Civic girls fly the flag

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Blackpool – as we all know – has some front.

And it’s not just the Duchess of Cornwall prepared to go Open Top here.

For the record, that’s the Boat tram pictured. Not the Prince of Wales’ other half Camilla.

Strictly speaking, this story should have been kept under wraps.

The brief was keep mum on this “nudes” story until July.

That’s when the formidable ladies of that most august of heritage associations – Blackpool Civic Trust – hoped to officially reveal its 2013 calendar.

But when 12 ladies of generally uncertain years are near starkers on the seafront in broad daylight – on an open top tram to boot – you really can’t keep it under your hat.

Especially when the photo shoot is directly opposite another tram stop. And a sleek and stealthy new super tram has just stopped there.

And it’s full: shoppers, workers, visitors. And tram fans.

Blank faces at windows one minute, dawning realisation the next, then suffused in smiles, cameras snapping into action faster than you can say tweet me.

A 78-year-old thespian and lifetime Equity member Loraine Calvert, clearly abreast of social network trends, quipped: “We’ll be all over YouTube.”

For tram-oraks the greatest thrill was the unscheduled appearance of the Duchess of Cornwall Open Boat Car 600. Not to be confused with the ample curves of the Duchess of Gloucester open top Balloon car.

Titter ye not? Come off it. This is Blackpool, spiritual home of the saucy seaside postcard, as much part of our heritage as the towering edifice that dominates the Promenade. And these ladies know it. That’s why they barely blinked an eyelid when Civic Trust chairman Elaine Smith said “why not?” when a member’s husband suggested they did a WI-style Calendar Girls fundraiser.

Some 20 members of the 300-strong society have stripped off for a project which has covered locations as diverse as the council chamber of Blackpool Town Hall (with the blessing of leader Coun Simon Blackburn and chief executive Neil Jack) with Sir Hiram Maxim’s Flying Machine at the Pleasure Beach to come. Brrr.

And having overheard a Stanley Park gardener say to Elaine: “I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on” we’ve gatecrashed the cover shot for this sneak preview.

Elaine posed at the park with a guitar to cover her blushes. “I’d have preferred a double bass,” she confesses. “One grandson is mortified. There’s me at the bandstand and his mum (hotelier Claire Smith) naked at the Tower Wurlitzer. The 10-year-old grandson took it in his stride. He helped out distributing feather boas at the council chamber.”

The ladies have legged it down North Pier, having shown sisterly solidarity for the photoshoot of two brave members, mother and daughter Mo Tucker and Annaliesa Gallagher atop the carousel. Bit nippy there for Mo’s liking – talked into the project by her daughter. But the new-look dressing rooms at the end of the pier usually reserved for stars of the show have been given a long overdue makeover.

Fully clothed, they form an orderly queue for the reserved tram, looking for all the world like another shopping trip off to Fleetwood Market. Instead, they hop on and promptly strip off.

Award-winning Number One landlady Claire arrives late, delayed by the full monty. “She had the breakfasts to do first,” explains mother-in-law Elaine who is, by her own admission, “leading from the front.”

Bar a few wardrobe malfunctions in the battles with bracing winds, the photo shoot goes without hitch.

Some union flag hats and even flimsier flags are retrieved by passing promenaders, politely averting their gaze from temporarily panicked ladies called Betty, Dorothy, Elsie, and Marion, mostly in their 60s and 70s.

Did the oldest lady need to be talked into it? Not on your nelly, says Dorothy Notton, 80. “It’s a laugh. We’re game old birds by and large.”

Chairman Elaine reckons three mother and daughter teams are involved. She adds: “We’re having fun. But the photographer has the biggest challenge.

“He’s been marvellous. He’s not charging us either. So all the profits can go to the Civic Trust.”

Photographer Phil Harrison, programme manager of the Grand Theatre, volunteered for the assignment after Elaine asked if the Grand could suggest a location.

The royal box was pressed into service, elegant Loraine resplendent in fascinator and jewels, and little else but a strategically-placed programme.

“I’m a lifetime member of Equity, darling, it was no trouble at all,” says Loraine. As for Phil? “It’s been a labour of love. And it isn’t even finished yet.

“It’s going to be a terrific calendar.”

Watch this space...

jacqui.morley@blackpoolgazette.co.uk or tweet her @jacquimorley.