Chloe Bowerbank explores the story of Jack Hylton, the great British bandleader and impresario. Chloe is a Lancaster University student and has recently completed a research project with the Blackpool Museum Project.

All roads lead to Jack Hylton

Since I began my research into the entertainers that made Blackpool famous worldwide, one name has cropped up time and time again, Jack Hylton. But who was he?

From Bolton to Bandleader

Jack Hylton was a British musician, bandleader and producer. He was born on the 2nd July 1892 in a village just outside Bolton in Lancashire. His mother was a schoolteacher and his father was a yarn twister at the local cotton mill.  Hylton was introduced to performing through his father, who was a trade unionist and an amateur singer at the local socialist Clarion Club. The Clarion Club offered music lessons and soon young Jack was accompanying his father on the piano. By the age of 13 he was performing in a troupe called E.H. Williams Merrie Men Of Rhyl. When he was 17 he became the musical director of a touring pantomime company. This was his first experience conducting music, and the beginning of his career as a bandleader.

Move to London

Hylton soon moved on from directing pantomime music. He went to London in 1914 where he found work as a cinema organist and then as a pianist at the highly fashionable 400 Club. At the outbreak of the First World War he joined the 20th Hussars, later becoming a musical director in the Army Entertainment Division which entertained the troops in France and back in Britain.

When he was de-mobbed, Hylton teamed up with Tommy Handley and the two men toured as a double act. His first visit to Blackpool in 1919, however, was not as an entertainer, but as a publisher of music. He would write songs in the popular style of the day, print a batch of one thousand, and sell copies on the promenade at sixpence each.

Recording artist

In the 1920s he signed a contract with the Gramophone Company issuing dance music records on their HMV label. First he recorded popular songs with the Queens Dance Orchestra and later under his own name.

Jack Hylton quickly became a dominant force in the dance band scene. His performances were varied, including soloists and variety acts. His fame soon spread and he conducted many national and European tours. His influence at home and abroad led to Duke Ellington and his Orchestra coming over to Britain, sponsored by Hylton. This was the first real exposure of American Jazz in the UK. Ellington’s six week tour in 1933 was a great success and included a stop at the Blackpool Tower Ballroom attended by 3000 people. It helped cement Jack Hylton as a producer.

Jack Hylton the Showman

In the 1940s, Jack Hylton’s band was dispersed due to war service and he turned towards becoming an entertainment impresario. He scouted out new talent and his shows quickly dominated London and other entertainment centres including Blackpool.

Image of Jack Hylton with a large group of people on North Pier, 1930s

Jack Hylton frequently performed and produced shows in Blackpool © Blackpool Council.

His plays and shows were regularly featured in the summer season. These shows often included big names such as Arthur Askey, and Hylton is also credited with helping to bring together the quintessential British comedy duo, Morecambe and Wise. He also experimented with different forms of entertainment often filming the plays he produced and showing them on ATV, the precursor to ITV. He also decided to bring the recording of The Archers up to Blackpool, helping to bridge the gap between ‘Southern’ and ‘Northern’ entertainment.

A Royal Achievement

It was in Blackpool where Jack Hylton put on the greatest show of his life; a Royal Variety Performance, attended by Her Majesty the Queen. This took place on 13th April 1955 in the Opera House. The show featured;  George Formby, Morecambe and Wise, Arthur Askey, Geraldo and his Orchestra, Alma Cogan, Charlie Cairoli, Al Read, and many other notable performers of the time.

Image of ticket to the Royal Variety Performance, Blackpool, 1955 © Blackpool Council.

Jack Hylton was the producer of the Royal Variety Performance in 1955 at the Blackpool Opera House. © Blackpool Council.

The Royal Variety Performance was a crowning achievement of Jack’s amazing career. Jack Hylton died on the 29th of January 1965, but his legacy lives on.

We hope you enjoyed this blog post. For more information on Jack Hylton visit produced by Hylton expert Pete Faint.  We plan to feature Jack Hylton in the new Blackpool Museum.