Coaster Kingdom

Colin Bryan


An Interview with Colin Bryan
Managing Director, Drayton Manor

Despite a rich history, much of the Drayton Manor you see today was shaped by the success of Shockwave.

Opening in 1994, 'Year of the Roller Coaster', the stand up ride - the only of it's kind in Europe - celebrates it's 10th birthday. As it does, we exclusively interview Colin Bryan, the park's Managing Director and family owner. We ask him about the last ten years, about Shockwave, and what he foresees in the next decade.

Article by Marcus Sheen

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the grandeur of the Shockwave majestically towering over the lakeside below and think of Drayton Manor Park as always having been a big player, but it’s just as easy to forget that this coaster was a multi-million pound investment for a what was a small, family-run park.

This isn’t to belittle the heritage behind Drayton Manor, though. Despite 45 years of history, Drayton Manor had maintained a fairly subdued image despite investment in rides such as Pirate Adventure and the Log Flume.

But up until 1994, most people beyond the borders of Staffordshire remained largely ignorant to Drayton Manor, but a stand up roller coaster was about to send shockwaves not only through the park, but the country too.

Shockwave opened in 1994, ‘Year of the Roller Coaster’, along with Alton Towers’ Nemesis (Bolliger and Mabillard Inverted) and Pleasure Beach Blackpool’s Pepsi Max Big One (Arrow Dynamics Mega Coaster). Whist Shockwave was forced to share the limelight with these two coasters, there is no denying the fact that Shockwave helped bring a park with nearly half a century of history to peoples’ attention and undoubtedly shaped the park we see today.

To most people, it wasn’t just Shockwave that was new to them in 1994 – it was the entire park.

Since Shockwave, the Bryan family have exhibited unwavering commitment to investing in the park with unique and attention-grabbing rides such as Apocalypse (Intamin Giant Drop) and Stormforce 10 (Bear/ABC Flume).

So, in 2004, as Shockwave celebrates its tenth anniversary, Coaster Kingdom uses this opportune time to ask Colin Bryan, Managing Director and Family Owner of Drayton Manor park about the last 10 years, the effect Shockwave has had and what he envisages for the next decade.

Coaster Kingdom (CK): When was it first decided that Drayton Manor required a major ride in 1994?

Colin Bryan (CB):  “Requirement was about 1982, when Alton Towers acquired corkscrew! 1990 we had Pirate's Advenutre, still keeping with the family theme. It was not until 1992 that the two rides; Splash Canyon and Shockwave were decided to go together in 1993/1994. Concrete for Shockwave was laid in the 1992 winter build of Splash Canyon; in fact £1 million worth of concrete is in Splash and Shockwave anchor points in the ground.”

The choice was either stand-up or ordinary standard sit-down

CK: How much was the choice of stand up coaster influenced by the ability to combine it with a family ride, Splash Canyon?

CB: “The two had to go into a limited site size. Because of limitations of planning as well this was the only way we could get in two rides to get us up with the major parks for capacity and recognition. The choice was either stand-up or ordinary standard sit-down. Height did also come into planning – no more than the height of Shockwave was possible.”  

CK: So before the idea of a stand up coaster was pursued, what other types of ride were considered? Was a roller coaster your only consideration, and if so, what alternative types to the stand up considered?

CB: “In 1992 even hanging coasters were rare. We did not know that Alton Towers was going to do a hanging (undersling) coaster. The stand-up was an Intamin stand and was ordered at the show in IAAPA for delivery in autumn of 1993. Previously 1992 was the same time scale for Splash Canyon i.e. Intamin rapids ride.”

CK: What other rides was Shockwave inspired by? And how do you go about researching what could be successful at Drayton Manor?

CB: There were no others to inspire as all others were two-across; Shockwave is four-across. Newer rides are either so unique to us and to UK. Sweden had one and in 1993 we went and filmed our advert over there. To get the feel for it and to plug ours on TV, the Sommerland stand-up was plastered with Drayton Manor Park stickers on it. (This coaster is now in La Ronde)

CK: Why did you specifically choose the stand up coaster? Was it because the design was more marketable as a ride, or because of the ride sensation?

