Barry Band: The men who put Blackpool on the map

Bob Battersby Blackpool tourism director 1970 to 1985 with some of his souvenirs and mementoes
Bob Battersby Blackpool tourism director 1970 to 1985 with some of his souvenirs and mementoes

Blackpool’s former Director of Tourism, Barry Morris, has been looking back on the careers of his predecessors.

Last week he recalled the man who began the process of putting the resort in the public eye through advertising and publicity stunts.

Outside the fun house during the filming of the ABC TV programme Blackpool Special in 1964 are - from left: David Hamilton (compere), Harry Porter (Blackpool publicity manager), David Southwood (producer) and Mike Boyce (cameraman)

Outside the fun house during the filming of the ABC TV programme Blackpool Special in 1964 are - from left: David Hamilton (compere), Harry Porter (Blackpool publicity manager), David Southwood (producer) and Mike Boyce (cameraman)

It was Manchester-born Charles Noden, who came to Blackpool in 1879 and was a rates collector and the Mayor’s Attendant, before his appointment as advertising manager, in 1900.

In nine years he became a local legend – often referred to as Mr Blackpool – not least for his wheeze of securing a Visit Blackpool advert on the gable end of the farmhouse on the 1815 battlefield of Waterloo.

The advertising department took a step up after the arrival of William Foster in 1919.

The Gazette archives show that, like Charles Noden, he was a former railwayman, first as a telegraphist, then as a passenger clerk, and came to the resort in 1919 from a job with Blackburn Corporation.

The Gazette's retirement gift to Bob Battersby, a picture postcard-style cartoon depicting the moment that the tourism director was caught on TV by Game For A Laugh host Matthew Kelly.

The Gazette's retirement gift to Bob Battersby, a picture postcard-style cartoon depicting the moment that the tourism director was caught on TV by Game For A Laugh host Matthew Kelly.

Barry Morris observes: “He became Blackpool’s advertising manager in 1920 and modernised every aspect of the department, which became known as Attractions and Publicity and he was styled as director.

“He was the driving force behind Blackpool’s famous carnivals in 1923 and 1924.

“The Illuminations soon became a late season event and Blackpool had virtually invented early and late season business.

“Mr Foster, with his constant press releases, became legendary in Fleet Street and a Blackpool Information Bureau was opened in Regent Street,” says Barry.

Bill Foster was described as a "pioneer of advertising"

Bill Foster was described as a "pioneer of advertising"

(In an obituary on January 13, 1982, Gazette editor-in-chief Sir Harold Grime wrote it was Bill Foster who got down to the job of putting the “squalling infant” Blackpool on the map after the First World War).

Barry Morris notes that, under William Foster, Blackpool became a “university” of tourism promotion and he encouraged his staff members to apply for the top jobs in other resorts.

Barry says that, as a young man in the Blackpool tourism office, he met “the Foster Boys” when they had reunions in Blackpool.

They included Ernest Lee, who became the publicity chief at Eastbourne, Peter Bedford (Margate, Eastbourne), John Coates (Worthing), Tom Hogarth (Lytham St Annes, Hastings, Medway), and Sydney Lovegrove (Bridlington, Paignton, Torquay).

But Harry Porter was best remembered in Blackpool because he “came home.”

Harry trained under William Foster from 1927 and became publicity manager at Morecambe in 1935.

When Foster retired in 1952, Harry returned to Blackpool as Director of Attractions and Publicity.

“I wasn’t a Foster Boy – I was still at school – but I became one of tourism’s Porter Boys,” says Barry Morris, outling his mentor’s achievements over a period of nearly 20 years.

“Soon after returning to Blackpool, Harry attracted the International Gifts Fair to the resort and even sold exhibition space above the Talbot Road Bus Station, turning the car park into what he called Talbot Hall.

“He also brought the Slipper Fair and a host of other out-of-season events as well as securing more big conferences,” says Barry.

Another coup was to get Eric Morley to bring the Miss UK Competition and major dance events.

“Harry had met Morley at Morecambe and knew he was keen to get a foothold in Blackpool.

“It led in the 1960s to the opening of the Mecca Ballroom and to Morley bringing the BBC’s Come Dancing to the Tower and Empress Ballrooms.

“Today it has developed into Strictly Come Dancing.”

Other coverage encouraged by Harry Porter was the televising by the BBC of half-hour excerpts from the summer season shows, while the BBC’s It’s a Knockout originated in Blackpool.

A new style of director opened the 1970s in Blackpool.

As well as being an administrator, Bob Battersby was a showman, able to compere events in a professional manner. Like William Foster 50 years earlier, Bob came to Blackpool after early experience with Blackburn Corporation and a five-year stint as publicity chief at Worthing.

Barry Morris says Bob set the marker for superb Illuminations Switch On night celebrations and exploited every chance to get the resort on television, including Game for a Laugh, about which more can be read next week.

In 1982 Barry, our prompter in these articles, was appointed director designate to Bob Battersby and succeeded him as director in 1985.

n Barry’s career will be covered next week. Don’t miss it.