Barry Band: Stage is set to step back into Blackpool history

Gracie Fields
Gracie Fields
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Have you decided what to wear for your free days out next month? You never know who you are going to meet!

The free days out on the Fylde coast are Thursday to Sunday, September 13-16.

Looking along the statue lined main drive of Raikes Hall Gardens in the 1890s

Looking along the statue lined main drive of Raikes Hall Gardens in the 1890s

As a Memory Lane reader you must have twigged it by now.

The free days out come under the umbrella of Heritage Open Days, when it’s ‘open house’ at many historic buildings in Blackpool, Fleetwood, and Lytham St Annes.

The events are in two categories. There are those that have to be pre-booked and others where you can just drop in.

Early this week some of the pre-book tours were full, but you could try three Blackpool walking tours – History and Haunts, Whitegate Drive and War Memorials.

Details of 60 events and venues are listed in the free 24-page brochure from libraries and tourist centres.

Several talks are being introduced this year.

They include Seaside Traditions, at the Solaris Centre, South Promenade, at 2pm on Thursday, September 13, and Sideshows, at the North Pier, at 4pm on the same day.

I’m interested in one of the new events, a two-day exhibition on the history of Raikes Hall and the Royal Palace Gardens of Victorian days.

This is open only on the Friday and Saturday, with a talk being given on the Friday at 2pm.

From the mid-1950s to the 80s, the Raikes was the home of the Blackpool Jazz Club, where Thursday night sessions with local and visiting jazzmen were a high point of my youth.

The Grand Theatre was another of my haunts, but I never encountered Charlie, the alleged theatre ghost – although in May, 1981, I sat alone in the gallery, watching six performances by the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company.

Perhaps Charlie prefers something raunchier?

This year the Grand has two special exhibitions for theatre fans.

Friend of the Grand Ken Bowe, a notable collector of theatre programmes, photos and other memorabilia, has a beautifully presented tribute to the late Sir Ken Dodd, a patron of the Grand and star of scores of concerts there.

Great stars of earlier years are shown in a display that ties with the national Heritage Open Days theme Extraordinary Women.

They include photos and text of some great stars of the theatre who have appeared at the Grand.

Who have they chosen? Will they include Ellen Terry, Sarah Bernhardt and Lillie Langtry from the early days?

They’re sure to have Gracie Fields, whose Blackpool appearances in the 1930s were at the Grand, and maybe Gladys Cooper, Flora Robson, Margaret Lockwood, Dora Bryan, Thora Hird and Anna Neagle.

I haven’t seen them but here’s a tip. The Grand will be previewing their Heritage displays on Sunday, September 9, from 11am to 4pm.

However, on Sunday the 16th, they will have to close the doors at 2pm in order to get in a stage show.

• Next week: A 1950s tour of Blackpool’s big entertainment centres.