Tuesday, 18 November 2014

1977 Blackpool Photo Album 5 - Amusements, Pastimes and South Shore

We're turning the pages of a photograph album full of photos of Blackpool taken in 1977, the Queen's Silver Jubilee Year. This is the fifth instalment and there will be at least one more, possibly two before we come to the last page - and look for another album!

Coffin trams Nos.3 and 13 caught side by side at Manchester Square. These were Corporation-built for operation as One-Man-Only vehicles, without the need for conductors. Passengers are queuing to enter tramcar No.3 at the extreme left, a slower process than normal because of the need for each passenger to stop by the side of the driver and exchange cash and tickets. Also at the extreme left we can see the sun lounge of the Craig-Y-Don Hotel. By 1977 most but not all of the hotels on the Promenade had sun lounges built onto the exterior of the outside front wall, creating a room for visitors that afforded views of the Promenade and sea that was warm in all weathers and sheltered from wind and rain. They were starting to creep up some of the side roads also. It only needed one hotel or guest house to go this route and the others would have to follow suit as visitors who had come "on spec" i.e. without booking accommodation before arriving, would naturally head for the ones with modern sun lounges.

The addition of what was in effect an extra room created all sorts of opportunities. Some hotels used this as their dining room giving visitors the chance to watch early morning activity on the Promenade. Many used them as a lounge, with entertainment and a bar. Some used them to create mini waterfalls... flat roofs, you know...

In 1977 much of the Golden Mile was occupying buildings that had existed for many decades. Originally hotels or houses with gardens, earlier occupants had quickly cottoned onto the fact that the garden space could be used or sub-let to hold attractions and stalls to draw the passing visitors. Teas and coffees, amusement arcades, shops selling items for the beach including balls, buckets and spades and stalls selling sheet music. These were particularly popular in those days when almost every front parlour had a piano and would often employ singers who spent the entire day singing the same song, drawing huge crowds who soon learned the chorus to join in.

By 1977 most pianos had been replaced with radiograms and stereos. The sheet music stalls had gone and in their place were markets and mock auctions where crowds would be whipped into a frenzy by barkers and well-placed cronies who would "buy" a bargain and excite the crowd even more until they began to push and shove each other into buying what might turn out to be at best shoddy goods and at worst a box with a brick in it... They were closed down regularly and sprang up again just about as regularly.

Here we see The Washington pub in the background (now Uncle Peter Webster's, although the tiled name still exists). A shop at the end has toys for the beach, postcards and offers developing and printing of photographs in these days of film cameras, long before the digital cameras we have now. Having a film developed and printed could cost up to three pounds fifty pence. This is almost 40 years ago so you can probably easily multiply that by ten at least. You now see why most people didn't take as many photos as you do now! I did, mainly because I was selling photos to magazines during the seventies and eighties.

Next door is an ice cream stall and there are plenty of those left with us today. Again though, times were changing. Walls had introduced the Italian-style Cornetto and the wafer cone it came in had a different taste and texture than the lightly baked biscuit (loaded with "e" numbers to ensure they were all the same colour) cone that was more traditional. People were divided into two camps - those who preferred the new, darker more brittle cone and those who stuck with the lighter and less crumbly traditional cone.

Pastimes Amusements takes up the right hand side of the photo, a typical rectangular box filled with flashing lights and tinkling bells from the row of pinball machines that lines one wall. These were still electro-mechanical. They relied on banks and banks of relays rather than computer chips. Scoring was shown by reels of numbers spinning round. They were sparse of special features and much easier to understand than their counterparts ten years later. So too with one-armed bandits (we call them fruit machines these days). Most were still operated with a mechanical grab bar at one side which was pulled down to compress a spring mechanism which when released would set the reels spinning. You could find a few with a hold feature, but nudge was only starting to be seen, and there were no complicated systems requiring hours of play before you twigged what you needed to do.

Penny pushers were popular and race and roulette games were common. Rifle ranges were plentiful - either with real rifles (usually air powered, but some featured live .22 ammunition) or as a single replica gun attached to a cabinet with moving targets inside. Those ranges with rifles firing projectiles had the rifle muzzles chained down so they could not be swung away from the confines of the range targets, but it wasn't unknown for a range operator behind the counter to feel a sudden pain if he hadn't warned players not to shoot as he moved about! Bizarrely, the arcade advertises that it gives Green Shield Stamps... I suspect these were a feature of bingo games rather than one-armed bandits...

The site of all these stalls and the arcade is now occupied by Silcocks' Fun Palace.

A little further south is the Carousel arcade. This had a brand new large machine which showed film footage of western characters on a large screen and had a stand with a holstered gun which you drew against the film characters. The gun shot a light at sensors behind the screen and depending on your speed and aim (though shooting pretty much anywhere as long as it was at the screen would do) the film gunman either shot you and then looked somewhat apologetic, or you shot him and he would tumble backwards or (towards the end of your five duels) would tumble forwards off the roof of a saloon. This machine also had a push-button "professional" option where cocking your gun before the flash of the gunman's eyes, which was your signal that he was about to draw his gun, would disqualify that shot and whether you were quicker or not, you were shot by the gunman. In real life you would probably have shot your foot off anyway... The Carousel also gave Green Shield Stamps.

