A most remarkable man

Burt Briggs in 1985
Burt Briggs in 1985
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How sad that the centenary of a most remarkable local man, Burt Briggs, has seemingly passed without comment.

Local historian Kenneth Shenton, who has been researching the late Burt’s life and times, insists: “But for this man’s dogged determination, Frank Matcham’s historic Church Street masterpiece, The Grand Theatre, would be but a distant memory.”

The Prince of Wales Baths and Theatre on Blackpool Promenade, with inset, Burt Brigg's grandparents, Ald William Henry Broadhead and his wife Mary Anne, during one of their two mayoral years.

The Prince of Wales Baths and Theatre on Blackpool Promenade, with inset, Burt Brigg's grandparents, Ald William Henry Broadhead and his wife Mary Anne, during one of their two mayoral years.

Originally born in Chorlton, Manchester in 1912, Alfred Burt Briggs, known affectionately to all as Burt Briggs - was educated locally at The High School, Blackpool, then based in Alexandra Road, South Shore.

Among his fellow pupils was Roy Fuller, later to become a distinguished writer and poet.

When, 60 years later, Burt recognised himself immortalised as Byng in three of Fuller’s semi-autobiographical novels, Souvenirs, The Strange and the Good and Vamp Till Ready, he elicited a cheque from the author for £350, made payable of course to his beloved Grand Theatre.

Kenneth says: “A grandson of Ald William Henry Broadhead, twice-elected Mayor of Blackpool, the family held the lease to the Prince of Wales Baths on the promenade.“They later went on to control some 17 theatres throughout the country, including Morecambe’s famous Winter Gardens. A celebrated cousin was J.F. Mitchell, initially a teacher at Arnold School, who despite wearing glasses, kept goal for Blackpool, Preston North End and Manchester City.”

Burt married Isobel Fielding, the daughter of the well-known local builders, in 1938.

The couple had two daughters, Jennifer and Josephine.

Also a talented local sportsman, in his youth he was a speedy winger with Fylde Rugby Club.

For many years he worked for Martins Bank, later to become Barclays, managing branches throughout the area.

But as Kenneth points out: “Like so many of his generation, Burt’s seemingly-effortless progress was rudely interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War.

“Serving in the Far East and captured by the Japanese, he endured three difficult years as a Prisoner of War.”

He later became chairman of the Far East Prisoners of War Association.

In 1971, it was an enraged Burt Briggs who enlisted the help of the great and the good to help save The Grand Theatre from the clutch of the developers.

At that time it was proposed to replace it with a Littlewoods store. Following a titanic court battle, happily the venue was saved and purchased by a newly formed Grand Theatre Trust in 1980.

A bust of Burt Briggs was unveiled at the theatre in July 2006. Also president of Lytham Heritage Trust, Burt remained active within the Grand Theatre right up until his death, aged 92, in November, 2004.

As Kenneth concludes: “Here was a great guardian of our heritage, whose many achievements we should remember with considerable pride.”