Rolling back the years to resort’s golden era

Drop-in event for the Blackpool Museum project at St John's Parish Church.  Eric Morecambe's former chauffeur Mike Fountain, with Eric's Rolls Royce.
Drop-in event for the Blackpool Museum project at St John's Parish Church. Eric Morecambe's former chauffeur Mike Fountain, with Eric's Rolls Royce.
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Ninety five-year-old Bobby King recalls his first trip to Blackpool in 1927, arriving in a charabanc, while Frank Flynn, 74, has some 50 years of memories playing backing music for stars such as Les Dawson and Engelbert Humperdinck.

Their recollections and those of scores of other folk, are currently being collated as part of the Blackpool Museum project.

Drop-in event for the Blackpool Museum project at St John's Parish Church.  Curator Emma Heslewood talks to mayor Kath Rowson.

Drop-in event for the Blackpool Museum project at St John's Parish Church. Curator Emma Heslewood talks to mayor Kath Rowson.

Yesterday saw comedians, musicians, magicians and other variety performers converge at a drop-in day at St John’s Parish Church to evoke Blackpool’s entertainment heyday.

Their memories will be used to bring to life the resort’s entertainment history which provided the template of much of what still makes us laugh or gasp in awe at what we seen on TV today.

While the museum will display objects and memorabilia, it will also be interactive and the aim is to bring entertainers to life through audio and visual material.

Curator Emma Heslewood said: “The mission of the museum is to celebrate Britain’s love affair with the seaside holiday and Blackpool’s role in shaping popular entertainment.

Magicians Paul Zenon and Mark Raffles.

Magicians Paul Zenon and Mark Raffles.

“The idea of today was we wanted to make contact with Blackpool’s entertainment community.

“We want to create a network of people to work with and to see what there is in Blackpool in terms of props, costumes, and collections which people may have in their homes.

“For example we have a lady whose father used to get stars quickly out of the stage door at the Opera House and into his white van before whisking them back to their hotel.

“He was given gifts by some of the stars, and so we have a set of diddymen that was given by Ken Dodd, and a donkey handpuppet signed by Cilla Black.”

Drop-in event for the Blackpool Museum project at St John's Parish Church.  Sarah Harris talks to volunteer Carol Neale.

Drop-in event for the Blackpool Museum project at St John's Parish Church. Sarah Harris talks to volunteer Carol Neale.

But the aim is not just to have shelves of objects - no matter how fascinating - gathering dust in glass cases.

Real life stories will be central to the museum which will open inside the Pavilion Theatre inside the Winter Gardens.Emma has already made a short film with magician Mark Raffles, who at age 97 is Britain’s oldest performing magician.

Mark tells his own story in a voice over, while Emma has illustrated the audio with pictures from his life.

He said: “I can’t think of a better place to celebrate the glorious and glamorous world of show business than the Winter Gardens where the new museum is to be based.”

Emma added: “It’s about looking at a poster for a show, seeing the names on the bill and bringing them to life.”

Magician and comedian Paul Zenon has enjoyed a TV career including children’s show Tricky Business and magic shows for Channel 4, but it was Blackpool which sparked his interest in the entertainment industry. Now he is among the advisors helping shape the Blackpool Museum.

He said: “I first came to Blackpool as a teenager working holidays and weekends in the House of Secrets, a magic and joke shop near Foxhall on Central Promenade.

“It was literally a case of being drawn in by the bright lights, you could see and buy here the things you only saw in comics otherwise.

“I remember Murray’s Magic Mart on Cookson Street which was run by an Australian escapologist who had been very famous in his day. But he had an illness and ended up running a magic shop in Blackpool.

“I bought my first Chinese linking rings from him and I’m donating those to the museum along with the original sign from the House of Secrets.

“I did a summer season in 1990 at Maggie May’s on Central Pier with Linda Nolan and Mick Miller.

“We did 175 nights without a night off.

“It’s not going to be an old-fashioned museum. It will be interactive so people will get the idea of what it was like coming to Blackpool and seeing all this weird and wonderful stuff in one place.”

Sarah Harris, widow of Fylde coast-based ventriloquist Keith Harris who died last year, had brought along scrap books and posters detailing her husband’s career. His sidekick Orville is perhaps one of the most well-known theatrical props of recent times.

Sarah said: “We have Orville, he belongs to our family, but he could certainly go on display in the museum as I’m sure people would like to see him.

“Keith worked with everyone in Blackpool who has been here - Morecambe and Wise, Larry Grayson and Bob Monkhouse.

“I have all the bills from his shows at the old ABC, the Opera House and the Grand Theatre.

“The museum is a great idea. This is where the entertainment history is.

“There are so many people connected with the Winter Gardens.”

Frank Flynn, 74, from Preesall, has been a musician and entertainer in Blackpool for 50 years.

Along with his band, the piano player backed stars including Les Dawson, Engelbert Humperdinck, Little and Large, Cannon and Ball and Ken Dodd.

He said: “The Movenpic in Talbot Square (now renamed Home, but up until recently Rumours), was the place to be in those days. Everybody who was anybody played there.

“I remember when there were 15 live season shows in Blackpool that ran for 26 weeks and every one had a full orchestra.”

Bobby King, 95, now lives in Manchester but remembers visiting Blackpool way back in 1927 as a six-year-old.

He recalled: “We came on a charabanc from Todmorden, it had solid tyres, four or five doors and a hood in case it rained!”

The Blackpool Museum Project was set up in 2015 and is set to submit its final plans to the Heritage Lottery Fund next April with a predicted opening date in 2020.

Project director Belinda Betts added: “The museum will celebrate Blackpool’s pivotal role in shaping popular entertainment in Britain over the last 150 years.

“The venues and shows are obviously central to this story but it was the performers who were the real stars.

“Their stories and experiences are vital if we are to create a display that reflects the rich diversity of talent that made Blackpool the northern home of variety.”

n Find out more at http://blackpoolmuseum.com/creating-digital-stories/