John Buck Friends Chair Steps Down

John Buck was one of the original group who raised the money to save the theatre from demolition in 1973.  He, along with other passionate and dedicated Friends, cleaned, repaired and painted in their spare time to get the building back on its feet ready for its reopening and dedication from HRH The Prince of Wales in 1981.  He became Chair in of The Friends in 2002, after the death of the previous incumbent George Thomson. The Friends organisation now has over 1,700 members.

It was back in 1981, when The Friends purchased the Grade II* listed building from the then owners, EMI.  However, crucially, the purchase did not include the row of shops below the dress circle on Church Street.  Since then, one of the main goals of The Friends was to purchase the shops under The Grand and return the theatre to its original footprint. John was delighted to have seen this come to fruition.

He said at the time ‘We were invited to buy the shops back in the 1990sbut, back then, the owners wanted more than a million pounds for them and we thought we’d never be able to raise that much.  And we were right! Obviously, times have changed, and, thankfully, we’ve been able raise enough to buy them for less than half that price!’.

On purchase, the deeds of the properties were donated to the Grand Theatre Trust, the heritage conservation charity which owns and cares for the beautiful historic building.

Roger Lloyd Jones, Blackpool Grand Theatre Trust Chair said; ‘Being able to put the last piece of the Grand Theatre jigsaw in place with the purchase of the shops was really the icing on the cake for The Trust.  I’d like to thank John, particularly, and all the Friends of the Grand for making this dream come true.  On a personal level, John is a lovely person and a much-loved gentleman and friend. Meeting him and the other hard-working band of volunteers always serve to make my visits to the theatre even more pleasurable.’

Early Friends of The Grand included such names as Violet Carson (Ena Sharples), Alistair Cooke, Sir Ken Dodd, Leslie Crowther, Tim West and Prunella Scales, Billy Pearce and Johnnie Casson.

But for the Friends of The Grand Chair, it all began in the pubs and clubs of Blackpool – where he tirelessly raised cash every weekend for the venue he helped save from demolition.  John says ‘The first event I did was held in the old Rumours in November 1985. Then the events got so popular the likes of Mike Lancaster and the late, great Les Dawson donated their time to appear at venues to help raise awareness and fundraise’. Since then many celebrities have helped support The Friends.

It was a month later, after a discussion with local businessman, Basil Newby MBE, that it was agreed to hold a big charity night at one of his clubs. Since then Basil’s company has supported The Friends on a regular basis with fundraising events at Funny Girls every year.

Over the last twenty-five years The Friends have contributed more than 1.7 million pounds towards projects including the provision of new carpets, seating and technical equipment. In 2015 The Friends provided huge help and support with the theatre’s Capital Project and in 2016 they purchased the shops under The Grand to restore the theatre building to Frank Matcham’s original footprint.

At 79 John’s got sand and seawater in his veins. Living in Carleton and Blackpool all his life, his maternal grandmother had a boarding house on Queen Street, where the Catholic Club now stands, and his paternal grandfather owned two horse drawn landaus on the promenade.

Always an avid theatre goer, John first became involved in The Grand’s bricks and mortar when he realised the resort was in danger of losing it. ‘When I read in The Gazette that they wanted to knock it down and build a Littlewoods store I was outraged,’ he says. ‘I’d got fed up of seeing theatres disappear and that’s how I first got involved with what became the Friends of The Grand and their campaign to save the theatre’.

Tony Stone, Blackpool Grand Theatre (Arts and Entertainment) Chair observed ‘Had it not been for you, John, and the tireless band of dedicated volunteers, this theatre might have ceased to exist. Long may you continue to enjoy it and the shows it offers to the folk of Blackpool and the surrounding areas’.

John said of his resignation ‘It is with regret that I am offering my resignation as Chair of The Friends’, due to recent illness and being unable to ‘offer my all as Chair and recover at the same time’ and ‘with regret’, ‘I offer my resignation’.

John finished by saying ‘Being Chair has been a large part of my life of which I have enjoyed every minute, in fact I’m already missing all of you. Carry on the good work’.

Amanda Thompson OBE, Patron of the Grand Theatre, Managing Director at Blackpool Pleasure Beach added ‘It is with a huge amount of pride that I find myself writing about the wonderful services John Buck has shown the Grand Theatre. 

‘He has championed the Friends of the Grand for as long as I can remember. He has shown with passion and dedication that you truly can make a difference and raise the money that is needed to continuously support this wonderful theatre. He has dedicated his life to this cause and shown us all how special this lovely building is to our town and the community. We can take our hats off to him and bow down in gratitude. Thank you, John, for your dedication and leadership of the Friends of the Grand and raising so much money that has been gratefully received and so well invested.’

Everyone at the theatre says John will be missed.