Look At It This Way - January 3, 2014

Funny Girls founder and one of Blackpool's most well-known businessmen Basil Newby has been awarded an MBE in the New Year's Honours list.
Funny Girls founder and one of Blackpool's most well-known businessmen Basil Newby has been awarded an MBE in the New Year's Honours list.
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There couldn’t have been a better time for Basil to be honoured for his services to business and his contribution to the gay community.

Now he can add MBE to his name and put 2013 well and truly behind him. It was the year from hell. He battled prostate cancer - on which he spoke so candidly to me - and fought bad financial advice and to keep his beloved Flamingo club open after its licence was reviewed in November.

Being named in the New Year’s Honours list has made it all worthwhile, he says.

Many raised a cheer locally when Basil’s name popped up. Like Ken Dodd’s knighthood - yet to materialise - it has been long overdue.

Basil’s been a constant in my career since I first became a reporter in the mid-1970s. It’s been a privilege to know him. He cares for the town he calls BasilPool. He has reinvested and reinvented and taken the town with him. He’s done a great deal for charity, much of it unsung, and broken down barriers in terms of social acceptance.

I was one of the first journalists to write about the early days of Basil’s gay empire and mark his investment on The Strand which galvanised Queen Street’s renaissance reborn of the night time economy and the pulling power of the pink pound. Basil’s on the Strand helped regenerate a shabby area and the very first (and still my favourite) Funny Girls proved a catalyst for the sort of change that really matters ... in hearts and minds. Real social acceptance that embraces the differences that make us all - human.

How many nightspots would win a spread in that journal of anthropological excellence National Geographic? Or the first fly-on-the-wall documentary series? Funny Girls became a national treasure.

And how many entrepreneurs are known simply by their first name? There is only one Basil for Blackpool and now he’s off to meet the Queen. I’ll leave the punchline to Basil - MBE. Most Blackpool Entrepreneur.

He’s also had the last laugh on the solicitor who warned him when he bought the Flamingo he would be considered an “improper person” to hold a licence because he was gay.

If that seems ludicrous today remember the abominable treatment meted out on mathematician and Bletchley Park code breaker Alan Turing who was prosecuted for being in a relationship with another man under legislation shaped in 1885. He opted for chemical castration rather than imprisonment and was dead two years later from cyanide poisoning.

In the dying days of 2013 Turing was granted a pardon under the Royal Perogative of Mercy by the Queen. Justice secretary Chris Grayling described Turing as “an exceptional man with a brilliant mind” and wanted his memory free of the “taint of injustice”. This makes it a rule - or rather a pardon - for one rather than a precedent for 50,000 similarly convicted.

As one of the founding fathers of artificial intelligence Turing once put the question: “Can machines think?”

I’m tempted to ask: do humans?

So far so good? Not for this armchair critic

Dear advertisers - I not want a sofa. I have no interest in buying a sofa.

If I had the slightest inclination to buy a sofa it would have been lost in complete and utter antipathy to the latest TV marketing blitz.

I am sick of seeing people on sofas, walking round sofas, jumping on to sofas, chasing their dogs from sofas ... and don’t even get me started on that couch potato sloth. Or bed adverts which never show a bed actually made up because you’d never see the mattress or the frame or how (allegedly) easy it is to lift up the divan and stash stuff beneath without breaking your nails.

I recently told you of my recurring nightmare of being trapped in Ikea between a bookcase called Billy and a garish mixing bowl called Blandy.

Now I’m forced to count sofas to fall asleep - each more hideous than the last but none quite as vile as that large blue sofa with the white inset. Call me an armchair critic but TV advertising represents the most extreme form of aversion therapy.

So far, sofa good? Stuff it. I’d rather watch the old Potters Wheel interlude...