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month's article is by Jamie Shoesmith
it is the case we live in a country where information is, through the
often-clichéd term ‘mass media’ more accessible, and that our
continental counterparts can enjoy more unscrutinised climes, but Roller
Coaster Database (rcdb.com) categorises that of the thirty-two defunct
or closed parks across Europe, exactly half once operated on UK soil.
saw Pleasureland Southport, the Merseyside-based park owned by the
historical Blackpool Pleasure Beach fraternity, given its own headstone
in the amusement industry graveyard after almost a century of operation.
with fond memories will recall how the park’s unique style was matched
only by her big sister to the north, in managing to retain ol'factory
miniature masterpieces like Big Apple and King Solomon's mines, not
forgetting the ACE-classic woodie Cyclone, through to contemporary
technology showcasing the S&S SkyShot and, of course, the modern
showpiece TraumaTizer. It was, without wanting to be overly schmaltzy, a
veritable museum of amusement rides and attractions.
abruptness of Pleasureland’s closure was accompanied by the sketchy
statement laid in to the poor workforce’s redundancy notice. The
citing of a ‘lack of return in investments’ making the park
‘unviable’ seemed a pretty tame response in comparison to the same
people who rallied to the crises of 2004 when a fire threatened the
survival of the Pleasure Beach’s Grand National coaster, not to
mention the tragic passing of their much loved commanders-in-chief Doris
and Geoffrey Thompson.
leaders’ power has since passed over to daughter Amanda, who many in
the enthusiast circuit have been quick to make scapegoat for
Southport’s abrupt end.
of jumping to conclusions, we really should examine all logical reasons
behind such a massive blow to the UK amusement industry:
The owners managed under given limitation and the park and is,
enough, it is a distinctly good possibility that Pleasureland has fallen
upon harsh times. One only has to take a moment, when reaching the top
of the TraumaTizer lift hill, to look out past the iconic sand dunes.
The unmistakeable first drop of the Pepsi Max Big One is very hard not
was only then I realized on my visit there how uncomfortably close the
park sits to its ‘friendly rival’. These two parks are essentially
two businesses at loggerheads for the same target audience; this feels
scarily similar to the saga of Chessington and Thorpe Park having to
undergo a remodelling under The Tussauds Group ownership as a means to a
is clear that Pleasureland cannot ever be rehashed as a ‘family’
amusement park in the same way Chessington did; and as for the Pleasure
Beach, woe betide any management with surgical ideas in mind. No, both
parks had to cater with the job lot they had. Under this argument,
Pleasureland closed through faculty.
failed to substantiate Southport’s upkeep and the park closed by a
shortfall in investment and bad decision-making
always humours me when many enthusiasts across many Internet forums (no
names mentioned) are quick to roast theme park management without any
viable alternative. Those critics that do offer solutions to park
‘mismanagement’ are generally quite wide of mark in terms of a
reality check on budget, constraint, cost-effectiveness and whether what
they are suggesting is for their sole benefit or for the non-enthusiast
majority who visit the park in question; ie, the general public.
the flip side, it could be easily argued that Southport’s investments
in recent years have been seriously lacking if – and I stress this
point to compare in terms of
budget – you contrast with investment at the Pleasure Beach.
the good effort to publicize TraumaTizer, Southport rested on their
laurels. King Solomon’s Mines, an absolute riot of a wooden wild
mouse, was bought in the following year, but you can only go so far to
promote a second-hand miniature woodie that’s dwarfed under the
inverter coaster’s shadow. After that a few minor refurbs for a few
years and the park continued to operate with the same line-up year in,
as I said before, this is fine if looking at the park on its own. All
parks must balance their books and we must respect that rather than
blithely demand a new ride to spring up from nowhere. However, if you
look at Blackpool’s investment since they heyday of the Big One, it
has managed to hold its own: Valhalla opened to a fanfare of the silly
millions they’d thrown at the project. Space Invader got its
desperately-needed refurbishment and, despite arriving as two very
curious additions, Bling and Spin Doctor received decent reviews when
added to the Plesh fold. All this, plus a speedy recovery operation to
restore the Grand National to its former glory.
a park with a steady investment. Plans for a rocket coaster to break the
world record for height & speed were either idle hearsay or shelved
for another time, but it cannot be ignored that the potential was always
there – this is a park that we all want to see do well.
are talking about the same owners here, however, and the most obvious
conclusion to jump to is years of diverted investment have left
Southport floundering while the Pleasure Beach flourished.
was quickly apparent Southport would not work in years to come, and
closed in order to develop business at Pleasure Beach.
of the joys of the wristband system employed at Southport was that the
plethora of undesirables, who reckoned that ‘paying’ to enter a park
was clearly below them, could no longer simply vault the fence and run
amok, and those in the right frame of mind to pay can enter and leave as
they wished, and can enjoy the park at their own leisure (merits
discussed at length by CK in the September magazine main issue).
free roam of the park is a double-edged sword. Pleasureland quickly
became a hangout point for said teens and the park was forced to
introduce a two pound entry fee on top of its wristband price in order
to allow only the serious thrillseekers the privilege of the grounds.
Sadly, this is now a vicious circle, as the aforementioned unwanted
guests only have to resort back to Plan A of fence-jumping to infiltrate
the grounds armed with their Benson & Hedges. Meanwhile, paying
visitor numbers fell through the floor when this system was introduced.
The two pound pay-on-entry fee is not a case of bad management,
Southport were simply in a forced position.
was one of the many mounting problems the park faced. While guests found
an aura of majesty in visiting Pleasure Beach, it seemed Southport was
simply a collection of amusements cobbled together in one place without
any air of bygone panache to match its counterpart.
it was a foregone conclusion a few years ago that Southport’s number
was up. The speculation that TraumaTizer will be relocated to Pleasure
Beach is perhaps an argument for
the management, in that they’ve realised early on that investiture is
always the wiser – and safer – option when spent on the Golden Mile,
and the inverter coaster is the perfect complement to the Big One,
falling conveniently into the footprint that the Log Flume previously
it could be the case that one argument alone is not the sole reason, for
example, argument A could be born out of B and C combined, or arguments
A and B gave rise to C. This
study of scenarios was merely to establish open minds about
Southport’s demise rather than the incessant desire to have the whole
gory truth on demand, and when it’s not to hand it’s better to avoid
creating a hyperbole of rhetoric instead.
if pushed for a summary, I have been optimistic that, through a century
of service to the modern social hedonist, Southport’s closure was
simply a result of the harsh climate in the postmodern era, in which
business relies on a dog-eat-dog ethos that was not of the
management’s original protocol – to simply provide entertainment for
the masses. What used to be simply BPB is now also PLC, and such harsh
business decisions have turned Pleasureland in to no more than a prime
area of real estate.
the excellent Fun House open is a bittersweet endnote to a sudden and
abrupt death of a much-loved park. Cyclone could now be no more than
timber and sawdust had it not been for the intervention of a group of
vocal enthusiasts; we can only hope the other attractions, especially
the historical icons, can find loving new owners in the forthcoming
exodus rather than the inevitable journey to the scrap heap.
Jamie Shoesmith, September 2006.
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