Geoffrey Thompson

Charismatic managing director of Blackpool Pleasure Beach

Geoffrey Thompson, managing director for almost 30 years of Blackpool Pleasure Beach, was one of the most charismatic figures in the British leisure industry. As head of a family business of which Barnum himself would have been proud, this visionary showman ran one of the most successful visitor attractions in Europe.

William Geoffrey Thompson, businessman: born Manchester 16 November 1936; married 1962 Barbara Foxcroft (one son, two daughters); died Blackpool, Lancashire 12 June 2004

Geoffrey Thompson, managing director for almost 30 years of Blackpool Pleasure Beach, was one of the most charismatic figures in the British leisure industry. As head of a family business of which Barnum himself would have been proud, this visionary showman ran one of the most successful visitor attractions in Europe.

Standing proudly at the southern end of Britain's premier holiday resort, Blackpool Pleasure Beach was founded by William Bean at the end of the 19th century. It was then a motley collection of mainly gypsy encampments dotted about the sands, but today the 42-acre site dominates the local landscape. On the death of Bean in 1929, his daughter Doris and son-in-law Leonard Thompson took over and considerably expanded the attractions. Today, 75 years on and now in her 102nd year, Doris Thompson, remains a director and still plays an active role within the company.

The only son of Leonard and Doris Thompson, Geoffrey was born in Manchester in 1936. Educated at Arnold Junior School and Rossall School before moving to Shrewsbury, he later read Economics at Clare College, Cambridge. Then, like his father and grandfather before him, he moved to America to broaden his education, studying Business Administration at Wharton Business School, part of the University of Pennsylvania.

On returning to Britain, Thompson worked for a time in London for New Era Laundries, consolidating the company's rapid expansion into the contract-hire business. In 1963, newly married to Barbara Foxcroft, the daughter of a Blackpool solicitor, he returned home to work at the Pleasure Beach, initially in charge of the catering at the Casino Building. With no special privileges, his training eventually took in all aspects of the business, including the two neighbouring sister parks at Morecambe and Southport. He always remained grateful for the tough tutelage his father insisted upon. On Leonard's death in 1976, Geoffrey Thompson was appointed managing director, his mother becoming chairman.

With millions of holidaymakers deserting the traditional seaside resorts in favour of cheap continental holidays, Thompson realised that a dynamic new management style would be needed. The key to the future, as he saw it, was rapid investment, particularly in the provision of bigger, better and more exciting rides. To attract a new generation of visitors, he vowed to take a fearless approach to risk, in partnership with the tried and tested promotional techniques he had seen at first hand while in America.

His first major new ride was the groundbreaking Steeplechase, in 1977, a horse-racing rollercoaster ride which allowed him to develop the relatively neglected southern end of the park. Relentlessly promoted, not least by the triple grand national winner, Red Rum, it was the first of the new generation of thrill rides. Others followed, including in 1994 the world's tallest, fastest rollercoaster, the Big One, then the Ice Blast vertical ride, and in 2000 the world's biggest dark ride, Valhalla.

During the Eighties, Thompson purchased Magic Harbor, a theme park at Myrtle Beach on the coast of South Carolina. Back home, the business remained buoyant and, with visitor numbers on the increase, in 1987 a new railway station on the South Fylde Line was constructed by British Rail to bring visitors right to the gates of the park.

A year earlier, the Pleasure Beach had become one of the first companies in the UK to register with the Government Profit Related Pay Unit. Under this scheme the company agreed that, where profits exceeded £1m, 10 per cent would be distributed among the permanent staff according to their length of service. As the successful decade ended, the whole frontage of the Pleasure Beach facing the Irish Sea was redesigned at a cost of £9m to include a series of shops, restaurants and attractions.

However, underneath the success lay a number of practical difficulties. A disastrous fire in 1991 caused £10m worth of damage, destroying Joseph Emberton's wonderful 1930s art-deco Fun House, together with many historical artefacts. Though personally devastated by the loss, Thompson was able to turn a negative into a positive, quickly announcing his £12m investment in the Big One, timed to coincide with the centenary of the opening of Blackpool Tower in 1994. When the ride hit problems soon after its inception, the decision was taken, to extend the season for as long as possible. During the winter months the park began to open at weekends, a practice that has continued ever since.

Two years ago, Thompson achieved a lifelong ambition when he helped his mother lay the foundation stone of the £4m Big Blue Hotel, the first situated within the confines of the park complex. Further hotels were planned, as was the introduction of gaming as soon as the legislation was in place. In 1989 he had been elected a member of the English Tourist Board and upon his retirement from the organisation in 1997 was awarded the Outstanding Contribution to Tourism Award. He was also appointed OBE.

Thompson was an indefatigable worker for many causes. During the 1970s he campaigned to save Blackpool's magical Grand Theatre from the threat of destruction by its owners EMI. Under his leadership the Grand Theatre Trust eventually purchased the property in 1981; he was chairman for the next 11 years.

An imposing, urbane man, Geoffrey Thompson had enormous personal charm. His warmth and wit endeared him particularly to those with whom he disagreed. Even after a lifetime in the leisure industry, beneath the hard-nosed exterior of big business still lay the romantic visionary who remained steadfastly resolute in following his grandfather's mantra of "making adults feel like children again".

Kenneth Shenton



News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a Teaching Assistant...

Year 5 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Year 6 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Automation Test Lead (C#, Selenium, SQL, XML, Web-Services)

£50000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Automation Tes...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering