by Tony O’Keeffe
: Added October 2011

Just along the prom the new, modern Golden Mile Centre made an appearance in the late 60s boasting, to my delight, a brand new double decker ghost train, the ‘Roller Ghoster’! This again was situated against the back wall of the upstairs indoor funfair and was the first time I’d seen a fully Day-Glo exterior, making the frontage bright and loud like a work of pop art. It was a modern approach and reeked of psychedelia but also seemed to usher in a new style of ride. A large green spider with red flashing eyes graced the back wall behind the drop, sitting menacingly in its web waiting for its victims to hurtle by. Huge comic disembodied eyes were dotted around other parts of the frontage including the one balcony on the right hand side while a disfigured, gory ghoul was atop the paybox in the middle of the station, almost waiting to jump down upon you as you paid for your ticket. This was also the first time I’d seen the Supercar ‘bubble’ cars that became so prevalent not long after this. Again, a departure from the traditional ‘pretzel’ type design that most dark rides’ cars were based on. Plain black metal doors were used and the ride was fast and anarchic with plenty of ups ‘n’ downs and quick flashing stunts. Later on the drop was removed and a new frontage covered it but it was never the same. A few years later the building was eventually closed and turned into a Sea Life Centre, which it remains to this day. These double deckers were quick to catch on around this time and were very popular, as we have seen, but they were really all facsimiles of Jack Ratcliff’s 50’s re-design of the Pleasure Beach Ghost Train (which was based on Joseph Emberton’s original and itself had ‘American concessions’ displayed in the paybox)

The Emberton/Ratcliff structure is probably my favourite ride of all the dark rides in the north west. Such a classic of design, effects, imagination and not a little humour, all in all making the perfect package for a scary dark ride. Again, it was the mid 60s when my eyes first took in this behemoth but this time there was no obvious scariness to hide from. I didn’t ride initially, just watched in amazement as these little pink cars seemed to disappear and appear with alarming regularity from a host of different exits and entrances, including out over the heads of people passing below the balconies on either side and down a suspended drop, clattering from one side to the other. Hints of a scary ghost or skeleton were just visible through half opened doors or corridors as the cars entered the maze of tunnels. Unusually, no theming was present on the exterior, keeping very close to Emberton’s functional, modernist origins. Much cleaner lines and plain décor kept an element of mystery and curiosity about the scares within. Plain dark blue walls with small spotlights in the ceiling gave a minimalist feel to proceedings with only a small skull on the front of the cars giving any sort of clue to the type of ride it was. The impressive theatre style proscenium arch was plain grey concrete with small spiky turrets along the top. The plain towers and balconies on either side also had no railings around them in those less health and safety conscious times, adding to the thrill.

By the time I rode this classic, in the early 70s, it had had a makeover and been themed in a castle style with a large skeleton with flashing eyes along the top and a coat of lilac paint on the cars. It is still a great ride with lots of classic stunts and a great sense of fun. However, to me, it has been over-themed and looks a little crowded and messy now. I much prefer Ratcliff’s minimalist version and the modernist feel that Emberton brought to the original ride and the park in general.

Pleasure Beach River Caves is arguably the best example of an Old Mill style ride in operation today in the UK. A lengthy but relaxing ride around the world from prehistoric times through ancient Egypt and beyond. Again, I remember how the 60s version had a much more impressive frontage than it does now. Joseph Emberton and Percy Metcalf were responsible for the design and proved to be ahead of their time, as the whole structure looked much more sleek and modern. A huge boulder-like structure with an Aztec and Mayan theme featuring large cave-style drawings of animals engraved in the rocks and featuring two huge square concrete blocks engraved with tribal faces on top of the whole structure, gave it a unique profile over the park. Plain white rock with a single waterwheel was the backdrop along the loading and alighting platform, which was all one level, unlike today with the tacky small splashdown tagged on at the end. This was also before the Watson Road elevation, when the ride had more space around it and a clearer viewing position.

As for the park’s other dark rides, The Gold Mine is today pretty much as it was when it first opened in the early 70s and is still a fun ride.

Alice In Wonderland is great for the younger generation and a taste of Disney on our doorstep while Valhalla is still fairly recent and there are plenty of reviews and information available, as there is for the third north west, and now only, Noah’s Ark left in the UK.

Further down by Blackpool Tower, Coral Island complex also has a great scary dark ride, The Terror Train, which is a fine modern example of the genre and is great fun to boot!

Finally, these memories are of my own favourite rides as I remember them as a youngster and are not meant as an exhaustive study of all the dark rides in the region. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading them as much as I’ve enjoyed remembering them.


Inside the vast Golden Mile Centre in Blackpool, home of the Roller Ghoster. If you have a photograph of the Roller Ghoster that we could use, please contact us. Picture: Phil Gould

Blackpool Pleasure Beach's iconic Ghost Train pictured in 1984 after its 1970s makeover. Picture: National Fairground Archive

Inside the Blackpool Pleasure Beach River Caves from a postcard. Picture: Nick Laister Collection

The Ghost Train at Blackpool's Coral Island in 2007. Picture: Nick Laister

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More on dark rides
Spooks! The History of Ghost Trains and Other Dark Rides
History of Ghost Trains at the National Fairground Archive
Laff in the Dark
Darkride and Funhouse Enthusiasts
Youtube footage of Southport in the 60s and 70s: Happiland's Jigsaw Railway and Pleasureland's River Caves
Griff: Memories of a New Brighton Ride op
About Tony O'Keeffe

Tony is a professional musician, part-time actor and amusement park enthusiast (with an avid interest in British seaside resorts and vintage Butlin's holiday camps too!) He is the drummer and founder of Liverpool's resident Cavern Club Merseybeat group, The Shakers.



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