Norman Jacobs MBE - the man who brought the Rolling Stones to Wisbech but turned down the The Beatles because of expense- dies aged 93

Norman Jacobs

Norman Jacobs - Credit: Archant

The man who brought the Rolling Stones to Wisbech – but turned down The Beatles because he felt they were too expensive- has died.

Norman Jacobs

Norman Jacobs - Credit: Archant

Bingo entrepreneur Norman Jacobs died at the age of 93, eight years after receiving the MBE from the Queen.

Mr Jacobs was well known for running the Empire at Wisbech and the Hippodrome in March.

But Mr Jacobs was once a concert promoter who has over the years managed to sign up some huge stars to perform at his rural theatres: he was made an MBE for services to business and to charity in East Anglia.

He formed the Jacobs Theatre Leisure Group in his late 20s and began buying theatres in the area.

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He also set up skating rinks, would run Saturday night dances and helped to bring some of the biggest names in show business to the Corn Exchange in Wisbech.

Among those were Ken Dodd, Tom Jones, Frankie Vaughan and the Hollies, although he turned down the Beatles because they were too expensive at the time.

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His portfolio of bingo clubs and theatres included those in Wisbech, Bury St Edmunds and Fakenham.

Father-of-three Mr Jacobs has also done numerous works for charity over the years, but was also too modest to talk about and said that he had never done it for the publicity.

He said of his MBE: “I was delighted and obviously very surprised. I am just amazed really.

A blog entitled ‘The Played Peterborough’ described Wisbech born and based Norman G Jacobs as arguably the single most important contributor to Peterborough’s musical legacy, having brought just about every major artist of the era to the city during the 1950s and 1960s.

The blog recalled how he established his Jacobs Theatre Leisure Group in 1942 and bought up many rural theatres across Cambridgeshire, converting many to dual function roller skating and dance hall use with skating during the week and dancing on Saturday nights.

“In January 1954, he brought his successful entertainment formula to the city when he secured a ten year lease on the Corn Exchange on Church Street,” wrote the author.

“He immediately set about preparing the 106 year old building, investing £12,000 in seating, lighting, a sound system, neon signage and a brand new Japanese maple dance floor. Despite late protests from local police officials that the venue had been rushed into use, the 500 capacity venue opened on 5th February 1954 to the sound of Billy Ternent and his Orchestra.”

Midweek roller skating and Saturday night dances to “name bands” became the established formula through to the early 1960s when Jacobs grabbed the opportunity to bring in top artists from the new “beat band” scene.

Top artists to appear at the venue included Gene Vincent, The Hollies, Helen Shapiro, Manfred Mann, Swinging Blue Jeans and The Tornados but the top act were undoubtedly the Rolling Stones who played the venue on September 21, 1963.

The blog continued: “Jacobs reign at the Corn Exchange ended when his lease expired in 1964 despite his determined efforts to save the venue as the city’s top entertainment venue.

“New owners Norwich Union were determined to demolish the old building and replace it with offices and shops and, after several appeals had failed, the venue’s last stand came on 23rd May 1964 when The Ivy League was one of four bands on stage.

“Determined not to be ousted from the city, Jacobs bullishly proclaimed that he would open a new ‘bigger and better’ venue in the city very soon and in just over four months, he had purchased TG Hunters Garage on Wentworth Street and converted it into the Peterborough Palais.

“The opening night on September 29, 1964, featuring London based chart toppers The Honeycombs, saw crowds flocking into a venue that still had builders on site adding final touches but live bands were back, as was the Jacobs formula of midweek roller skating and Saturday night dances.

“In the immediate years of the Palais, just about every major chart band of the era entertained city fans on a Saturday night including The Who, The Kinks, The Animals, Jerry Lee Lewis, Manfred Mann, The Byrds, The Moody Blues, The Small Faces, Tom Jones, The Yardbirds and even a youthful David Bowie.

“By late 1966, Jacobs had decided to move away from live bands and focussed instead on the Roller Skating and, by 1967, the introduction of bingo as his main attraction at the venue brought to an end his 13 year contribution to the local music scene.”

In recent years another bingo entrepreneur Keith Waterman took over the Empire bingo club in Wisbech under a lease agreement. Mr Waterman has been in the industry since 1974 as a bingo caller and checker. He later on ran clubs as part of a family business with the Winners Bingo clubs at Thetford and Bury St Edmunds.

A Wisbech Town Council spokesman said they were “saddened to hear of the death of local legend Norman Jacobs MBE.

“His empire (and Empire) is warmly remembered by many in Wisbech. Condolences to his family and friends.”

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