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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Thursday, 26 November 2015

Third Blackpool 1977 Photo Album 4 - The Illuminations

Once again I turn the pages of a photo album created in 1977. This time we will have a look at the Illuminations.

As much as possible I used to take photos on a wet night. The reflections on the pavement and roadway enhance the look of the Illuminations.

Of course, it did mean that we had to go out festooned with hats, heavy coats and some protection for the camera. I always have some sort of filter on the front of my camera lens anyway. During the day a polarising filter helps me get those blue skies. At night though I want something that doesn't cut down the amount of light going through the lens. So I used to use a UV filter.

I would put the camera into a polythene bag and cut a hole in it for the tip of the lens to come through. The polythene bag would be taped to the side of the filter to keep rainwater out of the bag and a rubber band kept the big hole tight around my wrist so that my hand could operate the camera with water getting to the camera.

One of the great things about living in Blackpool is that it does change fairly regularly. Imagine taking photos every year of Stonehenge. This year's photo would be almost exactly the same as 1977's photo. But the Illuminations change. Other attractions in Blackpool change more than you might find elsewhere too.

We often take photographs of scenery that won't change over decades or hundreds of years. The best memory-jerkers are those photos from your own past that show something you can no longer look at. I have lots of photos of cars that make me smile and remember. Also of family - perhaps the most important memories of all.

But if I were to have thought about things that change and cannot easily be found after the event I would have taken many more photos of shops - which change very regularly over the years. Also things like household items that you don't even think about with a camera to hand.

Mugs. How many of those have you broken in your life? Every now and then when looking at photos of family parties I spot a mug in someone's hand and think "Cor, I remember those..." Another thing I wish I'd taken photos of - or at least wish my parents had taken photos of - are my childhood toys. All you parents - your kids will thank you 30 years on for any photos of things like that I promise!

So these old photos of the Illuminations don't just remind me of old Illuminations, but the older buildings of the Golden Mile, cars of the 70s and fashions of the time worn by people who I hardly noticed at the time of taking the photos.

Or litter bins on the Promenade... Or (look carefully!) the days when cars had radio aerials sticking up from the front wing!

The view from Central Pier. (I was starting to feel guilty at not saying anything about the Illuminations!) The red neon of Ripley's Believe It Or Not Odditorium adds a spot of interest to the Golden Mile - another thing that cannot be seen any more.

Tramcar 680, originally the powered half of a twin-car set was often to be seen operating without a trailer. Both this and the previous photo have been affected by something that has disappeared with the advent of digital photography. A bit of light has got into the film either before or after it went through the camera and it has "fogged" the top of the photos. Seen as little bits of light, on a daytime photo you probably wouldn't even notice it. Against the dark night sky though it becomes very obvious.

The 1977 frontage of Louis (not Madame) Tussaud's waxworks was a bit less ostentatious as the 2015 version! In the next article we will still be at large during the night, but will leave the Promenade behind and go for a wander around the Pleasure Beach.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Coventry, Cars and Stars

We spent the weekend down in the Midlands this week. We decided to visit the NEC on Sunday for the Comic Con and Memorabilia Show at which we could catch up with a couple of friends and looking to make a weekend of it, we decided to stay in the Coventry area and visit the Transport Museum there.

I booked a room in a decent hotel between Coventry and the NEC where the event was being held over the weekend. We drove down from Blackpool and found a convenient car park near the motor museum. We had a spot of lunch in the museum's cafeteria and then went to look round the exhibits. The museum is free to enter and concentrates on vehicles that were made in the area. Vehicles of all sorts from bicycles to motorbikes to cars. During World War II local companies stopped car production to make armoured cars and tanks and other firms made vans, buses and emergency vehicles. All are represented in the museum's collection.

