Thursday, 31 December 2015

Fourth 1977 Blackpool Photo Album, 2: The Golden Mile

Blackpool's Golden Mile features on today's flashback to 1977, with reminders of the Dr Who Exhibition, Lewis's department store, the building of Coral Island and the Golden Mile Centre.

I start with the Lewis's store as the only shot that is less oriented towards the holiday maker. Though it did draw them in their thousands of course. The store, which opened in 1964, is still fondly remembered in the town and added considerably to the aesthetics of the Promenade with it's turquoise tiling and backlit frontage. In 1977 it carried red, white and blue ribbons for the Queen's Silver Jubilee. It closed in 1993.

Another fine sight on the Golden Mile, though a brand new use for the building, was Ripley's Believe It Or Not Odditorium. Celebrating the startling and freakish amongst both nature and achievement, it was fun to visit and brilliantly stand-out at night when the large signboard lit up with bright red neon. A short time later Ripley installed a glass tube that fed water from a pool below to a huge tap that, as the water cascaded from the tube seemed to be flowing from the tap. The water then obscured the pipe so that the tap seemed to be suspended on a column of falling water. It was very effective. Sadly I have no photograph of it.

An out of season shot of Ripley's, also showing the Golden Mile Centre.

This was Blackpool's first large purpose-built amusement arcade. It would eventually become Mr Bee's and today houses the Sea Life Centre.

Together with Ripley's it dominated the Central Beach area of the Golden Mile. The bright blue and yellow of the Silver Jubilee commemorative tram passes by and the two port-a-cabins towards the left are the Lost Children's Centre (white) and a first-aid post in blue. There's a Wall's ice cream kiosk on the beach and I think the other one is selling seafood type rubbish for the southern visitors...

Why anyone would eat jellied eels and whelks is beyond me, though the practice of putting unidentifiable pap on meals and sandwiches is sadly spreading northwards. When people in the south say "we'll eat out" I invariably hear it as "we'll eat owt..." The number of times I went to London for work and had to point at something on a buffet saying "what the hell is that???" doesn't bear thinking of. But for all their culinary short-comings (they seem never to have heard of a crust for instance), the people are remarkably likeable!

For a couple of years the Golden Mile Centre hosted an exhibition of models and puppets from the Gerry Anderson TV portfolio. Twizzle, Torchy the Battery Boy, Four Feather Falls, Supercar, Fireball XL5, Stingray (Whoopee - colour!) (Waah! We still had a black and white telly!), Thunderbirds, Joe 90, Captain Scarlet, UFO, Space 1999... I used to go in and just lap up pleasure until it got dark and they threw me out...

An early season shot before they installed a massive and animated ogre figure over the end of this building to advertise The Horror Crypt. My goodness gracious, that steamed up a lot of people in the council who shouted their disgust and distress loud and clear, ignoring the fact that it was carrying on a great tradition of the Golden Mile. Farther into the distance are the green girders that would later hold up the roof of the new Coral Island centre, due to open in 1978.

The Devil's Den was a short-lived exhibition next door to the Brunswick which has opened a self-service fish and chip cafe. Self-service in those days meant you got a tray and slid it across rails whilst you gave your order and then waited for it to be plated before sliding the tray to the till. It wasn't too many years since this would have been unthinkable - that your order wouldn't be taken and served by a waitress in black with starched white apron. "What do I do? What do I do???" muttered people helplessly as others sat at empty tables, fuming because they had been there half an hour without anyone taking their order... The same people a few years later let food go cold in MacDonalds whilst they searched for cutlery...

The old-style open sheds full of flick-ball games, Ber-o-Mat one-armed bandits, pinball machines so old they didn't have flippers etc. were in their last throes. The old houses and hotels behind them that they were built onto had been neglected so long that they were in danger of collapsing. Nothing above ground floor level had been in use for decades.

The kiosks at the front of the arcades were the last bastions of those oh-so-scrummy hamburgers (which now had to be called beefburgers due to advertising law) which were fried on a griddle and then propped up in a row on the back of the griddle plate amongst a pile of fried onions that kept them hot. Asking for lettuce (even though it would have been lettuce and not some sort of weird-looking "salad leaf", then still correctly thought of as inedible) or pickle or a slice of tomato would have earned you guffaws of hysterics. Only recently was it becoming acceptable, though not yet the norm, to ask for a slice of cheese. You had your bun, a burger, lots of fried onions and it was normal to put ketchup or mustard or possibly both on it.

Youngsters have always wondered why old people get so grumpy. And I can now say that for every generation it's because everything that has been familiar and comfortable and good seems to get swept away by following generations. To those youngsters who read this I can say with all surety that you will feel like this yourself when you get older. Sadly though the generation between mine and yours is doing their best to ensure you will never get chance to do this yourselves because they are destroying things for you already, having got into power and now looking after their rich chums whilst dancing with their fingers in their ears in case they hear something that might prick the last remaining vestige of conscience they might have. Robin Hood, we need you back more than ever...

