Barry Band: Fitting Blackpool Grand Theatre end to the fabulous 40s

To conclude our look back at the 1940s in this 125th year of Blackpool’s Grand Theatre, we have Britain’s top two film actors. But not in the same play.

Friday, 5th April 2019, 12:22 pm
Updated Friday, 5th April 2019, 12:29 pm
Jean Simmons and Stewart Granger at the Clifton Hotel, Blackpool, in March 1949
Jean Simmons and Stewart Granger at the Clifton Hotel, Blackpool, in March 1949

In 1949, Stewart Granger tackled a dramatic work by Leo Tolstoy, while Margaret Lockwood embraced the comedic delights of Noel Coward.

The handsome Mr Granger (1913-1994) was returning to the stage after starring in several Gainsborough and Rank pictures and was seeking a bit of gravitas as the arrogant Nikita in Tolstoy’s The Power of Darkness, guided by Britain’s new “boy wonder” director, Peter Glenville.

It came to the Grand in March, prior to London, and to quote the Gazette’s Bill Burgess it was an evening of brilliant acting in a powerful “peasant play” set in 19th century Russia.

But he warned: “There are no easy concessions to the film public.”

A distinguished cast included Stewart Granger’s future wife, the beautiful Jean Simmons (1929-2010).

A few weeks later, Bill Burgess received a bitter letter from the actor, saying the London critics had been unfair to the play. It lasted only a few nights at the Lyric Theatre.

Mr Granger and Miss Simmons took off for Hollywood and had golden careers.

In May, 1949, Margaret Lockwood (1916-1992) made her return to the stage in Noel Coward’s Private Lives with Bill Burgess writing: “Margaret Lockwood performed a public duty at the Grand Theatre last night. She helped to dispel the notion that film stars, or beautiful women whose names have been made in the screen, cannot act.”

She played Amanda with spirit and began a love affair with Grand theatregoers, becoming one of the few personalities to always command good houses in the declining years of the Grand.

Burgess said that in Private Lives she had a worthy sparring partner in Peter Graves, as Elyot. In a curtain speech on the opening night Miss Lockwood said: “We’ve had lots of fun up here tonight.”

On the Tuesday evening they had even more fun. In the famous tussle in act two Mr Graves got the better of it and flung Miss Lockwood against the tea trolley, which careered across the stage and into the orchestra pit. The audience shrieked with laughter.

In October, the Grand saw the first Blackpool appearance together, after their screen stardom in My Brother Jonathan and The Glass Mountain, of Michael Denison and Dulcie Gray.

They starred in the farce Queen Elizabeth Slept Here, adapted by Talbot Rothwell from a Broadway comedy by the renowned George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart.

It brought one of Bill Burgess’s gentle put-downs in his Gazette review – “A slender jest enlivened by a great deal of ingenious embroidery.”

The biggest ‘show’ of the autumn was happening on the theatre’s exterior. The stonework and roof were pointed and the dome and ‘pineapple’ were cleaned and repaired.

The outside work preceded a total refurbishment of the Grand’s interior in April and May of 1950.