DAN Robinson, better known to Black Country folk of a certain vintage as Danny Cannon from his days with sixties band The Ramrods, has been singing for his supper since he was just into his teens. But now, some years into retirement, he may well have pulled off the most important performance of his life.
And if you're watching the latest BBC drama Peaky Blinders, you'll be able to see him for yourself. After being consulted by the programme's producers, via his role as an in-character shopkeeper at the Black Country Living Museum, Dan soon found himself in front of the cameras, with his well-seasoned voice at the centre of a dramatic scene. The series, a six-parter which began on Thursday 12th September, features Hollywood star Cillian Murphy, of Batman and 28 Days Later fame in the lead role, and is liberally sprinkled with star names including Sam Neill, Helen McCrory, Paul Anderson and Annabelle Wallis.
It's set in the lawless back streets of Birmingham during the 1920s, and the Peaky Blinders of the title were gang members who had razor blades stitched into the peaks of their caps. Dan was consulted by the producers on a few points of period detail, and he was thrilled to be asked to share his knowledge with some of the stars — but things soon began to escalate, as he told the Bugle ...
"I am involved with guiding and demonstrating at the Black Country Living Museum, and as a spin off from time to time we get asked if we would like to take part in filming and interview publicity, and sometimes commercial productions such as advertising, promotional videos for the museum and so on. And, every now and then, a television program or series.
"To date I've been involved in 'Black by Day' by The Fizzog Theatre Company, TV adverts for the museum, 'Great British Railway Journeys' with Michael Portillo, 'Dancing on the Edge' by Stephen Poliakoff for BBC2, and now 'Peaky Blinders'.
Dan's involvement came when filming of some industrial scenes was carried out at the museum, and members of staff were asked to speak to assistant producer Gemma Nunn if they would like to work as extras.
"Well I contacted Gemma and she outlined that they were filming some labourers doing some heavy digging and shovelling," said Dan. "She said she didn't think I'd fit the bill on this occasion, given my state of health. I tended to agree with her and she said she would give me a bell should anything more suitable arise. I had however submitted my CV and she said she would give it the once-over when she had a minute.
"The phone had hardly gone down when she rang back all of a fuffle saying she was looking at all my previous forays in the music business and she was very interested in interviewing me for the future.
"She said that there was a scene in the series where they needed someone to play the part of an old drunken man singing a ballad in a Birmingham pub, and singing in a Brummie accent.
"I explained to her that this was the story of my life and that you couldn’t have written the script any better if you tried.
"She asked me if I could carry it off and I said no problem. We then discussed what would be an appropriate song for the time and I said I could think of quite a few to fit the bill. I gave her the suggestion which I thought most appropriate and that was 'The Sunshine of Your Smile'. I said that she could give it the once over on Youtube with John McCormack the Irish tenor singing it; she was suitably impressed and agreed with me on that song.
"Her next question was extraordinary to say the least. 'What do you know about spittoons?' she asked. I told her I am fully aquainted with their use, as from time to time I look after the tobacconist's shop at the museum and spittoons were a part of the tobacco culture; so what do you want to know?
She replied: 'Would you be prepared to come to the studio in Leeds and teach an actress (Annabelle Wallis no less) how to empty a spittoon whilst dancing around and singing?
"How could one refuse such a request? I agreed in principle to do it.
"And then Gemma said to me, 'What do you know about illegal betting and bookies runners?' Well! I said are you a clairvoyant or what? Because my wife’s uncle was a bookmaker for many years in Bilston. He was Jim Knight whose name has been mooted many times in the Bugle via Reg Summerfield, who was also a nephew of Jim. There are many tales that Jim told regarding the early days before legalization of off course betting, and I agreed to tell Gemma what I know.
"Well my train tickets duly arrived and the following week I travelled to Leeds, where I was met by chauffer from the station and bundled into the limo together with several other actors who were fighting each other over asking me to say things in a Brummie accent. The dialogue coach who was with them said 'You’ve had it now, they wont leave you alone. And the worst of the lot was Cillian Murphy.
"Anyway, I survived the journey and was then bundled into a room where I was set upon by the researchers, gleaning all they could about the illegal bookies, and then after coffee it was time to meet Annabelle Wallis. What a charming and beautiful young lady.
"The director came in and told me what Annabaelle was required to do with the said spittoons, and I duly set about explaining the functions and foul state that they would be in at the time, and showed her the only logical way in which they would be moved, cleaned and deployed. Quite happy with her performance, I said that was just how it would be done.
"The producer then asked me if I was being used in the film and when I said yes he said 'Great, what have they got you doing?'I told him about the singing bit and he was enthralled.
"We then moved to the piano where I was asked to sing the song in three different ways. I duly obliged and then they said right let's hear it with a Brummie accent.
I obliged again and they were over the moon, saying awesome, awesome! So I think they liked it.
"I was then asked to come again the next week and to stay overnight for an early start filming,7.30 no less. I was picked up from the hotel at 6.30 and transported straight to the studios to start the day.
"I spent one and a half hours in make up,the result of which you have seen, and was then asked to run through the song with all the extras, as they were all to join in the chorus in the middle and the end of the song. Then it was a run-through of the song sung by one of the ladies (a prossie) in the pub, and again we all join in.
"The actual filming of the scene starts with close ups of me performing the song to the crowd and we all have a jolly good time followed by the lady songstress who gets rudely interrupted by the baddies, who show up unexpected, then all hell breaks loose.
"And that is all I can tell you as the rest of the scenes are filmed outside at Liverpool and I was not involved.
"Anyway that was it for me, job done, thoroughly enjoyable day, and it was off to the train station for my journey back home.
"I was quite pleased with my day's work, I met some wonderful people, got something to look forward to and who knows, maybe the Oscars? Or a pork pie from Marsh and Baftas!"
Dan Robinson managed to sneak one photograph of himself in full costume, which we reproduce here, but such was the secrecy surrounding the filming that even Dan doesn't know which episode his scene will be in. You'll just have to watch the whole series to find out!