Walking tall was a real family affair

The Barbour Brothers - sons of Blackpool comedian Roy Barbour .'Undated  1950s?
The Barbour Brothers - sons of Blackpool comedian Roy Barbour .'Undated 1950s?

The Barbour family were given a deserved place in Blackpool’s showbiz history last week.

If the name is not familiar it’s because comedian Roy Barbour (1900-1985) last appeared here in 1956 and his family of stilt-walking Barbours appeared in venues far away.

Blackpool Comedian Roy Barbour, pictured in 1941

Blackpool Comedian Roy Barbour, pictured in 1941

But they were brought up in Blackpool, where Roy appeared in 13 summer season shows on the piers.

Roy’s granddaughter, Dr Sue Barbour – whose letters include a degree in Variety Theatre – talked to a Blackpool Heritage group meeting at the Imperial Hotel about her family.

She had fond memories of their home in Boscombe Road, South Shore, where they lived for 16 years before Roy bought the Arcadia Theatre, Lowestoft, in 1956.

Sue trained as a ballet dancer, but had a later career with the Barbour stilt-walkers, who appeared on stage, circus and amusement parks.

The act began around 1950 with Roy Barbour’s three sons, Peter, Roy Junior and Geoffrey.

But Geoffrey moved on before the Barbour Brothers were in the 1955 Royal Variety Performance at the Blackpool Opera House.

Sue’s mother, Jean (Peter’s wife), stepped in and the act worked as the Barbour Brothers and Jean.

When mother retired, Sue took her place and it became a father and daughter partnership.

Sue told the Heritage audience of their five years with Michael Crawford in the circus musical Barnum in London and Berlin.

They did seven years with Disney at Epcot in Florida, followed by a year with Universal Studios.

Dad Peter then retired at the age of 76 and Sue began her studies.

Sue had heard of my research into grandfather Roy Barbour’s Blackpool career, in my book Blackpool’s Century of Stars, and bought a copy last week.

My mini-biog tells how Sheffield-born Roy came to Blackpool in 1923, to join comedian Fred Walmsley’s Tonics (pierrots) at the South Pier for a couple of seasons.

In 1927, Fred joined Lawrence Wright’s annual On With the Show, at the North Pier.

Roy joined the company in 1931 and took over the star spot, after Fred retired from summer season work in 1934.

Roy had created a revue show called Highlights of Blackpool, which he toured during the winter months. Little Jimmy Clitheroe got his first break in this show.

At this time Roy and his wife, Annie Marie, and their young family lived in Bournemouth Road, South Shore, but in 1939 they moved to a larger house in the next street – Boscombe Road.

Roy took “Highlights” on to six summer seasons at the Central Pier, 1943-48.

But his biggest triumph was in Zip Goes a Million, the comedy musical about Lancashire lad Percy Piggot, who had to squander a million in order to inherit even more from an eccentric uncle.

George Formby had created the part in the West End in 1951, but had a near-fatal heart attack.

Roy toured in the show, visiting the Blackpool Opera House for two weeks in October, 1953, and then taking it to Australia and New Zealand.

His last Blackpool appearance was as Idle Jack in Dick Whittington, at the Opera House, in 1956.