Doris Thompson

Centenarian chairman of Blackpool Pleasure Beach
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Doris Thompson was the matriarch of Blackpool Pleasure Beach's first family of fun. To the end of her life, she remained an ambassadress for the multi-million-pound empire founded by her father at the beginning of the 20th century.



Lilian Doris Bean, businesswoman: born Great Yarmouth, Norfolk 12 January 1903; OBE 2003; married 1928 Leonard Thompson (died 1976; one daughter, and one son and one daughter deceased); died Barnacre, Lancashire 23 June 2004.



Doris Thompson was the matriarch of Blackpool Pleasure Beach's first family of fun. To the end of her life, she remained an ambassadress for the multi-million-pound empire founded by her father at the beginning of the 20th century.

She was born Lilian Doris Bean in Great Yarmouth in 1903. It was there that her father, William Bean, had set up an amusement park based on his experiences in America. It failed quickly and spectacularly, as did a second adventure in Brighton, but, on visiting the Lancashire coast, William Bean saw Blackpool's immense potential.

Educated locally in Blackpool, and then at Malvern Ladies' College, in 1928 Doris married Leonard Thompson, a bright, ambitious, Oxford-educated businessman. He worked for the Swedish Match Company and the couple were content to begin married life in London. However, within 12 months, the death of Doris's father while on a Mediterranean cruise threw their plans into disarray. The couple decided to return to Blackpool to try and keep William Bean's dream alive. While Doris became a director, Leonard became chairman and managing director of Blackpool Pleasure Beach, roles that continued for almost 50 years.

As Leonard expanded the then somewhat disparate collection of rides, buildings and attractions, Doris was kept busy with her young family. However, gradually, behind the scenes, she assisted more and more in the massive development of the site during the depression years of the 1930s when the marvellous Fun House, the twin-track Grand National and, a particular favourite, the United Kingdom's first Ice Show, leapt into life.

A committed Christian, in 1939 she oversaw the appointment of a Pleasure Beach chaplain, a tradition that continues to this day. Each new season would begin with a church service for all the staff. Appointed a Justice of the Peace in the same year, during the Second World War Doris Thompson was the first local chairman of the Women's Voluntary Service.

In 1948, tragedy struck the family when Doris and Leonard's elder daughter, Mary Louise, was on her way to study in America before taking up a place at Oxford University. As her plane came into land at Shannon Airport in dense fog, it hit a wall and burst into flames. Thirty passengers were killed, including Mary Louise, and only one survived.

On Leonard's death in 1976, Doris Thompson succeeded him as chairman of the Pleasure Beach, her son, Geoffrey, becoming managing director. She revelled in her new role and could often be found donning her headscarf and hurtling around on the latest ride, pursued by a posse of reporters and photographers.

In 1979, she hit the headlines when she tested the heart- stopping 360-degree Revolution ride, having first popped into her doctors for a check-up. Almost 20 years later, as one of the stars of the BBC TV fly-on-the-wall documentary Pleasure Beach (1998), she was filmed, at the age of 95, joining the pop group Boyzone to open the PlayStation ride. She was later heard to comment, "That nice boy Ronan Keating seemed very nervous."

For relaxation she escaped to Europe in her Rolls-Royce - "a present from myself, to myself". "Mrs T" rarely missed a day in the office and presided over business meetings with the physical and mental energy of a woman half her age. She regularly featured among the top fifty richest women in England.

In January 2003, a 100th birthday celebration for Doris Thompson took the form of a black-tie gala dinner and concert for over 300 guests at the Pleasure Beach. Within days, she was laying the foundation stone of the Big Blue Hotel, then a few weeks later she received the Freedom of the Borough of Blackpool, the first woman to be so honoured. In June, she was appointed OBE, while in October, for her services to the leisure industry, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, in Orlando, Florida, granted her their Board of Directors Award, Geoffrey receiving the honour on her behalf. An extraordinary year ended with, for her, the ultimate honour, a new rose to be named Lilian Doris.

Her death at the age of 101 came only a few hours after her son Geoffrey's funeral.

Kenneth Shenton

Comments