Begging bowl days are over

THE begging bowl days could be over for Blackpool's famous Lights if the new boss succeeds in his bold plans to make the autumn spectacular self-sustaining.

Michael Wilcock, head of Illuminations, wants to increase sponsorship by marketing the attraction effectively as something businesses would be proud to support.

Gallery: See the stars who have switched on the lights over the years

He intends to exploit his department's expertise to create many more "bespoke" features for sale.

Mr Wilcock unveiled his vision at the sixth annual banquet and ball, in aid of the Illuminations, organised by holiday trade umbrella group Blackpool Combined Association at the Cliffs Hotel, Queens Promenade.

He said there would be triumphal arches at either ends of the Illuminations all year round "selling the Blackpool message".

The Dr Who section, "the most successful feature ever built" will be extended for 2008 with eye-catching battles between Daleks and the Tardis.

Mr Wilcock pledged more promotion for the 66 night season extender with a TV campaign, posters and even a DVD.

Mr Wilcock said that currently 80 per cent of the 1.9m cost of staging the Illuminations came from the council.

He said: "We are a non-statutory service and it is difficult to find money with all pressures on large unitary authorities with all the issues they face.

"I have been recruited to transform this department into a viable business and to develop Blackpool's single biggest tourist attraction.

"My objective is to make the Illuminations as self sustainable as possible. We are going to be an aggressive marketing organisation and will also capitalise on the unique skills of our crafts people.

"There is no intention of helping to turn other towns into competitors and to dilute our own attraction but we can generate income by creating special features for showgrounds or businesses."

Mr Wilcock also revealed that a Friends of the Illuminations group was to be launched, with a 5 a head membership, to encourage worldwide support.