- “Boxing By The Sea”
A new book, “Boxing By The Sea” tells the story of professional boxing at The Winter Gardens between 1928 and 1964. Boxing historian Larry Braysher has unearthed a wealth of previously unpublished information and his book is illustrated with plenty of photos and memorabilia from the days when Morecambe Winter Gardens was one of North West England’s most significant boxing venues. Larry has also tracked-down some of the boxers, enabling him to tell their fascinating stories.
Copies can be purchased at the Visitor Information Centre in Morecambe, or ordered from: Larry Braysher, “Cherry Trees”, 10 Cragg Drive, Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria LA11 6BL. You can also contact Larry on 015395 35459. The book costs £10.90 plus £2.50 post & packing.
George and Beryl Formby with William Smirk.
“I am particularly glad to come to Morecambe because I always feel so at home here and because Mr Harry Smirk of the Winter Gardens and myself are old pals. We always have a cup of tea together – with a drop in it: funeral tea.”
George Formby – speaking on stage at the Winter Gardens, Feb 1940.
Harry Smirk was the Managing Director of the Winter Gardens from the mid-1930s, until his death in the early 1950s. Harry was arguably responsible for the heyday of the theatre, when it attracted the biggest stars of stage, screen and radio. He also oversaw a major refurbishment in 1934, which brought the theatre interior ’up-to-date’. His work for charities, particularly during the war years, raised many thousands of pounds and earnt him the respect and gratitude of many. Harry personally booked all of the acts for the theatre and consequently became friends with many stars, including George Formby, who made a number of visits to Morecambe.
Now, thanks to the kindness of Harry’s family, we have been loaned material from the Harry Smirk collection, which we will catalogue and add to the existing archive of the Winter Gardens.
The previously unpublished picture above shows George and Beryl Formby in Cairo during the war, with Harry’s son, William Smirk. William was a Corporal in the RAF and through his father, he knew the Formby’s well. When George and Beryl visited Cairo to entertain the troops on behalf of ENSA, William acted as their host. During the visit, George was invited aboard one of the Royal Navy vessels, but William was refused permission to join him because he was only “other ranks” (i.e Corporal) not officer rank. George chipped-in, “Well, if you won’t let him aboard, then i’m not coming on – he’s my boss.” Needless to say, William was granted permission to join George aboard ship.
Our thanks to the Smirk family for the kind loan of the material. Photograph (c) J.Smirk.
MAODS rehearse The Desert Song
A fascinating glimpse into Winter Gardens history has appeared on YouTube, thanks to local man Doug Armitage. Doug’s 8mm cine film was shot in the theatre in 1973 and 1974 and shows the Morecambe Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society rehearsals for The Desert Song and The Merry Widow. Although the film has no sound, it showcases the wonderful sets and costumes which graced these amateur productions and which were typical of the high standard of shows that local groups staged in the theatre.
Doug takes-up the story: “I took part of the film and a friend took the bits that I appear in. My wife, Janis, and I met at rehearsals in 1967 for the first production of Camelot (the UK amateur premiere), when the Producer was Dorothy Hardy.
The extracts in the film from The Desert Song and The Merry Widow include a Dress Rehearsal, during which the lights were up and down as the Lighting staff received Dorothy’s directions, hence the poor quality in places.
In the Desert Song I played Mindar, a bit part and Janis played Azuri, a lead role. In The Merry Widow I was Kromov (misspelt Krohov in the Programme) and Janis was a Grisette, Margot.
They were fantastic years for us, with very happy memories of all the shows that we were in.”
Doug’s film is a fascinating (and very rare) glimpse of the theatre during it’s working life. In fact, aside from this and the 1960 movie “The Entertainer”, there is virtually no film of the theatre or ballroom known to exist. Unless you know different?
Watch Doug’s film here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B73KZmEo5tM