Wednesday, 29 August 2012

In praise of Blackpool

I’m very fond of Blackpool and so have been many people in Leek according to the newspaper accounts of the visitors to the Lancashire town in its pomp after the war. The Post and Times of July 1956 carried an advert for the attractions at the Central Pier with Jimmy James, Ken Dodd and Jimmy Clitheroe all starring. And at the beginning of Wakes weeks pictures of cheering groups waiting to leave from local railway stations.

Blackpool for the working class holidaymakers was the principle destination for those seeking thrills on their annual holiday. The Golden Mile, its landladies, the Tower, its circus with the popular clown Charlie Carioli, the Big Wheel, the Pleasure Beach, the piers, live shows with a range of the best entertainers, the Illuminations, Madame Tussauds, the trams, as well as it being the home of Stanley Matthews and George Formby.

All just a couple of hours away- a secular heaven for millions.

When I go to Blackpool I like to sit in the rococo splendour of the Tower Ballroom. It’s the place for the ghosts of the thousands of people who enjoyed themselves in their precious time off the mill, the mine, the factory and the shop.

While I was there recently I went to a photographic exhibition at the local art gallery. It showed a potted social history of Blackpool though the lens of some of Britain's greatest documentary photographers such as Bert Hardy. The photographs portray a town, which at its peak in the 50s was attracting 17 million visitors a year. The decline of traditional industries and the birth of the package tour put paid to Blackpool 's long pre-eminence as a holiday destination.

Blackpool now is decaying with mouldering B and Bs which are now benefit hostels, a forlorn looking front and drab looking shops. The Political parties don’t come to Blackpool for their annual conferences anymore. It’s a pity that they don’t as it serves as a metaphor for the decline of a dignified way of life based on work and a world that has been allowed to wantonly disappear.