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Legends of showbiz in Southport
Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra was one of the many stars who stayed in Southport

It may seem unlikely but during Hollywood's golden age a stroll along Southport prom could have led to an encounter with Sinatra or Astaire.

James Ford, author of Hollywood Legends in Southport, has uncovered how the resort was host to the biggest stars.

"Sinatra and Judy Garland performed at the [Liverpool] Empire in the 1950s, but they stayed in Southport," he told BBC Radio Merseyside.

The book took James 14 years to research and write.

"I started writing a book about a totally different subject, The Palace Hotel which was a massive hotel in Southport," James explains.

"As I was doing the research for the hotel I came across in the archives stories about movie stars that had actually stayed there."

Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland and Clark Gable are just some of the names who stayed in and around Southport.

"Frank Sinatra played golf a lot and he met his golf instructor from Birkdale in Monaco," James explains.

"When he came to Southport he met up with him.

Laurel and Hardy
Laurel and Hardy performed twice nightly for a week in Southport

Many of the stars would stay in the seaside town while they were performing in Liverpool, while others would play theatres in Southport which have long since disappeared: "Laurel and Hardy performed at a theatre that's still there, but it's Mecca Bingo," James says.

"They performed all week twice-nightly, but their film careers had long finished since then."

Photographic evidence of the trail Hollywood stars burnt through Southport has proven difficult to find, with James reduced to copying pictures from archive copies of newspapers.

"Unfortunately a lot of the local newspapers burnt their stockpile of photographs," he explains.

"When Frank Sinatra was in Southport he was going through a very turbulent time in his life because he'd just married Eva Gardner, and it was costing him his career as up until then he was married to Nancy Sinatra and they went through quite a long divorce.

"The media didn't like the fact he was carrying on with a younger woman, getting in to trouble, in to fights.

"He became somewhat a vilified figure no one wanted to touch him."

Another Hollywood star ended up in Southport during World War II as a result of a tragedy in his personal life, "Clark Gable - won an Oscar prior to his visit to Southport," says James.

"After the death of his wife Carol Lombard in a plane crash, this upset him and he decided to join the US Airforce."

Royal Birkdale
Frank Sinatra would play golf at the local Royal Birkdale course

Southport's Palace Hotel had been pressed in to use as a Red Cross home for US servicemen and Clark Gable spent time there shooting a film called Combat America which focused on the airmen's life around town and included the Palace Hotel.

The Palace Hotel was demolished in 1969, but not before it had a spooky tale of its own to add.

"It had what was called the ghost lift," James says.

"In 1969 it was going to get demolished and in order for any building to get demolished they cut the gas and electricity off.

"This ghost lift was electrically driven and it still went up and down between the floors, even after the electricity was switched off.

"It would move of its own accord.

"When you drive to Southport and you're going along the coast road what you're driving over is actually the Palace Hotel because they used the hardcore from the building as the ground base for the road."

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