As modern day music maestro Dave Arch steps up on to the podium of the Tower Ballroom for tomorrow’s Blackpool-based edition of BBC TV’s hit show, Strictly Come Dancing, it seems a fitting opportunity to celebrate one of the venue’s superstars of yesteryear, Charlie Barlow.
Once famously dubbed The King of Swing, he worked for the Tower Company for 46 years, 33 of them as a bandleader.
When, as a youngster, he blew himself red in the face playing a cornet, Charlie probably never dreamt that one day he would be leading a Blackpool Tower dance band in front of thousands of holidaymakers.
Entertainment historian Kenneth Shenton, who has been researching Charlie’s life and times, says: “A native of Freckleton, where his father was the village butcher, Charles Whyatt Barlow was born 100 years ago on July 30, 1913.
“One of nine children, aged eight, he joined Freckleton Brass Band, initially learning to play the cornet. He later switched to the clarinet and saxophone.”
Kenneth says: “Barlow began his professional career, aged 16, with Will Hurst’s Band in the Palace Ballroom, soon moving to Bertini’s Band in the Tower Ballroom.
“Over the next eight years, he became a featured soloist on Bertini’s many broadcasts and recordings. When the band leader left Blackpool to go touring, Charlie joined his successor, Norman Newman.
“On the outbreak of the Second World War, he immediately enlisted in the Royal Air Force. While in uniform, he played with Joe Daniels and the Hot Shots, The Khan Brothers and the famous Squadronaires.
“When based at Kirkham, he led his own Air Force Band, entertaining the many troops and civilians based throughout the area.”
Returning in 1945 to the Tower Ballroom under the leadership of Joe Kirkham, he then moved to the Spanish Hall at the Winter Gardens.
Kenneth says: “Appointed musical director of the Tower Company in 1961, for the next 15 years he famously fronted the band in the Tower Ballroom. Closely associated with the British Ballroom Championships, his many strict tempo LPs, specially tailored for the dancing profession, sold millions worldwide.”
But as Kenneth recalls: “Disaster struck in December, 1956, when fire ravaged the Tower Ballroom.
“As firemen tackled the huge blaze, Charlie himself managed to save the bulk of his library by flinging the music out of the window to colleagues below.
“That same evening, his band played in the adjacent Palace Ballroom, hurriedly re-opened so that dancing could continue uninterrupted.
“Leaving the Tower Company in 1976, he then toured extensively, much in demand at dance festivals throughout Europe, Canada and America.
“Married in 1938, he had met his wife Anne when she was working in the famous Tower Ballet. Sons Philip and Raymond followed their father into the music profession.
He died, aged 80, in 1993.”