Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Llandudno Cable Car

The age old it a Cabin Lift or is it a Cable Car? And just what is the difference anyway? The answer's now officially a Cable Car! It started out life as the Llandudno Cabin Lift Co. Ltd in 1969 but changed its name to the Llandudno Cable Car Ltd in 1988. Nowadays, it's owned by Kinetics Industrial Ltd.

Start of the journey...the Happy Valley Station

Inside the Happy Valley Station

Looking down at the Happy Valley Station (Photo Credit)

Regardless of the answer, Llandudno's Cable Car is a fine attraction. Apparently, it's the Longest Aerial Cable Car in the United Kingdom, with the distance between the two stations at Happy Valley and the Great Orme Summit being 1 mile and 40 feet exactly (5,320 feet).

While we are dealing with the stats.....
  • The Happy Valley Station is 135 feet above Sea level.
  • The Summit Station is 651 feet above Sea level.
  • There are 42 Cabins that travel at 600 feet per minute.
  • There are 9 intermediate tapering steel trestles support the cable between the stations.
  • The tallest trestle is 80 feet high with a base 5 feet 6 inches square - it weighs 15.3 tons.
  • 675 tons of concrete were used for the foundations and the steelwork weighs over 100 tons.
  • The longest span between the trestles is 1,023 feet.
  • The Cabins reach a maximum height of 160 feet above ground.
  • Each Cabin seats a maximum of 4 people
  • Each Cabin takes 9 minutes to reach the Summit (or vice versa)
  • Each Cabin is supported on an endless steel cable 2 miles long, weighing over 17 tons.
  • The hourly capacity of the Cable Car is stated to be 500 persons.
  • On an average day, each Cabin covers about 60 miles.
  • The cable has a nominal breaking strain of 50 tons, the factor of safety is 5.2.
  • The cabin lift is driven by a 100 h.p. slip ring electric induction motor at 1450 r.p.m.
  • A 50 h.p. internal combustion stand-by engine is kept in readiness for bringing cabins into the stations in case of power failure.

Cable Car with the Pier in the background (Photo Credit)

Two of the cabins pass high over Llandudno

Built at a cost of £125,000 (the contractor was British Chairlifts Limited/British Ropeway Engineering Co. Ltd who had previously built the EXPO 67 Cabin Lift: Details here), it was the idea of a Uttoxeter businessman called Anthony Bagshaw who had previously been involved with the Alton Towers theme park (where a similar Cabin Lift had been installed in 1963). It was opened for business by Lord Mostyn on the 20th June 1969 (after a certain amount of local opposition in the Council Chamber to the 'new fangled' idea which was rejected outright the first time it was proposed). It was also fully renovated in 2006 following the sale of the business by Uttoxeter Investment Co. Ltd. The purchaser was a local man, Andrew Jones, of Pyllau Farm on the Great Orme, who says he used to tell people that one day he would own it. He was also one of the first passengers when it originally opened in 1969.

A Cabin passes over one of the Trestles Photo Credit

View over the route of the Cabin Lift

The current operating season runs from 19th March to the 31st October, and it opens from 10am to 5pm daily during that time (may close earlier at beginning and end of the season). It's worth remembering that it cannot operate in high winds for safety reasons. Current ticket prices (2010) are £6-50 single and £7-00 Return, with a discount for families.

Top of the Great Orme! The Summit Station

The 100hp electric motor that drives the Cable Car
with the backup 50hp diesel engine to the left

Comment: I think the Cable Car is a fantastic asset to Llandudno thing I've always wondered about it is...why don't they operate variable pricing? To explain, the Cable Car is like an airplane flight in that its costs are fixed, regardless of how many people are on the plane. So, as with the airline, it's in the Cable Car's interest to make sure that every seat is taken, even if you're occasionally selling it for a reduced price.

A lot of the time, the Cable Car seems to operate almost half empty - why not try offering discount fares for the beginning/end of the season and, also, for the beginning/end of each day, bringing the fare down to, say, £2? As someone with an interest in economics, it would be fascinating to see how demand increased or decreased based upon alterations to pricing.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Happy Valley Entertainers - the Return?

Over on his blog, Carneades makes a well thought out plea for talented amateur youngsters in the local area to step forward and grasp the opportunity to hone their skills on the amateur stage with Llandudno's musical groups. Which got me thinking....

Wouldn't it be great to try and revive Llandudno's long tradition of outdoor entertainment in the Summer? After all, open air entertainment in the Happy Valley has been a feature of Llandudno since the resort was founded, with the first performances believed to have been by a Husband & Wife Minstrel team in 1873:

They were followed by such resident acts as Perry's Happy Valley Minstrels, The Happy Valley Entertainers, Charles Wade's Concorde Follies and The Great Waldini and his Gypsy Band.

