Frank Sinatra once boasted: “I could be mayor of Blackpool”

The Gazette captures Frank Sinatra departing from the Clifton Hotel en route to the Opera House in July 1950.

The Gazette captures Frank Sinatra departing from the Clifton Hotel en route to the Opera House in July 1950.

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A TV show focussing on Blackpool’s heyday as the nation’s entertainment mecca is set to be a Christmas hit, Jon Rhodes reports.

“You know I could be mayor of this town!”

Never let it be said Frank Sinatra – old Blue Eyes himself – was short on confidence.

He announced his ability to run for office in Blackpool during his first appearance in the resort back in July, 1950.

And the ironic thing is his now legendary show at the Opera House - and the short UK tour it was part of - may just have saved him.

Frank Lucas was behind the wheel of Sinatra’s chauffeur-driven Buick when he left the Clifton Hotel and headed to the Opera House.

The Gazette caught the moment on camera as hundreds of excited fans crowded around his car.

Mr Lucas said: “Frank Sinatra was a big hit in Blackpool. When he came here in 1950 his career was on a bit of a wane in the States.

“But when he got to Blackpool, and saw the crowds cheering, clapping, jumping up and down and banging on the windows he said ‘they love me this town don’t they?’

‘Yes they do, sir,’ I said

“‘I could become mayor,’ he said and I replied ‘yes you could!’”

This unique insight into the visit of a worldwide superstar – at the time Blackpool’s highest ever paid performer at a princely £2,000 a show – is one of many to be featured in a superb new BBC documentary – Blackpool: Big Night Out – which hits our screens on Boxing Day.

It features an entertainment cavalcade of stars – many who freely admit they owe their careers to

playing the Golden Mile.

The Gazette’s Sinatra image above (not seen in print for 40 years and still bearing the page compositor’s circle to pinpoint where the singer is amid the crowd) is featured along with others from our archive.

“Playground of the North – warm pulsing Blackpool,” announces the Pathe News man in those

unforgettably distinctive 1950s tones.

If you ever thought TV programmes about Blackpool now only featured the serious and often harrowing side of life, then think again.

This is a barnstorming hour of nostalgia so warm in its affection for the town that every star once wanted to play you’d think it had been rubbed on the very bulbs of the Illuminations themselves.

From Terry Thomas and George Formby to The Beatles, Cilla Black and Tommy Cooper, the list of British entertainment royalty to have graced the stages of such famous theatres as The Grand, the Opera House, North Pier and the old ABC is endless.

Ken Dodd, Keith Harris, Syd Little – who purred: “Blackpool was everything – it was the capital of entertainment” and Bill Kenwright all appear in person to praise the resort’s unique heritage.

West End impresario Kenwright beamed excitedly as he recalled those bygone days when he was

in the market to buy rather than

sell tickets.

As if back as a wide-eyed schoolboy, Kenwright said: “You got the tickets, you’d queued, I can remember as if it were yesterday getting in to see Tommy Steele.”

Blackpool’s own Tony Jo shared the views of many.

He said: “Everyone in the business wanted to play Blackpool.

“Frank Sinatra came here. He only played the London Palladium and Blackpool. Judy Garland played Blackpool – everyone wanted the prestige of doing Blackpool.”

Retired Blackpool police officer Brian Melia retold how he guarded The Beatles and asked the Fab Four for an autograph – embarrassingly halfway through a rehearsal for their new song A Hard Day’s Night.

Unsurprisingly one of the most heart-warming sights is that of Morecambe and Wise – on stage at the ABC and even judging Miss Blackpool.

Eric Morecambe’s son Gary said: “Blackpool was hugely important for Morecambe and Wise. It was the foundation of their career.

When they shipped up there in 1953 that was their big break.

“They never looked back after that – it was the start of an

incredible career.

“Eric always loved Blackpool. What he used to say was compared to everything Blackpool was the only one worth playing.”

But the last word has to go to Les Dawson.

Filmed on stage, he tells the audience of his adopted hometown: “I met the wife in Blackpool, at the Pleasure Beach on the Tunnel of Love. . . she was digging it!”

As far as Blackpool goes Les, they’re all still digging it.

Blackpool: Big Night is on BBC2 on Boxing Day at 8pm