Barry Band: Blackpool’s Easter early birds won the prize 50 years ago

Mike and Bernie Winters in Blackpool, in 1965
Mike and Bernie Winters in Blackpool, in 1965

At 10 o’clock on Good Friday 50 years ago, the first Easter holiday-makers filed into Blackpool theatre foyers.

They wanted tickets for Ken Dodd, Tommy Cooper, Engelbert Humperdinck, Jack Douglas, Josef Locke and Mike and Bernie Winters.

Tommy Cooper starts the 1962 Tour of Britain Cycle Race in Blackpool

Tommy Cooper starts the 1962 Tour of Britain Cycle Race in Blackpool

As you may suspect, they were not all in the same show, but they would be bill-toppers in the resort’s summer season shows, opening in June.

Blackpool’s holiday folklore is full of memories of how summer visitors would drop off their suitcases at their digs and dash to the theatre box offices to secure seats for their week (or two) in the resort.

But it was the early birds of Easter who had first choice of summer show seats.

There would be huge posters at the railway stations and ads in the Gazette, announcing the attractions.

Comedian Freddie Davies, signs autographs after opening Fleetwood Bailey School garden party, in July 1968

Comedian Freddie Davies, signs autographs after opening Fleetwood Bailey School garden party, in July 1968

So who was on the bill for the 1968 season?

Undoubtedly, the biggest draw was Doddy at the Opera House, closely followed by Engelbert at the ABC.

It was Doddy’s fourth Opera House season, with main support from Tessie O’Shea and the Bluebell Girls, while Engelbert was here for his only Blackpool season, on the strength of his chart-topping Release Me and The Last Waltz.

His main support came from Lonnie Donegan and Ted Rogers.

Another big name in the news was comic magician Tommy Cooper for his hit television show Life With Cooper.

He was at the Winter Gardens Pavilion with main support from Vince Hill and Lyn Kennington.

Singer Josef Locke was paying off the income tax bill that had caused him to skip back to Ireland 10 years earlier and he was back here to top the bill at the Queen’s Theatre.

Also in the show were the singing Kaye Sisters, Blackpool comedian Freddie Davies and Preston illusionist Johnny Hart.

At the North Pier for the season, comedy duo Mike and Bernie Winters starred in Bernard Delfont’s Showtime with impressionist Mike Yarwood and Joe ‘Piano’ Henderson.

The Central Pier had two newish vocal acts in Solomon King and Don Partridge.

Les Dawson was in his first season show and Blackpool’s dynamic singer Joan Savage bravely carried on after the recent loss of her husband and stage partner Ken Morris.

There were two superb comedy plays in town for the season.

The Grand had Jack Douglas in Don’t Tell the Wife and the South Pier had Jimmy Jewel and Glenn Melvyn in Who’s Your Funny Friend.

For Blackpool visitors at Easter, 1968, there was a big concert at the ABC on the Saturday and Sunday, two shows each night.

America’s Gene Pitney topped the bill, Love Affair were “guest stars” and future stars Status Quo made their first Blackpool appearance.

Don Partridge and DJ Tony Brandon were also in the show.

During the summer, the ABC had three concerts by Tom Jones and other appearances by Roy Orbison, Dusty Springfield, and the Shadows.