Of course, the heyday of this entertainment was when Alex Munro had his daily afternoon show at the Happy Valley Entertainers open air theatre in the Happy Valley in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. In the 1970s, Alex was holding 3 shows daily, 7 days a week, for an 18 week season.That added up to over 116,000 people watching his show in a typical year.

Sadly, the Open Air Theatre seen in the above photos was left to rot after Alex Munro left and ended its days as a wreck after a serious fire in October 1987. It was later demolished and the area landscaped as part of the Heritage Lottery Fund's £500,000 grant to renovate the park in 2000. Interestingly, the original plans by Howard Price of Ashley Price Associates for the redeveloped area included a stage for outdoor performances but this never materialised.

How it was...the 1970s

How it is now...(Photo Credit)

Obviously, the site of the Open Air Theatre is no longer suitable for use and I'm certainly not suggesting that a return to the daily afternoon show is a possibility...but...maybe a show or two every year on a balmy weekend afternoon or evening in August? Set up deckchairs in a semi circle on the large lawn in front of the Happy Valley Cafe, organise a small stage behind the Queen Victoria Statue, round up some talented individuals from Llandudno Musical Productions or the Trinity Players and you might just be in business. It would be just like the old days...and I'm sure Alex Munro would approve wholeheartedly!

The Happy Valley Lawn, suitable for outdoor entertainment? (Photo Credit).

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Decline & Fall

These three unique photos, kindly provided by Mr Mike Owen*, illustrate all too clearly the parlous state into which Colwyn Bay Pier has fallen since its closure over a year ago:

It is clear that time is running out for the pier; soon, the maintenance backlog will have reached such a level that renovation will become totally uneconomic. Conwy Council's lack of interest in resolving this matter is very disappointing, particularly when you consider that they will ultimately end up liable for the cost of demolition and removal of the derelict structure - a procedure certain to cost several million pounds.

There is also a significant safety issue developing - several areas of the pier are in danger of collapse, yet the public are free to walk on the beach close to and actually underneath the pier without there being any warning notices or safety fencing. Action needs to be taken.

* Mr. Owen operates , a ground based aerial photographic business which involves using a pneumatically powered mast with a camera attached, on a platform, at the top. The mast rises to a height of sixty feet, the camera can be rotated in any direction and the camera functions are all controlled from a laptop on the ground.His rates are very reasonable and he can be contacted on either 07990 517 020 or by email at

Friday, 25 September 2009

Curious Case of Beatrice Blore-Browne

One of the most interesting gravestones in St Tudnos Church on the Great Orme in Llandudno is this one:

'She feared naught but God'

It is the grave of Beatrice Blore Browne - born September 26th 1887 at Middlesboro, Yorkshire, died November 23rd 1921 at Delamere, Penmaenmawr (age 34).

For a long time, mystery surrounded both her life & death; it was believed that she was a racing driver who died in a car crash but the recent appearance of her death certificate reveals that she actually died from cancer. Her inscription concludes with 'She feared naught but God'.

Beatrice was certainly a unique woman - she drove a 10hp Singer car up Old Road on the Great Orme in, I think, 1911 - a daring feat which resulted in a lot of press attention, there are photos of her driving the car and reports of onlookers watching with 'bated breath' as to whether she would make it or not. I think it was this event that drew the attention of the man that later became her husband, a George Wilkins Browne.

He was another unique character - a racing driver who had held the land speed record at Brooklands (110mph I think?) for about 2 years. By 1914, he lived at 'Sunnyside' on Curzon Road, Craig Y Don, and was the manager of the Llandudno Automobile Touring Company which had a garage on Mostyn Broadway. He was renowned for being ruthless in business and there is a long history of lawsuits he brought against various people in the local area. By 1920, he had become Managing Director of Silver Motors Limited. In later years, he also became a councillor on Llandudno UDC.

In December 1920, he became the first person to drive a car both up and down Snowdon. He drove up and down the railway track in an Angus Sanderson 14hp car. This event was filmed for cinema audiences. The ascent took 1 hour 22 mins, the descent 1 hour 5 mins. He was accompanied by two of the staff from Silver Motors Ltd.

In 1920, she changed her name from Beatrice Blore to Beatrice Blore-Browne and was living at a house called Bodeon in Cadnant Park, Conwy. Her death, on the November 23rd 1921 at the early age of 34, cannot have come as a surprise as she had been suffering from cancer for the previous two years. Her unique gravestone has kept her memory alive, a reminder of a woman keen to push the boundaries of what it was considered acceptable for women to do.

