Inside new Ken Dodd inspired Blackpool museum of fun and laughter

By Staff

Watch our guided tour around £13million seaside attraction with artefacts from The Nolans, Strictly, Stan Laurel, Houdini , Tommy Cooper Walt Disney, Sooty and more

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Video Unavailable takes sneak peek at Showtown in Blackpool

Known in its heyday as the Las Vegas of the North, Blackpool hosted the best of British entertainers, comedy giant Ken Dodd among them. The gag-a-minute, tickling-stickwaving legend of Knotty Ash christened the seaside resort, Showtown.

And that is the name of a new £13million attraction celebrating all that is brilliant about its legendary performances.

Sir Ken’s widow, Lady Anne Dodd, says: “Ken would have loved this, Blackpool is what British entertainment’s all about.”

Showtown features hundreds of mementoes from entertainers who have performed in the Lancashire resort – from Sir Ken to Gracie Fields, George Formby, The Nolans, Sooty and Strictly.

The Mirror visited the new attraction. Many of the exhibits have been loaned by V&A museum in London and some others belonging to Blackpool Council.

We got to strum along on the banjo to George Formby’s 1937 ditty “With my little stick of Blackpool rock”, a number so laden with innuendo the BBC apparently refused to air parts of it on the radio.

Then there was Stan Laurel’s bowler hat, which he autographed and gave to a local magician after Laurel and Hardy played at Blackpool’s Palace Theatre in 1947.

In The Magic Room, Tommy Cooper’s famous fez is on display, along with some of his props and a hand-written running order for a performance.

Lady Anne, whose beloved Ken died in 2018, aged 90, says: “Many of the exhibits belong to people who were Sir Ken’s peers and friends.

“They’ve all gone—Roy Hudd, Eric Sykes, and Tommy Cooper. Back in those days, all the comedians had separate shows in Blackpool, but they would get together for all-star shows put on by each seaside resort.

“Ken used to love telling his Tommy Cooper stories – he had quite a few. Tommy had his fez and Ken had his tickling stick, which made them both recognisable.”

The Showtown opening is all the more poignant as it was six years ago this week that Lady Anne lost her beloved partner.

The couple had been together for 40 years, but got married just two days before his death on March 11, 2018. To mark what would have been their sixth wedding anniversary, Lady Anne says she spent the weekend watching Sir Ken’s old programmes to bring her some comfort.

She says: “That’s why it’s wonderful that something exists to preserve those MEMORIES – all those entertainers who got their start here.”

Sir Ken, who was knighted in the 2017 New Year Honours, is commemorated with a learning room for children, which also has a wonderful view of Blackpool beach.

Sir Ken and Lady Anne were unable to have children themselves, but donated much of their fortune to children’s charities and hospitals. Lady Anne has continued working for their charity the Ken Dodd Foundation, which, she says, has kept her busy, helping her cope with her grief. She says: “I miss Ken and talk to him, but I don’t expect him to answer. I’m grateful he got to 90. He had terrible health problems, but he had a lovely long life.”

Showtown has six galleries, showcasing Seaside, Magic, Illuminations, Shows, Dance, and Circus.

Exhibition manager Jill Carruthers says the Circus gallery has the smell of elephant dung piped into The Big Top to give it extra authenticity. She says as an entertainment capital, the 60s and 70s were when Blackpool was at its peak in terms of the number of shows on daily and the plethora of things to see along the Golden Mile. She says: “And we have seven miles of sandy beaches and that continues to be a draw.”

Now the rich history of this Vegas of the North, with exhibits from some of our most-loved showbiz icons are here to enjoy, too. We also saw Punch and Judy puppets from the 1880s, and Harry Houdini’s jailbreak door from an incredible stunt that he did in the town in 1905, where he escaped after being shackled inside a locked police cell.

There is also a jumpsuit and jacket from The Nolans tours during the 1970s, Gracie Fields’ clogs dating from 1934 and the Sooty puppet magician and puppeteer Harry Corbett bought in a magic shop on Blackpool North Pier in 1948.

On the museum’s Disney Wall, there is a letter from Walt Disney himself, dated 1965, the year before he died, and drawings of the Disney characters from the movie Aristocats, which were part of the Blackpool Illuminations in 1970.

In the letter, the American tycoon says he was pleased with Disney’s relationship with Blackpool and the fact that everything was going well with the Illuminations.

Jill says: “He had been invited to switch on the Illuminations but had to decline, I imagine due to poor health as he died the following year.

“Walt Disney saw being part of the Blackpool Illuminations as a very good promotional opportunity for his films. The letter on display is the only one from him that survived.” ¦ Showtown is inside the Sands building on Central Promenade and is now open.

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