Man who’s entertained resort for five decades

Duggie Chapman at home in Blackpool, as he marks 55 years in showbusiness launching this year's run of music hall-style shows
Duggie Chapman at home in Blackpool, as he marks 55 years in showbusiness launching this year's run of music hall-style shows
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For a man who’s spent much of his life producing shows in Blackpool’s biggest and best venues, Duggie Chapman is a surprisingly quiet character.

There’s an almost shy quality to the man who’s worked hard over more than 50 years producing shows in Blackpool and beyond.

The office in his Clifton Drive home is lined with signed photos of the stars; Norman Wisdom, Des O’Connor, Chita Rivera, Julie Andrews, Max Bygraves and Mickey Rooney, among others.

And they’re punctuated by posters from his own glory days on stage – although they were comparatively short, given the length of his career in the business.

For despite having a talent for comedy and song which saw him turn professional at 15, Duggie stepped off stage and became a producer aged just 23, a choice he now looks back on with a touch of 
regret.

“I made the switch thinking there would be more money in producing, and I had also gotten disillusioned after doing radio shows and not making it into TV,” he said.

Having made his silver screen debut at the age of just 11 in A Cure For Love, plucked from the classroom of his school in Burnley, Duggie returned to celluloid in 1994 and 1995 in films Seaview Knights, with James Bolam, and Funny Bones, with Lee Evans.

“I did regret leaving performing when I did those films,” he said. “I thought ‘I wish I’d done this ages ago’, and stuck with the performing.

“My heart is still, even now, more about being a performer than a producer.”

Raised on the other side of the Red Rose county in Burnley, Duggie admits he was lucky to have an English teacher who pushed drama to the fore – even though he didn’t quite see the appeal at the time.

“I wasn’t fussed about Shakespeare, and used to get all the female parts, like servant to Portia,” he recalls.

“Then my mother used to take me to the Victoria Variety Theatre in Burnley and I got stage struck.

“I remember everybody I saw back then – that’s what I do with the film shows I produce now, using the clips I’ve tracked down of those old acts. But it’s the comedians who really made an impression.”

Duggie won a local talent competition and was signed up as part of a boy group, the Four Blue Pages, although when his voice broke comedy became his next calling, securing a slot at a prime London theatre for up-and-coming acts at the age of 18, from where he was picked 
up to appear on BBC radio variety shows for more 
than 100 performances.

“I was 23 when I went to chair an old time music hall show in Jersey, and thought I can do this, but better,” he said, explaining the move into producing rather than staring in shows.

And with that, Duggie found himself settling in Blackpool in 1962 as it was ‘the’ place to be in showbusiness at the time.

Over the years, he’s filled plenty of the resort’s venues – including the behemoth of the Opera House and the more intimate but no less impressive Grand Theatre, with career highlights including bringing the big stars to the town.

Now in his 70s, Duggie is still busy, staging trips down memory lane with his We’ll Meet Again shows, film clip matinees and pantomimes.

“I just can’t retire,” he said. “I don’t know what I would do if I did retire.

“My wife keeps saying I shouldn’t do as much as I do, especially with the pantomimes. I did four last Christmas, which is one more than usual as Preston came to me at quite short notice for the Charter Theatre.

“I couldn’t sit at home and do nothing. Now, I put together the shows and send them out on the road, but I also give lectures on cruises as well as local dates with my films show.”

With his decades of experience, Duggie still looks fondly on Blackpool’s entertainment scene, although he admits it’s changed for good and a return to the days of real variety are probably long gone.

“People wouldn’t understand those variety shows I started out in now,” Duggie explained. “People understand musicals, and tribute acts – the latter, I abhor.

“I remember a big party at the Winter Gardens and there was a guy doing Rod Stewart who took me down to see the gang at Legends when it was at North Pier. And he said ‘Here’s Shirley [Bassey] and Neil [Diamond], they do believe they are those people.

“They will do anything but a real variety show on TV. The latest one, Get Your Act Together where they’re teaching celebrities a new act, to me that’s not showbiz.

“If variety was shown properly, not as part of a talent contest like Britain’s Got Talent, there’d be a chance of it coming back. But even Sunday Night at the London Palladium, which was back on TV recently, that wasn’t real variety – there’s more to it than just a comedian and singers.

“It’s not bad here now. If they get the good shows in it works; Ruth (Eastwood, chief executive) at the Grand is doing a good job, and having things like Mamma Mia! last year at the Opera House.

“If they keep up the diversity of shows then there’s a definite future for Blackpool.

“I still like Doddy (Ken Dodd), he’s got a place still here and I remember him packing out the Opera House. A show with Ken – where he’s not doing the whole show however, although he wouldn’t do that – has a place.”

As one of Blackpool’s undoubted kings of theatre, Duggie’s no stranger to real royalty, receiving his MBE from Prince Charles in 2009, and just last November attending a special reception at Buckingham Palace to celebrate 125 years of the Grand Order Of Water Rats – all in recognition of his charitable work, as well as services to the theatre world.

The ‘showbiz charity organisation’ was invited to the palace by Prince Philip – a ‘companion rat’.

Duggie said: “The prince invited all the Rats to Buckingham Palace and my wife and I were privileged to meet Her Majesty The Queen and Prince Philip.

“It was a fabulous night with lots of wine and canapes. The Queen spent over an hour talking to guests from the Rats, it was just fabulous.”

Tomorrow sees Duggie’s return to the Fylde coast stage with his Palladium Nights film show at Lytham’s Lowther Pavilion.

Duggie hosts the show, which focuses on a wide range of star performers at the renowned London hall of variety over a 50-year period.

As the show’s frontman, Duggie prides himself on his knowledge of the stars of yesteryear and his presentation will include more than 30 film clips of the stars of the real variety era.

And in addition to the film show, there will be a collection of Palladium memorabilia on show, including posters and photographs of stars who trod the boards there, in the Lowther Foyer for the afternoon from 12.30pm.

* Call the Lowther box office on (01253) 794221 for tickets or details.