Note: I am keen to find a photo of Beatrice to add to this article; if you happen to have one then please get in touch!

Monday, 21 September 2009

'Professor' Walter Beaumont

'Professor' Walter Beaumont was a professional diver, he gave regular diving exhibitions from the pierhead in Llandudno.

Born in 1856 in Bromley By Bow, he had already saved 7 lives by the age of 12. He became a professional diver and, whilst on tour, he created the World Record for remaining underwater in a tank - 4 minutes 35 seconds!

He settled in Llandudno in 1895, performing diving exhibitions at the Pierhead from 1895 to 1904 (for which he received 'substantial fees'), as well as completing several World tours.

One of his specialities was the 'Handcuff Dive', in which he would dive into the water with his hands firmly handcuffed behind his back with Police handcuffs, only to emerge from the water seconds later with his hands free. His 'Fire Dive' was also famous; he would be bundled into a sack that was sprayed with inflammable liquid, set alight and then dive into the sea - an enthralling sight when performed at dusk! From 1895 to 1909, he also gave spectacular underwater displays in a glass sided tank in the Eqyptian Hall (part of the Pier Pavilion building's basement).

By May 1903, he had saved over 120 lives and was rewarded by a Banquet given in his honour at the Prince of Wales Hotel by Llandudno Council, who presented him with an Illuminated Scroll and gold watch chain.

He was also Licencee of the Kings Head pub from 1898-1910 - unfortunately, he was not a businessman and bankruptcy proceedings were eventually brought against him in 1910 by the brewers Ind Coope. His debts amounted to £596 and the insolvency hearing cannot have come as a surprise, as it was revealed that '"he kept no books or accounts and had been aware of his insolvency for six or seven years"! Mr Beaumont blamed his insolvency on the sickness of himself, his son and daughter. There was much laughter in the Court when he revealed that he indulged in betting on horse-racing occasionally but only only bet large sums 'when the horse told him it was going to win'.

At the time of his death in 1924, Walter was living a relatively quiet life as the Licencee of the Ferry Hotel in Tal-Y-Cafn. At this time, he owned a small pleasure craft used for trips on the River Conwy. It's believed that the boat ran into difficulties on the river and Walter made sure that everyone got to dry land safely. In doing so, he spent far too long in the cold water for a man of his advancing years and the resulting chill he caught eventually resulted in his death at the age of 69

His daughter Alice, who joined the act when she was only 6, married Belgian violinist Henri Verbrughen, from the Pier Orchestra. On 16 May 1964, their daughter Gabriel Woodward, of Las Vegas, returned to Llandudno aboard the luxury cruise liner Kungsholm, for a 6 month holiday with her aunt, Maud Deacon at St Margaret's Drive, Craig Y Don, Llandudno.

His son, Walter Jones Beaumont, became a well known and successful Criminal Lawyer in Canada, eventually dying in 1960.

Walter is buried in St. Tudno's Church, Great Orme, Llandudno.

Does anyone have a photo of the man himself that I can add to this post or any further information?

Friday, 18 September 2009

Billingtons Garage

I know this is a stone's throw outside the area normally covered by this Blog but I think it's worth a mention...

Conwy Castle - a World Heritage site (as designated by UNESCO); one of the finest preserved castles in Europe, visited every year by many thousands of both domestic and foreign tourists - many on coach trips. You'd have thought that every effort would be made to ensure the area surrounding the castle was kept clean and well maintained. Instead, every coach heading for the coach park in Conwy has to pass this eyesore - the derelict Billingtons garage:

It's been closed for about two years now and is currently up for sale. Is it really not possible that Conwy Council can release a few hundred thousand pounds from the £50m+ of reserves and use it to buy this property, demolish it and landscape the site? Please?

Monday, 14 September 2009

Alpine Adventure Golf

I was up at Ski Llandudno on Sunday to meet some friends for lunch and a pint. Whilst sitting on the outside balcony enjoying the sunshine, I noticed the Alpine Adventure Golf and thought I would go and take a look. What a great little attraction, so well designed and themed; here's a few photos:

"'Putt' your way through 9 holes of golfing madness. Negotiate twists and turns, bumps and bunkers, sledges and lakes! Watch out for runaway chairlifts and other tricky Alpine obstacles!

There are no age restrictions to play our Alpine Adventure Golf Course...just 9 holes of fun for all the family to enjoy.

Open all year round and available for birthday parties and group bookings."

