Tuesday, 18 August 2009

'Mr Llandudno' Alex Munro

When thinking of Llandudno's long history of live entertainment, one name ranks higher than all the others - that of Alex Munro (seen here in a 1950's publicity shot):

At his peak, in the 1970s, he was running shows in three of Llandudno's theatres - he staged variety shows at the Pier Pavilion, orchestral concerts at the Pierhead Pavilion and his daily afternoon show at the Happy Valley Entertainers open air theatre in the Happy Valley. It's astonishing to think that his Open Air Show ran for 30 Summer seasons.

"Alex Munro presents his ‘Startime’ in the Pier Pavilion from May to October, each night of the week excepting Sunday. Each afternoon excepting Saturday he presents another show in Happy Valley, an open-air theatre on the slopes of the Great Orme. His face, its trilby aslant, is to be seen all over town; it shines from handbill and hoarding; it hangs by coloured string in chip shops and gift-shops; it decorates the rear panels of the showman’s own mini-bus strategically parked on the road above the Grand Hotel. It promises ‘George Cormack and Irene Sharp, Scotland’s International Singing Stars’, ‘Benny Garcia, Television’s Dynamic Entertainer, ‘Billy Crockett, the Mad Musician from London’s Albert Hall’. It vouchsafes ‘melodious melodies, glamorous girls, clean comedy’ but, above all, the abundant personality of the man who is both star and licensee." Sunday Times magazine article - September 22nd 1974.

Born as Alexander Horsburgh in Shettleston, Scotland on the 6th March 1911, he joined his brother Archie and sister June in an acrobatic act called The Star Trio. They later changed their name to The Horsburgh Brothers and Agnes and became part of Florrie Forde's music hall company with Flanagan and Allen.

During World War Two, Munro toured with the RAF show, Contact, and had his own BBC radio series 'The Size of It' (a title which was also his catchphrase). He appeared on the big screen in Holiday On The Buses (1973) and an early episode of Z Cars (1963). He headlined in a number of British variety theatres, before finally making his home in Llandudno. Besides his Open Air Show, he was given creative control of the Pier Pavilion Theatre by the Llandudno Pier Company in the 1970s and staged his popular variety shows there. In 1972, he staged the Pavilion's first ever Pantomime, 'Babes In The Wood'. Sadly, it was to be marred by tragedy - Alex's film star daughter, Janet Munro, who had been due to take a starring role in the production, was found dead at her London home several weeks before rehearsals were due to start. The show went on, of course, but it was a tremendous blow for Alex.

Alex carried on with his shows into the 1980s but the changing fortunes of the British seaside and the country's economic problems must have taken their toll on their popularity. Alex carried on regardless though, until 1985 when the onset of illness in the Autumn mean that it was to be his last Summer Season on 'Aberdeen Hill'.

I’m the last of what you call the old-time real showmen – there’s not many left like me...don’t you think it’s a shame that, when I’m gone there’ll be no one left doing my type of show? A simple man with a simple show.” - Alex Munro

And, in the end, he was right. Alex Munro died on the 20th January 1986, aged 74. The Pier Pavilion's final show had taken place two years earlier. The orchestral concerts at the Pierhead Pavilion had by then long ceased and it had been converted into an amusement arcade. And the Open Air Theatre in Happy Valley, home for over 80 years to live shows, had become a vandalised wreck. It was finally demolished a few years later and the area landscaped. It really was the end of an era.

Isn't it about time the town marked Alex Munro's contribution to its fortunes? Surely a simple memorial plaque on the site of the Happy Valley Theatre is the least we can do?

If you spot an error, please let me know, and I will update this article.


Trojan said...

This blog is getting really good - couldn't help becomming a follower!

A memorial to Alex? An excellent idea. There's already a bust of Queen Victoria in Happy Valley, so how about a bust of Alex Munro up there also?

Two large busts in Happy Valley.....it would bring back so many memories for me.

Carneades said...

Munro was instrumental in Llandudno's success during the 50s and 60s. His shows truly were outstanding and the theatre in Happy Valley was a superb venue on holiday afternoons. There should certainly be some recognition of his legacy.

Anonymous said...

I have just come back from a 3 day break with my Mum from Llandudno and we were amazed to see that there was no recognition of Alex Munro at Happy Valley or anywhere else. We lived there in the 60's - as a 6-9 year old, I and my sister and 2 brothers were in Happy Valley "performing" most days. I remember we got a badge or a packer of Smiths Crisps for going on stage. Lovely memories. Maggie

dickieg said...

I too won a competiton imitating Frank Spencer. I won a packet of crisps and a bottle of shandy. And also got Stan the organist to teach me his funny walk across the stage. My parents used to pay for me and my brother to go in and watch while that sat on Aberdeen Hill. OH the memories

Danny Fishel said...

Totally agree that there should be an Alex Munro memorial stone. We had a caravan nearby and, in the sixties, would always go to the show on Aberdeen Hill. Fond memories of Alex and Stan on the organ.... My brother used to regularly perform at the tender age of ten or eleven. I was only about 7 but I think I got a packet of crisps and a badge one day too. There was always a girl singing, "He's got the whole world in his hands..." and Alex would always address the audience with questions such as, "Is there anyone here from Manchester? Is there anyone here from Liverpool, etc." The audience would cheer accordingly. Good old fashioned entertainment, the likes of we'll never see again, just as Alex predicted.... GREAT memories, thanks Alex and Stan on the organ...

Dave said...

Pleased to say that the road leading from the Grand Hotel to Happy Valley was renamed 'Alex Munro Way' a couple of years ago.

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