Hetty King and Joe Brown are added to league table with Sir Ken Dodd who visited Blackpool for straight 63 years
By Barry Band
Recent articles on the long spans of performers’ visits to Blackpool’s Grand Theatre have raised a pertinent question.Dulcie Gray came to the Grand for 58 years (from 1943 to 2001) but what if we brought other local theatres into play?
Dulcie’s total wouldn’t change but five performers move ahead of her in the “league table” of Blackpool appearances. However, most readers will know only two of them; Ken Dodd and Joe Brown.
The artist with the longest connection - 65 years - was male impersonator Hetty King (Winifred Emms) who was born at New Brighton in 1883 and died in 1972.
She first appeared at the Blackpool Alhambra for a week in December, 1899, when she was 16.
She became a star before her next visit, in 1906, after the Alhambra had been relaunched as the Palace, and regularly appeared there until it’s closure in 1961.
She was in an old time music hall spot in bill-topper Frankie Vaughan’s summer season show.
But Hetty hadn’t finished. In 1964 she had a similar spot in the Mike and Bernie Winters summer show at the North Pier.
The veteran entertainer’s 65-year span of Blackpool appearances puts her a couple of years ahead of Ken Dodd and Sandy Powell, who each had 63 years to their credit.
Sir Ken had the edge with a straight 63 years; October 1954 at the old Queen’s Theatre to several Sunday concerts at the Grand in the autumn of 2017.
As a star of 10 Blackpool summer seasons (twice nightly) Doddy did many more performances than any other artist on our list.
A fair estimate is close to 2,000 summer show appearances.
His Sunday concert performances, split between the Opera House and the Grand Theatre from 1970 to 2017, will add at least 250.
The Blackpool credits of comedian Sandy Powell were just two months short of Doddy’s.
His first visit was to the Palace in June 1918, when he was 18, and his last was to the Grand in April 1981, the year before he died.
Next in the league table of Blackpool appearances is the vocalist GH Elliott, who went through his adult career in black face make-up.
He first came to the Raikes Hall Gardens as 13-year-old Master George Elliott in 1897 and last appeared in the resort at the Queen’s in November 1959 (with Hetty King) in a Thanks for the Memory tour.
It gave him a 62-year Blackpool link and fourth place in the league table.
In fifth place with a span of 60 years is guitarist Joe Brown, thanks to his performance at the Grand, in January, 2020, just prior to the Covid 19 lockdown.
Watching Joe in a 2017 concert at the Grand it was hard to believe his first Blackpool date was in 1960.
It was a summer season of pop shows with Tommy Bruce, Georgie Fame and others, on weekday afternoons and Sunday nights at the Queen’s Theatre.
Joe did a dozen or so visits in impresario Larry Parnes’s tours visiting Blackpool and was the Top Musical Personality in a 1962 NME poll after topping the charts with A Picture of You.
In 1964 he was one of the musical acts in a summer season at the South Pier.
In the new Millennium Joe became a frequent visitor with his band to the Grand in one-nighters.