More information about it here:

Sunday, 13 September 2009

The Other Side Of Summer

Just when we thought we had seen the back of Summer, along comes this weekend with glorious sunshine all day long. The crowds have been out in force in both Llandudno & Colwyn Bay, with business looking to be very good for the assorted purveyors of Ice Cream, Lattes and 'Fancy Goods'. Businesses such as Ski Llandudno, the Summit Complex and the Cabin Lift have also been doing a roaring trade - it's all very pleasing to see. In fact, today (Sunday the 13th September) has looked busier in Llandudno than at any time during this last Summer. An extension to the traditional Summer trading period is, I'm sure, always much appreciated!

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Colwyn Bay: The Time is Now

There's an interesting discussion on the Colwyn Bay Forum about the future of the Victoria Pier:

My viewpoint is....

It's the case that Colwyn Bay needs to evolve as a seaside resort, rather than giving up altogether as a tourist destination (as suggested by one local councillor), which is just plain stupid. Any businessman knows that you have to give your customer what they want or they will go elsewhere. The era of people coming to spend a week in a hotel are long gone but day/weekend trips from the North-West of England are still very popular and also people holidaying in the North Wales area can be persuaded to spend a day at Colwyn Bay.

Sand & Sky by you.
Just a small part of the fantastic beach at Colwyn Bay (Photo Credit)

If you take a walk along the prom on a summer weekend, then you'll know that Colwyn Bay still has the ability to pull in the crowds...and that's with the present situation of a decrepit looking promenade that's falling to bits, has no seats, rusting railings and no real attractions or facilities. They come at present because of the fantastic beach and the easy access from the A55 - this is what we need to build upon - think how many more people will come with a renovated pier and prom, housing a full range of family attractions and facilities. Colwyn Bay may never regain its former heyday as a seaside resort but there is strong potential to boost both visitor numbers and trade from present levels.

Colwyn Bay Pier - Then & Now by you.
Victoria Pier in 1970 (top) and 2009 (bottom) (Photo Credit)

I hear a whisper that the prom redevelopment has been pushed back another year, so that it wont be happening until 2011 at the earliest - if this is the case then the time is now for the pier situation to be sorted out once and for all, so both pier and prom renovation can happen in tandem. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity to revitalise Colwyn must be seized.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Why does the water not flow?

Up in the Happy Valley, Llandudno, there is a great water feature that flows down amongst the rock gardens. It starts off as a cascade at the top of the gardens, splashing down over the rocks into a small pond, then runs under a path, racing along a channel from pool to pool until it finally ends up in a larger pool. Or would if it worked. It's not worked properly this year:

The cascade (to rear of photo). Note absence of....water!

Local authorities never seem to be very good at doing water features (and keeping them working). Are there any water features in the local area that do work properly? Conwy Lancaster Square? Nope. Colwyn Bay Queen's Gardens? Nope. Colwyn Bay Eirias Park Rock Pools? Nope. Colwyn Bay Civic Centre Gardens Pool? Nope.

And Colwyn Bay residents may well remember the infamous Slate Water Sculpture that stood in the redesigned Station Square after the motorway was built. Installed at vast expense, it was basically a massive piece of slate that had water jets fitted in the top. Honestly, it looked pretty rubbish even when it worked. Not that it worked for long - it then sat for a year or two gathering leaves and graffiti until it disappeared one day and was never mentioned again!

Just remembered though, the millstone water feature in Old Colwyn Wynn Gardens does work! And it looks great. I wonder if Conwy Council can work some magic and get the others working again? Especially the one in Happy Valley please.....

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

An Interview With Alex Munro

Oh, they love it no end! Oh, they love it to death!

Alex Munro (Centre) & The cast of 'Startime'

The sea off the pier is a surly grey and the sleepless gulls swing crying against the towers of the Grand Hotel. The mountains, the sky, the promenade are grey and wet as Alex Munro stands outside the Pier Pavilion, calling people to ‘Startime’. “Seats available tonight - seats available. Lucky programme. Seats available inside.”

“Seats available, lucky programme tonight. Ah – good evening ladies. Have you been to the show before? Well, come inside: there’s no reason why you shouldn’t suffer like all the rest.”

Alex Munro wears a bow-tie, a white shirt-front and flowing white handkerchief; on the side of his head he wears a small trilby hat. He has little legs and dancing feet, and tips his hat when he speaks, or waltzes sidelong across the lighted stair, clapping his hands together.

He lifts his voice above the bumping of the Ghost Train next door.
Seats available inside. Good evening ladies. Good evening to you, Sir.” “Where were you from, now?
He claps his hands. “Leicester!
The man, who carried a raincoat clutched his elbow and murmured confidentially, “Home of the RAF.”
“Good evening ladies, Good evening, Madam, take your time now. Give us your hand. There’s no more steps after this. Seats available inside.

