George Formby’s Queen’s Theatre appearances are faded memories but big names followed in his footsteps

By Barry Band

Wednesday, 20th October 2021, 3:45 pm
Updated Thursday, 21st October 2021, 2:14 pm
Tommy Cooper tries out some hats. Photo: Getty Images
Tommy Cooper tries out some hats. Photo: Getty Images

The 1960s opened at Blackpool’s Queen’s Theatre with a wave of nostalgia.

It had turned out nice again for Lancashire lad George Formby with the career finale of a Blackpool season, aptly titled by Queen’s owner James (Jimmy) Brennan, The Time of Your Life.

George’s glory days of four Opera House seasons, including the 1939 opening of the new theatre and the first post-war season, seemed so long ago.

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George Formby

George had survived a heart attack while starring in Zip Goes a Million, in London, and returned for a season at the Blackpool Hippodrome in 1954, which he had to leave early.

George’s life is well documented but memories of his Queen’s season seem to have faded.

After his wife, Beryl, died in December, 1960, George courted and was to marry Preston teacher Pat Howson. But the heart problem stuck him down again and he died in March, 1961.

For the record, in this second article naming the principal artists in the Queen’s summer seasons, 1953-1971, the 1960 show included Jimmy Clitheroe, Yana and Tony Dalli.

British singer Yana and comic actor Jimmy Clitheroe rehearsing for the Christmas pantomime 'Aladdin' in 1963. Photo: Getty Images

For 1961 Jimmy Brennan booked St Annes comedian Al Read, Yana, Don Arrol, Rob Murray and the George Mitchell Singers in Fun and Fancy Free.

The 1962 season show, You’ll See Stars, had singing couple Nina and Frederick, comic Nat Jackley and madcap Tommy Cooper.

In 1963 Lonnie Donegan was the star with one of his tennis mates, Des O’Connor, plus singing duo Miki and Griff and impressionist Peter Goodwright.

It was a final “good night” for Jimmy Brennan in 1964. He died shortly before the opening of The Charlie Drake Show. This was the year that Charlie knocked himself out doing one of his stage stunts. He didn’t return. For the next few summers the Brennan company presented The Queen’s Show while running bingo out of season.

In 1965 the stars were the comedy pop act Freddie and the Dreamers, with Tommy Cooper, singer Donald Peers and the final Blackpool appearance of comic duo Jimmy Jewel and Ben Warriss. The 1966 season saw Val Doonican and Charlie Chester in the top spots.

Al Read returned as headliner in 1967, supported by Peter Goodwright and vocal duo Teddy Johnson and Pearl Carr.

Irish tenor Josef Locke had settled with the UK taxman and helped pay his debt with Queen’s seasons in 1968 and 69.

In 68 he was supported by the Kaye Sisters, Preston illusionist Johnny Hart, and comedian Freddie Davies.

In 1969 Joe, who was living at St Annes, had support from Blackpool artists Jimmy Clitheroe and Bobby Bennett plus the Dallas Boys, Alan Randall and Lyn Kennington. The last two summer shows at the Queen’s were handed to nationwide producers Howard and Wyndham.

In 1970 they presented Winifred Atwell, Mike Yarwood, Donald Peers and Colin Crompton.

In 1971 season was headed by Dora Bryan with star support from Ronnie Hilton, Les Dawson and Lennie Bennett and the splashing spectacle ofJimmy Currie’s Waltzing Waters.

The Queen’s was the second Blackpool Theatre to close, following the Palace in 1961. A third closure was on the cards - the Grand Theatre in 1972.

It was reopened in 1981. But the Queen’s was gone for good. A C&A fashions store was built on the site.

Today it is the TK Maxx store.