Interview with Nick Laister

Why a book about Joyland?

Although there have been several books about slot machines, particularly antique ones, there has never been a book about the arcades in which the slot machines operated. Life in this most amazing of worlds was truly fascinating and I wanted to immerse myself in it to ensure I ended up with the definitive book on the subject. I thought the best way of giving a true insight into this way of life, and avoiding it being a cut-and-paste potted history of arcades, would be to focus in on one very special seaside amusement arcade: Joyland Amusements at Bridlington. Joyland is one of the oldest amusement complexes in the UK, starting life in the 1930s, and it is still going strong today (although almost unrecognisable from its original form) as the Forum. In its heyday, it was the largest privately-owned amusement arcade in the UK and featured a sizeable funfair.

So, its size and history make it special?

In terms of amusements in Bridlington, it is very important. It wasn't the first amusement arcade in the town centre. That was Premier Amusements, also still going strong. It wasn't even the first arcade on Bridlington's seafront Esplanade - that was Bay View. But it quickly grew to become Bridlington's most-visited tourist attraction, and because of its size and range of attractions, it is an ideal subject. And what makes it really special to me is that as a child I was one of its visitors!

When did Joyland open?

It started life in the early 1930s as 'Luna Park'. The name 'Joyland' wasn't used until 1936, but the story of how Luna Park became Joyland is a fascinating tale of ambition and egos, as the growth in amusement arcades in Bridlington and most other seaside resorts was just extraordinarily rapid in the run-up to the Second World War. It is almost true to say that amusement arcades completely changed the face of the town in less than a decade, and this is representative of what happened at other resorts in the same period. I can't think of another example of something that quite frankly must have seemed at the time as nothing more than a passing fad having such far-reaching consequences for the way in which a town develops.

So Joyland is 70 years old this year?

Yes, but this book goes back before Joyland and tells the story of what was there before the arcade opened. And there are some interesting stories.

Has anything been written on the subject of amusements in Bridlington before?

No. This will be the first book on the subject, and I think it would have been a missed opportunity not to tell the full story of amusements in Bridlington. So that is what the book does. It is centred on Joyland, but it tells you all about the growth of amusements in the town as a whole, and puts it in its UK-wide context. The full background, in other words. I have been helped by many of the town's amusement caterers, past and present.

Really?

Yes. The Brown family, who owned Joyland from the 1930s, have been a great help with the book. The present owners, the Noble family, have also helped. Of course, Nobles own a number of arcades in Bridlington and elsewhere in the north east of England, and are probably currently the biggest investors in the town.

Which other Bridlington amusement arcade operators have you spoken to?

I have interviewed Audrey Black, who is the daughter of William Gibson, who founded Bay View, the Esplanade's first amusement arcade, and probably always Joyland's biggest competitor. I have also talked to William's grandson, Geoff, until recently the owner of South Cliff Amusements. Interestingly, he is the also grandson of Percy Firth, who founded what would become Joyland in the early 1930s, so he was able to pass on some very interesting information about the early days, and about amusements in Bridlington in general.

Do you think that residents of Bridlington have a sense of pride about their amusement heritage?

Definitely. A number of museums have sprung up in the last few years celebrating that heritage. An excellent museum about Bridlington's resort past, called 'Beside the Seaside', is located right in the town centre. This was a significant investment for the town, and includes a section on amusement arcades. There is another new museum, called 'Old Penny Memories', which is packed full of old amusement machines, some of which are from Joyland itself. The owner of this museum, Chris Parcell, has also helped with the book. There was until recently another museum of vintage amusement machines in the town. Unfortunately, it recently closed down, but its owner, Ian Dixon, gave me a tour and, again, provided me with a wealth of information on amusement arcades in the town. So, yes, this will be the first book of its kind about this important aspect of Bridlington's history, and I do hope it will reflect the very real sense of pride that the people of Bridlington have about their amusement heritage.

Have you spoken to people who worked in Joyland?

Yes. I have been helped by people from every era, from the 1930s right up to the present day. They have some interesting stories to tell, believe me! From its 70 year history, I have uncovered numerous funny, sad, dramatic, even tragic stories, and they will all be in the book. And as the book has been carefully pieced together from a series of interviews over a period of eight years, most of what you will read has never been in print before. This book is a genuine first.

What would you say were the biggest changes in Joyland's history?

There were two really big changes since Charlotte Brown first assembled the full Joyland site in the mid-1930s. In 1980, Browns bought the old Lounge Cinema and expanded Joyland into the yards behind the cinema and into the cinema itself. This created a indoor and outdoor amusement park, with a wide variety of fairground rides. The other change must be the development of the three-screen cinema. Although this didn't happen overnight, it was really the icing on the cake for the Nobles and marked the end of many years of investment which, despite using the original buildings, has left the place almost unrecognisable from its days as the draughty, concrete-floored Joyland of old.

Who is the book aimed at?

Three main groups, I think. It is aimed firstly at local people who have an interest in Bridlington's history. It is also aimed at those who are interested in amusement arcades and fairgrounds, and that is a surprisingly large group of people, with several clubs and societies on the subject. In addition to that, I think it should also be of interest to those who have holidayed in Bridlington and have fond memories of Joyland; it is a very nostalgic book. It was certainly nostalgic for me to write.

How would you sum up Joyland?

I think it had a real atmosphere, almost a sense of magic, something that you rarely find in amusement arcades and amusement parks these days. I hope to be able to recreate some of that atmosphere in the book. So many people have come forward with their memories, and that is what brings the book alive. A guy called John Wardley, who went on to design some of the biggest and most spectacular theme park rides at Alton Towers and Thorpe Park, sent me some fantastic memories of his many visits to Joyland as a child - they are in the book. Many other people, from as far away as the USA and Australia, have sent their own memories of the complex. I think it is clear that Joyland played a major part in a lot of people's lives.

Does it include photographs?

Oh, yes. It includes photographs of the site before it became Joyland when part of it was a stables. It has photographs of Joyland itself, inside and outside, and photos of several of the attractions. Numerous people have searched in their lofts and dug out photographs of things that I didn't expect to uncover. In fact, we eventually had so many photographs that a large number of them were dropped by the publishers due to a lack of space. Some of those are reproduced on this website.

Finally, what next?

I am now working on two new books. One is a book on the history of British amusement parks. The second is the story of the famous Battersea Fun Fair, which emerged from the well-remembered Festival of Britain Pleasure Gardens on the south bank of the Thames. I am co-writing this book with established author Robert Preedy, who wrote the seminal roller coaster book, Roller Coasters: Their Amazing History. There has been a lot of interest in that book already from the book's website, so I think that will be a popular book when I finally finish it!

Click here to buy Pennies by the Sea

 

Nick Laister. Photograph: Nayan Gandhi

Deleted Photograph: Joyland's Esplanade entrance pictured in 1978. Photograph: Nick Laister collection


Published by:
Skelter Publishing LLP
2006

For further information contact:
Skelter Publishing
Email: info@joylandbooks.com
Tel: 01608 646279