Blackpool theatre which paved the way for resort’s entertainment success

A coloured postcard of The Palace TheatreA coloured postcard of The Palace Theatre
A coloured postcard of The Palace Theatre
By Barry Band

With Blackpool’s Showtown museum due to open next spring, Memory Lane is opening the book on the theatre that did most to seal the resort’s name for the best in popular entertainment.

Before the Palace, which stood on the Promenade next to the Tower, there was no Blackpool theatre large enough to consistently engage the top stars.

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You may be thinking: What about the Opera House and the Grand?

The programme cover from Harry Secombe's 1960 summer showThe programme cover from Harry Secombe's 1960 summer show
The programme cover from Harry Secombe's 1960 summer show

Until the 1930s those two theatres were playhouses. They presented plays, musicals and opera.

The biggest stars of the variety stage, like Harry Lauder, Vesta Tilley, Marie Lloyd and Little Tich, appeared at the Palace.

But it was a theatre that nobody under the age of 65 can remember, as I recently discovered when an acquaintance asked: “Where exactly was the Palace Theatre?”

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The Palace - a variety theatre, cinema and ballroom - closed in 1961 and it’s Promenade site, immediately north of the Tower, was soon occupied by Lewis’s department store, which eventually morphed into the building that now houses the Viva cabaret spot and Poundland.

How significant was the old Palace and what exactly was “variety”?

Simple! It was a variety of entertainers doing their own acts in the same programme, with a longer closing act by the biggest name.

Many of the big names who were to fill our TV screens in the 1960s, 70s and 80s had honed their skills at the Palace; Morecambe and Wise, Des O’Connor, Shirley Bassey, Vera Lynn, Norman Wisdom, Max Bygraves, Roy Castle and Tommy Steele to name a few.

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Theatre audiences declined as television expanded in the 1950s and the Palace was closed for the winter months.

The owners, the Blackpool Tower Company, brought in a new policy of a summer season show, “topped and tailed” by spring and autumn weeks of variety.

And so, in 1960, the formidable figure of Harry Secombe starred for a season in Secombe Here at the Palace and your columnist, then writing the Saturday show page in the Lancashire Evening Post, risked an interview with the exhuberent comic.

He greeted me with a whack on the back and announced he had an exclusive for the young man from the Afghanistan Gazette.

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Harry was in Goon Show mode (yes, only over-65s remember that whacky radio show with Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan) and his “exclusive” was the news that a final Goon series was to be recorded.

“We only do it for fun now, not money,” he said.

Then Harry explained that a recent illness - “it was the yakabakaka” - had forced him to go on a non-fat diet, which meant no more fish and chips.

There would be no more calls in his Rolls Royce at the Regent Supper Bar in Caunce Street, Blackpool.

There’ll be more about Harry Secombe’s Blackpool visits next week.

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As for the Palace Theatre, it was “curtains” in 1961 after a summer season show that starred singer Frankie Vaughan, supported by Blackpool’s star ventriloquist Arthur Worsley, comedian Ted Lune and variety veteran Hetty King.

The huge entertainment venue was demolished in the winter if 1961-62.

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