I always think it unfair to show too much of a museum's stock, so there are just a few of my favourites here. This is Queen Mary's 1935 Daimler. The National Motor Museum loaned it to the owners of the ocean liner Queen Mary, by then a floating hotel in Long Beach, California. It stood on the deck of the ship for ten years exposed to the weather and was bought by the Coventry Museum in 1984 since when it has been restored.

The 1938 Alvis Speed 25. This car was owned by the Alvis company's owner. What an impressive solid looking piece of machinery it is! Just right for roaring through the countryside on the quiet roads of the time!

Myself, I always look for the late 1950s and 1960s cars of my childhood. The ones family members drove and my own first few cars. My Dad always bought Fords during my childhood and they weren't built in Coventry but I did find my first "proper" car (I had a Reliant 3-wheeler at 16). My first four-wheeled car was a 1961 Hillman Minx, registration 485 TD.

The strange vehicle shown here is a 1948 Tippen Coventry Chair. A hand-propelled vehicle designed for invalid soldiers following World War II. They were a sad but frequent sight in the mid to late 1950s of my childhood.

The Thrust SSC World Land Speed Record car. This car broke the world land speed record on October 15, 1997 by reaching the speed of 763 miles per hour. For me the magic went out of the World Speed Record when the power plant stopped turning the wheels but just thrust the car forward on free-spinning wheels. "It's not really a car is it?" another visitor commented to his elderly father. That sums it up entirely. A rocket on a track is still a rocket not a train. These are not cars - they are aeroplane engines mounted on wheels!

It was mid-afternoon when we came out of the museum and we decided to have a look around the city centre and to visit the cathedral.

We came first to the Church of the Holy Trinity. It had this well-worn set of steps leading up to a door. The church dates back in records to 1113, though a fire in 1257 destroyed the original building. It was rebuilt following the fire and the walls were painted with scenes from the Bible. One of these, long covered over by material such as varnish which with age had gone opaque, was rediscovered and restored in 2004. It shows Jesus and His Disciples at the Last Judgement. Jesus is judging the souls of Men some of whom will enter the Kingdom of Heaven and the others, including bishops and kings and ale-wives (who were universally hated as they were believed to water the ale they sold) trembling before the Mouth of Hell. The painting is known as the Coventry Doom.

The Parish Church of St Michael was described in 1138 as standing "in the Bailey" - so within Coventry Castle. The original chapel was rebuilt in the 1300s-1500s. The present condition of the cathedral is down to nine terrible hours on the evening and night of 14 November 1940. Coventry had been bombed before, but the prolonged raid of that night destroyed much of the city centre and with it, the cathedral.

A few tiny portions of stained glass are all that remain of the shattered windows. The Undercroft still exists and is currently undergoing restoration work.

Above ground, only the tower and spire and external walls survived the night. It was decided to let these stand as witness to Coventry's most desperate night and a new cathedral was built next to it.

Close by the walls of the old cathedral stands this water pump. A reminder of the times when water had to be collected rather than obtained by the turning of a tap.

The Golden Cross pub is also lucky in having survived the incendiaries of the Luftwaffe. Dating from 1583 it has three stories each of which are wider than the floor below. It was extended considerably in 1968, the original covering an area roughly half as big as the present building.

We found the hotel easily enough and unpacked our few things for the following day and then went out to eat at another local hostelry. The following morning we were looking forward to catching up with a couple of friends who we knew were attending the Memorabilia show, the actresses Caroline Munro and fellow Bond Girl and Hammer Horror star, Martine Beswick. I had also seen from advertisements that Liv Tyler would be there, though the advertised price of her autographs looked a little high. Anyway as we took our seats for breakfast, the Lady Arwen of Rivendell was sitting just a few tables away...

The pairing of Memorabilia with a comic convention has done no favours to those people who used to attend and enjoy looking at and buying old toys, magazines, books and records. The comics stalls are still there but mostly the Marvel and DC comics are being replaced by the Manga style comics and the old British comics such as Beano, Dandy, Eagle, Look & Learn and so on have all but disappeared. The same has happened to the collecting cards displays. Gone are the 1970s chewing gum collections of American Civil War and Outer Limits cards. Now they all depict young (very young!) huge-eyed, green or purple-haired and cat-eared heroines dressed in the tiniest of skirts.

