Thursday, 11 February 2016

Thive Thorpe Park Things!

I’ve been ill, I’ve only had a cold but as we all know men + colds = near death experiences, and even if this stereotype wasn’t pitifully true in my case (it so is), it coincided with (and was caused by I think) a bout of depression. So the thing to counteract feeling utterly shit both physically and emotionally is obviously reading about old theme parks…what? Specifically I’ve been reading about Thorpe Park since I wrote the latest ‘Examples of Crap I Waste My Money On’ which included Miss Hippo. Thorpe Park is a British Theme Park built on the site of an old gravel pit (that was itself on the site of an old country estate) and opened up in 1979, today it’s one of our signature parks boasting great rides like Tidal Wave, Stealth, SAW – The Ride, Nemesis: Inferno and The Swarm, the latter being one of if not THE best themed roller coaster in the country (though some of Alton Tower’s offerings are close, Thirteen for instance). I’ve been going since 1992, here’s a bunch of things I never knew or forgot:

Thorpe Park was so BORING
Recent trips to the park had convinced me I’d misremembered how dull Thorpe Park used to be but no, having spent time reading timelines and looking at old early 1990s park maps I was right, it was so boring – going by what I read I think I first went in 1992 (as Depth Charge was definitely operating but so was Treasure Island Railway) I’m looking at the map from that year and Christ – there was Logger’s Leap and Thunder River and I’m only including Thunder River as a ‘thrill ride’ because I can’t think what else to call it, one dark ride (Phantom Fantasia) and Depth Charge. The park was clearly aimed at the under tens but it felt so much like a park designed by boring adults without the savvy to know that most kids don’t want to go on things aimed at them – no six year old could sit through A Drive in the Country, Canada Creek Railway or even the Magic Mill without being heavily medicated. It would take until 1996 and the arrival of X:/ No Way Out before it got itself a proper thrill ride to be proud of, there was more to do at Peter Pan’s Playground – and for those who don’t live in Essex, that’s the pleasure beach at my local seaside town and because I don’t think that term’s used in America a pleasure beach is like a ride-filled pier at a boardwalk!

Logger’s Leap is STILL the highest log flume in the UK
I remember Thorpe Park touting Logger’s Leap – their Canadian themed log flume – as being the tallest log flume in the United Kingdom but I also knew that it had lost that title, I had no idea how or when just that it stopped being true -  and anyway Dragon River’s at Chessington is a far superior log flume experience. I was right – it lost it in 1993 to Nightmare Niagara when that opened at The American Adventure in Derby, but the American Adventure (which opened way back in ’87) closed in 2005 and with it Nightmare Niagara so now Logger’s Leap is once again the tallest.

Mr Rabbit was the park’s original mascot
The Thorpe Park Ranger are for my money some of the best mascots ever, they were likable, well designed, had tons of personality apiece and RCM went all-out integrating them into the park, they were introduced in 1989 so by the time I started visiting regularly (1992-2000) they were already integrated, merchandised and appearing as walk-around characters so I never knew a time when Mr Rabbit wasn’t one of them, and frankly the rabbit always stood out the least (I always liked Mr Elephant the best) but it turns out that Mr Rabbit was the park’s original mascot, appearing on television commercials and having the first stage show at The Club House. Originally he wore a little pink bow tie and waist coat before becoming magic and adopting himself a wizard get-up and then joining up with the Thorpe Park Rangers, in fact they transformed The Magic Mill into Mr Rabbit’s Tropical Travels and that told the tale of how Mr Rabbit met them and recruited them (it must have stung a bit when Chief Ranger got the job of, well, Chief Ranger over him, mind you Chief Ranger was a fucking bear so I doubt Mr Rabbit argued much). It just makes their ousting by that fucking cat and their now almost complete removal from the park even sadder. Incidentally Mr Rabbit’s arrival as park mascot hasn’t been pinned down, though he appears on the first park map I can find (1986) where his Mr Rabbit Show was already operating (it’s not listed as a new attraction) and he was already ‘as seen on TV’ and he doesn’t seem to have been around in 1981 (and the Club House certainly wasn’t) so it would be between ’82 and ‘85, most sources I’ve got just put his arrival as ‘early 80’s.