CB:  “Unique and not an off shelf coaster. Unique - 1st stand up in the world for inversions, with the heart line spiral.”

What is off the shelf anyway?

CK: So you specifically elected to avoid an off-the-shelf coaster, then?

CB: “Off the shelf coasters were not suitable as “what is off the shelf anyway?” We needed a big job and got one. It could have been bigger if we had more money and only that factor, but today we would have suffered by the lack of land available for the plethora of rides now in the park. As said planning restrictions required us to only occupy the current position.”

CK: Who else other than the manufacturer and park were involved in Shockwave?

CB: “Eight contractors none actually involved in design of ride. Mainly concrete, building and access repair department and all other items except roller coaster design, as Intamin had exclusivity.”  

1994: Year of the Roller Coaster
Other coasters opening in 1994

Nemesis (Alton Towers)

Pepsi Max Big One (Pleasure Beach Blackpool)

Nemesis at Alton Towers

Pepsi Max Big One at Blackpool PB

CK: How aware were you that the UK theme park industry was about to take off and that Drayton Manor needed something to capture peoples’ imagination?

CB: “We did not seem to know that Alton Towers and Blackpool were putting in mega coasters for 1994.

Perhaps we may have triggered the race by ordering ours in 1992/3 - yet if speaking to John Wardley he will be only too aware that he kept quiet about his and we didn't. They were designed by the Swiss; ours Intamin, theirs by B&M and yet both were once all one company!

And yes, it was an amazing year in 1994: "The Year of the Rollercoaster".”

CK: Although it was an amazing year, the prospect of opening Shockwave within weeks of two other major coasters must have had an affect on the way you marketed the ride?

CB: “Saturday March 26 1994 we launched with the Gladiators and even had page 3 in the Sun - priceless! Shockwave lived up to its name!”

CK: Some parks are very specific in their requirements for a new ride, whilst others give manufacturers a free reign. How much time did you spend developing Shockwave, and how involved were you in the design?  

CB: “Time taken 2 years. We helped with design and configuration only on paper. Size and available area were the major deciding factors. The ride could not go outside the area already designated as into "green belt". So length played a lot in the number of spirals achievable from the height available, i.e. drop down only allowed so much run up to the exit, if higher then more track needed and therefore more land taken up!  

Final Turn: This would have looked different had the council not misread the plans

CK: So the planning restrictions are more specific than just the visual impact the ride has then?

CB: “Yes. The access road, lake, car parks and local housing played significantly in the ‘restraint’ put upon by the local council. Afterwards when the ride was finished the locals complained about the closeness of the last bend before the station being so close to the boundary of the park, saying it was not on the plans. Well, they had passed it absolutely correctly to the millimetre and the council had not noticed how close Shockwave track HAD been drawn and subsequently built so close to the edge of the property, stream and car parks. This could not happen now, as the digital map references would be bought to the councillor's attention straight away.”

CK: What direct affect did these restraints have on Shockwave?

CB: “Height and length. An extra Bayuurn curve would have been nice, out over the lake, but not enough height to allow build to go ahead.”

CK: Any other ideas that didn’t make it to fruition?

CB: “Yes, also considered was one stand-up car and one sit down (same as Busch Gardens sit down mega 4 across coaster).”  

Heartline Spiral: This element had to be replaced  

CK: With such a large project, you must have encountered a fair amount of hurdles?

CB: “The new (for stand up) "heart line spiral". Two pieces of pipe were bent and when the ride was finished construction the test rig would not go through so another pipe (i.e. a complete length of track) was put in place of the useless length of track.

Also the tonnage of the ride and its size for craneage, amount of concrete; i.e., £1 million worth in the ground.”

CK: We’re talking big money then for a family park.

CB: “Yes, the crash of black Wednesday on the stock market in October 1993 caused us to lose £600,000 on the deal with the two rides, a total of £7million expenditure in the end over three years.

Always overestimate the costs of installation as no one gets it right.”

CK: But you saved money elsewhere, right?

CB: The building was the first case in the UK for tax allowances to be allowed as part of the ride. So the whole of the ride and the access stairs/building were classed as one amount and not as a separate building and ride as is in most cases.

