Barry Band: From deckchair attendant to a top resort ents boss

Marlene Dietrich at Blackpool Pleasure Beach prior to her performance at Blackpool Opera House in 1955.
Marlene Dietrich at Blackpool Pleasure Beach prior to her performance at Blackpool Opera House in 1955.

Following last week’s piece about Frank Sinatra at the Opera House, there was some discussion about who else will be featured in the heritage showcases at the Winter Gardens.

It was agreed there is a dilemma facing someone, unless there could be a Top 20 who could be displayed on a rota basis.

Bernard Crabtree outside the Grand Theatre, Blackpool.

Bernard Crabtree outside the Grand Theatre, Blackpool.

Ever helpful on such issues (!) I could suggest they should include the artist who gave the most performances at the Opera House.

And as that person was Sir Ken Dodd, who would disagree?

Doddy played six long summer seasons at the theatre, an average of 190 shows, totalling 1,140.

Nobody claims to have counted his Sunday concert engagements, but I’ve spotted 47, with two shows per night.

Laurel and Hardy in Blackpool in 1947

Laurel and Hardy in Blackpool in 1947

He did many appearances at the annual Blackpool Magician’s Convention, he did the two civic concerts in Blackpool’s centenary year (1976) and was in a few Midnight Matinees for charities.

So it is safe to say Doddy chalked up more than 1,250 appearances at the Opera House and probably kept 1.25 million fans out late.

I’ve digressed a little, for this article is to state the case for a person who wasn’t a performer, but had one of the most remarkable Winter Gardens stories – Bernard Crabtree.

His career with the Blackpool Tower Company began as an office boy, when he was 18 and graduated to a 20-year period as entertainment manager of the Winter Gardens and the Tower.

Bernard’s showbiz story began after his job as a Blackpool council deckchair attendant ended with the 1932 summer season.

He heard they were looking for an office boy, just across the promenade, at the Palace.

This was a huge complex of variety theatre, cinema and ballroom on the block to the north of the Tower.

The Palace was demolished in 1961-62.

His golden career was perhaps presaged from the beginning.

On his first day, they sent a limo for him!

Bernard explained in one of our interviews for his memoir, That Was Entertainment, that there was a flu epidemic and the firm wanted him in early.

Bernard worked his way up to be publicity manager, meeting hundreds of stars, before becoming deputy entertainments manager in 1948, before getting the top job in 1960.

His two favourite stories concerned Marlene Dietrich in 1955 and Ken Dodd in 1964.

Hollywood star Marlene came to Blackpool for two Sunday concerts at the Opera House.

She was met at Blackpool Airport by Bernard and a big party of press photographers, who wanted something more than a pouting pose.

Bernard persuaded Marlene to pose against the background of the Pleasure Beach – and the result was a famous picture.

Nine years later, Bernard became the only manager ever to ask Ken Dodd: “Please stay in longer” – a fact that Doddy often acknowledged.

It was the night of the Rolling Stones riot in the Empress Ballroom.

Three thousand fans flowed out into the Floral Hall, just as the packed first house of the Opera House was closing.

Drastic action was called for to prevent mayhem.

And a gobsmacked Doddy carried on comeding!