Memories of much-loved comedy star
The right place at the right time!
I hadn’t planned to be at the Grand Theatre last Sunday but a box of one of my Grand history books had been found in the cellar.
The theatre was open for visitor tours and a display of Ken Bowe’s collection of photos, programmes and posters from the 64-year career of Sir Ken Dodd.
Lady Ann Dodd came over from Liverpool to see the display.
I popped in to sign a few copies of Blackpool Grand Theatre 1894-1930 – and stayed five hours!
A highlight for me was meeting the granddaughter of one of Blackpool’s summer season favourites from way back, comedian Albert Modley.
In a long chat, Debbie Cain told me she has recently put in her Heritage Lottery application for a grant to conserve Albert’s showbiz props, photos and ephemera to exhibit them in Morecambe and create a dementia-friendly package to take round care homes.
Debbie has loaned us several photos of Albert – including with Blackpool comedian Harry Korris, with whom he appeared in seasons of the pierrot show Arcadian Follies at the South Pier in the 1930s.
In 1937, Debbie’s father, Peter Modley, was the babe-in-arms being held by Harry Korris as proud dad Albert beams at the camera.
Albert is featured in the Morecambe Heritage Centre in Unit 29 of the resort’s Arndale Centre, on the site of the Royalty Theatre, which was managed by Thora Hird’s father.
The Arndale was formally opened by Dame Thora in the late 1970s.
Debbie was full of admiration for Blackpool’s Comedy Carpet and sends her congratulations to the council and everyone who had a part in its creation.
Albert Modley is on the Carpet, of course, with his catchphrase: “Eeee, isn’t it grand when you’re daft?”
In Blackpool, Albert has a special place in our showbiz history as one of the few entertainers to star for three summer seasons at each of our three piers.
The following information is what I researched for my book Blackpool’s Century of Stars in 2002.
After five seasons at the South Pier in the 1930s with Harry Korris, Albert took over the top spot in Arcadian Follies in 1940.
In 1947, when he was heading the BBC radio show Variety Bandbox with up to 14 million listeners, Lawrence Wright signed him to star in On With the Show at the North Pier. Albert returned for the 1949 and 1950 seasons.
For the 1953 Blackpool season, Albert brought his Modley’s Merrymakers to the Central Pier and returned for the 1954 season in Modley’s Merry Go Round.
When the Blackpool Tower Company turned the Palace Theatre over to summer season shows in 1956, Albert was the star of Summer Showboat.
His star was still sparking in 1962, when Lawrence Wright booked him to ‘rescue’ the North Pier summer show – when comedian Tommy Trinder was taken ill.
It was another triumph for Albert and he was back for a full season at the pier in 1963.
When I interviewed him for the Manchester Evening News, he said it was his 14th Blackpool season.
In addition, Albert starred many times at the old Palace Theatre – including four separate weeks on variety bills in 1955.
And that brings us to one of the cheekiest moments in the history of the Royal Variety Performance.
In April, 1955, the RVP came to the Blackpool Opera House, in the presence of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.
Albert was one of many comedians on a special northern bill – but he stole the show with an old trick.
The royal box was on the left, viewed from the stage. Albert walked on late in the show and bowed to the right.
Then, with a surprised expression, he turned to his left, ‘discovered’ the Queen, and said: “Eeeh, I’m glad you’d not gone.”
The audience hesitated... the Duke laughed, and the audience followed.