The stars who lit up Blackpool

Lights switch-on 1953 - George Formby
Lights switch-on 1953 - George Formby
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With just a week to go until Hollywood film director Tim Burton presses the button at this year’s Illumination Switch-On, Memory Lane looks back over the years and the celebrities who have done the honours.

Although the Lights had been a feature at the resort for some years, there was not an official switch-on ceremony until 1934, when the duty was performed by Lord Derby.

Lights Switch-on 1980: Cannon & Ball

Lights Switch-on 1980: Cannon & Ball

In the early days, the job went to the town’s senior dignitaries, or important political figures – with those performing the Switch-On including Alderman Ashton (later Duke Of Kent) and Coun Mrs Quayle.

During the Second World War, the Switch-on – and the Illuminations – were cancelled.

And when they started back up again in 1949, possibly to inject some glamour, excitement and celebration in the post war setting, the Switch-On was carried out by film star Anna Neagle.

Crowds flocked to watch – and since then, the big lever has been pulled by a whole host of famous names – everyone from film actors, comedians and TV stars to pop stars, sporting heroes and even the odd animal!

Alderman Ashton, later Duke of Kent, switching on the Illuminations in 1937

Alderman Ashton, later Duke of Kent, switching on the Illuminations in 1937

Among the famous sporting names to switch the lights on were legendary Blackpool FC and England footballer Stanley Matthews – in 1951, fellow football legend Sir Matt Busby – in 1968, boxer Frank Bruno – 1989, six of Team GB’s Olympic gold medallists from the 2012 Games – 2012, and even champion thoroughbred Red Rum.

Personalities from popular TV shows have taken their turn to light up the town – including the cast of Dad’s Army in 1971, the cast of Dr Who (with Tom Baker dressed as the doctor) in 1975, the cast of Coronation Street – in 1983, Dale Winton in 2006 and David Tennant in 2007, and The Stig and the Top Gear team in 2008.

And stars from the world of comedy have also taken to the Switch-On stage over the years: George Formby in 1953, Ken Dodd in 1966, Danny La Rue in 1972, Cannon and Ball in 1980, Peter Kay in 2014 and of course, Fylde funnyman Les Dawson, in 1986.

From the big screen, the lights have been switched on by Jayne Mansfield, in 1959, Janet Munro in 1960, Gracie Fields in 1964, and from the stage, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Sarah Brightman, in 1988, and Michael Ball in 1997.

Comedian Les Dawson switching on the Illuminations, in 1986

Comedian Les Dawson switching on the Illuminations, in 1986

Musical stars to have carried out the honour have included: Lisa Stansfield in 1992, Status Quo in 1993, Shirley Bassey – 1994, Bee Gees – 1995, Chris De Burgh – 1998, Gary Barlow – 1999, Westlife – 2000, and Robbie Williams – 2010.

There are have been other, more unusual ‘stars’ – Russian ambassador Jacob Malik in 1955, Miss United Kingdom Carol Ann Grant in 1976, Rear Admiral JF Woodward in 1982, and the Earl and Countess Spencer, in 1981.