years and millions of rides later, the Big One
celebrates it's tenth birthday.
it does, we look at the history of this ride, the
milestones within the last decade and the impact it has
had since opening.
Pepsi Max Big One at Pleasure Beach Blackpool is, by any
definition, the most high-profile coaster in Europe. Even ten
years after the ribbon was cut and the first public trainload of
passengers climbed the lift hill, The Big One has remained
easily the best-known coaster in the country.
has it that Geoffrey Thompson, the park's MD, visited Cedar
Point in Ohio soon after they debuted Magnum XL-200, the world's
first 200ft coaster, and was so impressed that he immediately
wanted one of his own.
the most impressive thing about the ride is that it exists at
all. It’s achievement enough to build such a ride out in the
middle of nowhere, but it took some serious inventiveness mind
to look at the Pleasure Beach, probably the most crowded park in
the world, and envisage a lift hill running straight over the
monorail track, a first drop that dives down within a few feet
of the seafront buildings, a turnaround over the Grand National
station, then a return run that goes over the Log Flume, under
the Big Dipper, over the Big Dipper again, Over the
Steeplechase, under the Roller Coaster, and under the
Revolution, covering around three quarters of the park as it
Big One was heavily promoted as the tallest, fastest
roller coaster in the world
the park and Blackpool Tourism Board took every opportunity to
exploit the media interest in the new ride. Features about the
ride's construction were commonplace over the winter of 1993-4,
and never a week went by without some sort of news about how
mega the new ride would be. News features would show endless
shots of gargantuan piece of structure being driven to the park,
surrounded by Police guards. Newspapers would show photos of the
half-built lift hill, showing comparisons to Nelson's column,
and other landmarks. Great play was made of the fact that the
park had had to get clearance from the local airport, and would
have to display beacons to warn aircraft of its presence at
night (conveniently neglecting to mention that the airport was
only a couple of miles from the park anyway).
ride couldn't have come at a better time for Blackpool. At the
other end of the Golden Mile, Blackpool Tower was celebrating
its centenary, and was to be painted gold for the year.
Blackpool Tourist Board were keen to combine the two events, and
started promoting the resort with the "Two Tall
Stories" campaign. The press in turn revelled in the rather
odd stories that grew up around the ride. The fact that the park
MD was having difficulty persuading his 91 year old mother not
to ride, or the fact that the ride's designer, Ron Toomer,
suffered from travel sickness and refused to set foot on a
coaster, his or anyone else's.
Big One was the last of the three 1994 coasters to open, which
somehow gave it an air of "the main event" after the
two support acts. Early reports suggested that the ride would be
opened by the Queen, but amusingly the calibre of celebrity
quickly sank to the point where now-forgotten boy band Bad Boys
Inc performed the ceremony (or rather, three of them did, as one
Bad Boy didn't show up due to illness). To remove all doubt of
the event's significance, the promenade was closed in front of
the park, and a celebratory concert took place, with the first
drop towering directly over the stage.
Pepsi Max Big One won many awards for looks alone. Not
only was the station awarded for it's contributions to
architecture, but the floodlighting of the roller coaster
won awards too.
was obvious that the ride had seriously become the most
significant thing to be built in the town since Blackpool Tower,
and had soon become a genuine British landmark, appearing in
tourist guides. Not until the London Eye in 2000
would another ride come to have the cultural significance of The
Big One. The ride gained the attention of media sectors well
beyond the usual travel supplements. The Times' architecture
critic Hugh Pearman came to see the ride, saying "As with
much of the best architecture, confined surroundings help rather
than hinder its aesthetic appeal ... its blue and white
latticework structure like some great inverted railway
bridge" (Times, Aug 28 1994).
everything went to plan, however. On July 7th, less than two
weeks after the official opening ceremony, a braking failure
caused two trains to collide just outside the station.
