Hidden among our happy hoard of Heritage Tour Guides is a modest man of many talents, Des Owen. You’ll usually find him bringing up the rear of a tour as a trusty support guide. But, once prompted into action, Des has a wealth of his own stories to tell about Blackpool’s world of variety entertainment. Des’s own rise to fame as a successful song and dance man, has its roots in a fascinating story.
When he was only four years old and living in his home town of Cannock Chase, Des was diagnosed with a rare form of child arthritis which affected his bones and threatened his mobility. One of his specialists recommended to Des’s parents that they send him to dance lessons to improve the suppleness in his knees. From those early experiences, Des was destined for a life on the stage.
Not only did the dance improve Des’s medical condition, but his performing talent took him on to many theatre schools where he shone in the spotlight.
Des managed to achieve sporting success, captaining his local football team and becoming the Clarion National Track Cycling Champion, even competing in Olympic trials for Helsinki – not bad for a boy with dodgy knees!
But it was on stage that Des was happiest and before long he found himself leading a busy life as a Butlins Redcoat, performing all over the U.K. It was during one of these stints that he met his wife, Julie, also a singer, and they went on to share the bill at many venues. Des spent many years at the Summerland entertainment complex on the Isle of Man, before embarking on a successful career in a number of Blackpool venues.
A number of opportunities presented themselves to Des over the years as a result of his captivating stage presence. These included numerous TV appearances in adverts and period dramas as well as several pantomime appearances. His classic crooning songs were accompanied by tap routines and Des also became a compere and front man. One of his favourite memories is of the Old Time Music Hall appearances on the Central Pier with the likes of Eric Delaney and Mark Raffles.
Des has seen the great stars of variety come and go during his many decades on the stage. When I asked him if there was one performer who stood out from the crowd there was no hesitation. ‘Doddy,’ he said ‘is a true professional - a great performer but also a man who has done so much for charity and for encouraging new talent.’
Now Des is doing the same himself and putting a little back into the business. As a volunteer in Blackpool’s Heritage world, he is keen to see that the great variety stars are not forgotten. He is hopeful that the new Blackpool Museum Project will keep alive that magical part of Blackpool’s past that gave Des his happiest moments on the stage.