Call most people a dinosaur and you risk a smack in the mouth. Call Dave Daly one and he’ll agree wholeheartedly.
At 64 he’s a fully qualified survivor in a young person’s profession – pub management.
An absolute sacrilege to the town is the loss of the Tower LoungeDave Daly
“I count myself lucky to still be in the trade,” he says from his headquarters at The Castle on Central Drive. “I’d go so far to say that as a “big house” manager I’m probably the longest serving one in the UK.”
He’s notched up 39 years “at the top” when the going rate is 10 years maximum and says he has enjoyed every minute.
Originally from Salford he describes himself as “a refugee”.
“I call anyone who is not a Sandgrownun a refugee, we all come from other parts of the country,” he says.
He came to the coast to join the pub trade after 10 years in the Merchant Navy.
“My ambition was to get a pub in Blackpool but you had to do a couple of years out of town and be promoted here.”
He served his time, became development pub manager for Whitbread moving venues “many times” and including a couple of stints at The Broadway in Fleetwood, opening the St Annes Tavern and the first female friendly pub – The Talbot in Lytham, Never On A Sunday, The Beach Tavern and previous spells at The Castle.
Along the way pubs were changing – female friendlies at one end, “dirty drinking” at the other with its now frowned on glass dance floors, wet T-shirt contests, pole dancing and the like.
“It wasn’t exactly politically correct but it was a fabulous time,” says Dave. “Blackpool was alive. We shut at 3pm and opened again at 5pm, it was a fantastic spell. Now the sons and daughters of those customers are coming into the pubs but things have changed.
“In the town centre pubs would have a three to five year cycle where people would meet their wives, girlfriends, partners, it’s kind of a phase that people go through, a rite of passage.”
They were, he says, “boozers”.
“Ironically I’ve ended up back in a boozer – no food, no children, an adult working class pub. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but it’s raw Blackpool, it serves a purpose, it’s one of the very few in Blackpool that hasn’t gone restauranty or family friendly.
“But there’s room for everybody. The council kind of frown on it but it’s a working class resort and it will always be that. People come on holiday, they drink too much but everybody does, the night time economy is essential.”
He’s proud of what he has achieved within his profession – he’s the National Pub Watch Co-Ordinator for the North West and is regional chairman of Licensees United for the Unite union.
“I’ve no other hobby except trade unionism, I’ve been a trade unionist for 50 years – you had to be a member in the Merchant Navy. I’m centre ground, we’ve had our moments but you can’t go shouting and bawling, we’ve had our say in the 48 hour week and all day drinking.”
Even after retirement next July he’ll keep his involvement.
“I’ll take that to the grave with me,” he says. “I’ve put a lot into the business and it’s been an absolutely fabulous career, it’s been an honour to work in Blackpool for all these years and make a good living out of it - and bring a family up here.”
He has actually lived in the town centre for 30 years – as well as having house in Marton.
“I’m probably the longest resident in the centre, I’ve seen it all on the streets at night. But it’s a lot safer now than it was.”
On the other hand: “Alcohol consumption has gone down, pubs are turning into restaurants, entertainment isn’t as good as it was and nightclubs have all but vanished – but people will still come here.”
So why did he come?
“There was a myth in the mid 1970s that Blackpool was paved with gold,” he says. “I had no money, I thought game on and in this trade you always move west, the head office of Whitbread was in Blackburn but the prizes were on the coast.
“There was a buzz about the place and plenty of money to be made. It was Walk West, after that it was over the pier, you didn’t have a job, you left the company, a manager’s life is only 10 years, that’s the average anywhere in the country, you go by the wayside, it’s a job, normally you go into taxi-ing, the big white taxi is waiting for us all but I don’t think it would be for me!”
He dislikes the “Blackpool knockers”.
“There’s lots of positive things here but the one big regret is not having an arena,” he says. “I’ve banged on about it for years. We should have a 15,000 capacity sponsored arena on Central Car Park, but politics got in the way and now the conference trade has gone.”
So what’s to be done?
“We are put on this earth and come to Blackpool to put a smile on people’s faces, going down the M55 if they’re smiling they’ll come back and be repeat visitors.
“In places like Barnsley, Edinburgh and Glasgow, it’s still a tradition to come here. They go to their budget hotel and guest houses which still do nylon sheets but they love it.
“They stand at the bar and won’t leave until they’ve spent up, there are still people walking round with invisible dogs, still laughing at them. What’s not to like about that?”
