Harry Secombe was favourite of radio millions and had a singing voice that thrilled and captivated the audience

By Barry Band

Saturday, 15th August 2020, 7:00 am
Harry Secombe

Harry Secombe got my vote last week to be the representative act of the 1950s at Blackpool’s Palace Theatre.

Harry (1921-2001) fits the bill because his Palace appearances spanned ten years; three visits on variety bills, 1950-52, and a summer season in 1960, a year before the big Promenade venue closed.

For 50 years the Palace brought more stars to Blackpool than any other; eight acts per week, two shows nightly, changing weekly.

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Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe of British radio comedy The Goon Show prepare for a tiddlywinks contest, 1958

As the Fifties dawned a new generation of artists appeared on Palace bills. Several had emerged as entertainers in the armed forces including Max Bygraves, Dick Emery, Tony Hancock, Peter Sellers - and Harry Secombe.

In the space of five years the comedian-singer appeared at three Blackpool theatres, including two summer season shows.

After a first Blackpool visit down the bill at Feldman’s Theatre in 1949, Harry had a similar spot at the Palace in October, 1950. He returned in November, 1951, soon after being in Vera Lynn’s summer season at the Opera House.

A Gazette reviewer said: “His act is an astonishing compound of slapstick, satire and surprisingly good vocalism.”

Harry Secombe shares a drink with writer and actor Eric Sykes backstage during the filming of the ITA show Saturday Showtime Picture: Getty Images

During the 1951 season the precursor of radio’s Goon Show (called Crazy People) was being tried out by the BBC and every Sunday Harry had to be up at the crack of dawn to drive to London for the recordings.

Two weeks after the Opera House season closed Harry was in the Royal Variety Performance at the Victoria Palace and two weeks after that he was back in Blackpool to top a variety bill at the Palace.

The Goon Show had become a hit and for this third Palace week, in December, 1952, he was billed as Harry ‘Goon’ Secombe, the golden-voiced comedian.

A Gazette reviewer referred to his maniacal nonsensities and said this favourite of radio millions had a singing voice that thrilled and captivated an audience.

In 1953 a second season at the Opera House saw him starring with singer Eve Boswell and a Gazette writer greeted him as “a moonbeam from a larger lunacy.”

There were 200 Goon Shows in the Fifties, Harry starring with Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan while also having his own TV series, Secombe and Friends, and guest spots in other shows.

Harry’s role as the idiotic Neddie Seagoon was at the centre of most of the Goon Show story lines.

After his third Blackpool summer season, Secombe Here, at the Palace in 1960, the resort said goodbye to Harry for several years.

He starred in the title role of the West End musical Pickwick for two years, 1963-65.

When Harry returned to Blackpool in 1967 it was as a vocalist. He made six visits to the Opera House for Sunday concerts, 1967-71.

The man from Swansea was awarded the CBE in 1963 and was knighted in 1981.

But with a strong memory of being whacked on the back as “the young man from the Afghanistan Gazette” I have a chuckle and regret that television has forgotten him.