Barry Band: Just the ticket for some Grand old Blackpool theatre memories

Prunella Scales and Timothy West at the re-opening of the Blackpool Grand Theatre''(Picture sent in by Roy Payne)
Prunella Scales and Timothy West at the re-opening of the Blackpool Grand Theatre''(Picture sent in by Roy Payne)
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Today’s topic may be new to the under-40s and nostalgic to others. There was a time when the only way you could book to see a favourite star was to join a queue.

And when you reached the box office they would tear tickets from a book.

The Grand Theatre, Blackpool on wet winter's day in 1956. The theatre had been closed for winter for financial reasons and it was hoped that John Slater in the Brian Rix farce "Dry Rot" may tempt theatre-goers from their Christmas festivities at the re-opening on Christmas Eve

The Grand Theatre, Blackpool on wet winter's day in 1956. The theatre had been closed for winter for financial reasons and it was hoped that John Slater in the Brian Rix farce "Dry Rot" may tempt theatre-goers from their Christmas festivities at the re-opening on Christmas Eve

Yes it was back in the Old Days before computerisation, and before on-line booking.

It was only 30-odd years ago.

I was chatting with John Shedwick, who managed the Grand Theatre after it reopened in 1981.

He later moved on the manage the Preston Guild Hall and Charter Theatre. He’s now a Lancashire County Councillor.

The Grand Theatre trustees celebrate taking over the running of the theatre.' From left: John Shedwick, Violet Carson and Sam Lee

The Grand Theatre trustees celebrate taking over the running of the theatre.' From left: John Shedwick, Violet Carson and Sam Lee

Not only did the theatre trust have to recreate a paper ticketing system at the Grand.

They also had to build a box office.

“When EMI opened the Grand for bingo in 1977, they rented off the old box office space as a shop.

“When the trust acquired the theatre in 1980, the late Gordon McKeith, architect and great Friend of the Grand, designed and had built a new box office in the foyer,” said John.

Meanwhile, shows were being booked, starting with The Merchant of Venice for the week of March 23, 1981, and then for the following weeks.

Tickets had to be ordered from a speciality printer.

No tickets to sell, no revenue!

Imagine the logistical problem of storing hundreds of books of tickets in date order, particularly for a 16 week summer show with two performances every night.

Fortunately for the Grand, the ABC had closed for live shows and was being converted into a triple cinema. The purpose-built wooden ticket racks came to the Grand.

Tickets had the names of the theatre and the show, with the date and performance time, the area of the theatre and the row and seat number.

“The system we used had tickets perforated into three parts,” said John. “The sales assistant took out the two outer pieces that made up the ticket and handed them to the customer.

“The main part was the actual ticket and a smaller part was a counterfoil that would be torn off by an usher when the customer entered the auditorium.”

A ticket stub remained in the book for audit purposes.

As the Grand grew in popularity the small box office, with only two service windows, struggled to cope in the summer season.

Total ticket sales hit 280,000 in 1983.

There was a song for the situation. There had to be something better than this – and the answer came through technology.

“Three years after opening, the Grand became the first theatre in Lancashire to have a computerised box office,” said John.

“At the beginning we had a back up plan in case the computer system broke down but we had no trouble at all.”

“The Opera House followed the Grand and soon every theatre was computerised.”

Printers who had serviced the industry closed down and paper tickets, torn from a book, became a memory.

Silky computer generated tickets are much better!