Pushed among the strolling crowd comes a figure in a wheelchair, which stops in front of the Pavilion, beside the sea wall. He trips down towards it, through the strolling, different crowd. In the wheelchair sits a clergyman in a beret and slippers, so old he seems to weep as if terribly touched; and in this way, somehow, the clergyman contrives to smile.
We’re going down to see the boat come in.” his daughter said.
Good luck to you Reverend, anyway. It was grand when you came in and saw the show.
He liked the chocolates you gave him, anyway.”
Thank you Sir Alex,” the white lips trembled.
Sir Alex? Why do you call me that Reverend?
The lips moved again with the ghost of a joke.
It’s your title.

The 'Startime' Cast on the steps of the Pier Pavilion

Llandudno and the summer season were created as one. The town sprang fully-terraced from the Great Orme rock, the pier followed quickly, in 1876, incorporating the Grand Hotel’s teutonic fancies. All flourished by ministering to the great age of lower-class gentility – this was the resort chosen by Denry Machin for the wooing of Ruth Earp as ‘more stylish than Rhyl or Blackpool, and not dearer’. It thronged, in its heyday, with arch and aspiring promenaders, for the diversion of whom large theatres and concert-halls were erected along the North Wales coast.

That season is prolonged, for the gentility of Llandudno is miraculously prolonged. Its lofty boarding-houses offer a fastidious welcome, debating between themselves whether it is more prestigious to display in the parlour-window a card which says ‘Vacancies’ or a card which says ‘No Vacancies’. By an ancient ordinance, the long promenade flowing to the pier is kept free of all importuning or trading; from everything save intelligence of high water and the thrice-daily performance of ‘Professor Codman’s Wooden Headed Follies’. At night, the proletarian glow of Colwyn Bay may shine to the east around the Little Orme. Here a simpler communion prevails, between people seated under civic trees, people seated in deck chairs high and low, and the auditorium of the sea, from which a stiff wind blows.

In cutaway coat and silver tie, he trips beside the wet headland along the slippery boards of the pier. The great white gulls descent upon the rail and remain there, arrogant yet abstracted, as he passes by.

He lifts his trilby. He bows.
“Good morning ladies. Now have you been to see the show yet?” “Yes. Yes.” “And did you enjoy it?” “Yes. Very nice.” “Well, come again. I need the money.” “Oh well,” the ladies laughed, “we’ll give you three-halfpence.”

Alex Munro presents his ‘Startime’ in the Pier Pavilion from May to October, each night of the week excepting Sunday. Each afternoon excepting Saturday he presents another show in Happy Valley, an open-air theatre on the slopes of the Great Orme. His face, its trilby aslant, is to be seen all over town; it shines from handbill and hoarding; it hangs by coloured string in chip shops and gift-shops; it decorates the rear panels of the showman’s own mini-bus strategically parked on the road above the Grand Hotel. It promises ‘George Cormack and Irene Sharp, Scotland’s International Singing Stars’, ‘Benny Garcia, Television’s Dynamic Entertainer', ‘Billy Crockett, the Mad Musician from London’s Albert Hall’. It vouchsafes ‘melodious melodies, glamorous girls, clean comedy’ but, above all, the abundant personality of the man who is both star and licensee.

I’m the last of what you call the old-time real showmen – there’s not many left like me. Do you want a piece of fudge? It’s just some fudge a lady handed up to me the other night; just a bit of fudge she’d made herself. She’s been in to the show two or three times. Because I present a family show. A real family show – no blue jokes; I don’t allow a ‘hell’ or a ‘damn’. And oh, they love it! Oh, they love it no end! Oh, they love it to death!

John Morava (centre) and the Pier Orchestra in the 1950s.
This (1974) is his last season in Llandudno after 38 years of morning and evening concerts.

He has his competitors, nonetheless. There is still a repertory company in Llandudno, at the Grand on Mostyn Broadway, presenting it’s sequence of thrillers and comedies and comedy thrillers in a theatre founded by Irving. Until this summer there was a pier-orchestra, led by the elegant John Morava. At the other end of the promenade there is the Arcadia, a music-hall built in expectation of a second pier that never came. The arcadia presents a variety show of the same type as Alex, on the same nights of the week throughout the same protracted season. This rival show is called, not ‘Startime’ but ‘Showtime’.

‘Startime’ and ‘Showtime’ do not go in for big names. Their purpose, rather, is to appeal to people’s fondness, on holiday as everywhere, for regularity and routine. Each show advertises three changes of programme. Since the guest houses traditionally book from Saturday to Saturday – an arrangement suited to nobody but the guest houses – it is possible, during one week in Llandudno, to attend three different versions of ‘Startime’, or of ‘Showtime’. On Sundays, when the town is dry, there are orchestral concerts and occasional outbreaks of hymn-singing. Only Saturdays are curiously deserted and dull.

