When Blackpool missed out on a full summer season with The Beatles because the producer had 'never heard of them'

The A to Z of Blackpool's 20th Century stars is still at letter B and first looks at an artist who had one of the busiest careers in show business, writes Barry Band.

By Claire Lark
Wednesday, 27th April 2022, 4:55 am
Updated Wednesday, 27th April 2022, 4:25 pm

Comedian Max Bygraves (1920-2012) covered variety, radio, television, record albums and 20 Royal Variety Performances. It's all on Wikipedia - except for this piece about Max in Blackpool. It can be said his career began and ended here.

In 1940 he was with a unit known as RAF South Pier. Max recalled for me that he was booked for Forces concerts by Jack Rose, who became a local repertory producer after the war.

Walter William Bygraves took the stage name Max in honour of his idol, comedian Max Miller, and it was Max Bygraves the Blackpool public saw in April, 1947, at the resort's Palace Theatre. He was propping up a bill that starred singer Donald Peers.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

They may have missed the summer season of 1963 but they were in massive demand by 1964 and came to Blackpool Opera House on August 16

Max's role in radio's Educating Archie made his name and he had two Royal Variety shows behind him when he starred for the 1953 summer season at the old Blackpool Hippodrome.

His other Blackpool season was at the Opera House in 1963 but he also had 35 Sunday night bookings at that theatre over a 25-year period. He sadly contracted Alzheimer’s and his farewell tour came to The Grand in 2006.

The Hippodrome had been rebuilt as the ABC when the Beatles hit town in 1963 to head five Sunday show bills plus two at the Queen's Theatre. Beatles mania hit the Opera House for two Sundays in 1964 and Blackpool Night telecasts from the ABC in 1964 and 65.

The Beatles' visits have been well written-up but the most intriguing is the show that didn't happen. The Central Pier producer, Peter Webster, told me that in 1962 he had been offered the group for the 1963 summer season. "I'd never heard of them," he said. Neither had we!

Max Bygraves and his family in Blackpool, 1963

Tribute time for Tony Bennett, who retired only last year, aged 94! He first came to Blackpool on an Opera House Sunday bill in August, 1955, the year of his Stranger in Paradise hit disc.

In 1967 Tony and the Count Basie Orchestra did the entire annual CADS charity concert at the Opera House. More acclaim came for Tony on a Sunday in September, 1971, at the ABC Theatre, singing in front of a 32-piece orchestra.

Two other Bennetts had a stage presence in Blackpool. Comedian Lennie Bennett was actually Gazette reporter Michael Berry (1938-2009) who wrote the Saturday show page before treading the boards and hosting TV shows like Punch Lines.

He compered the Blackpool Centenary Show in 1976 and was in the Royal Performance at the reopened Grand Theatre in 1981.

American singer Tony Bennett

Twenty years later, when the bookings dried up, Mike quipped: "This is the only business where they don't tell you that you've retired."

Comedian Billy Bennett (1887-1942) made a more dramatic exit. After starring visits to the Palace in the 1930s, he was one of five star names in George Black's 1942 revue Black Vanities at the Opera House. After the opening show he collapsed and died in Victoria Hospital a few days later.