Tackling the great stars and great escapes in a Blackpool theatre memoir

By Barry Band

Monday, 7th September 2020, 7:00 am
Updated Monday, 7th September 2020, 12:10 pm
Performer Koringa with one of the alligators in 1955.  Picture: Getty Images
Performer Koringa with one of the alligators in 1955. Picture: Getty Images

By request, here are a few more old newspaper ads for Blackpool’s Palace Theatre.

You won’t see them anywhere unless you can spend a week or two in front of a film reader at the Central Library, scrolling through old Gazettes.

I did it ten years ago, photocopying the images and cleaning them up on my Mac, before reducing them into these A4 page compilations.

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Comedians Harry Tate and Will Fyffe topped the bill in these shows

They were for my history of the Palace, published in only 50 pre-ordered copies in 2012.

This week’s story, as indicated last week, is about our old friend Bernard Crabtree’s encounters during his 47-year management career with the Tower Company, covering the Palace (closed in 1960) the Opera House, the Grand and the Tower Circus.

For his 2002 memoir, which I typeset and published for him, Bernard recalled the night when alligators prowled backstage at the Palace.

The bill-topper for a week in March, 1951, was the exotic Koringa, billed as “the world’s only female fakir”.

A selection of the old adverts from Blackpool’s Palace Theatre

Yipes, the lady’s act included snakes and alligators!

Bernard said: “During the week our night watchman was making his rounds, shining his torch, when the beam fell on a row of glowing eyes.

“He realised the alligators had escaped. He made a quick exit and phoned me at home. I collected Koringa from her hotel and we went backstage.

“She coaxed the alligators back into their boxes. I’m sure she hypnotised them.”

Bernard and his wife, Renée, had a weird link with the fakir. Koringa was actually a French lady called Renée Bernard!

From crocodiles on to tigers, and the day in 1961 when Bernard was prepared to go into the Tower Circus cage.

The BBC were to televise excerpts from the circus, and the artists had each agreed a fee.

“But then tiger trainer Charly Baumann came to me and, in front of the others, said he wasn’t going to appear because he felt he was being underpaid” Bernard said.

“I said he had accepted the deal and I expected him to honour the contract. This rather hurt him in front of the other artists and he laid down a challenge.

“He said ‘Boss, if you will come into the ring with me and Rajah (and his tiger clan) I will do the television.’

“This put me in a spot. If I refused he would win and I would lose face with the other artists. I said ‘OK Charly, let’s go’ and headed for the cage.

“We had reached the cage door when Charly put his arm round my shoulders and said ‘Boss, I will do the television.’

“It was a huge relief for me in more ways than one.”

Bernard said that from that moment he became good friends with Charly, who a few years later became director of the Ringling Brothers’ number two show in America.

Dealing with a boozing chimpanzee during an Opera House summer show was easier than facing a cage of tigers.

The “educated” chimp and his trainer liked to go into the theatre bar for an occasional pint.

Inevitably, there were complaints about the slobbering animal and Bernard was obliged to tell the chimp trainer that it had to stop.

“For the rest of the season I don’t know which of the two was grumpier, the chimp or the trainer,” said Bernard.