Barry Band: Springing into the old Whit Sunday concerts

Dorothy Hyson and Grace Fields in Blackpool for the filming of Sing As We Go
Dorothy Hyson and Grace Fields in Blackpool for the filming of Sing As We Go

The season has kicked off with the Spring Bank Holiday weekend.

That’s what it was called when it was introduced in 1971, to replace “the Whit weekend.”

Shirley Bassey

Shirley Bassey

The need to have a fixed date was obvious.

The actual Bank Holiday was Whit Monday but it “floated” and had been as early as May 14 and as late as June 10.

The reason is that Whit Sunday is the Christian festival of Penticost on the seventh Sunday after Easter – and the date of Easter can vary by several weeks.

That wasn’t helpful to the holiday industry.

Sophie Tucker at the Hotel Metropole, Blackpool in 1936

Sophie Tucker at the Hotel Metropole, Blackpool in 1936

Hoteliers, caterers, travel operators and even theatres needed a fixed date for a late May Bank Holiday.

Not forgetting the confused public.

But it was the financial industry that forced the change to a fixed date.

The Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971 brought it into law that the Bank Holiday would be the last Monday in May.

Three cheers came from the Fylde’s holiday caterers and Spring Bank Holiday became the buzz phrase.

But move ahead three decades and the traditional May Day also became a Bank Holiday on the first Monday in May.

So the Spring Bank Holiday started to be known as the Late May Bank Holiday.

All this preamble is an excuse to look back in the archives to see which artists starred in the Whit Sunday concerts, at the Opera House in the 1950s.

Back in 1951 Whit Sunday was very early – May 13 – and the Luton Girls Choir topped a bill of five acts.

The following year Whit Sunday fell on June 1, with Sophie Tucker topping the bill.

In 1953, another American star, Eddie Fisher, topped the Whit bill on May 24, but the next year’s date was June 6, and Guy Mitchell was the star.

Another American singer, Don Cornell, was the star on May 29, 1955.

Early Whit dates at the Opera House included Shirley Bassey, May 17, 1959, while the latest was Gracie Fields, June 9, 1957.

This is beginning to sound like a trainspotter’s diary so here’s a few facts about Sunday concerts.

Until the late 1980s there were two evening shows.

The bills would have four or five acts, topped by a star comedian, vocalist or musical group.

Before 1970 all the acts had to be of a musical nature. No comics!

Something to do with observance of the Sabbath.

How things have changed.

There is no longer a season of 15 Sunday concerts.

The comedians who do appear haven’t got any proper clothes and are often foul-mouthed.

The singers often leave their skirts in the dressing room and then get standing ovations after singing a couple of lines.

Don’t ask for a refund if you can’t see the stage!

Yes, readers, we had the best of it!

Tell us your Sunday concert memories.