Memory Lane: Top names appear on Palace bill

Tthe billing for the Variety Theatre including Blackpool's own comedian Fred Walmsley
Tthe billing for the Variety Theatre including Blackpool's own comedian Fred Walmsley
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In the second part of our series on the seafront Blackpool Palace, local entertainment historian Barry Band asks: How much did the top variety stars earn in the days before the First World War?

SCOTTISH legend Harry Lauder was top of the league and was often booked at the Palace Varieties for £500 for a week. One such visit was in July 1912 – but he was deducted one night’s pay because he was in the first ever Royal Variety Performance in London on the Monday night!

Other top earners at the Palace were Vesta Tilly (£300), Little Tich (£250), Wilkie Bard (£250) and George Formby senior (£200).

All those names continued to star at the Palace during First World War but the 1920s were times of change.

Palace patrons saw some of the last performances, before their departures to celestial halls, of George Formby in August 1920 and Marie Lloyd in May 1921.

The Formby name reappeared on a Palace variety bill in 1923 as George junior took his first steps on a Blackpool stage. Another great name of the future made her adult bow at the Palace in January 1923 in a revue title Mr Tower of London.

Other future stars getting established towards the end of the decade included comedians Max Miller, Jimmy James and Flanagan and Allen, while Jack Hylton paved the way for the bill- topping bands.

The boundary between “music hall” and “variety” was always blurred. But in the 1920s another term came into use – Vaudeville. It came with American stars: the black song and piano duo Layton and Johnstone often starred at the Palace from 1926 and, in 1929, an all-American bill starred George Burns and Gracie Allen, Ella Shields and the USA Four.

They were quickly followed by other American artists.

In fact, the American influence on mass entertainment was strong throughout the 1920s, with the Palace at the forefront.

With a similar capacity as the theatre – 2,000 – the Palace Cinema provided glamour, melodrama and comedy with the likes of Gloria Swanson, Rudolf Valentino and Harold Lloyd on the silent screen, accompanied by Spiero and His Incomparable Orchestra.

Young Blackpool had a ball in the 1920s. Hair was bobbed, skirts were shortened and a favourite spot was the Palace Palais de Danse with the new jazz music played by Will Hurst and His Syncopators.

The downside from America was the Depression, caused by the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Unemployment rose, money was tight and the Roaring Twenties retreated into gloom.