The Leisure and Pleasure Arcade was around the area of the Brunswick on the Golden Mile proper. Stalls sell Blackpool rock and cigarettes. Many people still smoked. Though cigarette adverts on TV were banned in 1965, they were shown in cinemas until 1986 and new brands kept appearing during the 1970s. With the growing realisation that smoking could cause disease and even death, many brands such as Silk Cut came out claiming to be "mild". Milder they may have been, but good for you they certainly weren't! Smoking has reduced considerably these days. Many people still smoke but bans at work and in public buildings has forced most smokers to reduce their habit. I was working in Cash & Carries at the time and with long 12-hour days, including overtime, had been smoking between 40-60 Players No.6 cigarettes a day. I gave up smoking at the end of 1976 when we were expecting our daughter. As an added incentive the price of a packet had leapt up to 30p for a packet of 20!

Whilst we are talking prices; from the arcade signs we can see that a game of Bingo with two cards cost 5p, a stick of rock was 6p but you could get 12 sticks for 50p and (what a bargain!) that was the same price as the previous year!

Passing in front of the arcade are a Mini Traveller, with the woodwork reminiscent of a bygone age of shooting brakes, the forerunners of estate cars. To the right, the rear end of a car, either a Morris Oxford or Austin Cambridge is heading southwards towards...

South Shore. Here we are looking from the gardens, across the roadway to the South Pier. The magnificent horse's head sculpture still exists I think behind the ugly modern facade which is a testament to the tastelessness of recent owners. In 1985 it vanished behind a pink and white confectionary of a tent-like structure and awaits someone with a bit of sense to uncover and restore it.

The Beachcomber amusements arcade at the entrance to the pier had for a good decade featured a forerunner of The Carousel's quick draw game. This machine though, instead of film, had a life-sized mannequin of a gunslinger, dressed all in black and with a single photo cell in the middle of his chest. You had to seriously aim well to beat this hombre! Mind you, there were no sensors that disqualified you from cocking the gun early, or even from drawing it and taking a bead on the photo cell long before he shouted "draw!". On this word, the gunman's own gun arm would swing mechanically and somewhat slowly and stiffly upwards. If you were asleep, or were simply a poor shot, you paid the price upon which he laughed at you and challenged any onlookers to have a go. On the off-chance you beat him he said "Ugh! You got me!", but refused to fall down, never mind tumble off a saloon roof!

The gardens in 1977 had a Crazy Golf course. This was just one of several in the town. There was one right down at Squires Gate, one on the southern half of the Pleasure Beach, one in the sunken gardens just north of the Metropole hotel... Some had plastic obstacles, some had wavy lines and bends obscuring the line from tee to the hole. This one was built with concrete obstacles. The players remind us again that the seventies was a good time for knitwear...

Here the telephoto lens has brought the end of the South Pier close enough to have a good look at the facilities. A giant slide had been bought from the Pleasure Beach and installed on the end of the pier. The theatre was still in existence and The Black Abbotts comedy group, led by the popular Russ Abbott, headline with comedian Roy Walker who would have a long spot, bringing the first half of the show to the intermission. There were two shows every night, the first and second "house". The wooden structure of the bar advertises William Younger's Scotch Ales. Visitors from north of the border were frequently incensed at the common use of Scotch instead of the correct Scottish. "Scotch is a drink!" they would say in a fierce tone.

On the landward side of the Promenade just north of the gardens near the Pleasure Beach was the Lucky Star. As I write, it has just closed and awaits a final fate to the great sadness of many in the town. I remember the business in the late 1950s, selling trays with pots of tea for visitors to take across the road to the beach. A deposit secured the safe return of trays and pots. It operated out of a tiny hut, which was added to at intervals until my favourite incarnation in the mid 1960s had a small amusement arcade attached to a cafe with seating and a jukebox. The arcade was destined to grow into the dominant side of the business. Eventually, this purpose-built two-storey building swept aside the wooden structures and I remember it with great affection a couple of decades later as being the last arcade with any decent selection of pinball machines.

Our final photo this time shows the old Open Air Baths opposite the Crazy Golf course. Opened in 1923 this was a popular venue into the early 1970s but, with the proliferation of central heating, folk were becoming less hardy and the pool was filled with unheated sea water. The sea at Blackpool is not known for being particularly warm and you had to be willing to put up with some discomfort if not outright muscle seizure to swim here! It had been for many years the host site for the Miss Blackpool beauty contests with summer season celebrities acting as judges. Its popularity continued to wane until finally it was demolished and the Sandcastle water park venue built in its place.

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