End of the Pier: Cromer ditches its fruit machines to thrive on laughter: In the first of a series on Britain's piers, Martin Wroe visits a resort where 'family fun' pulls the crowds

A SMALL BOY kneels on Cromer pier, dribbling his spit down through cracks in the boards to the sea below.

All around, the railings are covered with small children crabbing. The girders are decorated with abandoned crab lines and a sign says: 'Crab lines 35p each - crab line not included.'

The crabs, presumably with an air of resignation, are hauled in by the minute. Older boys reel them in, barking instructions to younger brothers to 'take the slack'. Small pockets of relatives are hunched over buckets, examining the catch.

There is a peaceful, lazy contentment about the scene at Cromer pier on a sunny afternoon in late July. Pulse rates have slowed, minds are being rested. From inside the Pavilion Theatre, the crabbers and fishermen and promenaders can hear roars of laughter.

'Nice to see your sunny faces,' says Neil James to a capacity audience. 'It is suntan, isn't it - not rust.' The jokes are not new, sometimes they are not particularly funny but the 450-strong 'family audience' bellows with appreciation. 'My wife talks through her nose, ' says the comic. 'She has to, her mouth is worn out.'

The Burnside Residents' Association loves it, so does the Coronation Hall Over-60s Club, and Mrs Plumstead's group cheers particularly loudly when Hope and Keen, the headline acts, give them a personal welcome from the stage. Soon everyone is singing along lustily to 'The Sun Has Got His Hat On', as the cast, dressed as clowns, dance on stage.

The style of Seaside Special 93 at Cromer is as old as most of its jokes and the show is a dying breed. The leaflet proudly declares its pedigree as 'TV's last authentic End of the Pier show' - despite the fact that it is not on TV. But the claim is rooted in history - the title of a mid-Eighties BBC 2 documentary on the pier's summer show.

Sell-out performances eight times a week suggest that other piers might do well to reconsider the virtues of this mix of song and dance, comic banter, sitcom sketches and something called 'family fun'.

The locals, understandably, are very proud of it: 'Cromer's End of the Pier show is nothing less than a theatrical miracle,' said the North Norfolk News last month, without a trace of false modesty. But there's few left like it.

'This sort of show is a dinosaur,' Mike Hope says. 'There's so few left because all the piers have been falling into the sea.'

'It's sad that other summer shows have to revert to vulgarity,' adds his sidekick, Albie Keen. 'We avoid religion or anything that will offend.'

There is a distinctly uncommercial air about the pier, a sense of being unexploited, perhaps because Cromer is not on the way to anywhere, except perhaps the past. 'They don't have motorways here,' Neil James says. 'It's a timewarp, like stepping back 25 years. It's like the Tardis in there during the show.'

If many piers have suffered from the weather over the years, Cromer has benefited. Until four years ago, its broad, bright wooden expanse was rudely broken by an arcade full of fruit-machines and other money- sucking electronic contraptions making bleeping noises. Help was at hand.

'We were hit by a mini-typhoon one day,' Vivien Gough, the theatre manager, recalled. 'It lifted the arcade right up and deposited it in the sea and we all decided it was an act of God and that that was the best place for it.'

The pier was built in 1901, setting off intense rivalry between the Great Eastern Railway and the Midland and Great Northern Railway, which ferried VIPs from different parts of the country. The Royal Engineers blew out its middle section during the Second World War to discourage invading Germans.

Last year, North Norfolk district council refurbished the theatre and 40,000 attended the shows. This year the council has already spent pounds 500,000 on maintaining the pier's structure.

Keeping the pier in good order is expensive, but the enthusiastic appreciation of many capacity audiences repays the investment.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
News
Danczuk has claimed he is a 'man of the world'
news
Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins wins the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Executive - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Recognised as one of the fastes...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager - Refrigeration

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrigeration, mechan...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Finance Manager - Central London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Business Development Manager

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor