Compiled by Anthony Wills
The prospects for BRIGHTON WEST took a dramatic turn for the worse when a freak storm in June caused the remains of the Concert Hall and central sections of the decking to disappear beneath the waves. On 30 July English Heritage, which since the shock withdrawal of Heritage Lottery funding in January had been assessing the feasibility of a trimmed down repair and restoration scheme based on Eugenius Birch’s 1866 promenade pier design, announced that the pier was now beyond rescue.
This statement came as a shock to the Board of the West Pier Trust, which had not been expecting EH’s report until September. English Heritage said they had brought forward their announcement as the stricken remains of the pier currently presented a health and safety danger to the Brighton seafront. The loss of such a crucial section of the pier had, in their opinion, robbed the scheme of the historic credibility needed for a costly restoration.
Brighton Council hinted that it would take steps to issue a demolition order. The Board of the West Pier Trust was considering its position. These sad developments were widely reported in the media, with the Daily Telegraph calling the West Pier saga “a parable for everything that is wrong with Britain: disdain for the past, political incompetence, subjection before Brussels, asphyxiating bureaucracy, pointless vandalism.” The Vice-President and Chairman of the National Piers Society issued a joint statement saying “We believe that a golden opportunity has been lost to save a structure of national importance. It is particularly poignant that in the Society’s 25th anniversary year, with many piers having been successfully restored, we should be mourning the demise of what many consider the finest example of pier engineering around the world. We extend our sympathy to the Board of the West Pier Trust at this difficult time.”
The discovery of asbestos in GREAT YARMOUTH WELLINGTON pier theatre during rebuilding works has put paid to shows being staged there in 2004, and may well have implications for its return to live entertainment. The amusement arcade reopened to visitors on 3 April.
Meanwhile, SOUTHWOLD appears to be facing a beach crisis after sand was washed away during the winter, leaving banks of clay exposed at low tide. Pier manager Matthew Wade said beach levels were getting steadily lower and he was having to repair damaged groynes and put in concrete slabs to give added protection to the structure.
SOUTHSEA SOUTH PARADE pier is being slowly destroyed by gribbles, according to a report on the Portsmouth News of 3 April. The same paper reported on 31 May that Southsea town councillors were urging owners of Leisure Parcs to invest more money in regenerating the pier.
HARWICH HA’PENNY was involved in a recreation of 1960s offshore pirate radio station Radio Caroline during April, marking the 40th anniversary of its inception.
52 schoolchildren had a lucky escape on 5 May when their double decker bus collided with SOUTHPORT pier bridge. The driver of the 14ft high vehicle ignored warning signs and attempted to pass under the 13ft arch. The children on the upper deck were shaken but unhurt.
WESTON-SUPER-MARE GRAND has celebrated its centenary in style. Over the weekend of 11/12 June all rides were free and the crowds were entertained by aerobatics displays, wing walking by the Utterly Butterly team flying over the pier, stilt walkers, magic shows, jazz bands, face painters and balloon modellers. At 10 p.m. on the Saturday (the exact anniversary of the pier’s opening in 1904) Weston’s largest ever firework display lit up the sky. Giant projectors situated on the roof of the pier entrance threw jets of flame up to 30 feet into the air. The entire façade of the pavilion building was colourwashed with effects lighting and had images projected on to it.
SOUTHEND follows up its Pier Heritage Festival (19/20 June) with Jazz On The Walkway (31 July/1 August) and a Grand Puppet Festival (6/7/8 August).
BOGNOR REGIS once more played host to the Birdman Rally on 4 July. Fred Gray presented the runner-up prize in the Magnificent Flight category, sponsored by the Society.
SOUTHPORT’s new all-weather electric air-conditioned pier tram was due to enter service in July. The Pier Trust and Sefton Council organized a competition to find a suitable name for it.
CROMER’s Pier Pavilion was reopened on 27 June by actor Stephen Fry after extensive remodelling. Its famous end-of-the-pier show Seaside Special starring comedian Andy Ford is playing at the newly revamped theatre until 25 September. Performances are at 8 p.m. every night except Sundays, with matinees on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
For the first time in fifteen years Jim Davidson will not be appearing in shows at GREAT YARMOUTH this summer. The controversial comedian, who formerly leased the Wellington pier from the council, outraged locals last August with his scathing comments about the resort’s visitors.
