Dr Derek J. Ripley reveals the murky world of Lancashire stand-ins
PUBLISHED: 00:00 13 May 2013 | UPDATED: 18:03 19 January 2016
Anyone who spends even a few minutes on the internet will be astounded by the thousands of people employed by look-alike agencies who make a good living by looking nothing like the celebrities they are supposed to resemble.
The first look-alike agencies date from the 1850s. Demand was fuelled by wealthy individuals who iavoided tedious official engagements, such as opening new branches of the FW Duckworths department store, by sending look-alikes and staying at home eating pastries.
It could be very dangerous if you were employed by political or military leaders and sent into battle. Some suggest there were as many as six Napoleons and three Dukes of Wellington at Waterloo.
Lord Nelson’s look-alike, Wigan blacksmith John Wragg, had to have an eye and an arm removed after the Battles of Calvi and Santa Cruz . Unfortunately, surgeons removed the wrong arm.
The most notorious were the Wanderers - petty criminals and former shipyard workers from Liverpool who were the look-alikes of the Bolton Wanderers football team. In 1894, Bolton were hot favourites to beat second division Notts County at Goodison Park to win the FA Cup.
The gang placed a huge bet on County to win at odds of 20/1, kidnapped the Bolton team at their Warrington hotel the night before and locked them in the cellar of The Dog and Bone public house, Widnes.
The gang played the final and lost 4-1 to Notts County with a late consolation goal scored by a look-alike of Jim Cassidy, the Bolton Wanderers centre forward.
One industry in which the demand for look-alikes is always high is the film industry. Stunt doubles stand in for an actor or actress to perform a particular act or stunt. This may require a particular skill such as playing the piano, riding a motorbike or eating a bowl of tripe.
Probably the most celebrated stunt double in the history of the Lancashire film industry was Wilfred Robinson (1908-1990) who was employed by the Twentieth Century Spatchcock film studio in Hollinwood, near Oldham.
Robinson was exceptionally brave and resilient having been abandoned by his mother on Saddleworth Moor as a baby and raised by a family of sheep. He appeared in hundreds of Spatchcock films, despite not bearing the slightest resemblance to any of the actors.Notable performances include standing in for Roger ‘Fatty’ Arbuthnot in Cakehole Fatty (1920) when he was unable to consume a large quantity of cream cakes due to an attack of indigestion and for a sheep which refused to swim across the River Calder in Field Of Sheep (1989).
Despite being attacked by a lion, thrown from a moving train and fired from a cannonball in a career lasting over 60 years, Robinson said in his autobiography (currently out of print) that his greatest challenge had been to kiss Hetty James in Keep Calm, Doctor (1967) when the Rev Charles Hankie refused to do so.