Entertainers from both sides of the Atlantic wowed the crowds while Blackpool’s ABC Theatre was as the top of its game - but never rock star Jimi Hendrix.
In his final part of a series looking back at the Church Street venue, showbusiness historian Barry Band concludes: “The 1960s summer seasons were the best at the ABC.
“In 1964 Frank Ifield and Kathy Kirby were the stars. Then came the now legendary comic twosome, Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, heading 1965’s Holiday Startime before the theatre swung back to chart-topping headliners with The Bachelors and Cilla Black in 1966.
“Frank Ifield returned for 1967, co-starring with Jimmy Tarbuck and then it was the Engelbert Humperdinck season of 1968, generating huge publicity for the theatre, followed in 1969 by Cilla Black and Roy Castle.”
Right through the ABC’s run as a summer show venue there were also some top notch concerts by, among others, Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck, The Shadows, Dusty Springfield, Gene Pitney, Roy Orbison and Tony Bennett - but not Jimi Hendrix.
Barry says: “Let’s clear that up once and for all. Jimi did NOT appear at the ABC. Confusion began when a book of British rock tours was published a few years ago. A 1967 tour list by Jimi Hendrix, the Walker Brothers, Cat Stevens and Engelbert Humperdinck incorrectly included the Blackpool ABC. The concert actually took place at the old Odeon, now Funny Girls, on Saturday, April 15. This is confirmed by local rock fans who answered a Memory Lane call several weeks ago.
“He was back later that same year, on November 25, on the opposite side of Church Street to the ABC, on a package tour at the Opera House, sharing the bill with The Move, Pink Floyd, Amen Corner, The Nice, Outer Limits and Eire Apparent.”
Barry says: “Several other American stars did, however, fly to Blackpool for the ABC’s Sunday TV shows. In 1964 we saw ‘Red Hot Momma’ Sophie Tucker and West Side Story film star Chita Rivera. “In 1965 it was Buddy Greco, Alan Sherman, Eartha Kitt, Billy Daniels and Vicki Carr. In 1967 the American bill-toppers included Mel Torme, Nancy Wilson, Norm Crosby and Frank Sinatra Jnr.”
Barry recalls: “Throughout the run of stage seasons there was a September Midnight Matinee in which stars from all the resort’s shows appeared in aid of local sports and service charities.
“As the 70s progressed the ABC live seasons suffered a decline in audiences, due largely to the loss of visitors to overseas sun-spots.” Headliners were Tommy Steele and Mary Hopkin (1970), Jimmy Tarbuck and Kenneth McKellar (1971), Lovelace Watkins and Arthur Worsley (1972), Mike Yarwood (1973), Larry Grayson and the Kaye Sisters (1974), Mike and Bernie Winters (1975), Dick Emery (1976), Les Dawson and Kenneth McKellar (1977), The Bachelors, The Nolans and Keith Harris (1978), Tommy Steele (1979) and finally in 1980, John Inman starred with Moira Anderson and Bobby Crush in support.”
Barry says: “Blackpool had already lost the Palace, the Queen’s and the Grand and it became uneconomic for the ABC to continue with summer shows and winter films. Many cinemas were becoming multi-screen and in 1981 the ABC was converted into a triple. Even the name ABC disappeared, with Cannon Cinemas and later MGM taking over the marquee until the venue closed in 1999. Blackpool’s 18 cinemas had gone, one-by-one, with only a new Odeon multi-screen showing what past generations used to call the ‘flicks’. The ABC building was converted into the Syndicate night spot in 2002. It closed in 2010.”
Barry asks: “Has any industry changed more than cinema? “From jumpy black and white silents, to talkies, to Technicolor, 3-D and wide screen, to small studios, the old Hippodrome/ABC saw it all.
“Now films are downloaded direct to your TV set - as easy as ABC! Yet it is all technology and no romance...”