THE SHOW MUST GO ON
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 . . .