A building is not tax allowable (offset against profit of company, therefore, less tax to pay). DMP were the first company to do this, therefore, set the president forever. Now all high roller coasters that have a building as part of the access and store get tax allowance as one. Previously only if the ride arrives with an "as supplied" completed ride do others get this tax allowance. If the building is not supplied in the price, then no tax allowance.”

CK: Retrospectively, is there anything you would change about Shockwave?

We should have had a Nemesis-style coaster

CB:  “Yes. We should have had a Nemesis-style coaster and not stand up. At the time we ordered ours, stand up was to be the best thing and now 10 years later it’s the rarest of coasters – there’s still only 15 in the world”

CK: But it’s still unique though?

CB: “Yes, the Heartline spiral was unique at the time and its popular still after 10 years.”

CK: Shockwave is now one of four major rides in the park to come from ride manufacturers Intamin. To what extent did the experience of working with them influence the choice of later rides?

CB: “Splash Canyon (1993), Shockwave (1994), Apocalypse (1999) and Maelstrom (2002) - You forgot the Flying Dutchman (1983). This is the ONLY one in the world now as only 4 built and 3 scrapped!

Uses hydraulics (Yale, USA), drive (STAFFA, UK), French steel for arms, boats from Austria and ropes (for cars) from the UK. A very international ride.

What influenced us? High usage and longevity and very important inventiveness.

We have a good relationship with Intamin and they with us. Although they are always expensive they offer very fair value in the long run.”  

Intamin & Drayton Manor
"We have a good relationship with Intamin"

Maelstrom (2002)

Flying Dutchman (1983)

Maelstrom: 2002

Flying Dutchman: 1983

CK: What rides have caught your attention within the last decade?

CB: "Top Thrill Dragster", Cedar Point, not that I would go on it, but its sheer design and ingenuity are amazing.

CK: And the next ten years...?

CB: “Have not a clue. The last 10 years has surprised me every year and the next 10 will as well. Perhaps, Mission: SPACE (Epcot), Top Thrill Dragster number 2 over 500 ft? But make sure that its safe whatever is done.

There will be (my prediction) less theme parks, and less people visiting the UK industry in the future, basically because:

Age: (in 2010) there will be more over 60 years old than under 16 years of age. This alters the ride requirements and less therefore revenue.

Time available: congestion, travel and prior engagements will make us not want to go out.

Other activities: Our most feared opposition is Sunday mall shopping. This alone is our biggest opposition.

And finally, the single parent will not be able to afford us. A bad prediction yet has to be put down as a factor.”

CK: What do the UK Government do to help in this respect?

CB: “Government intervention in all the following makes us feel more restricted and ruled.

VAT @ 17.5% is unjust in the UK on the entrance price, fast food (burger to eat on hoof), overnight accommodation and restaurant meals.

All EU countries except UK (17.5%) and Denmark (19.6 or 21%) are 6% for entrance, fast food and accommodation. France is 5.5% on restaurant meals served. How unjust can that be?

H.S.E. [Health and Safety Executive] are over zealous and awfully power crazy. It now needs reigning in and stopping adding any more regulations as they (HSE) are asking for more regulations than, say, in Germany. If a German ride is accepted in Germany and all over the world why should HSE and others ask for more regulations to come to the UK, it is daft and not needed.

After all a Mercedes is not altered by country for each country surely.”

With thanks to Helen O'Neill and Colin Bryan for their unwavering help throughout the production of this feature

Anniversary Features

Flying Machines

Maxim's Captive Flying Machines are reviewed

Time Flies
A brief look back at how Blackpool Pleasure Beach has evolved around the timeless Flying Machines

Maxim Biography
A look back at master inventor, Sir Hiram Maxim

Big One

The Pepsi Max Big One is reviewed

The Big Ten
A look at the Big One over the last ten years and the impact it's had

Making a Molehill out of a Mountain
Building the tallest coaster in the world in a park where it just won't fit 


Shockwave is reviewed

Shockwave's Shockwaves
Drayton Manor before Shockwave, and how Shockwave has changed the park

Colin Bryan Interview
Exclusive interview with Park Manager and family owner of Drayton Manor