically, the number, penned by Mitch Murray, was originally George Martin's choice as the Beatles second single. The Beatles recorded it but preferred their own number 'Please Please Me' and convinced Martin he should release that instead.

Gerry followed his chart-topper with two further No. 1 hits, 'I Like It' and 'You'll Never Walk Alone', becoming the first British artist to have a hat trick of No. 1's with his first three releases - a record he held until the 1980s when another Liverpool band, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, equaled it. Appropriately, the 'B' side of the first of Frankie's No. 1 hits was 'Ferry Cross The Mersey.'

There had been several films set in and around Merseyside prior to 'Ferry Cross The Mersey.'

They included 'The Magnet', 'The Clouded Yellow' with Trevor Howard and Jean Simmons, 'Violent Playground' with Stanley Baker, 'I Thank A Fool' with Susan Hayward, 'Another Time, Another Place' with Lana Turner and Sean Connery and 'Waterfront' with Richard Burton.

'Ferry Cross The Mersey' couldn't be described as the first musical set in Liverpool as there had been 'These Dangerous Years' with Frankie Vaughan.

Following the Pacemakers' successful trip to America in 1964, Brian Epstein discussed a possible film venture for the group with writer Tony Warren, who'd created the television series 'Coronation Street.' Warren came up with an idea concerning the Liverpool ferryboats.

Discussing the project with Ray Coleman for his biography 'I'll Never Walk Alone', Gerry said, "There was a little storyline by Tony Warren, which had me living on one side of the Mersey, crossing to the other to go to art college (shades of John Lennon), forming a band and playing around Liverpool until a man came up with a talent competition. We entered it and naturally won and became famous.

"There was a lot of knockabout comedy, but the film was mainly a vehicle for nine songs which I wrote with the Pacemakers. They were performed in ridiculous situations for fun. We would sing in Chinese restaurants when suddenly a piano would appear; on the ferry a piano appeared; in the middle of the street a piano would appear - mainly it was an excuse for songs. But it was also a pre-video age video to show our faces around the world in countries where we couldn't tour, because we were too busy to tour everywhere.

"I fell in love and kissed a girl (that was as much as you could do in a movie in those years); Julie Samuel played that part, George A. Cooper was the undertaker, Eric Barker was Julie's father; T.P. McKenna was Brian Epstein and Mona Washbourne was my Aunt Lil."

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