It’s a scorching hot day on Blackpool’s Golden Mile, and we’re on the raised walkway that crosses the promenade, looking back at the shops, clubs and amusement arcades keeping the countless holidaymakers amused. The tram in the foreground is heading south for the Starr Gate turnaround point, a stone’s throw away from the Pontins holiday camp on the way down to Lytham St Annes – and it’s packed with people heading south towards the Pleasure Beach. A typical Easter in Blackpool, then, except that it’s not raining.
On TV, the newcomer soap opera EastEnders is by now doing serious numbers, forcing Coronation Street’s script writers to start contemplating racier story lines. Also on your telly, if you lived in the south London area, NICAM digital stereo was broadcast for the first time in the world from the IBA Crystal Palace transmitter. Coming from your Philips tape-to-tape radio cassette would be hits that included Mr. Mister with Broken Wings, Robert Palmer’s Addicted to Love and Simply Red were Holding Back the Years. The top three films were Rocky IV, Top Gun and the brilliant Crocodile Dundee.
Meanwhile, over the Pennines, an automotive revolution was about to take place – this was the year that Nissan’s Washington plant, completed in 1985, officially started production. Margaret Thatcher, the then-Prime Minister, travelled to the North East on 8 September 1986 where she performed the ceremony and painted the second eye on a traditional Japanese ‘daruma’ doll to confirm the successful opening of the plant. This followed the painting of the first eye by Prince Charles and Princess Diana during a visit to Nissan’s Zama Plant in Japan on 12 May 1986.
Austin Rover had, of course, been building the Honda-based Triumph Acclaim and Rover 213 down in Cowley and then Longbridge since 1981, but this would be different – this wasn’t a joint venture. This would be a Japanese car built by a Japanese carmaker for the European market – the Nissan Bluebird (below). In the first year, 5139 Bluebirds rolled off the line – a million miles away from the half million-or-so capacity the plant has now. From little acorns…
So, tell us about the cars and the tram
There’s a mixed bag of cars in the prom squirting from one set of traffic lights to another. Look at the cars driving towards us on the other side of the road and you will (from right to left) a Ford Sierra Estate, a Nissan Micra, a Mini 1000, aPrincess HL, an Austin Allegro in an objectionable shade of green, another Ford Sierra, a Renault 9 and a Vauxhall Cavalier Mk2 furthest away. There were also a number of Austin FX4s pounding the prom – they were very popular with the licensed taxi trade in Blackpool for many a year. Presumably, many had headed north after earning their keep in London.
Driving away from the camera is a much more cosmopolitan selection. A Renault 18 Turbo, with its factory sunroof cheekily tilted, brings up the rear, following a rare-bird Toyota Tercel three-door hatchback, while a Volkswagen Jetta Mk1 leads the way up front. Back over the road, the building nearest us was the Funland amusement arcade, which is no longer with us, and where I spent many a happy hour playing video games such as Mr Do!, Robotron 2084 and Pole Position. It was smaller than such arcades as Coral Island and Mr B’s, but was a brighter place, and chock full of coin pusher machines for when my resources were running low. Perhaps that’s why my 10p coins lasted longer here…
The tram itself was rather special for 1986, too. This new type of Centenary class (eight in total including two prototypes) were supplied body and chassis only from East Lancs Coachworks and fitted onto bespoke rubber suspended bogies that were built in house with assistance from Hendrickson-Norde of Northampton. These also featured up-to-date thyristor power controls making them smoother and less energy consuming, but the sea air took its toll on the bodywork. By 1998 most of them had severe corrosion that required a six figure overhaul to make them fit for purpose once more.
It all looks very different there now, with the bridge this was taken from long gone, and the traffic now calmed to 20mph, funnelled through a single lane on each side. The trams are now modern, soulless vehicles, you’ll find everywhere else, but the atmosphere and the vibe remains very much in place. I remember those weekends so well, and it’s highly likely that I will have been within a hop, skip and a jump of our photographer – and I can imagine quite a few of you have memories of Blackpool from around this time, too. If you enjoyed this, let us know in the comments and, if you have any pictures you’d like featuring, drop me a line via any of the links below.