On With the Show

Lawrence Wright

Aint misbehaving, Little White Lies, When the Guard are on Parade, Are We Downhearted? No! Lazybones, these are just some of the hundreds of titles of the songs from the shows in Blackpool during the first half of the 20th century, which form the legacy of local legend Lawrence Wright.

In 2014 Britain commemorated fifty years since the death of the impresario who, with his catchy tunes and live shows, such as his On With the Show, which ran in Blackpool from 1924 until 1956, and his involvement with the 1951 Festival of Britain was instrumental in forwarding Blackpool as the seaside capital of live light entertainment. But who was Lawrence Wright really and how was he connected with Blackpool?

There were many Lawrence Wrights, for he was an intensely private man, and incredibly successful music publisher and a talented musician. He also became an unintentional symbol of copyright issues and intellectual property rights arising from his entanglements with the BBC and the Performing Rights Society. His published songs such as Carolina Moon, Star Dust and the Blackpool walk wafted from performers in song booths across town and out over the sea. These songs and their singers captured the spirit of the interwar years, shaping an image of Blackpool as a seaside resort of music entertainment and pleasure.

Blackpool North Pier advertising On With the Show, Planning Department Collection

Today, little is known of the private man. By the time Lawrence Wright died in 1964, he had accumulated wealth, fame and success from his myriad business interests, media promotions and long running shows. The names of his many famous friends resonate even today – Dame Gracie Fields, Jack and Elsie Hylton, Reginald Dixon, George Formby, Jack Epstein, Max Miller and scores of others.

Today his words remain in his frequent letters to the Evening Gazette and his amusingly dictatorial instructions to correct formats for creating advertisements for promoting the town’s shows. His personal life in now known only from his chatty engaging memoirs and absorbing talks of show business which are related in staccato style and brief disjointed phrases that just hint at the man behind the glitzy persona of Lawrence Wright, who was, at various times, known as Horatio Nicholls, Gene Williams and Everett Lynton. Lawrence also exists on film in a few unreliable and grainy Pathe clips, where he is shown playing piano or singing with companions.

Born in 1888 in Leicester into a music loving family he, his father and his brother Horace played several musical instruments. Lawrence left school early, was apprenticed to a music publisher and later sold song sheets from a local market stall, establishing in 1906 the Lawrence Wright Music Company, which still exists today.

Buying the rights to publish the songs written by other composers entitled the Lawrence Wright Music Company to sell the words and music scores for performers to read and play at live outlets. A later and controversial development involved organisations such as the BBC recording these singers performing the songs and playing them through the radio. Recording performers throughout the town provoked important questions on ownership and privacy encouraging the imposing of strict regulations on copyright.

Today a national blue plaque in Leicester’s Conduit Street commemorates the beginning of Lawrence Wright’s music empire. Initially he wrote, performed and published his own songs and music, later publishing those written by others. His company’s first hit, ‘Don’t go Down the Mine Daddy’, published in 1910, is said to have sold one million song sheets and by 1912 he was working from his own London offices at 19 Denmark Street. This was known as Tin Pan Alley, and was considered the mecca of British popular music. In 1926 Lawrence founded the renowned and influential Melody Maker music magazine, although he would later relinquish control of this in order to focus on his other business interests.

Lawrence Wright Music Company office on Central Drive, the Buckley Collection

Blackpool was already famous for its live theatre and music, attracting visitors and investors like Lawrence Wright. Buying property in Blackpool, he perhaps remained in the area because of the sea air and atmosphere of leisure as much as for his investments and personal interests.

A relentless promoter and canny publicist, his creative exploits and media melodramas are legendary, for Lawrence Wright was an arch manipulator of public opinion. Still alive in accounts of Wrights businesses are wonderful tales of riding a camel around London’s Piccadilly Circus; of contracting Blackpool florists to deliver 500 flowers daily to his pier show stars; and of his dropping leaflets from a plane flying around Blackpool Tower to promote ‘Me and Jane in a Plane.’

Today, the name of Lawrence Wright is well-known and his company is internationally famous. His role in restructuring light entertainment in Britain is matched only by his part in reshaping Blackpool’s live theatres into a vibrant source of music and sheer fun. Lawrence Wright paved a golden path for future entrepreneurs, investors and entertainers.

Lynne Charoenkitsuksun

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