I’m not a young man, but I can still stand on my hands.” He stood on his hands there and then, and his keys and lighter fell out of his waistcoat. His hat remained, however, on the side of his head.

I used to be a professional acrobat. I was what they called top man. My brother and me, we were the Horsburgh Brothers; perch-acts they used to call ‘em. I’d be doing a handstand on top of the ladder on the other man’s shoulders. Oh it was a class act. We walked on in evening-dress with the orchestra playing ‘dee-dee o’clock in the morning’, and we played in front of Hitler in Germany. ‘Scottish Phlegmatics’ they called us there. Now, see, i’m really safe as top man. They’re not going to let me fall ‘cause if I damage mysel’, the whole act’s gone; but if I think they’re going to let me fall, I’m going to be cheery up there."

“I’ve been married, you know, a few times. Ssh!” he guffawed, looking at his young wife Marie in the box-office. “Ssh!, she’s looking; she knows what we’re saying.” He clapped his hands. “Five!"

I do everything myself, you know, here, right down to the sweeping. If I want a packet of nails I’ve got to buy it myself’ because the Council don’t do anything here you know.” (His rival, the Arcadia, is Council-owned.) “I was up a ladder round here the other day and someone calls to me ‘Alex, you shouldn’t be up there’. I think to myself, ‘that’s right, I shouldn’t, i’m an old man.’ Then I thought, ‘well why shouldn’t I? If you haven’t got the confidence in yourself, where are you?’ This is a 2500-seater you know. Before I came here with a show, it died the death. It used to be a picture-house.

He looked into his theatre. A small light burned in the orchestra pit. The stall seats, in their semi-circular expanse, were quiet, and the balcony seats piled up to the reassurance of the topmost exits. Under the dress-circle hangs a yellow screen. Behind the screen are further seats: as many unseen as exhibited, the linked iron and plush ascending, step by step, to a forgotten back row rounded like a stern of a ship. There are seats even beyond this, hidden through a wall of curtain; in alcoves and posterns and select little boxes, in threes and fives and twos and eights and fours, there are ‘seats available’.

The partnership between Alex Munro and Billy Crockett the Mad Musician has continued intermittently for 20 years since they met on the same bill at the Empire, Oldham. Alex summoned Billy this summer from Durban, where he was appearing in an ice-show.

The Mad Musician in private is small and circular and gentle. His dressing-room at the Pier Pavilion is filled with the music-props from his act: a miniature saxophone, some tiny harmonicas which he plays on his finger-ends, his makeup in cigar-boxes, sleighbells of varying pitches, and the bagpipes used, at the conclusion of his performance, to bow up a balloon.

He carries his life all in one suitcase. “I buy everything as I go along. Then I never have to wake up and think ‘what am I going to wear today?’ because i’ve only got two suits to choose from.

Billy has no wife now. His daughter is married, and he wants to buy a piece of ground near Edinburgh for her to start a riding-school. “That’s the only trouble – you get so bored in these places where you happen to be. I’ve often read the paper my fish and chips are wrapped in,” Billy said, “or i’ll take the newspaper out of the drawers in the bedroom and read that.

Alex holds court in the Stage Door café next to the Pavilion, where the sugar comes in a metal pudding basin and the girl behind the tea urns has purple wounds on her eye and cheek, having been set on and beaten by girls from Liverpool.

Billy is there, and Eddie Read the banjo-man and Benny Garcia, ‘Television’s Dynamic Entertainer’. Benny wears a blazer and plastic raincoat, and somewhat morosely, scans the Radio Times and TV Times for news from the front line of his profession. “I’d love to sleep late,” he said, “but I have to be up for nine where i’m staying or I miss breakfast.

They’re all getting good money,” Alex said as if these members of his company were not present. “Billy Crockett: class act, you know,” he murmured. “And it’s 22 weeks’ work” He guffawed. “Long as they can go without eating.
He pays you in electricity,” Billy Crockett said “The wages give you a shock.
Eddie Read noted this down in the book where he notes down jokes that he hears.
No, I pay them what they want,” Alex said. “I don’t try beat any of them down. Benny did I try beat you down?
Only a fiver,” Benny said; then he relented: “No.

And I won’t allow any blue jokes,” Alex said. “I won’t allow a ‘hell’ or ‘damn’. I can be in real trouble, mind you, when people come up on stage out of the audience, I tell them ‘No blue jokes now, this is a family show’’, then they go up to mike and they start, ‘I was sitting in the lavatory the other day…’ Oh my God!” He covered his eyes at the thought of these scatological time-bombs.

