THE SHOW MUST GO ON

Lancashire Life - - WILDLIFE -

Pre­ston en­trepreneur Thomas Ser­gen­son was the Vic­to­rian be­hind the story of the Grand. In the 1880s he had been sav­ing prof­its from his three rented theatres in the re­sort to splash out on a pur­pose-built modern attraction. He bought land on Church Street and promptly found the nearby Win­ter Gar­dens re­build­ing its own the­atre for fear of com­pe­ti­tion. Ser­gen­son sat back and put shops and a cir­cus on his site to see how things went, but when – six years later – Black­pool Tower Com­pany re­vealed plans for a cus­tom-built cir­cus he then hired leading the­atre ar­chi­tect Frank Matcham to de­sign what was to be­came his masterpiec­e, at a cost of £20,000.

The Grand opened, on July 23, 1894, with a per­for­mance of Ham­let, and quickly at­tracted some of the leading stars of the day be­fore Ser­gen­son sold out to the Tower Com­pany in 1909. For the next 60 years the Grand, and Black­pool it­self, pros­pered.

In the 1970s it faced its biggest threat, from plans to de­mol­ish the building and re­de­velop the site by thenown­ers EMI. Protests, a pub­lic in­quiry and fundrais­ing re­sulted in a Grand The­atre Trust buy­ing the building for £250,000. On March 23, 1981 it re-opened, with more Shake­speare (Ti­mothy West and Prunella Scales in The Mer­chant of Venice). Two months later a Royal Va­ri­ety Per­for­mance, at­tended by Prince Charles, was the first of sev­eral Royal vis­its – Prince Ed­ward in 1989 and the Queen in 1994. Thomas Ser­gen­son, for one, would be de­lighted to know that the Grand show must go on . . .

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