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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SEO Account Manager

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SEO Account Manager is requi...

SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant - Global Leader - FTSE 250

£18000 - £23000 per annum + competitive: SThree: As an Associate Recruitment C...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Representative

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family run school photogra...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - OTE £42,000

£28000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be joining a leading s...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map