The other reason older people are grumpy is that it is, actually, quite good fun...

Down at Chapel Street, opposite the Central Pier. At the end of the building is an exhibition of props and costumes from Dr Who. The entrance is the Tardis itself, which can be seen halfway down the side of the building. Another of those bits of Blackpool's past that seems to be lovingly remembered. Incredibly almost, we were still only on the fourth Doctor at the time. Tom Baker played the Doctor from 1974 to 1981, lasting not quite as long as did the exhibition which lasted from 1974 to 1985.

As I write it is New Year's Eve. Tomorrow will be 2016, so a Happy New Year to all my readers! I hope it will be / is / was!

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Fourth Blackpool 1977 Photo Album: 1

Another photo album full of photos taken in Blackpool in 1977. We've already seen two articles from it of the Jubilee Air Show and this time we turn to the tram tracks for my content.

I'll start with a tram that was only painted in this particular livery for just that year, 1977 being the Queen's Silver Jubilee year! Brush car 634 was chosen the previous year to be painted in a special livery to mark Blackpool Corporation's centenary anniversary and the design forms the basis of the Silver Jubilee livery.

Boat tram 605 stands temporarily empty at the Pleasure Beach loop.

The resting point between journeys also gives us another chance to admire the special livery for the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.

Brush car 632 on the Promenade heading north towards the Central Pier, sports a more basic and more familiar colour scheme.

And to wind up this article, a handful of photos of maintenance car 753 at Starr Gate. This had been built from Standard tramcar 143 in the 1950s.

By 1977 it was barely the bones of the Standard car it had once been. The top deck had been removed and an inspection tower installed. A bus engine and generator allowed it to work independently of the power lines.

I'm not sure how many of these albums I have altogether. Over 30 certainly, but of course they are not all from 1977. And many of the photographs in them are prints from negatives that I may have already scanned and shown. But there's a couple more articles to come from this one yet.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Blackpool's Jubilee Air Show (Part 2 of 2)

Concluding my look at the Air Show at Blackpool Airport on 28-29 May 1977.

Blackpool is famous for the quick-fire changes of weather. A spell of blue sky provides an excellent backdrop for the RAF's early jets, the Gloster Meteor and the futuristic-looking De Havilland Vampire with its twin fuselage.

An air of excitement always seems to go through the audience of air shows when the Spitfire makes an appearance. This one taxis out to the runway to give its display.

Ah, just the sound of the merlin engine causes shivers down the spine!

Biplanes have been a feature of air shows since the very first days of flight. I'd like to be really authoritative and say "This is a Tiger Moth" but the truth is so many planes looked almost exactly like that famous aeroplane that it could very easily be something else. If you know, leave a comment!

The displays are brought to a pause whilst a helicopter takes off on other business.

Little Nellie the autogyro from the James Bond film You Only Live Twice took part in both ground and air displays during the air show.

A good day for De Havilland... The De Havilland Rapide was a 1933 passenger aircraft built of plywood and carrying six to eight passengers. They had been used for regular air services in the 1930s between Blackpool and the Isle of Man.

The photo album that these photographs came from holds several photos that I still have the negatives for and consequently many of them have already appeared in articles in the blog. But there are a couple of photos of the old Blackpool standard tram whilst in operation as a maintenance vehicle and I'll get those scanned soon.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Blackpool's Jubilee Air Show (Part 1 of 2)

Back in 1977 everything was labelled "Jubilee". It was the year of the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II and after a period when the Royals were out of vogue all of a sudden Britain could not get enough of them. The entire country went red, white and blue and Blackpool celebrated with a Jubilee Air Show, held at and over the Squires Gate Airport over the weekend of 28-29 May 1977.

The airport was not as busy then as it was to become. Apart from the Isle of Man, round the Tower and the occasional mail planes, it was fairly quiet. Quiet enough at any rate to hold the air show overhead with just a couple of regular flights taking off or landing between displays.

I was there myself and yet when I look back at these photos I took almost 40 years ago, I'm amazed at the carefree, let the punters walk round the aircraft atmosphere that there was. Yes there were a few barriers - even then, Health & Safety was not about to let people wander about the runway. But they could could walk around very close indeed to the aircraft including some which would have display slots during the day.

As witness the crowd around the Fairey Swordfish - we'll have a closer look in a minute - during one of the pauses in the programme to allow a local plane to land.

There were two Spitfires flying that day, one of which was licensed for a full aerobatic display and the other which was allowed to fly up and down alongside the row of spectators at the barriers but without doing any loops or rolls.

The Avro Lancaster, probably Britain's most famous World War II bomber, was there in the shape of the City of Lincoln which flew during the day and when not airborne was parked close to the barriers.

The Fylde Radio Controlled Models Society had laid out a display before the Lancaster. I think there was a smaller version of a Lancaster there. They too gave display flights of their models as part of the day's programme.

A few shots of the Lancaster...

It had been built right at the end of the war, too late in fact to carry out any hostile missions. Instead she was put to use undertaking aerial surveys over Africa until 1952 when she returned to the UK to face an initially uncertain future. Luckily she was spared and restored and joined the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight in 1973.