Unfortunately, this gave the press the chance to capitalise on
the ride's grandeur. "Terror on The Big One" read the
main headline on the front page of the Daily Mirror, and other
papers showed little more restraint. It was the most publicised
roller coaster accident since the Big
Dipper at London's Battersea Park had malfunctioned, killing a
young rider. Fortunately, The Big One's accident did not cause
any serious injury, but it was a stark indication of how, when
something has been built up in the public psyche, it has a lot
further to fall when things go wrong. Even today, any incident
of a train stopping on the lift hill for safety reasons, is
likely to result in people calling the media, saying that
something has gone wrong. Fortunately, the accident did nothing
to dampen public enthusiasm for the ride when it re-opened later
in the year. Although the ride could initially run only one
train, riders dutifully joined the long queue ready to jump
The Big One's greatest success is that it has embedded itself in
the British consciousness as not so much a roller coaster as a
rite of passage. Listen to the crowd as they queue for the ride,
and it's obvious that there is still a prestige to the ride.
It's the biggest, therefore it must the best, the scariest, and
many a group of holidaymakers have treated the ride as a test of
machismo. Elsewhere, it is almost always the ride used when a
newspaper wants to illustrate a generic coaster (usually with
hackneyed clichés like “The roller coaster of personal
finance” and such like).
had the challenge of fitting the world's largest roller
coaster into one of the world's most crowded theme park.
of the reason behind the ride’s fame is the park’s unusual
willingness to work with outside companies. From the obvious
tie-in with Pepsi, the ride has appeared in adverts for
everything from cars and newspapers, to the rather less tasteful
TV ad for a diarrhoea cure. Other stunts have included draping
the lift hill with an enormous banner advertising the movie
“Agent Cody Banks” to the truly surreal stunt where a Jordan
Formula 1 car was fitted onto the train’s chassis, and F1
driver Ralph Firman was strapped into the cockpit and sent
around the course.
what of the ride itself? Well, one smart move was to ensure that
The Big One was a traditional coaster in everything but its
size. It would have been very easy to think that a couple of
inversions would have boosted the thrill-factor of the ride, but
instead we have a ride that runs perfectly normal trains,
without overhead restraints to block your view, or gimmicks to
distract you from the ride itself. This combination of the
traditional and the modern is the hallmark of Pleasure Beach
Blackpool, it is no mean feat that The Big One manages to avoid
looking out of place in what is still, at heart, a traditional
real secret behind the ride is that it projects an image of
terror, but is in fact a relatively gentle ride. From a
power-packed first drop, the remainder of the ride relies more
on creating a perception of being a wild ride, while in fact
consisting of dead-straight climbs and drops, none of them
coming to close to match the first drop for steepness or
thrills. A great finale means that riders tend to disembark
feeling that they've survived an intense and thrilling two
minutes aboard the world's wildest coaster, when in fact they
have ridden a coaster that isn't even the wildest ride in the
park (the Grand National and Wild Mouse being well ahead of it).
Nonetheless, if people are walking down The Big One's exit ramp
with smiles on their faces feeling like they've conquered the
greatest ride on Earth, and happy to open their wallets for a
second ride, a souvenir photo, and a "Big One - Been There,
Seen It, Done It" t-shirt, who are we to say they are
Big One is a very unusual coaster in that the majority of the
ride relies far more on creating visual sensations than physical
ones. The climbs and drops along the seafront are all perfectly
straight lines, with none of the curves found on most coasters.
While this may not be a recipe for great G-force, it allows
riders the chance to look out over the Pleasure Beach,
Blackpool, and on clear days way beyond. During the Blackpool
Illumination season, riders can look up the seafront and take in
the miles of lights stretching to Blackpool Tower and beyond.
Although you can argue that there are many coasters out there
that are more thrilling, few coasters go about achieving their
thrills the way The Big One does.
coaster fans lament The Big One's unfulfilled potential, it
can't be denied that no ride has done more to put roller
coasters and amusement parks into the public eye. It was the
first coaster to eliminate the notion that amusement park rides
are for children, and encouraged huge numbers of people to at
least go and watch a coaster for the first time.