Memory Lane: Lion King of Golden Mile

Showman Leslie Chard who had several variety acts on the Golden Mile, Blackpool in the 1950s

Showman Leslie Chard who had several variety acts on the Golden Mile, Blackpool in the 1950s

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DO you remember the days when the Golden Mile had lion cubs roaming around?

DO you remember the days when the Golden Mile had lion cubs roaming around?

You could even impress friends and relatives by having your photographs taken with them.

Yet all was not quite what it seemed because the cubs were actually behind a glass shield and there was a safari mural on the wall behind the public, which gave the impression of a very close – and brave – encounter.

Pictured with the cubs are showman Leslie Chard, better known to most as Lou, and his elder son Melvyn.

Lou’s younger son Ken, who treasures the family pictures, is hoping readers will be able to help him to get more information about his late father, who was born Llewelyn Pritchard in South Wales in 1897.

The son of Herbert Pritchard, a travelling showman, he changed his name to Leslie Chard by deed poll in the late 1940s, but was often referred to as Lou.

During the Second World War he served, from 1940 to 1945, in ENSA, entertaining troops in the Middle East.

Ken says: “Prior to the 1950s, he toured the country in variety with his second sight act, Dalba the Australian Television Girl.

“She would be on stage blindfolded and describe in great detail any object he would collect from the audience.

Ken adds: “It was, of course, done with a verbal code, but they were flawless masters of their craft.

“During the 1950s, they built an elaborate façade outside the face of the old Funlandia building on the Golden Mile and performed the act for several seasons until Dalba’s death in 1957.”

Among Lou’s other concessions, as he called them, was the smallest woman in the world, which was also at the front of Funlandia.

Barely three feet tall, she would sometimes be in her miniature house or alternatively in her miniature caravan.

Both were custom made locally, her name was Jenny and she lived in Gorton Street.

Ken says: “My father also had the All American Ghost Show, which featured a naturally ugly little man called Harold, whose hobby was making miniature ladies in matchboxes.

“The finale of the show was Harold, suspended on a wire and covered in a white sheet, flying over the top of the audience. During one performance, the wire snapped, resulting in Harold falling on top of the crowd and breaking a few bones.

“The audience panicked and fled the theatre, Harold was patched up and before long he was back performing.”

For many years, Lou was known as The King of the Golden Mile and, during the summer seasons of the 1950s, stars of the day would visit him as they knew Lou from the variety period.

Among them were Jack Warner (Dixon of Dock Green), Billy Russell, Josef Locke and George Formby.

Ken says: “My father was especially friendly with Hylda Baker, who had worked for him before her She Knows You Know act.

“During the late 1960s and early 70s he worked the markets around Lancashire selling records and died on Boxing Day in 1982.

“Unfortunately, I have very few photographs of his Golden Mile shows. I am sure that there must be some and quite possibly some people who remember him. If so, would they kindly get in touch with any memories or photographs which they may have?”

Ken, of Condor Grove, Blackpool, can be contacted on (01253) 699342.