The Fairey Swordfish was one of last biplanes in service with the British armed forces, serving in the Fleet Air Arm as torpedo spotters and dive bombers. Already considered obsolete by the start of the war, the 1936 Swordfish never-the-less had great successes in their field and served right through to the end of the Second World War both in Europe and the Far East.

The photos here have been scanned from prints, the negatives having been lost I'm afraid. Yet another of my collection of photo albums from the year 1977.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Third Blackpool 1977 Photo Album 6 - Illuminated Trams

This will be the final instalment from this particular photo album, but fear ye not, good reader, for truly I was a nerd of gargantuan nerdic proportions in the Seventies and already the next album has been selected. More details later!

This final article for Album No.3 deals with some of the illuminated tram fleet. Nostalgically it looks back at those not seen on the Promenade tracks any more. This is the Shell Hovertram which first appeared in 1963. Cutting a fine figure on the Promenade it was a double-decked tram and an instant hit on the Tour of The Illuminations route. Withdrawn along with most of the other illuminated trams by 2001, it is currently being restored in the North East.

The 1959 Blackpool Belle disappeared off the tracks the very next year after this photo was taken in 1977. In 1978 it went to America and never came back. Based on a Mississippi paddle steamer it was not a passenger carrying tram. Instead it would trundle up and down the Promenade playing music very quietly. If you were walking on the Promenade admiring the illuminations and it approached from behind, there was a moment of puzzlement when you turned to your companions saying "Can you hear something?" before it passed and it became obvious where the sound was coming from.

And lastly - yes, a short entry I'm afraid - here is the fabulous Rocket tram, or Tramnik 1, which appeared in 1963 and was the only tram to have a sloping cabin. It was also the only tram to have two redundant waxwork figures from Louis Tussaud's. No less personages than King Peter of Yugoslavia and General Neguib of Egypt sat in the front above the real driver's cab, dressed as astronauts. It was withdrawn in 1999, but has since made an appearance during the illuminations as centre-piece on the Gynn roundabout.

Thus ends my sharing of photos from this photo album. Album No.4 includes some photos from which I still have the negatives so some may have already appeared on this blog. It does include, however, a record of the Jubilee Air Pageant of 1977, held at the airport and also some shots of the Standard tramcar doing service as a works car.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Third Blackpool 1977 Photo Album 5 - Pleasure Beach At Night

I seem to be spending all my time back in 1977 at the moment! This time we travel back without endangering the Space-Time Continuum to have a look round the Pleasure Beach during September/October 1977. It's likely that these photos were not all taken on the same visit.

We'll start by heading into the Pleasure Beach through the north entrance. I always think of this as the main entrance. To the left is the Casino Building and in front of us is Noah's Ark with the Hiram Maxim Flying Machine visible behind it.

The latter ride could be seen to advantage from a balcony reached by walking up a flight of steps at the side of the Ghost Train. It could also be accessed from the side of the Gold Mine ride up on the raised platform above Watson Road.

Another view from ground level with the Grand National and Auto Shooter in the foreground.

Having walked in through the north entrance, a turn to the right brings us onto the main route towards the Big Wheels, The Whip, Wild Mouse and River Caves.

Following this route brings us towards Watson Road, on the other side of which is the station for the Big Dipper, underneath the iconic first turn.

The tear drop shaped finial was still only three years old in 1977, having replaced a spherical finial (say that 3 times fast!) that had long been in place.

The double Big Wheel - they were Ferris Wheels, having been designed by the Ferris company - had a huge figure of a clown articulated to look as though the figure was cranking the northernmost wheel around. At some point the clown's head was replaced with Mr Funshine's head, this not necessarily being an improvement.

A row of sideshow stalls sited opposite The Monster ride and leading up to the northern station of the Cableway and the Fun House. The 1922 Reel can be seen behind the row.

The wonderful Fun House. It had lots of traditional fun attractions inside - a walk-through rolling barrel, a spinning disk that threw riders off, huge wooden slides and a shorter metal one with a near-vertical drop, cakewalk etc.

A glimpse of the Space Tower from a spot in front of the Alice in Wonderland ride. The top of the Ghost Train can be seen on the left.

The Space Tower was so successful that a smaller version was created aimed at younger visitors.

The Ghost Train. Mainly a dark ride, it had two small loops on the track where the car came out into open air. One is partially visible to the left. These helped promote the ride to visitors passing outside. There was also a single dip which again came out into the open at the rear of the station, clearly visible here.

And I'll end this time with a shot of the Gold Mine which was accessed from the raised level above Watson Road. I used to love the Gold Mine, it too was a dark ride but had fast running sections where the small car whizzed down a track, swerving past little tableaux of miners and equipment. At one point it emerged into an open space over the boats of the River Caves and became visible to patrons of a small cafe.

I'm drawing to the end of this particular photo album. The final article has only a few photos left to show us. They will show some of Blackpool's illuminated tram fleet.

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