Barry Band: Showbiz spat led to a great summer line-up

Johnny Weissmuller (famous for his role as Tarzan), former Olympic swimming champion, he was in Blackpool to perform at "The Water Follies" at the Derby Baths, in 1949
Johnny Weissmuller (famous for his role as Tarzan), former Olympic swimming champion, he was in Blackpool to perform at "The Water Follies" at the Derby Baths, in 1949

A browse through a box of theatre memorabilia produced a reminder of a boardroom battle between a top London stage producer and the Blackpool Tower Company.

The acrimonious split between the two factions had an unexpected benefit to the resort. More summer shows.

Programme for the 1949 Water Follies Derby Baths

Programme for the 1949 Water Follies Derby Baths

The story lies behind the 1949 Blackpool summer show ads on this page. They all carry the names of producers Tom Arnold and Jack Taylor.

Arnold had been a regular supplier of big shows to the Blackpool Tower Company’s theatres since the 1920s.

He had put in the Opera House Christmas shows from 1940 to 47, the summer season shows for 1946 and 47, and the Grand Theatre’s summer variety revues since 1940.

But during the 1947 season, he offended the Tower Company directors and they hit back.

Two advertisements for Tom Arnold's other Blackpool shows

Two advertisements for Tom Arnold's other Blackpool shows

Arnold hired the Tower Company’s entertainment manager, Clement Butson, to run his circus division in London.

The Tower directors didn’t like it. They appointed Clem Butson’s secretary, Mrs Kathleen Williams, to replace him and told her not to book any more Tom Arnold productions.

The above information was confirmed for me by the late Bernard Crabtree, who was the Tower publicity manager at the time and who succeeded Mrs Williams as entertainments manager, in 1960.

Arnold’s reaction to being shut out was to form a partnership with independent local producer Jack Taylor, who had long been out of favour with the Tower Company.

In 1948 they leased the big Hippodrome cinema, 100 yards from the Opera House, and put on a rival show, the super revue Coconut Grove, starring comedy duo Jimmy Jewel and Ben Warriss, Irish singer Josef Locke and some American speciality acts.

Arnold had a feeling Blackpool could support more summer shows and he was right. Both the Opera House and the Hippodrome did excellent business.

For the 1949 summer season, Arnold and Taylor came back with not one show but three – a new version of Coconut Grove with 13-year-old Julie Andrews in the cast, a Central Pier show with comedian Frankie Howerd, and a new Water Follies venture starring American swimming champion and Tarzan actor Johnny Weissmuller at the Derby Baths.

Taylor’s name was first on the credits because he was the local man. Arnold was the backer.

But the Tower Company directors were ready for the fray. They had a spare theatre to play with.

They secured Emile Littler’s smash hit London Coliseum production of the musical Annie Get Your Gun for the 1949 summer season in the Winter Gardens Pavilion.

And to throw sawdust in Tom Arnold’s face, the Tower bosses invited the entire company of Bertram Mills Circus (Arnold’s chief rival) over from Liverpool to see the 1949 Tower Circus.

They saw a morning show, had lunch with circus friends and were bussed back to Liverpool for their 4pm performance.

The row between Tom Arnold and the Tower board had led to a livelier summer show line-up for Blackpool.