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Blackpool World War 1939 to 1945. Blackpool was a vibrant town in the war years. It was considered less likely to face attack than towns in the South and East of Britain and had a ready-made supply of accommodation.
Many hundreds of soldiers and airmen were billeted to Blackpool which was the biggest RAF recruiting centre over 20,000 American airmen were placed at RAF Warton airfield.
With many re-located civil servants and evacuees, it is not surprising that entertainment was much in demand. Owing to the bombing of London, most West End theatres were closed and many plays were premiered at Blackpool’s very own Grand Theatre. The bright lights of the London stages came to Blackpool.
Blackpool during the World War II
The introduction of the blackout from early September 1939, and more importantly the start of the London ‘Blitz’ a year later, led to massive disruption of the entertainment industry in general. The theatre world in particular, overnight theatres closed down with several of them never to reopen. London’s West End was thrown into chaos.
Two theatres started up again when restrictions were eased in mid September 1939. One was The Windmill which offered a programme of humour, music, it claimed ‘We never close’, claiming it was the only theatre never to. A strong claim when most provincial theatres, including the Blackpool Grand remained open.
During the war the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA) collaborated with existing companies to bring high quality productions to local audiences. In 1940 the Sadlers Wells Ballet brought Margot Fonteyn, Frederick Ashton and Robert Helpmann. The Old Vic Company commenced a long association with Blackpool’s Grand, with stars such as Jean Forbes-Robertson in the Merchant of Venice (1942) and Flora Robson in Guilty (1944).
Blackpool was a major war centre
The theatres thrived, with fourteen different show every night, for most of the war. The audiences came not only from holidaymakers who kept coming to the resort as a morale-booster but also from the influx of 4,000 relocated civil servants, the 38,000 evacuees. The huge growth in service personnel, 45,000 airmen were billeted in the town. These people poured into the theatres for their off-duty entertainment. The Americans, based at Warton were particularly prominent, and generous with their money. The Blackpool entertainment industry prospered as never before.
World War plays
Many of the plays had a war theme. Blackpool shows included; War & Peace (1943), They Also Served (1944), Flare Path (1944), Desert Rats (1945). In 1944 the United States 8th Airforce in Skirts, an all American musical adventure.
Noel Coward’s Play Parade…
In 1942 Noel Coward presented Play Parade which featured; Present Laughter, Blithe Spirit & This Happy Breed. World premieres included The Devil’s Disciple with Robert Donat in 1940. In 1943, Lupino Lane in La-Di-Da-Di-Da, Richard Attenborough in Brighton Rock, Tomorrow’s Eden with Diana Churchill (1944) and Duet for Two Hands with John Mills in 1945.
Programmes during war time…
Paper was scare and needed for the war which had an impact on the size of the programmes at the theatre. This was just at the beginning on the war until resources could be found. Below is a copy of one of the brochures from the war time, costing Two Pence and no bigger than your palm.
From 1942 onwards, the programmes always featured a photograph of the star on the cover.
Blackpool Grand Theatre 1894 onwards
Learn more about our history by talking part in one of our Heritage Tours.
Blackpool Grand Theatre
Take a look at what’s on at Blackpool Grand Theatre this Autumn / Winter 20/21
Blackpool Grand set out a COVID-Community Communication Programme (CCCP) during the Coronavirus pandemic. Our aims were simple, to CONNECT, COMFORT and UPLIFT. We would Connect people by offering tutorials on communication tools like Zoom and conduct community face-to-face meetings (book readings, youth groups and more). Comfort through stories of heritage, memories and storytelling, and to Uplift visitors spirits through laughter and exercise. Please do enjoy and if you can afford to donate please do.
The information in this story is accurate as of the publication date. While we are attempting to keep our content as up-to-date as possible, the situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic continues to develop rapidly, so it’s possible that some information and recommendations may have changed since publishing. For any concerns and latest advice around COVID-19, visit the World Health Organisation. If you’re in the UK, the National Health Service can also provide useful information and support, while US users can contact the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
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