Barry Band: Sandgrown’ Un’s years as top resort boss

Barry Morris
Barry Morris

The top job in resort tourism went to the right man.

He had done his time as a “Carry your bag?” boy at Blackpool’s Central Station. He sold sticks of rock to visitors at the Coliseum coach station. And he helped out in his uncle’s Golden Mile stalls.

Lights Switch-on 1989: Frank Bruno

Lights Switch-on 1989: Frank Bruno

But Barry Morris didn’t mention these skills when he applied for a job in the Blackpool tourism office. He was only 17 and the job title was “temporary messenger.”

He later became Director of Tourism and Attractions – the top tourism job in the top resort!

Barry is a true Sandgrown ‘Un, born at Glenroyd in 1941, but he briefly lived in South Africa and Canada before his first tourism job.

He recalls his early years: “My family emigrated to South Africa in 1946 but my mother became ill and we returned to Blackpool, where she died on Christmas Day, 1948. I was brought up by my auntie and uncle. I went to Revoe and Tyldesley Schools. My Uncle Dick had stalls on the Golden Mile – a bubbles game and a Rolatina, a kind of roulette. I helped out by bringing the stock in every day in the season. Most Saturday mornings I had a handcart and would carry visitors’ bags to their digs and at night I would sell the odd stick of rock at the Coliseum coach station. Times were hard in the early Fifties, but there was always money to be made.

Lights Switch-on 1985: Joanna Lumley

Lights Switch-on 1985: Joanna Lumley

“My aunt and uncle thought the Golden Mile was a bad influence, so in 1956 I started an engineering course at the technical college. Job prospects were poor when the Hawker aircraft factory closed, so I emigrated to Canada and got a job in a printing works in Ontario. I soon found there was no social life. Lots of English people packed into the Legion club on Saturday nights, tearfully singing Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty. For a lad of my age it was awful, a far cry from the Winter Gardens, so I came home, in October, 1957.

“I helped on Uncle Dick’s Accrington Market stall until I went for the job at Blackpool publicity and attractions on January 2. On my first day there I packed 700 Blackpool holiday guides for posting.

“I was temporary for three years but in that time Harry Porter, the director, and his deputy, Miss Nellie Moore, took me everywhere – to the Blackpool Information Bureau in Regent Street, London, to the big conferences at the Winter Gardens, and the Illuminations switch-ons. I remember the night when the Mayor, Alderman Ernie Machin, got flustered and introduced our 1959 switch-on star as Jean Mansfield.”

After thee years Barry was given a permanent job as junior clerk. It involved being the holiday relief officer at Blackpool’s London Regent Street bureau and being in charge of the mobile information bureau on regional tours.

Dr Who (Tom Baker) with time travelling assistants Sarah Jane (Elisabeth Sladen) and Harry (Ian Marter) switching on Blackpool Illuminations in 1975.

Dr Who (Tom Baker) with time travelling assistants Sarah Jane (Elisabeth Sladen) and Harry (Ian Marter) switching on Blackpool Illuminations in 1975.

“In 1966, I got married and asked for a pay rise. Mr Porter suggested I apply for the deputy’s job at Morecambe. I got it and two years later moved up to manage publicity and attractions at Lytham St Annes. I had seven happy years there, running two theatres (the Ashton and Lowther) and two cafes, as well as managing conferences and advertising.

“Soon after, Triumph Theatre Productions was formed and leased the Ashton. They brought many stars in famous plays and I became friends with actors Richard Todd and Eric Sykes, among others.”

An opportunity came for Barry to return to Blackpool tourism, in time for him to arrange Hollywood star Bette Davis’s visit to the Mayor’s Parlour before her retrospective show at the ABC in October.

“I worked hard at advertising and conferences and by the late 70s we had the UK conference market sewn up,” said Barry.

Another chance loomed, of the top tourism job on the Isle of Man, so Blackpool Council pulled their socks up and made him Director Designate to Bob Battersby, who retired in March, 1985.

“It was a privilege to serve Blackpool as Director of Tourism for 10 years. My department expanded in that time to include the zoo, car parking, deck chairs, the beach patrol, public relations, overseas marketing, conferences and advertising,” said Barry.

And Barry revealed his budget for Illuminations Switch On night was only £10,000. Hospitality would scoff that today! The stars didn’t get a fee!

“It was me who suggested Red Rum could switch on the Lights after his third Grand National victory. He was one of the truest stars I met. He understood spoken English. Stand here, Red. Stand there, Red.

“My favourite among many great Switch On stars was Shirley Bassey, in 1994. The most professional person I ever met.

“That was the year I also organised the centenary celebrations of the Tower and Grand Theatre, including the visit of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh,” said Barry.

In 1995, he was again in the Queen’s presence, hearing the words: “For services to Blackpool tourism, Mr Barry Morris,” before Her Majesty pinned the MBE on his chest.

It was also the year Barry, after stressful years at the “Blackpool rock face” needed a triple heart bypass operation and retired. In closing, Barry pays tribute to his deputy, Jane Seddon, who succeeded him and led the tourism department into the new Millennium.