“Do you guys dance?” “You ask?” Why we still love Francie and Josie

And one act that became hugely popular was the brainchild of the legendary Stanley Baxter. While working on The Five Past Eight Show at the Alhambra, the comedy actor got the idea for Francie and Josie, two young men with little money or opportunities – but lots of attitude.

Baxter and stage partner Rikki Fulton performed the sketches to incredible success and the concept was later developed by Fulton with a new partner, Jack Milroy.

Incredibly, the appearance of these two surrogate philosophers is still very much alive. Liam Dolan (as Francie) and Johnny Mac (as Josie) will once again recreate the characters in the fancy teddy boy suits.

But how can this double whammy still work today? The late 1950s were marked by very different experiences. What must a Francie and Josie show offer audiences in 2023? “Well, the thing is, they’re both such strong, lovable characters,” explains Dolan. “Josie is very intelligent while Francie is the stupid one and everyone can relate to them.” He grins: “I had a Francie and a Josie in my family. And the sketches are just so funny.”

Still, the comedy doesn’t always move along the timeline. “Well, sometimes it is, and audiences definitely love the homage to the period and the characters. So many people have heard the catchphrase “Are you dancing?” – “You ask?” and they don’t know where it came from until they see the show.”

The writings of the late Stan Mars were not only reminiscent of the time; it was so adeptly observed that it stuck in the national psyche. “You can pull off an old gag, but it’s still a smart joke,” says Dolan. “It’s the kind of material that isn’t offered by anyone else. There are no workers’ clubs, summer seasons, or variety shows. And that limitation really increased the appeal.”

The resurrection of Francie and Josie from Dolan and Mac seemed almost inevitable. The couple were friends at St Joseph’s Academy in Kilmarnock and were bound by a love of performance. Dolan encouraged his friend to attend the local youth theater summer school.

“We went to all the cinemas together,” he rewinds. “We’ve seen the likes of Dean Park and Johnny Beattie.” Coincidentally, both were raised by family members to revel in the wonder of the Francie and Josie double.

In 1997 the two young artists decided to put on a show to raise money to bring their youth theater to the Edinburgh Festival and they wrote to Rikki Fulton to get permission to perform a Francie and Josie sketch . “Rikki replied, and I still have the letter, and he said, ‘Yes, and we wish your alter egos the very best.'”

Years later, Dolan and Mac developed their own entertainment shows, Dolan becoming synonymous with the Pavilion Theater and Mac performing panto at King’s and during the summer season at Great Yarmouth. However, they decided to reform their tribute to Francie and Josie and their tour and the show became a huge hit, particularly at the Glasgow Pavilion Theatre.

“And here we are seven years later with the third part of the show.”

How long can it take when part of the audience makes its way to the variety show in the sky?

“It seems demand for the show isn’t going away,” says Dolan. “We can’t believe we’ve continued and reproduced material like ‘Francie and Josie go to the travel agencies’ or the Arbroath sketch and they still work. It’s a bit like listening to a classic band playing their greatest hits.”

What Dolan and Mac also bring to the show is a keen understanding of the dynamic between Fulton and Milroy. While Milroy was incredibly easygoing (“He met four people from the bookies and took them home because he knew Mary made minced meat”), Fulton was far less sociable. “I think Rikki took on the big brother role, kind of babysitting Jack,” Dolan smiles. “They were like brothers, a little bit like me and Johnny.”

Aside from the nostalgia element, it’s Dolan and Mac’s performances that make the show stand out. If it were 1958, chances are they’d be performing at the Alhambra themselves. “I think it really helps that Johnny and I have our own performances and the audience can’t see us together — except when we become Francie and Josie.”

The Pavilion Theater was acquired by Trafalgar Entertainment. But the group really wants to sell this nostalgia show to the audience. “The atmosphere in the pavilion is still electric,” says Dolan. “And when you feel like the show can go on forever.”

Francie and Josie: Pure Nostalgia, The Pavilion Theater Glasgow, 3-4 Oct. June

Grace Reader

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