Whilst researching a piece for one of the better guest houses in Blackpool, I came across the programme on BBC iPlayer called Blackpool Big Night Out.
Not being a Northerner, the allure of Blackpool had rather passed me by but, if you were an entertainer in the last hundred years, that was the place that many would have either got their big break or else received confirmation that they had made it to the big time.
To see various famous comedians talk so fondly of the place was quite eye opening. And not just because of its relationship to their own celebrity but for the place itself.
Ken Dodd reminisced about the Grand Theatre there and how it was the most beautiful of the many ‘pleasuredromes’ built for the working classes by Frank Matcham.
I had never heard of Mr Matcham and so, naturally, I googled him. Which is when I discovered that he had died on Matcham died on 18 May 1920 at 28 Westcliff Parade, Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, before being buried in Highgate Cemetery.
He was actually born in Newton Abbot in Devon and raised by the sea in Torbay, but moved to London to pursue his career in architecture. He married his boss’s daughter, before taking over the practise on the death of his father-in-law and completing his work on the Elephant and Castle Theatre.
Despite having received no formal architectural education, Frank Matcham learned on the job and became famous for his use of steel cantilevers in his designs, which allowed balconies to be built out into the theatre without the use of pillars supporting each tier, which improved the view of the stage and increased audience capacity – something that made him popular with theatre owners.
He was responsible for the designs of a huge list of theatres:
The interior of the Theatre Royal, Newcastle;
Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham (1891);
the Blackpool Grand Theatre, the Theatre Royal, Wakefield and
the Buxton Opera House (1894);
Grand Opera House (opened December 1895) on Great Victoria Street, Belfast;
the Hackney Empire, London (1901);
the Royal Hall (Kursaal) in Harrogate (1903);
the London Coliseum (1904);
King’s Theatre, Glasgow in 1904
His Majesty’s Theatre, Belfast in 1904
the Liverpool Olympia (1905);
the London Palladium (1910);
the Victoria Palace, London (1911).
It’s a shame that I could not find a link to the Cliffs Pavilion or the Southend Kursaal but he’s still a famous denizen that we ought to shout about.