But he’s concerned about the decline of night clubs and live shows.
“Pressure and profits and cheap beer are to blame, people have this tendency, even big companies, to put cheap beer on as the answer to everything.
“My answer is quality entertainment, quality security, quality staff but quality prices, in other words you pay for what you get, give them cheap ale and that’s where the trouble starts, cut back the entertainment, cut the prices, and people end up drinking too much. The price of alcohol does slow people down, as soon as the treble your money and pound shots came in profit margins sank and something had to go.”
Another problem has been too much money leaving town.
“Some companies invest back but not enough. Look at the decline in sponsorship of the Lights. Companies re-invest in their own property but not in the town.
“We are inundated with family pubs with food on the side, you are waiting quarter of an hour to get a pint of beer because someone wants three cappuccinos or they want cheese on their chips. Don’t get me wrong, they’re really popular places and they’re where people want to be but there’s still room for the live venues and the DJ venues and the dirty drinking. We don’t dirty drink because the police or the council are on us, anything that happens in Blackpool it’s always the pubs that get the blame.”
He also laments the decline of “the personality manager”.
“There were some fantastic characters down the years, they loved their pubs, you didn’t even have to name the pub, you’d name the landlord, but personality managers have gone, personality DJ’ing has gone – it’s just playing music, there’s no interaction with the audience. We are still at it and the Flagship at Coral Island, and it works, but we’re not attracting the youngsters like Blackpool used to do.”
Under age drinking?
“It’s very tough in Blackpool – you lose your job, the bar staff lose their job, but I believe there should be a provisional year where youngsters get used to drinking alcohol in a controlled environment - there always used to be a sense of self-policing but you can’t do that now.
“Managers used to be on the site, not absentee managers working 40 hour week, a good manager works 70 to 80 hours a week and loves it, I still do that, alright I’m knackered and my legs have gone but these days it’s shift managers, who don’t know their clientele.”
And things will only get worse.
“We’ve lost so many pubs being turned into off licences. Even though we call them convenience shops, they’re not, they’re off licences, I can name a dozen, people drink at home, why not? Food has taken off, not as much profit as alcohol but it’s cheaper.”
And there are other closures.
“An absolute sacrilege to the town is the loss of the Tower Lounge,” he says. “It was one of great iconic tourist attractions in the country and it was closed because they don’t like stag and hens or groups of people, it’s a travesty, that was our mother ship, it was the pub that people came to, it was like a cathedral and all the shops and pubs round it benefited, and now they’re re-opening it as a family pub, I mean come on.
“We all thought we’d make fortunes after it closed picking up their trade but it can’t be done because it was unique in what it did, but it embarrassed the council.
“Now they’re after this place because they want all the stag and hens up the other end of town.”
So has Blackpool gone soft?
“It’s gone politically correct. It’s a great resort for the brash and the quirky but the powers that be don’t like that,” he says. “The police have been quite good, they know how to handle a big crowd but the politicians get jittery, they think it’s the stag and hens that are keeping out investment but it’s not.
“Blackpool still generates more money than any other resort but the Lights are too long, the shops don’t open long enough and there are follies like Birley Street and the Talbot Gateway.”
Where does he like?
“I live and work on a great street which is vilified – Central Drive,” he says. “It has a casino at one end and a mosque at the other which is fantastic. With Eastern Europeans in the middle, and three pubs - it’s a diverse street, it’s even got ladies of the night along with locals and holidaymakers. It’s a great street in a unique resort.” Would he do it all over again?
“Yeah. It’s been fantastic, it’s hard work, but it’s a way of life, it gets in your blood, there’s always something going on. I still get butterflies when it’s packed on a Saturday afternoon. We are here to entertain. It’s a working man’s job and you don’t have to have any qualifications to do it, you can come in and make a success of yourself, I’m on a very large salary, built up over the years but I’m the last, that’s why they call me Dinosaur Dave but I’ve a dinosaur salary to go with it which is envious for a Merchant Navy lad who left school with no qualifications, who couldn’t read or write.”
It all helps him know what makes Blackpool tick.
“Blackpool is bread and butter stuff, it’s not about high spending people, the airport told us that, people were going out of the airport but there was no one coming in. We should stick to what we know best - and that’s the working man.
“I’ve been round the Illuminations, gone to the shows, the arcades, the casinos, if it’s in Blackpool I’ll do it, you’ve got to. It’s a great place, a great town but if anyone wants to be out after 2am in any town you try your luck.”