The Thorpe Park Fire
I’d forgotten all about this! I’m such a bad fan. Now in my defence 2000 was the last year I went to the park for some time and I went for my birthday which is in June and the fire wasn’t until July but I do remember it being on the news, I didn’t pay much attention though (it didn’t involve Pokémon, few things that didn’t involve Pokémon held my attention in 2000) as I didn’t know it was responsible for the closure of the Wicked Witches Haunt (formerly  Phantom Fantasia) one of the weirdest Dark Ride experiences I’d ever had. In 21st July 2000, one of the busiest days of the year so far for the park because it’s always the way, a fire started in the mill section of Mr Rabbit’s Tropical Travels (that had once been the Magical Mill) around 3pm, it was reported by guests riding the attraction but for whatever reason it spread to engulf the show building for Wicked Witches Haunt and the boat house for Tropical Travels, burning out part of the Central Park ‘land’ (which is now mostly part of Amity Cove). The park was evacuated with the estimated number of fleeing punters being around 7.000. 
This ride-through video of X:/ No Way Out ends with footage of the damage caused by the fire, starting about 4:12:

The cause of fire is officially unknown but online talk is of it being started by a careless smoker and their careless cigarette, and it’s a genuine shame no one was ever prosecuted for it because while I couldn’t give a fuck about Tropical Travels (they actually had the cheek to run it without the mill section, the only animated – read: not-boring – part of the ride) it means that a lot of kids missed out on riding Wicked Witches Haunt: what happen when a haunted house is designed by a history teacher with ADHD and then slathered in UV paint in an attempt to ‘retheme’ it. However to make up for the loss of the two rides, Tussauds Group quickly put in a second hand ride in (later known as Zodiac) that ultimately lead to the park’s change in focus towards thrill rides and turned it into the fantastic park it is today, so it wasn’t all bad I guess.

The Long Service of Cap’n Andy
This really was a shock. Cap’n Andy’s Revue was a animatronic stage show likened on Thorpe Park Memories to The Country Bears Jamboree but really closer to the old Rockafire Explosion shows from Showbiz Pizza Place, it starred a singing dog and a slutty hippo and I sat through it a lot. Then I hated it, I couldn’t see why I’d want to sit and watch
robots sing when I could go on a ride or watch ‘real’ Thorpe Park Rangers sing AND dance, now I actually appreciate it a lot more, it had fluid animation and was nicely themed but it was still the sort of attraction that would prove to a visiting American how rinky-dink British theme parks were compared to their Disney and Universal offerings, because as nice as it was it wasn’t close to complexity and the level of intricacy of the Country Bears Jamboree, the Mickey Mouse Review or even the Enchanted Tikki Room. But it turns out that there’s more to this little show than Thorpe Park trying to be Disneyland and those Americans would be wrong – because it’s one of theirs’: it turns out that the revue was made for Captain Andy’s River Towne, a me-too Chuck E Cheese style restaurant in Baltimore (America, there was at least one, in the Putty Hill Shopping Centre) and it was designed by a Edward D. Hilbert but was made by former Disney Imagineers Tom Reidenbach, Dave Schweninger and fucking Bob Gurr - who designed the Autopia cars and Doom Buggies, amongst many other things. The show was noticeably more complex and showy than Chuck E. Cheese; offering full-body animatronics with more movements and just not being quite so terrifying. Sadly the success of Captain Andy’s River Towne was fleeting and RCM bought the animatronic show in 1984 (which leads me to believe Captain Andy might have been put out of work by the Great American Video Game Crash of ’83) for £84,000 (allegedly) and it opened around 1985, staying at Thorpe Park until 1998, when it was closed at the end of the season (part of Colossus is now where it stood).
But that’s not the end, the whole thing was sold to Peter Hadden for his New Pleasurewood Hills, a revamped Pleasurewood Hills in Suffolk and installed in their Castle Theatre, once the home to that pink and yellow turd Mr Blobby and a much better show starring mascot Woody the Bear. It opened in 2001 as Captain Andy’s Animated Theatre Show but was only open for that season; I wish I could have seen it there, the satisfaction I’d’ve gotten from seeing Cap’n Andy having replaced Mr Blobby would have been immense. But that’s not the end because it was then sold to Richard Haines who added it to Watermouth Castle in Devon, a genuine castle that had been turned into a mini-theme park and by the looks of it, it’s still going! (A picture of the good Cap’n is currently on their site, that place is WAY too full of mannequins for me to ever go back there to check though). Cap’n Andy has officially played in more locations than the Mickey Mouse Revue. 

So now you know what I do when I’m ill and you know shit about a theme park you’ve probably never been too, can you believe this blog isn’t more popular? I know right? Well you’ve had the last laugh, thanks! 

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