CLEETHORPES pier has become more accessible to the general public now that the Paradise Club began opening during the daytime. Non-clubbers can now take a traditional stroll along the pier’s 335ft. of decking and admire the views across the estuary.
English Seaside Architecture is the subject of a 3-day conference taking place in CROMER on 29-31 October. Organized jointly by Anglia Polytechnic University and North Norfolk District Council, owners of Cromer pier, the event will be staged in the Pier Pavilion. NPS Committee members Martin Easdown and Fred Gray are amongst those making presentations.
Researchers from Bournemouth University have declared TORQUAY the best beach for the bucket & spade brigade. They took sand samples at low, medium and high water tide marks and calculated that the winning formula for sandcastle building is eight parts sand to one part water.
The jailing of the skipper of m.v. Donald Redford, which severed HYTHE pier back in November 2003, was prominently reported in the Mail and the Times on 20 March. The Times also carried a superb colour photo of BOURNEMOUTH pier on 8 April, illustrating its report that the beach there had been voted cleanest in the UK in a recent survey, scoring 99 out of a possible 100 points.
Bournemouth was also Number One in Ian Beacham’s survey of UK resorts published in the June issue of Best of British. CROMER and DEAL were the only other pier-owning resorts to figure in his Top Ten Best. The magazine also carried, in its May edition, an interview with COLWYN BAY’s new owner Steve Hunt.
Punch & Judy operators are under threat from the new Licensing Act requiring them to apply for a separate licence at each venue they perform at, according to the Sunday Telegraph of 21 March. There are reckoned to be about 300 Punch & Judy “professors” across Britain, including Michael Stone who performs on BRIGHTON PALACE pier.
Some of the cast of East Enders, including Ian Lavender and James Alexandrou (who plays Martin Fowler), filmed scenes on BOGNOR REGIS seafront (including background shots of the pier) in February, which duly appeared on BBC-1 in late April.
EASTBOURNE was described as a “renaissance resort” in the Independent on Sunday travel section of 2 May, illustrated with a handsome shot of the pier.
BRIGHTON seafront, including scenes beside and under PALACE pier, was the setting for Channel 4’s hard-hitting teenage musical Whatever, screened on 4 May, coincidentally the day on which the pier also featured in Bank Holiday shots published in The Guardian.
The following day’s edition of The Archers (BBC Radio 4) had Joe Grundy reminiscing about a holiday in WESTON-SUPER-MARE including a “grand time” on the pier (he didn’t say which pier, but presumably Weston is the nearest resort to Ambridge….)
Widely reported in the press and on TV news bulletins on 17 May was the recommendation by BLACKPOOL tourism chiefs to withdraw the resort’s traditional deckchairs in favour of more contemporary beach furniture.
Pier was the stark title of BBC Radio 4’s moody Afternoon Play on 20 May. Written by Rhiannon Tise it starred Jean Marsh as Doris, who fifty years earlier had worked together with her sister Irene as a waitress on BRIGHTON WEST, where they both fell in love with the roguish Archie, who eloped with an American heiress.
The Sunday Telegraph of 23 May carried a lively profile of NPS President Gavin Henderson, describing him as “a typhoon in tweeds and bow tie” and mentioning his connection with piers in addition to many other responsibilities in the arts and education fields. A few days later Gavin was awarded the CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
Let’s Talk is a newish monthly magazine reflecting life in the Suffolk and Essex region. Its June issue contained a four page feature on piers of that area, compiled by Chris Opperman and handsomely illustrated with shots of CLACTON, FELIXSTOWE, LOWESTOFT, SOUTHWOLD and WALTON, all supplied from this Society’s archive.
BBC-2’s profile of composer Benjamin Britten shown on 5 June featured fleeting shots of LOWESTOFT CLAREMONT pier. As a child Britten lived in the resort and wrote many early works there.
The Observer celebrated piers on 27 June, including a mention of Lawrence George Giles’ travelling exhibition Time & Tide.
Comedy duo Cannon & Ball were photographed on BLACKPOOL NORTH pier reflecting on the golden era of television light entertainment, in Channel 4’s lengthy documentary Who Killed Saturday Night TV? shown on 10 July.
A musical adaptation of Graham Greene’s classic Brighton Rock is set to open at London’s Almeida theatre on 20 September, running to 13 November. With a score by John Barry and lyrics by Don Black the show will be directed by Michael Attenborough, whose father Richard famously played the lead role in the Boulting Brothers’ 1948 film version, filmed extensively on PALACE pier.