HISTORY FEATURE: Welcome to Rawborough — the filming of Tread Softly Stranger with Diana Dors

TREAD Softly Stranger — the star-studded 1958 film — was billed as “a stark drama filmed against the turbulent fiery background of steel”.

That steel was Rotherham steel.

Parkgate was the unlikely setting for the movie, which was shot in 1957 and starred internationally-known names including Diana Dors, George Baker and Patrick Allen.

Baker’s character Johnny Mansell flees London after racking up gambling debts and moves into his brother Dave’s cramped northern flat.

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Dave’s girlfriend Calico — played by the Hollywood-bound Dors — hatches a plan for the brothers to rob the nearby steelworks to cover Johnny’s debts.

Early in the film, Baker’s character returns to his home town by train and is shown alighting at “Rawborough” station.

This was filmed at Parkgate and Rawmarsh station — renamed for the film — and Baker is shown walking past the Station Hotel.

Apart from all the steelworks shots, virtually every indoor scene is filmed on a set down south.

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But there are good views of Station Row, the rail line crossing Aldwarke Road and especially Lloyd Street, where children can be seen playing football as the blast furnaces fill the background.

Steelworks scenes were shot at Steel, Peech and Tozer as well as at the Park Gate steelworks, but much more is known about the latter’s contribution to the film.

A number of extras were signed up, including Bill Brownett, who was born on Hollybush Street and lived on Bear Tree Road at the time.

His father worked at the blast furnace and he had two uncles also at the forge. Bill was employed in Park Gate’s cogging mill and was a union rep like his dad had been.

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Towards the end of 1957, a film company advertised in the works for extras to be a part of Tread Softly Stranger. They were offering two shillings a session.

Being a union man, Bill thought this was too low and successfully argued them up to half a crown — although he remembers the movie boss being puzzled by his pronunciation of “ayf” a crown.

They were told to expect a couple of days filming.

Because he was tall — 6ft 2.5ins — Bill was picked out to be used as a double for George Baker.

Bill was first asked to walk away in Baker’s new light-coloured mac and split from a co-worker at Cross Street and say “goodnight”.

Unfortunately, he said: “Goodnight, Jack.”

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Cut! The director pulled him up on the line but Bill told him: “You’re in South Yorkshire, that’s how we talk!”

The team had a brand-new coat for Baker to wear but the cameraman thought it looked too bright and wanted it “scruffed-up” a bit.

He prepared to wipe it on the ground to achieve this effect but Bill — seeing the chance of getting a brand new coat — offered his own rather scruffy one instead.

Sadly for him, the offer was turned down.

“For one bit, I had to get behind a dustbin but I was too tall,” said Bill, now of Sunnyside. “So the actor they got to do it instead got crouched down and said to me: ‘They’ve got us in some right places here!’”

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There was two or three days filming for the men, who were still doing their own shifts away from the lights, cameras and action.

And Bill has still never seen the film — 65 years later — although he hopes to soon after the Advertiser told him the movie is currently freely available to watch on YouTube.

Dave Smith was a boy of 14 when the camera crews came to Parkgate.

He lived in Stanley Street in the Low End of Parkgate, close to where Parkgate Shopping is now.

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One day, his mother had sent him into Rotherham to buy a rabbit for dinner and gave him ayf a crown to pay for it.

Dave knew the rabbit would cost two shillings, so would enable him to visit the sarsaparilla store near the “four-face clock” on his way home.

But he was stopped in his thirsty tracks near Grafton Bridge because a scene from Tread Softly Stranger was being shot.

“There were cameras, lights and tracks for the cameras to roll along,” said Dave. “The next thing I see is Terence Morgan walking up from what used to be the old power station and talking to this other guy.”

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The scene involved searching for a missing gun which had been used in the robbery at the steelworks and apparently thrown into the river.

While young Dave watched on with excitement, another passer-by was less enthused.

He remembered: “There was just me and this one lady, who did nothing but moan because she wanted to get home. She asked: ‘Is it roadworks or something?’ and I told her no, they’re making a film!”

Some people suggested that Diana Dors had been spotted sunbathing on a terrace near the steelworks during the filming, although it is now accepted that all her scenes were done in studios elsewhere — and Dave agrees that her visiting Parkgate is a misconception.

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Dave left school to work for a cutlery firm and is still an active antique dealer at the age of 79.

Recently, after a fair in Harrogate, he came into possession of a colourful card advertising Tread Softly Stranger.

Dave asked about the film at one of the stalls and was surprised when the vendor reeled off the list of cast members.

The seller had recently sold a Tread Softly Stranger poster to someone in Sheffield for £275 — but offered to send on a couple of the promotional cards.

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“He sent them free of charge but I still sent him a £25 cheque,” said Dave, of Haugh Road. “I gave one away but kept the other one, which I took to the history group when I did a talk on the Low Ends.

“I always look out for the film when it’s on. Last time I was up until one in the morning. I know all the lines and everything that’s going to happen.

“It just brings back so many memories.”

Tony Dodsworth, Rawmarsh & Parkgate Local History Group chairman, said: “The film’s reception at the time was relatively lukewarm but more recently it seems to have gained a bit more artistic recognition.

“The ‘gritty northern surroundings’ of glamorous stars like Diana Dors and George Baker is now more admired although the lack of authentic accents is a repeated criticism.

“Whether Diana Dors actually ever came to Parkgate is a matter of dispute. What is sure is that within a year she was in Hollywood ‘in the big time’.”

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