IT'S nearly 60 years since Darwen's brush with Tinseltown. A couple of summer weeks when everyone played at being a film star – especially the town's youngsters, writes Harold Heys.

Norman Wisdom, then one of the stars of the British film industry, came to town with an array of established actors – and young starlet Susannah York.

They arrived to make the comedy There Was a Crooked Man. And Darwen was bowled over.

The 1960 film kept the Norman Wisdom bandwagon rolling along. But after a brief run and one TV appearance in 1965 it virtually disappeared.

There was a hastily-arranged one-off show at Darwen Library Theatre a few years ago - and then it disappeared again. Until now.

Home entertainment company Network Distributing is launching the DVD of the film next month and you can order it on Amazon for less than a tenner.

Darwen Days founder Dave Owen has been searching for a copy for years and his name was first on the want-list.

He actually has a copy but he got it from Albania and the dialogue is in Russian. Apparently Norman Wisdom was big in Albania.

What's it about? About as much as I can take, as someone once quipped.

Wisdom is an explosives expert who gets involved with a gang of criminals and is disguised as an American general. Various things are blown up and it all gets very noisy.

It was Wisdom's first real attempt at 'straight' acting, as opposed to his usual 'daft lad' roles. Fans weren't thrilled. They wanted 'The Gump'.

However, filming was great fun for Darweners. The railings down Railway Road became the sea front and the long-closed Theatre Royal became the McKillup Arms, with Andrew Cruickshank as the harassed landlord.

An enormous toilet block was erected in front of the pub for some reason and there was filmed mayhem up Belgrave and outside the railway station.

The kids loved it. Bernard Dunkinson rode a bike down a steep hill and had a line to Norman: "You don't look like a general."

Perhaps not as memorable as "Frankly, my dear …" but it certainly was to cheeky-chappie Bernard.

John East, who became a local councillor, recalled queuing up in the Millstone Hotel to collect a crisp ten bob note for his work as an 11-year-old extra.

"Crooked Man launched my film career," he recalled modestly. "It was a very brief "career."

A Spring Bank pupil, he spent a whole afternoon walking up and down Railway Road. Tiring work being a child star.

More established actors who mingled with local folk were Alfred Marks, Reginald Beckwith and Jean Clarke.

It put Susannah York on the map and she went on to star in some of the top films of the 1960s, among them Tom Jones, A Man for All Seasons, the Killing of Sister George, Battle of Britain and They Shoot Horses Don't They?

She later did a lot of television and was kept busy till her death early in 2011 just a few weeks after Norman Wisdom's death.