Every month we remember showbusiness from days gone by, with a variety of tales from the great days of variety and the heydays of summer season. Mark Ritchie asks UK Cabaret readers to tiptoe down memory lane as we remember the seaside pier shows.
There are many piers which have simply succumbed to stormy weather or even arson attempts, all of which saw the number of seaside piers dipping alarmingly during the post-war years.
Long before that, some piers, in Scarborough and Withernsea for instance, hardly had time to get going before being destroyed during winter storms and shipping collisions in 1905 and 1890 respectively.
Piers which always featured top shows and which still exist today can be found in Brighton, Clacton and Great Yarmouth. Blackpool is the leader in terms of numbers with the North, South and Central Piers all providing great shows and entertainment since they were first built. A family of show fairground people own and operate all three Blackpool piers these days. The North Pier still presents summer shows and operates mainly as a receiving house. The Central Pier used to have a theatre, but now a large family show-bar operates on what was once known as ‘The people’s pier’. The South Pier is the youngest of the Blackpool piers and was once known as The Victoria Pier. The original Pavilion theatre, at the end of the South pier was destroyed by fire back in the 1950’s. There was also a second theatre at the entrance of the pier on the promenade, but that too was replaced by an amusement arcade during the 1960’s. In 1998 the last summer show was staged on the South pier featuring Linda Nolan, Frank Carson and Duncan Norvelle. I saw that particular show and on the night there were over 600 in. The following winter the building was demolished.
The Skegness Pier theatre was marooned during the mid-1970’s as the pier was damaged and fractured. For some time the theatre was left there, cut off and alone, before finally being demolished.
The final words should really go to Cromer Pier where a full summer show is still staged throughout the summer season by The Open Wide Group. They even run a similarly lavish Christmas event in Cromer, which serves to keep up a great British tradition. This also makes great commercial sense due to the volume of business the show does and the visitors the Pier attracts to the town.
It would be counter-productive and frankly quite depressing to list the piers which have blown down, been torn down or burned down over the years, Accentuating the positive, there are 50 piers still very much open and operating around the UK coast. The longest piers can be found in Southend, Ryde and Brighton. There is still much live entertainment to enjoy by striding onto the planks of so many and long may that continue.
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