Roll Up, Roll Up!

Introducing Blackpool’s newest attraction, Showtown offers an immersive experience that captures the spirit of Blackpool and will make you see the town in a whole new light as Alma Stewart discovers

It has been nine years in the making, but at last, Blackpool has opened the first museum in its history. But this is not just any museum. This is a story of the ‘Las Vegas of the North’ in all its glittering glory. Here you can discover the stories of the comedians, dancers, acrobats and characters who turned the resort into the home of show business.

Showtown, the museum of fun and entertainment located on the Golden Mile, is operated and managed by the Blackpool Heritage and Museum Trust with the Chair of Trustees, Spencer Phillips, bringing his wealth of knowledge from 30 years in the entertainments industry.

His career has seen him hold senior leadership positions with, amongst others, Ticketmaster, Thomson Holidays, International Cruise and Excursions, Really Useful Theatres Group (now LW Theatres) and TCAT. Spencer said: “Showtown is the first museum in Blackpool and the first venue to celebrate all the genres of fun the town has delivered over so many years. Of course, dancing has been one of the main attractions in Blackpool and also the art of magic. The Illuminations are world renowned, and the stories of elephants being taken for a bath in the sea can only be associated with Blackpool!”

Spencer’s wife, who comes from the North West, has fond childhood memories of holidaying in Blackpool so Spencer got to know the town well on subsequent trips.

“I have been back to Blackpool many times over 23 years, long before the latest regeneration started. Blackpool has a long history of being the centre point of the entertainment history. All the major UK acts have played the resort, whether that be at one of the many theatres and clubs or piers.”

And the list of entertainment greats who have performed at Blackpool is more than impressive. Morecambe and Wise, Judy Garland, Ken Dodd, Will Smith, Cannon and Ball, Peter Kay and Royal Variety Performances have been held at the Opera House. It is probably easier to list the people who haven’t appeared in Blackpool than it is to name all the big names that have graced its stages. Even Frank Sinatra has performed in Blackpool!

Spencer continued: “For me, my personal heroes who played Blackpool were Morecambe and Wise and Ken Dodd, who I had the pleasure of working with a number of times. Doddy completed the most performances in Blackpool and we are most grateful that The Ken Dodd Charitable Trust has made a generous donation to Showtown. We have created the Sir Ken Dodd Learning Space which will help local young people to reclaim their rich entertainment heritage, develop a genuine sense of pride, and nurture future aspirations in the arts.”

From 1962, Ken topped the bill and held the record for six seasons at the Blackpool Opera House with sell-out shows. In 2011, he also opened the resort’s Comedy Carpet, where his jokes combine with those of a host of other writers and comedians with connections to the town. Morecambe and Wise’s links with Blackpool spanned 36 years with appearances in seven of the town’s theatres and six summer season shows. Eric and Ernie first appeared at the old Palace Theatre in 1940. Frank Sinatra played the Winter Gardens twice – in 1950 and 1953. These huge stars and many more are reflected within the museum’s bright and innovative displays.

Showtown’s home is within the Sands Venue Resort, next door but one to The Blackpool Tower. The museum contains six themed galleries that tell the story of shows, dance, magic, circus, the seaside and of course, the Illuminations.

But that’s not all.

Showtown will also feature a temporary exhibition space with regularly changing exhibitions to complement the main gallery spaces. Together with an amazing programme of events ranging from talks, tours, workshops and baby and toddler sessions, there is literally something to entertain everyone.

People love Blackpool because the town loves fun and entertainment. Spencer added: “Showtown is a place for people to have a good time – for sheer enjoyment and fun. The cast and crew are part of the experience. There are many ways they engage with the ‘big show’ experience. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing visitors take part in the interactive experiences. Local artists have donated a number of items for display including Linda Nolan and Bobby Ball. Our featured artists are part of British culture, icons of entertainment. They are in our cultural DNA. It’s hard to believe the audiences stars attracted back in the day. Cannon and Ball commanded a TV audience of 20 million every Saturday night – astounding.”

There are other objects on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum which include Tommy Cooper’s ‘headtwister’ illusion magic trick and costumes worn by Morecambe and Wise. A rare signed black bowler hat which was owned by film and comedy star Stan Laurel will also be on view. Visitors can also enjoy The Blackpool Tower and Winter Gardens Archive – the largest collection of entertainment history in the town exploring its 125-year circus history. As one of the dance capitals in the UK and of course, the host of the annual Blackpool BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing weekend, dance fans can marvel at glittering ballroom dresses on display and find out about how they are made. Visitors will also discover why Blackpool is called the ‘spiritual home of ballroom’.

The Chief Executive of Showtown is Elizabeth Moss who brings a wealth of knowledge from a mix of commercial, cultural and heritage visitor attractions, museums and galleries. She said: “The lights are on, the curtain is up and we can’t wait to welcome people to Showtown. The opening of the museum was a significant moment for us and for Blackpool. Fun and amusement sit at the very heart of our innovative and world class museum which celebrates this incredible town’s entertainment history and the people who have put it on the map. We have reimagined how a museum should be, through our innovative displays and interactives which sit alongside Blackpool’s own rich collection as well as key loans from international institutions and the performers themselves. These objects will delight and inform while the immersive activities throughout the galleries will allow our visitors to go behind the scenes, experiencing the very best of Blackpool.”

Spencer concluded: “Another great feature is that those living within the Blackpool postcodes can enter for free. The whole team and I look forward to welcoming you all – we think you are going to love it!”

Images courtesy of Casson Mann and Showtown Blackpool ©Hufton+Crow



Tedd Walmsley

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