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)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

Nursery Manager

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Nursery Manager Long term Ran...

Sales Consultant – Permanent – West Sussex – £24-£25k plus commission and other benefits

£24000 - £25000 Per Annum plus company car and commission: Clearwater People S...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Bris...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Glou...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain