From the 1960s to 1980s Vin Sumner was known as Mr Showbiz in Preston. As manager of some of the city’s leading venues he brought a galaxy of stars to Preston. He died in 2000 but his collection of memorabilia features on a new Facebook page. Here we republish an interview with Vin from 1992
Vin Sumner recalls with a smile and a shudder the day Morecambe and Wise walked into the council entertainments complex he helped turn into one of the North West’s best.
“It was little Ernie who piped up first, ‘’ says Vin. “He said it reminded him of an
aircraft hangar . . .’’
Later, half way through the first of four concerts they were to play at the Guild Hall, Preston that weekend, the duo’s worst fears were confirmed: “A woman shouted from the back that she couldn’t hear them.
“Then half the audience started shouting the same thing. Luckily Eric and Ern laughed it off. Then we got some emergency sound equipment in for the remaining concerts and things went OK. It was highly embarrassing, though.’’
Later, as the 2,200-seater Grand Hall overcame its teething troubles, audiences would have no problem hearing the likes of Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Genesis and the rest of those seventies superstars who megawatted their way to Preston.
But Vin Sumner’s heart sank when he saw how much sound and lighting equipment heavy rockers Rainbow were wheeling in.
Not because he feared for the Guild Hall roof, but because that very night Preston town centre was due to be plunged into darkness because of the power cuts which were ordered during the Winter of Discontent.
“We didn’t know whether to cancel or not. At quarter to seven we had 2,200 fans outside all clamouring to get in. So I rang the electricity board to find out what the score was. They were so unhelpful it wasn’t true. All they could promise us was two minutes notice if the power was due to go off.
“In the end we let the fans in and the concert went ahead while I sat by the phone. Apart from anything else we were worried about all that equipment being ruined if the plug was suddenly pulled.
“So every time the phone rang I made a grab for it – and every time it was someone inquiring about tickets for one show or another. In the end the electricity board phoned with five minutes of the concert left to tell us there would be no power cuts that night.
“I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.’’
Vin Sumner can’t help his memories, even if he wanted to. Six years on from his retirement as Guild Hall supremo, he is surrounded by them.
A converted double garage at the home he shares with wife Alice in Penwortham is an astonishing reminder of nigh-on four decades he spent bringing top-line entertainers to Lancashire.
From the big band era, through jazz, rock, cabaret and comedy, he has rubbed shoulders with the biggest and best.
Three walls of the garage he uses as a snooker room are full of photographs of the stars. Many are personally signed – To Vin, affectionately yours Shirley Bassey; To Vin, thanks for the memory, Bob Hope; or even To Vin, – thank you for your hospitality, Johnny
More than 100 stars from across the globe look down as he plays a frame or two of his favourite game with friends and family.
From Dame Vera Lynn to Dionne Warwick; from Johnny Cash to Bing Crosby; Oscar Peterson to Sir Elton John, Tony Bennett to Sir Cliff Richard. And he chuckles as a comedic collage of Russ Abbott, Mike Harding, Jasper Carrot and others continues to light up his life. But you sense his heart is still in the big band era from whence it all began.
His first major venture was to bring the up-and-
coming Cyril Stapleton band to Preston. A few years earlier, as a messenger boy with the Post Office, he had impressed himself by how easy it was to make a profit from helping to organise a Post Office social club dance.
So now, having started the Vin Sumner Entertainments Agency and having booked the Queen’s Hall, Preston, for Cyril Stapleton’s first tentative trip to the bleak North, he was standing in his best bib and tucker awaiting the band’s
arrival on Preston station.
Only one problem – a rival promoter had put on the Ted Heath orchestra in Preston the night before. And at the same venue, too: “Ted Heath was the biggest thing in Britain at the time. Cyril Stapleton had got wind of this and the way he greeted me was frosty to say the least. He thought there would be just no interest in him.
“But I’d been round all the chip shops and everywhere with my posters. When I told Cyril that 400 people had seen Ted Heath, but 1,300 were waiting to see him, his face broke into a smile. We were lifelong friends from that
moment. I was at his wedding and he was at mine.’’
And so it went on. Show
after show at all his home town’s major venues.
Joe Loss, Ray Ellington, Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball. Later, having taken the job as boss of Preston’s newly developed Top Rank Suite, he would stage the likes of the Rolling Stones as the Sixties bandwagon rocked and rolled into life. He also put on The Beatles... in his wife’s name at the rival Public Hall!
Then, finally persuaded to give up a regional manager’s job with Top Rank for the challenge of life in charge of Preston’s seventies showpiece, he arrived at the Guild Hall for a 14-year stint with the stars who now share his snooker room.
Appropriately, the likes of Steve Davis and Terry Griffiths are also there – it was Vin Sumner who got the UK Snooker championships to Preston alongside other
major indoor sporting events.
So now, at the age of 69 and with seven grandchildren to keep him busy, Vin Sumner continues to reflect on a working life he counts himself lucky to have lived. “Not many people can say they enjoyed their job as much as me. It was never like work at all.’’
But there is one tiny tinge of regret; the one that got away: “All my life I chased Frank
Sinatra, trying to get him on. At the Guild Hall we were halfway there. We’d even got as far as checking with Samlesbury that his private jet could land there, but then it all fell through.’’
Still, that’s showbiz!
* Vin Sumner’s collection of memorabilia has been purchased by CJS Music Merchandise and some of his pictures can be found on the Top Rank Preston 1960s and 1970s Facebook page.