Livewire - February 27, 2012

Professor Vanessa Toulmin
Professor Vanessa Toulmin
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By Professor Vanessa Toulmin

When I first came to Blackpool I saw a resort that felt unloved – it had just been told that it hadn’t got the casino and the spirit in the town was, with good cause, quite depressing.

I saw beyond that to a resort full of heart and glamour and which had some of the most amazing buildings I had ever seen.

It was a homecoming for me, for over 20 years Sheffield was my home, my springboard for my work on fairs and entertainments.

Morecambe was where my family lived, Lancashire where I travelled on the fair and Blackpool was a place of my childhood – my past but not my future.

But then I came back to present the Mitchell and Kenyon films with Professor John Walton and saw the Grand, the Winter Gardens, the Pleasure Beach and the Lights and it all came flooding back after years in exile.

Then I saw the Spanish Hall in the Winter Gardens and fell in love – this amazing beautiful building with an air of despondency about it.

This was my road to Damascus experience – there was I travelling all round the world recording, writing and lecturing on entertainment history and Blackpool had it all.

I met some resistance back then and who can blame them – why do we need some wishy washy blue stocking academic from a university?

What can you do for us?

But I found friends and supporters in the council, The Gazette, the Illuminations department, the Civic Trust, volunteering to spend days and nights helping; historians such as Ted Lightbown the font of all knowledge.

And gradually more people joined me on my journey – to show people just how amazing Blackpool was and would always be.

It just needed to love itself a bit more and to realise what tremendous heritage it had.

And night after night I would discover rooms and areas that were not open to the public – see archives that were not available and hear stories that had been untold for years or never at all and that was it really.

I was never in it for publicity for my books or for Showzam! but to make people both in and outside the town realise why it was so special. It became my crusade, and I know sometimes ruffled a few feathers but it was always out of love.

I’ve had seven fantastic years in the resort – and this Showzam! has been my last.

But part of my heart will always remain in Blackpool – the Wonderland of the World.

Thank you.