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From Seaside to The Shrievalty: david cam'S 42 years at Blackpool Pleasure Beach (PAGE 1 OF 3)
Interview by Gary Radice
Article added: 17 June 2018
With the opening of the £16m Icon roller coaster at the Pleasure Beach last month, we talk to the man who spent more than four decades at the park, became its company secretary and made a significant impact on the amusement park industry in the United Kingdom. Six months before the launch of Icon, David Cam DL looked back over some very happy memories of his 42 years at Blackpool Pleasure Beach.
David, welcome to themagiceye and thank you for taking time out from your very busy schedule. As we speak, the confirmation that the new roller coaster “Icon” will debut sometime in 2018 heralds another great new chapter for The Pleasure Beach...
"Icon" is a seriously great name for what will clearly be a seriously fantastic ride. Pleasure Beach has one of the very best collections of roller coasters in the World. When I give my Historical Tours of the park I pay specific attention to each and every one of them - and this always delights the audience who absorb every word I say.
The ride is looking great already, and the build programme has six months to go. It has been designed by the highly experienced Pleasure Beach team in association with the brilliant Mack team so we are absolutely bound to see another World rated, super coaster. I can't wait.
I remember some time ago rumours about a launch coaster that was going to go out over the promenade and head out towards the sea. Were these just rumours or was there some truth in it all?
You are right. This was, and still is, a fantastic idea and unique concept! We did a lot of work on this after Valhalla opened and we identified all the many statutory authorities who would have a say over the building of a coaster over the highway, the tramway, the sea wall and the beach itself. However, our attention was then turned towards the real need to replace the ageing Arrow Log Flume. Let's put it this way - I think that it is safe to assume that the Launch Coaster project file has not been closed!
Why did you apply to work at BPB in the first place and what was your first job there?
I started at Pleasure Beach on April 8th, 1971. It was Maundy Thursday and the first day of the Pleasure Beach and, indeed, the Blackpool season. My father, Ken was Company Treasurer and had been since we moved back to Blackpool (my parents' home town) in September 1964.
My first job was as a Counter Assistant in the "Cresta Cafe" on Main Avenue. My boss was the wonderful London/Italian Tony Lee, the Catering Manager, who spent most of his life at Pleasure Beach ending up as Catering Director. He was a great character. After Easter, I worked weekends in The Turnpike Kiosk (which was later to be demolished in favour of the Tom Sawyer Lake). Mr Lee was horrified when I asked for three weeks off in August so that I could represent Blackpool at the World Scout Jamboree in Japan. I had been selected three years earlier so, reluctantly, he gave in! He forgave me eventually and I carried on working for Mr Lee, and sometimes in the Treasury, through all my years as a student.
Am I right here in thinking that one of the first jobs you applied for after leaving university was to replace John Noakes on Blue Peter?
John Noakes retired from Blue Peter the very day that I sat the last exam for my first degree. We saw it live as the TV was next to the celebratory beer barrel in our student house. In my view, his was the best job in the World so I wrote with a CV and photo to every BBC address in the London telephone directory hoping that one would get through. It worked and I framed the letter from the programme editor Biddy Baxter and hung it in my office - now my Study at home.
She said, and I paraphrase, "Don't call us, we'll call you!" I had to settle for the second best job instead - Company Secretary for The Pleasure Beach Group of Companies – showbiz with a difference.
You also worked at Elitch Gardens Amusement Park in Colorado USA as well in the early days didn't you? Any stories from when you were working /living there?
Whilst Biddy Baxter was pondering my fate, I worked my Summer holiday at Pleasure Beach as usual. Having visited the glorious Middle Temple Hall (completed in 1615) I had decided that if my career was not to be in the BBC then I would join the Middle Temple and become a Barrister. This promised to be an expensive exercise, not least of all the cost of living in London whilst studying at The Inns of Court School of Law, so as I applied for membership, I also applied to Geoffrey Thompson for a job for a year - any job. My aim was to live at home and to save every penny I earned.
Geoffrey had a great respect for my Father and having met me on a few occasions, he readily summonsed me to an interview. He was so busy (as always) that the interview took place as we zoomed around The Casino Building, he asking questions of me over his shoulder! Suffice to say, I started the following Monday as his Personal Assistant. It was a wonderful job. My job spec was basically do, source, check, inspect, buy, fix, study, analyse, organise and help him in any way I could. I had the most wonderful year and left on schedule to continue my studies.
At Christmas, I received an invitation to go in to see Geoffrey. He told me that the Company was expanding nicely and that it had been decided to appoint a lawyer as Assistant Company Secretary. The Company Secretary, Chris Wren Hilton, was an accountant so the ambition was to enhance the professional team. He told me that if I wanted the job it was mine, otherwise they would advertise it. He went on to say that if I accepted, I should return to London to qualify and then go to the USA for 6 months to study the trade from an American perspective. This was an offer I could not refuse, obviously, so we shook hands.
Geoffrey arranged that I should work for the Summer for the Gurtler Family at Elitch Gardens. Their set-up was very similar to ours - family owned since the 1890s, summer shows, two superb woodies etc. I wasn't to be paid in Denver, but I received expenses from home to cover all my living costs including my fabulous 1964 Chevy Impala. My job was to Manage the operational departments when the Manager had his day off - so I ran 6 departments for one day every week. My learning curve was almost vertical! After Labor Day, and that fantastic experience, I set off on a tour of other parks in my trusty Chevy. I made appointments as I went along and visited most of the parks in no less than 23 States.
Geoffrey gave to me the best training that one could have in the business - and it certainly paid off. He was very forward thinking - in every way.