A Rich Musical and Family History
It is a great privilege for me to recount the life of my father Francis Collins, for few from the many millions of holiday makers who danced or listened to him and his orchestra in the Blackpool Palace Ballroom would have been aware of the distinguished career he already had as violinist and conductor. It was indeed a remarkable record through both war and peace.
My father made his debut at the age of 11 when he was allowed to appear occasionally in Harry Wood's Orchestra at the Derby Castle in the Isle of Man. Coming from Liverpool and born into a musical family, he commenced learning the violin at the age of 7 and was soon to be found playing for the silent pictures of the day. At the age of 14 he was the youngest violinist ever to have a contract with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. I well remember him sharing with me his wonderful memories of great conductors and musicians of the past, i.e. Sir Henry Wood, Sir Thomas Beecham, Sir Landon Ronald Kreisler and Sergei Rachmaninoff to name but a few.
Right - Photograph of Francis Collins taken in 1938 whilst he was conductor at the Palace Ballroom, Blackpool. He used to sign them for autographs, this is just as he looked then, and as people will remember him. - Courtesy Eugene Collins.
At the age of 16 he began playing with the Quinlan Opera Company, performing with Puccini in 1912 when he came to conduct the first production in Great Britain of his Opera 'The Girl of the Golden West'. In 1912 he played for Pavlova when she came with the Russian Ballet and in the same year performed in the first performance in this country of Die Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss. As a young musician he was deeply moved by the magnificent music. These tremendous experiences were to stay with him for the rest of his life.
National Service in the first world war was the end of an era and on his return he became conductor of his fathers 'Royal Red Orchestra.' They played for every Royal visit to Liverpool, including the opening of the Mersey Tunnel by King George V and Queen Mary. At this time Radio was only just beginning and Francis Collins and his orchestra were the first to broadcast over 2LO from the State Café in Liverpool.
As Bandmaster of the first Cunard Liner Mauritania in 1925 he made two crossings to New York. Whilst meeting many famous people such as the Norwegian Explorer Amundsen who was first to the South Pole. On one return crossing my father introduced a new dance from America - the Charleston!
Left -The Palace Ballroom, Blackpool - Click for more information.
On his return to Liverpool he became Musical Director for Owen Owens for 12 years, providing music in their restaurant, whilst at the same time continuing to conduct his orchestra for all important occasions throughout the North West. I remember him playing for a reception at the Town Hall when the British Navel Fleet visited Liverpool and as a small boy being taken for a tour of one of the Battleships.
It was in 1937 that he moved to Blackpool; first with his ensemble to the Metropole Hotel and then taking up the position as Conductor of the Palace Ballroom Orchestra in 1938. Here he entertained millions during war and peace and with his ensemble played for all the Party Conferences of the time and in front of great leaders such as Winston Churchill and General Montgomery when they where given the freedom of Blackpool.
Left - Francis Collins at the Palace Ballroom, Blackpool - Click for more on the Palace Ballroom.
The culmination of his career was at the Palace after 25 years with the Tower Company. His time here was what he enjoyed the most, playing the music he loved and had known all his life. His signature tune was 'The Gold and Silver Waltz'. My father was much loved in Blackpool, everybody knew him.
Right - The Coat of Arms granted to Francis Collins in 1952 (see Burke's Landed Gentry) by the College of Arms. - Courtesy Eugene Collins.
In retirement he was able to devote the rest of his life to his great love and interest in Heraldry, tracing the family back to 1200 and the town of Shrewsbury. In 1952 the College of Arms reinstated one of the oldest coats of arms in the country, that of Pride. My father was a direct descendant of Colonel Thomas Pride who was famous for Prides Purge in the time of King Charles I. He was always so proud of this.
This article on Francis Collins was very kindly written for this site by his son Eugene Collins.
You may find the following pages from this site of interest: