The Modern Mystic League
Blackburn & District Society of Magicians
Neil Roberts Presents:
The 'End of the Pier' Show
Carl Pearson’s second President’s Day attracted a goodly number of guests from Woodlands UR church, and gave us all the opportunity of getting to know each other.
Neil Roberts, current President of the Northern Magic Circle, is a natural raconteur as well as being a highly skilled, award-winning magician. He made the afternoon a delight, with his fascinating look at the End of the Pier Show, packed with anecdotes, magic and bits of business as only he can present them.
Neil’s story took us back to Sheridan’s 1777 play A Trip to Scarborough, when the health-giving qualities of the sea air were first being realised. Seaside holiday venues developed in the first half of the nineteenth century, then came the innovation of transforming jetties into pleasure piers, beginning with Margate in 1855, followed by Southport in 1860 and Blackpool’s Central pier, opened in 1868. Blackpool’s third pier, initially named after Queen Victoria but later just known as the South Pier, was built in 1893. This quintessentially British phenomenon was championed by the prolific pier constructor Eugenius Birch, responsible for 14 of them. According to Neil, there are currently still 53 piers in existence, a number enjoying listed building status.
Essentially, these pleasure palaces over the waves afforded shelter from the British elements. Neil alluded to the previous tradition of minstrels on the sands, the interlocutors, the slapstick elements and the use of a bottle (hence ‘bottlers’) to collect donations; the bottle having to be broken open to get at the contents.
The entertainment on offer at the end of the pier was not simply a variety show, but one involving the full company, which usually comprised a tenor, a soprano, a couple of comedians, a soubrette and a specialty act, supported by piano and drums. There was scenery, and group sketches were interspersed between the acts. Neil outlined a couple of typical plots; one involving a stork and a milkman (!) and one in which the lodgers in a boarding house queued up to use the bathroom – a situation which would be recognised by most of the audience in those days.
There would be two performances a day for six days per week, typically at 5 and 8 o’clock, and the show would change each Thursday to allow those staying for a week to see two different versions. Now, with the advent of car travel, as Neil pointed out, there are more day trips and features such as the illuminations have become rival attractions.
Neil spoke of the wakes weeks, when the industry of a whole town would shut down and the population travelled to the nearest resort – Blackpool, for example, becoming Wigan-by-the-Sea.
He managed to introduce an element of magic (of course!), presenting a rhyming version of the classic cut-and-restored FRESH FISH SOLD HERE TODAY, concluding with the original touch of ‘Come inside and buy’. He also added some fun with numbers and a punning crossword.
The day was topped off with a raffle and the hearty spread for which Carl and Caroline are famous. We were also able to surprise Carl with a present to thank him for all he has done, and continues to do, for the League.