Record-breaking runs for summer season shows

Charlie Chester recording for his radio show for the BBC in 1995
Charlie Chester recording for his radio show for the BBC in 1995

Most readers enjoy a bit of showbiz nostalgia, but it is becoming clear that a generation has grown up without knowing anything about Blackpool’s huge summer season shows.

In fact, the term “summer season show” has taken on a new meaning among younger folk.

Some understand it to mean any show – even a one-nighter – that takes place during the summer.

Stories about several theatres simultaneously having shows that ran twice nightly for about 16 weeks are hard to believe.

But even your veteran scribe was surprised to come across a Gazette news item that reported on a Blackpool show that ran for 19 weeks and sold more than 700,000 tickets.

Already you are thinking the only place it could have happened was the Opera House.

But when? Was it due to Doddy?

Well, Sir Ken Dodd did pack ‘em in during his four 1960s summer seasons in the big theatre, but his first house shows often had a few empty seats.

The report about the 1948 show’s success was dated October 16, 1948, and it was revealed by the then chairman of the Blackpool Tower and Winter Gardens Company, Mr H. Douglas Bickerstaffe.

He was speaking to 300 guests at the end of season party of Sky High, which starred comedian Charlie Chester and his radio show gang.

“Over 700,000 people saw Sky High,” he said.

With 228 performances (it ran twice nightly), it works out as an average of 3,070 tickets sold per show.

The licensed capacity of the Opera House was 3,150, which included standing room for 230. So Sky High lived up to its title.

It was the first of 21 Opera House summer season shows to be produced by the brothers George and Alfred Black.

Charlie Chester’s company included Arthur Haynes, Ken Marten, Ken Morris, Frederick Ferrari, Edwina Carol and 18 Tiller Girls.

The show was re-booked for the 1949 season with the title Midsummer Madness and the addition of the American mime act of George and Bert Bernard.

The was a longer summer show in the starry history of the Opera House.

In 1989, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats ran for 24 weeks in its first provincial season and the maestro himself was regularly seen at the theatre.

The show opened in May 26 and closed on November 6.

The success of Cats confirmed a prediction made four years earlier by Lord Delfont.

The chairman of First Leisure Corporation, who owned the theatre, had said that musicals would displace variety revues as summer season shows.

And it is musicals that make up the Opera House programming today.