With the sad news of the passing of the wonderful Sir Ken Dodd, archivists Ted and Ann Lightbown recall his connection with the Winter Gardens and the Town.
Although Ken Dodd’s first appearances in Blackpool were in the 1950s at Central Pier and other theatres in the resort, his popularity found him top of the bill in George and Alfred Black’s Summer Season show ‘The Big Show of 1962’ at the Opera House alongside the Kaye Sisters and trumpeter Eddie Calvert.
He returned to headline at the Opera House for the 1964 Summer Season. It was at the end of the second house performance on 24th July that, for once, Ken was not asked to wind up his act, but to carry on, as a Rolling Stones concert in the adjacent Empress Ballroom had ended in a riot and the management didn’t want both audiences to meet in the Floral Hall.
His Summer Season billing continued in 1966 and 1968 and a few years later in the ‘The Ken Dodd Laughter Spectacular 1971’. Throughout the 1970s he regularly starred in the Harold Fielding Sunday evening concerts on the Opera House stage, making as many as five appearances in one year.
His last headline Summer Season at the Opera House, which he described as the best theatre he had ever worked in, was ‘Laughter Spectacular ‘81’. It is for this show that you will find his name on the Opera House Roll of Honour in the Winter Gardens Church Street Entrance. The names of other artists had to be sought for the board for the other years he had topped the bill, to avoid duplication.
Ken then concentrated on one-night performances, which for Blackpool were mainly at the Grand Theatre. In more recent years Ken appeared on the Opera House Stage during the annual Magicians Conventions in his capacity of the Honorary Life President of the Blackpool Magicians Club.