The paying customers too are dressed as their heroes and heroines. Young and not-so-young girls in skimpy costume - some almost indecently so - wander about clutching ferocious-looking cardboard weapons. Pictured is Sauron himself - done on the cheap. His cardboard morning star had dents but his figure was impressive as he was walking on stilts under his black robe. "I can't keep up, walk slower!" complained his attendant orc... I refrained from taking too many photos. The lion whose back is towards me had his head pushed up in an attempt to breathe. He was not too many years behind me in age I think. As I suspect was one rather tubby Spider-Man showing a rather comical visible panty line under his costume...

We found Caroline and Martine and chatted for a while and then wandered around the other celebrities - a Dr Who contingent and several recognisable chaps even without their armour from TV's Game of Thrones. Liv Tyler and Lee Majors, the Six Million Dollar Man along with a few others were sitting signing photos that you had to buy before being allowed to approach them. The queues were huge. In truth they would have not been able to sign all those photos if they had not been kept away from the casual observers. I'll make do with having seen that beautiful face at breakfast!

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Third Blackpool 1977 Album 3 - The Pleasure Beach

Back to 1977 yet again and a mash-up of several visits that year to Blackpool Pleasure Beach from the latest photo album to make it out of the attic!

Taken on the 21st of May 1977, the Pleasure Beach were in the middle of building a new ride. To be called the Steeplechase, this was the first such ride to be built where riders sat on horses, very like those on The Derby Racer but instead of a round-a-bout, these raced up to three abreast over a course with jumps and hills and dips like a cross-country ride! The sign advertises that the new ride will open later during the year. Later we will see it in action.

Overseeing the action is this fellow... Two such giant figures held up portions of the Monorail track - this was a double-faced clown and the other was a model of Gulliver as seen by the inhabitants of Lilliput.

The Casino Building and tower, seen from the tramway turning loop. I remember once around this time going to an exhibition in the Horseshoe Bar and coming across several members of the George Formby Appreciation Society on a stand. They were all, rather ominously, clutching ukuleles or banjoleles and one asked if we would like a song. Without waiting for an answer, one lady burst (burst??? exploded!!!) into song and one by one the others all picked a different note and joined in. As a musician myself I'm at a loss as to how anyone could join in with a song in several different keys at the same time and not feel the need to stop and maintain a dignified silence... They were all very enthusiastic and great fun though and I resisted the urge to say "Aha! Never touched me!" as my eyes uncrossed and I walked dazedly away.

One of my favourite spots near the south entrance to the park for catching the Big Dipper curving down the third dip before soaring up onto the loop that would start its return journey to the station.

The chain-driven climb of the Big Dipper with its tear-drop finial that had replaced a spherical ball only a few years previously. The sign that the train has just passed says "Do not Stand up" - passengers on the wooden roller coasters at this time were trusted to hold on rather than be strapped in. In those days if you fell off a bridge you were deemed stupid rather than due compensation from the bridge builder. When this stopped being the case people became far more stupid...

A close-up shot of one of the rockets on the Hiram Maxim Flying Machine. Whatever happened to blue skies like that...?

A couple of shots of the Cheshire Cat carriages on the Alice In Wonderland ride. I can't look at photos of this ride without hearing the tune of The Cuckoo Waltz going through my head.

And to finish, I can confirm that the Pleasure Beach did indeed open The Steeplechase in 1977. Lap straps kept you secure on the ride, although the braking system had to be adjusted after a couple of incidents caused minor injuries due to sudden stops. I liked the ride though, the impression of speed with not being enclosed in some sort of vehicle was exhilarating.

In the next visit to Blackpool we'll be wandering about at night again.

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