The buzz of collecting autographs whilst hanging round the doors of Blackpool theatres was worth it

By Barry Band

Saturday, 24th July 2021, 4:34 pm
Book prize winner Ken Dagger
Book prize winner Ken Dagger

Remember when it was cool to have a star-studded autograph book? Maybe you still have it.

What can be more nostalgic than remembering those summer nights hanging around the stage doors of Blackpool’s theatres?

Autograph hunting had been popular for decades, with serious collectors prizing the signatures of famous actors who came to the Opera House and the Grand.

Frances and Tom O'Connor

Then radio created scores of stars in comedy and pop music - and half a dozen resort venues had them on their summer show bills.

Yes, it took stamina to be a Blackpool autograph hunter!

But there was an easy way to scoop most of the summer show stars in one afternoon and we are reminded by local showbiz veteran Ken Dagger.

Ken wins our book prize (Blackpool’s Comedy Greats) with his memories of the 1950s summer garden parties held at Stanley Park by a national newspaper.

An early 1950's picture of Vera Lynn

“In 1951, when I was 15, I was a Boy Scout and it had been arranged for us to help out with stewarding at the garden party organised by the News Chronicle in aid of the Variety Artistes’ Benevolent Fund and local charities,” said Ken. “It was in a big marquee on the Stanley Park Oval with the games and stalls manned by the local show stars and visiting artists. People queued for autographs and, being one of the helpers, I got them all and still have them.”

Naturally, Ken volunteered for similar duties at the 1952 garden party and added to his collection.

His books of that period include Vera Lynn, Richard Attenborough, Violet Carson, Arthur Askey, Al Read, Terry-Thomas, Frank Randle, Diana Dors, Josef Locke and bandleaders Geraldo and Ted Heath.

Ken himself would go on to become one of Blackpool’s favourite club entertainers and be a stalwart of Marton Operatic Society’s Gilbert and Sullivan shows.

Ken’s recall of the Stanley Park events will remind older readers of the summer garden parties held by the larger Fylde Coast churches.

These Saturday afternoon events needed a showbiz personality to “do the honours” - like declaring the event open and signing autographs.

Gazette staff photos would be ideal as “page tops” in the following week’s papers.

The joint winner in our book competition is Frances O’Connor, of Lytham, who was a Gazette circulation canvasser in the 1980s.

Frances speaks for all those ladies who went to see a show and found themselves on stage with a star.

“In 2017 I went with my husband, Tommy, to a matinee performance of Walk Like a Man, a Four Seasons tribute show at the Grand. We were on the front row,” says Frances.

“After a few songs the lead singer came down into the stalls and chatted with a few of the ladies.

“Before I knew what was happening he was asking me to go with him on stage.

“He sat me on a tall stool and serenaded me with You’re Just Too Good To Be True. Then he gave me a red rose and a box of chocolates and helped me back to my seat.”Frances had one

regret: “It was an afternoon matinee so I’d gone in jeans and tee-shirt.”