The theatre that shouted “showbiz”

Arthur Worsley ventriloquist with his dummy Charlie Brown
Arthur Worsley ventriloquist with his dummy Charlie Brown
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On May 31 it will be 50 years since Blackpool’s ABC Theatre opened and in October it will be 33 years since live summer shows ended.

But what a fantastic 17 years!

When the ABC theatre , Church Street was opened on May 31, 1963, Cliff Richard and The Shadows arrived on the Wild West Train tram - the last time a tram ran in Church Street. 'Below is ventriloquist Arthur Worsley  with his dummy Charlie Brown

When the ABC theatre , Church Street was opened on May 31, 1963, Cliff Richard and The Shadows arrived on the Wild West Train tram - the last time a tram ran in Church Street. 'Below is ventriloquist Arthur Worsley with his dummy Charlie Brown

In the penultimate part of his lookback, showbusiness historian Barry Band proves the memory remains strong among the generation who were “going out” in the 60s and 70s.

Barry says: “The site of the wonderful ABC could soon be a car park, after Blackpool Council’s recent purchase of the derelict building, so it is time to place on record some of the showbiz greats who entertained us there.

“But first the building itself. The ABC was redeveloped in 1962-63 within the massive walls of the old Hippodrome, built in 1895.

The new chequerboard frontage and large illuminated marquee shouted ‘show biz’ and the interior of the 1,934-seat venue made even the resort’s spacious Opera House look ordinary.”

Barry recalls: “It certainly lived up to the company’s claim of Europe’s most luxurious theatre. Indeed, every night at the ABC was ‘a night of a thousand stars’. Well, ‘hundreds’, because the entire ceiling was covered in tiny embedded lights.”

The ABC was built as a cinema-theatre-TV studio by the company that had the weekend ITV franchise for the North and Midlands.

In addition to its summer show, the ABC transmitted live Sunday shows on the ITV network under the title Blackpool Night Out for four summers from 1964.

But the Sunday TV shows ended when ABC TV lost its franchise and merged with Associated Rediffusion in 1968.

Barry says: “In the opening summer season of 1963 the ABC was Pop Music Central. The summer show was Cliff Richard and the Shadows in Summer Carnival, which also starred Blackpool ventriloquist Arthur Worsley and an upcoming comedian called Norman Collier, who died last month aged 87.”

But the name that is most often repeated from 1963 is The Beatles.

“Head office had booked the Fab Four for five Sunday nights with two shows each, and for good measure the other Sundays starred Gerry and the Pacemakers, Frank Ifield and Helen Shapiro - all of them chart-toppers.

“Manager Bob Parsons, who opened the theatre after being the ABC circuit’s Champion Manager, deftly handled the press invasion and fan mania. King Street, at the side of the theatre, seemed ever full of screaming girls!

“It was the same when the Sunday TV shows included The Beatles with one date in July 1964 and again on August 1, 1965, when Paul McCartney gave the first public performance of his song Yesterday.

“Bob Parsons, remembered for his courteous welcome in impeccable white tie and tails, left for London in 1967 and was succeeded by Gordon Chadwick, who managed the venue until the 1990s.”

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