And I do a thing with three men out of the audience and a gag with a basin, bowl and jug – I can be in real trouble there as well. Some of them make the most horrible overtures, you know, with that jug.

A woman sitting at the next table turned to him and said “You must have been up in Happy Valley for about 15 years now, haven’t you? Before they used to have The Great Waldini up there.
That’s right. His name was Walley Bishop, the Great Waldini. I was following a legend. For the first three years I came they said to me ‘Scotchman go home’.
It must be 15 years,” the woman said, “because our Christine had a prize off him – she was eight then, she’s 23 now – she sang and our Philip played a musical instrument and they both got a prize.
Have you seen the show yet?
Yes – thoroughly enjoyed it. I cried for you last year,” the woman said, “when we heard about your Janet. You’d told us she was going to be in a film and we looked out for it. I cried for you when I heard. Tragedy, wasn’t it?”
Yes,” Alex said.

When Sal Thomas announced her intention of leaving The Alexandra, the pub where she was barmaid, in order to start a café, her employer refused to give her, her cards, so certain was the employer she would soon be back. In Llandudno, as along all the edges of the sea, people are always trying to start cafes. The failures stand numerous in every coastal town, as lonely and dank as mines after the gold-rush, though crowded still with customers who are the last to be informed of the disaster.

Sal Thomas started with the Floral Café, at the far end of the promenade in Craig-y-Don. Nowadays the Floral does scampi with its chips and has a little wooden bar with coloured bulbs in which, to serve the eccentric whim of Sal’s customers, can be obtained wine and Merrydown and mead and sometimes tequila.

A couple of streets away is the Grand Theatre. They say the Grand was built by Irving; and certainly Irving would be upset now to see the coldness of its galleries and vestibules, the incipient disintegration of its ravishing oval ceiling. Though the Grand backs right against the prosperous Arcadia, somehow, from the town, and its elegant verandahs look out on a piece of waste ground where sailing dinghies lie.

Each night after the play, in which they have to wear their own clothes, the Grand company go along to Sal’s. From Sal they receive the large gins which restore spirit and the baskets of chips which strengthen the resolve. Later, Sal puts the bolts on the café door and looks at photographs of other repertory actors she has boarded, with her two big, curly dogs, newly bathed, under her legs.

That was Cathy Greenwood. She used to stand in her slip and wash panties in the kitchen while my mother was sat there, buttering bread. That was a boy called Michael Taylor. He used to go into the bathroom every morning, open the little window and shout ‘up periscope!’ ‘Divine morning’, he used to say, ‘what have you got for breakfast Sal darling?’ And nobody could make his bed as well as he could, as if it hadn’t been slept in for a week, and his pyjamas all folded beautifully along the crease."

I always had the ambition to travel,” Sal said. “I couldn’t do, but I sometimes think that all the interesting people I dreamed of meeting have come here to see me.
Her husband returned from his nightly bingo game and hung up his coat in the passage. Sal courteously inquired if he had won. He replied that he had.

The North Wales summer varies to the point of playfulness. It can be raining along the shore yet clear at the top of the Orme; while it keeps fine on the promenade, a deluge may fall upon the deck-chairs of the Happy Valley. It is not uncommon for Alex to move his show down to the Pier Pavilion, and then up into the open-air again, in the course of a single matinee. But this afternoon it seems as if it ought to keep fine. The sky is like a blue quilt with old grey clothes thrown over it. Slowly, in the little turf amphitheatre, the pink-and-white deck chairs are covered by people with raincoats covering their knees. The cable-cars pass quietly overhead to the top of the Orme. On the hill outside the wire perimeter, a second, non-paying crowd has also gathered.

Alex has a special and private love for Happy Valley, In 15 years he has lavished time and attention on it, increasing the lawn around the stone terraces, whitening the stones along the flowerbed, planting the purple flowers with the name which is uncertain. From the stage painted like the deck of a ship he can see the place where the plants grow irregularly despite their daily watering; he can see the slim, new plants which the water has encouraged. He feels that, perhaps the spirit of The Great Waldini has been exorcised. When he is dead, people will say ‘Alex Munro did that’, looking at the grass, the whitened stones, the purple flowers, the name of which he cannot recall.

Alex Munro in action at Happy Valley in the 1970s

An audience in the open is always unresponsive; how much more the audience established in deck-chairs? Desiring entertainment, they at once renounce it, for a deck-chair atrophies desire. His purpose is to show them that the entertainment lies in themselves and is the prize of anyone who will speak out. He proposes that, when he says ‘Hello Visitors’, they shall answer ‘Hello Alex’. He says ‘Hello Visitors’, then covers his face with his hands at the paucity of their response. He prevails on them to sing songs commemorating their town, the county or district of their origin. A cable-car passes overhead. A little rain rattles on the trees.

