By Ruth Cherrington
My first ‘proper’ holiday, in a guest house, was in Blackpool. As an 11-year-old from landlocked Coventry, used only to day trips to the seaside with our local working men’s club’s, a whole week in Blackpool was an exciting adventure.
My brother and I played on the beach, went in the sea and spent as much time as possible at the Pleasure Beach. In the evenings, there were trips to local clubs as we were a club-going family. I can’t remember any names now, but there would have been plenty within a stone’s throw of our guest house, no doubt.
Working class families on holiday, like ours, often sought out the CIU clubs where they would find something similar to their venue back home. Clubs across the country are social venues with a familiar feel, a bit of entertainment, a game of bingo and a cheaper pint than the pubs. Blackpool clubs welcomed the holiday-makers, who boosted their takings, alongside their own members who would show up all year round.
Clubs at the seaside, and inland, used to be packed during their post-war heyday, with more than 4,000 affiliated to the CIU in the early 1970s.
But times have changed and the crowds long gone, with around half the clubs there used to be. Last month, the well-known and popular Layton Institute called last orders for the final time. Members will be reeling from the shock of losing their club and a community venue for some time to come and sadly they join an ever-growing list of closures.
I visited another Blackpool club, the Philharmonic, last year to be interviewed for a feature on the BBC’s One Show about clubs.
The singer Russell Watson was revisiting the Philharmonic for the show, as he had appeared there many times in the past. Many entertainers came up through clubland and to appear in Blackpool was a good sign.
They could be tough audiences, most club audiences were, but clubs were a great training ground for talent and contributed a great deal to helping entertainers find their rising star.
The people I spoke to at the Philharmonic were friendly and informative. But the club has seen better days and the crowds aren’t there like before. There were familiar stories of past glories and current problems I have come across many times over the past five years, as I have researched the history of clubs across the country for my book Not Just Beer and Bingo! published last month.
I hope the Philharmonic and others are supported more to help them keep their doors open, not just for the local members, but for visitors as well.
* Not Just Beer and Bingo! A Social History of Working Men’s Clubs, Authorhouse, bookstore.authorhouse.com.
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