Coronation Street star Betty Driver thought Blackpool Palace dates were 'lovely' as she sang to the backing of a pit orchestra

The A to Z of Blackpool show stars resumes with more names beginning with letter D, writes Barry Band.

By Claire Lark
Saturday, 6th August 2022, 4:55 am

Doonican and Donegan would have been a great name for a ceilidh band if they had ever played together but, of course, they were individual acts who topped Blackpool show bills.

In 1964 Val Doonican and Lonnie Donegan did appear at the same theatre, the Opera House, but it was in Sunday concerts six weeks apart.

Balladeer Val Doonican (1927-2015), from Waterford, was a huge star of television with his Saturday night prime time show on the BBC.

Lonnie Donegan

His Blackpool summer season show appearances began in 1966, when he topped the Queen's Theatre bill, and two Royal Variety shows led to Blackpool's biggest booking - a season at the Opera House in 1969.

Val also starred in the Opera House season of 1974 and did 20 summer Sundays at the big theatre until 1981.

His last Blackpool show was at the Grand in June, 1991.

Lonnie Donegan (1931-2002) born in Glasgow, was an earlier arrival on the Blackpool show scene.

Actress Betty Driver as barmaid Betty Turpin in Coronation Street

He was Britain's most successful recording artist prior to the Beatles and first hit the music press headlines in 1956, as guitarist-vocalist with the Chris Barber Band's "skiffle" number, Rock Island Line. They did two Blackpool Sunday concerts at the Queen's Theatre.

Inevitably, Lonnie went solo and had a succession of Top Ten hits. He headed an afternoon pop season at Blackpool's Palace Theatre in 1958.

Lonnie and his group starred in a full summer season at the Winter Gardens Pavilion in 1961 and were the main supporting act in Engelbert Humperdinck's 1968 ABC Theatre season.

I encountered Lonnie and company in Vancouver in March, 1970, writing a feature on him for a city newspaper.

Val Doonican in September 1969. He was appearing at the summer show at the Opera House and was a guest speaker at St Annes Rotary luncheon. Pictured from left Mr J H Dickinson (president), Val and Mr Jack Rose (past-president)

Three months later, back on the Gazette, I turned up at the press call for the first Stardust Gardens season in the Empress Ballroom of the Winter Gardens.

Lonnie's jaw dropped. "How come you're here?" he asked. I told him the story.

Lonnie's number one hits were Cumberland Gap, Putting On the Style, and My Old Man's a Dustman.

We can't leave the letter D stars without mention of singer and actress Betty Driver (1920-2011).

She began her career in variety, having a small spot on a bill at Blackpool's Palace Theatre in 1933. She had seasons at the Opera House in 1938 and 1942.

Betty was a headliner through the 1940s and 50s but variety died and she had roles in comedy play seasons at the Grand Theatre in 1960's Pillar to Post, with Glenn Melvyn and Danny Ross, and 1961's What a Racket, with Arthur Askey.

She retired to run a pub with her sister before Granada signed her to be Betty of the Rover's Return in Coronation Street. She appeared in 2,700 episodes.

In a letter to me in 1989, Betty fondly recalled her visits to the Blackpool Palace.

"It was regarded in the business as a lovely date because they had a wonderful pit orchestra, which was important to a singer."

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