It’s a busy night in Blackpool and three official observers mingle with the merry makers on the Prom and report back to base...
“Back and front streets crowded, some people dancing, men and women doing foxtrots and a group of women trying to do a fling.
“Along the promenade the air is full of beersmell that overcomes seasmell.
“A swirling, moving mass of mostly drunk people, singing, playing mouth organs, groups dancing about.
“Chaps fall over and their friends pick them up cheerfully and unconcernedly.
“A fight starts among four young men: the crowd simply opens up to give them elbow room as it flows by. One of the fighters is knocked out cold and the others carry him to the back of a stall and dump him there.
“In a litter of broken glass and bottles a women sits by herself being noisily sick.”
Sounds familiar? It’s not unlike an archaic version of 999 What’s Your Emergency.
It’s from the 1930s Mass Observation studies in Blackpool. You can bet they edited their share of stuff out too.
These were semi-official peeping toms employed to give voice to the working classes and assess the impact upon ordinary people’s behaviour of the precarious political state created by the Depression.
Is it so very different to today? Many still drink to get drunk. It’s a more potent mix today and our tolerance of alcohol has increased.
Today they knock back shorts, shooters and aftershockers rather than ale and mild, sherry and porter.
Blackpool may have started as a place to which people came to take the waters but they enjoyed a drop of the hard stuff just the same. And that’s where the real money lay.
It’s telling that the term teetotal was coined in Preston. The Temperance Society was bigger there. Rawtenstall has the last original temperance bar. I’d go there to enjoy a trip out on the East Lancs railway but not a night on the razzle.
If there’s one thing working for decades on this newspaper has taught me it’s that a lot of people come here to get very drunk indeed. They always have. Whether they were cotton mill workers, mods or rockers, Teddy Boys, rival gangs, servicemen, football fans, stags and hens or holidaymakers. Including some who brought their own police with them - for our protection.
The other day a national survey revealed we spend around £42 a day on booze on holiday at home or abroad. That’s about £300 a week.
Picture that loss to the economy, to the livelihoods reliant on such.
The northern working classes drink to loosen inhibitions, chat up the opposite sex, and cop off before catching the charabanc back home.
Elderly couples have told me how they used to sit snogging in darkened railway carriages as the special excursions carried them home in the early hours - light bulbs replaced as trains pulled into stations. It’s a fair bet few did that stone cold sober.
The more times change the more they stay the same. Are we about to call time on all of that? Do we really want to shut down the town centre to drinkers for whom the night is still young?
They don’t all measure the success of an evening by how much they’re puking the following day, or whether they have woken in a police cell or a stranger’s bed or how many bruises the wife or girlfriend has. But such was the unremittingly bleak picture of Blackpool painted by the 999 series - which has become a primetime piece of propaganda for police and others pushing for early morning restriction orders in and around the town centre.
I’d rather make an informed choice based on what was left on the cutting room floor - and in crime figures which show things really aren’t as bad as they were made to seem.
I’d rather see more resources piled into dealing with home grown booze problems - the real ticking timebomb in health terms - rather than shutting up shop to visitors and sending them down the road to Manchester or Liverpool if they want to drink till dawn.
How long before we tell the last nightclub out of Blackpool to please switch off the Lights?
The domestic booze market has already been the death of many of a pub - and working men’s club.
But do we now want EMRO’s to choke the living “nightlights” out of an economy on which so many rely?
Good riiddance? Do the maths. Realistically Blackpool can only claim to be a family resort when families can come here. That’s a very limited season. Nor do I buy into the mythology that all pensioners forget what it was like to be young and let their hair down.
Mass Observation reported beersmell back in the Thirties. I don’t like the reek of double standards. Saturate a resort with licensed outlets and provide 24 hour drinking and the Government can’t whinge when people get drunk.
Stick most the characters in Corrie or Emmerdale or EastEnders in pubs day and night and is it any wonder it’s seen as socially acceptable to drink day and night?
Sure, I’d rather see visitors queuing to see Aping the Beast at the Grundy or Hot Ice at the Pleasure Beach or hanging around long enough to work out precisely when Carnesky’s Ghost Train is actually open. In other words, those who drink in the sights. Instead there’s a disproportionate focus on those who become a sight worse for drink. We need a more balanced approach.