“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The previously unpublished picture above shows George and Beryl Formby in Cairo during the war, with Harry’s son, William Smirk.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.