Barry Band: Hot and bothered about the old Church Street

The Grand Theatre, before the Royal Performance in May 1981
The Grand Theatre, before the Royal Performance in May 1981

Tuesday morning and it’s another hot one!

Not ideal weather for a jacket and tie engagement.

The ABC Hippodrome, Church Street, Blackpool, in 1955

The ABC Hippodrome, Church Street, Blackpool, in 1955

But this was at Poulton-le-Fylde Probus Club with the fee going to the North West Air Ambulance Charity.

Probus men are jacket and tie guys, I assured myself.

One has to maintain standards – so I selected my small-check Debenham’s sports jacket (£12 at the Air Ambulance charity shop in Lytham) to wear over a white short-sleeved shirt and burgundy tie.

By the time I arrived at the River Wyre Hotel the temperature was on the rise.

The Opera House, at Blackpool Winter Gardens

The Opera House, at Blackpool Winter Gardens

Chairman Stephen Earnshaw was correctly attired.

The chain of office wouldn’t look right on an open-neck shirt!

But more than half the 30 members present were keeping cool.

I toughed it out in jacket and tie.

On the desk they had the title of my talk as History of Theatres.

“No, we’d need at least three days for that,” I joked.

“The title is Blackpool’s Street of Theatres.”

Can nostalgia be topical? I produced the front page of Monday’s Daily Mail, which blared: Save Our High Streets.

Not the first newspaper to sound the alarm on a situation that was obvious to readers – but not our leaders – years ago.

I attempted to convince the members that as Church Street was a High Street and also our Street of Theatres nostalgia was topical!

This once proud retail street has been in a shabby state for years.

The gist of my talk was that in the 1950s, there were five theatre stage doors within a few yards of Church Street.

The theatres were the Palace, the Grand, the Opera House, the Winter Gardens Pavilion and the ABC.

Only The Grand and the Opera House are still open.

In the summer seasons of the 50s, hundreds of musicians, dancers, singers, performers and helpers would gravitate to the welcoming shops, many of which were locally-owned.

Church Street had 12 gents’ outfitters, six ladies gown shops, four shoe shops, three jewellers, two hairdressers – and a UCP cafe.

Tell the kids what UCP stood for. United Cow Products.

“What was that, grandad?

You could try to explain about tripe and onions, but you’ll be safer with another word: Meat.

The big test in delivering a talk on a hot day is to reach the end without anyone resting their eyes.

The Poulton Probians were alert!

Later, Brian Ripley came forward with a lovely anecdote. He trod the boards of the old Palace – after it was demolished!

In 1962, he bought a truck load of Palace floor boards from the demolition contractors for a house he was having built at Anchorsholme.

The club for retired professional and business men was founded in 1977 and has 46 members.

It meets on Tuesday mornings for coffee, a chat and a guest speaker. Anyone interested in joining can phone the secretary, John Proud, on (01253) 356392.

I repeated the talk on Wednesday for the Fleetwood Museum volunteers and their guests.