He places a box against the microphone for the use of competitors in the Junior Talent Contest who now stand, in irregular sizes, behind him. While the Junior Talent Contest is in progress, he jumps from the stage to ascertain that all is well with his wife Marie in the box-office. He dispatches two teenage assistants with collecting-boxes to ‘bottle’: to extract donations from the unofficial audience on the hill. Returning to the stage, he pretends, on a drum roll to fall on his nose. He picks himself up to direct some late arrivals into the mass of deck-chairs that are not yet occupied.

The Junior Talent Contest is still, somewhat inexorably, proceeding. A boy steps up on the box and delivers into the microphone a Tarzan yell of surprising brevity and force. Now there is a girl who does acrobatics. There is always a girl who does acrobatics. The professional acrobat is stirred. He snatches off his dinner-coat. He lies, in shirtsleeves and trilby, on the stage; she does a handstand on his arms.

It’s wonderful to see Alex on the stage again,” said Mr Owen of the Advertiser. “We thought he was a goner last year, you know, after Janet died. He was unconscious for two days.

He and Marie live in rather a large house in a rather select part of Llandudno. Billy Crockett has a flatlet in the next street. “Billy came round Sunday night,” Marie said. “He brought his own television with him so that he wouldn’t interfere with our programme. He said he didn’t want to be any trouble to us, so he brought his own tea-bag with him.

In the lounge hangs a portrait of a girl with a strangely familiar face. Anna-Marie, their daughter, smiled and looked at her shoes. “That’s Janet,” she murmured.

When the evening show in the Pavilion is over, the lights go on and the performers come down from the stage. The drum-kit can be looked at, and the music-sheets on the 1931 Hammond organ. The artists and audience stand in groups along the stage as if they are discussing some topic of quiet mutual interest.

Alex stands in the foyer, at the bottom of the stairs, whither his last exit from the stage has taken him. Just as he greeted them when they came in, he says goodbye to them as they go out. They walk, arm-in-arm towards the darkened promenade. A thrill of silver light has been caught in a spectacle-frame. And a man has taken his wife’s fingers and stroked them with his own.

He shakes the last hand and scribbles the last autograph. He draws the heavy wooden door across the front of the Pier Pavilion and bolts it. “This is my last job tonight.” He goes into the empty auditorium. Behind the screen there are more seats and behind those, still more seats. He checks between the rows for the cigarette spark which could destroy all 2500 seats. “This is my last job tonight.

In the dressing-room, with the Chelsea pensioner coat on the wall and the sea air coming in through the extractor, he splashes his face at the sink and dries it. He exchanges his evening trousers for another pair of evening trousers and his shiny patent shoes for some shoes which do not shine. He puts his trilby back on his head, fitting it perkily at the side.

His daughter was the film star Janet Munro. She started her career in Alex’s shows, sweeping up, singing and tearing tickets. She went to Hollywood and became a star for Walt Disney. She grew famous and fashionably-married; it was of her fame and fashionable marriage that, two years ago, she died. Her loss explains many small things in him. It explains his abhorrent of sleeping-pills; his refusal of all drink but apple-juice; the photo-albums at which, even now, he can scarcely bring himself to look. Five weeks before she died, she had come back to Llandudno and was sweeping up after the show.

Outside, the pier is all in lights, in braids and strings and archways of light trembling on the rainy sea. The lights along the promenade are out. He picks up some glasses and bottles left on the sea wall and carries them back to the Pavilion steps. “This is my last job tonight”.

I’ve never believed in all that Bible stuff- ‘it’s more blessed to give than receive’, i’ve always thought that was a fallacy. But i’ve come to find out lately that it’s true. It is more blessed to give than receive.

Don’t you think it’s a shame that, when i’m gone there’ll be no one left doing my type of show? A simple man with a simple show. And oh, they love it. Oh, they love it no end. Oh, they love it to death.

Seats available - seats available inside.” “Seats available now. Lucky Programme.

Alex and Billy under the next dark evening sky are calling the people to ‘Showtime’.

Seats available. Good evening ladies. Have you been to the show yet? Well come inside: there’s no reason why you shouldn’t suffer like all the rest.
Seats available. Give me your hand, dear. Take your time now.
I’ve thought I was going to be late,” the lady said.
No, you’re alright. Plenty of time yet,” Billy said.
And anyway, you knew we wouldn’t start without you.

All photos remain the copyright of their respective owners.

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