End of the Pier: Nostalgia meets blue jokes in God's waiting room: Continuing a series on British piers, Martin Wroe finds vulgarity and peace in Blackpool

'WHAT is it with Blackpool?' Jim Davidson asks from the stage of the Pavilion Theatre at the end of the North Pier in Blackpool. 'I've never seen so many old people. It's like God's waiting room.'

But his two-hour routine, containing more filth than the EC claims to have found in the sea 100 feet below him, soon reduces the numbers. Within minutes, elderly people are trooping out, red-faced and in a state of mild shock. End of the pier shows were not like this in their day.

'It was awful, not a holiday show, a stag night,' a Mercedes agent up for a week from Essex said.

A Glasgow woman thought he was vulgar. 'Russ Abbot was not like that last year.'

But if a few of them have left, the majority have stayed and the majority of those are younger people who do not normally visit this more staid of Blackpool's three piers. Which is exactly the point.

'At the other piers,' ventures the man on the Lotta Bottle stand, 'you've got your Geordie boys and your rough lads, but we don't get them. We get your geriatrics who don't spend any bloody money.'

There is a kind of history in it, according to Peter Walters, the North Pier's general manager. In days of old 'the mill bosses stayed on the north shore while the workforce stayed on the central and south'.

It's rumoured, he says, that the division even extends to love: you may find friendship on the North Pier, but you're more likely to consummate it under the Central or South Pier.

During the day the North Pier is packed with over-sixties, the men reading newspapers, their wives, generous legs spreadeagled, resting amply in white plastic deck-chairs at 50p a session. If they cannot walk the 1,320ft stretch to the Sun Lounge and bar at seaward end, a tram will take them for another 50p. Here they can listen to Ray Wallbank playing defiantly non-pop hits on his electric organ. 'A resident organist adds to the pleasure of our patrons with twice-daily recitals,' as the official history puts it.

More than a million people pour on to the North Pier each year, most just to sit and think before dropping off to sleep. It is a balmy, lazy, tranquil atmosphere with a faint air of the past and the passing. A holiday for people on full-time holiday.

'My husband here comes for the air,' Emmie Falkingham said, nudging Arthur with her elbow as if he was not quite obvious. 'That's why we walk the pier, for the Blackpool breeze, it does you good.'

Emmie and Arthur, from Bradford and retired, have been coming to the North Pier since they were children. They saw Morecambe and Wise but would never go to Jim Davidson: 'It's possible to be funny without being rude.'

The walk and the air were just what the 20 townsmen who decided to erect the pier in 1861 were aiming at when they wrote in their prospectus of creating 'greater promenading space of the most invigorating kind'.

Apart from Gypsy Petulengro's palm-reading ('As seen on TV and also radio') and a fudge shop, nothing interrupts the splendid span of the pier between the lump of the Merrie England Bar at the shore end and the lump of the Pavilion Theatre at the other.

Beyond the Pavilion are the fishermen, annoyed at the imminent return of helicopter rides - pounds 15 for four minutes - which forces them away from the end of the pier.

'It spoils it for fishing, that helicopter,' Tommy Hall, 66, from Bolton, said.

'Do you know, years ago I used to be a blue comedian?' says Jim Davidson, back at the show, before going into his routine about about menstruation. 'I don't mean to be disgusting,' he says. But he does and he is and most of his audience love it.

The archetypally politically incorrect entertainer, he then leads the house in chanting abuse at the Germans, before gags at the expense of West Indians and Asians. The audience, paying pounds 9 a ticket, does not mind the xenophobia or the crudity, nor that the humour is often prehistoric. The sound of old women cackling and young men belly-laughing skitters around the walls of the theatre and tells its own story.

'Superb,' chorus Martin and Tony Smith from Glasgow. 'Brilliant, better than on the telly.'

'End of the pier shows are easy,' says fellow comic Bobby Davro, in the audience to watch his fiancee singing in Davidson's band. 'The audience are on holiday, they want a laugh.'

Later, after the show, when it is too dark to see that the sea is not blue, and a million lights, glistening on the shoreline, dazzle your eyes, the magic of another age returns. For a second the nostalgia works, which may be what the over-sixties come here to rediscover, from that long-gone time before they were in God's waiting room.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth with Tess Daly in the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special
tvLouis Smith wins with 'Jingle Bells' quickstep on Strictly Come Dancing's Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there