Costa-del-Yarmouth at Marina?
PUBLISHED: 10:00 09 October 2015 | UPDATED: 21:20 09 October 2015
JUST like Fry's Turkish Delight, it was "full of Eastern promise." But unlike the chocolate bar, it has never quite lived up to that promise - and here we are, 34 years after the Marina Centre opened at its prime Great Yarmouth Golden Mile location, and a new initiative is launched to popularise it by making changes and innovations.
As a ratepayer (sorry, council tax payer) and supporter of our holiday industry, I wish the borough council well in its efforts to provide popular and financially viable sports and recreational facilities within the complex. Inevitably, that will mean removing some that have not earned their keep, with a backlash from the aggrieved victims.
At the time the Marina Centre was conceived, budget package holidays by air to sun-drenched continental shores were proving serious competition to traditional UK resorts, and it was reckoned that the innovation would benefit Yarmouth in the cut-throat tussle for those visitors who preferred not to jet abroad.
Locating it on the site of the outdated open-air bathing pool, and outdoor Marina amphitheatre capable of seating thousands, was controversial but logical...to a point. They were pre-war major additions to the resort’s facilities, but vulnerable to the weather, and people were no longer content to patronise Spartan amenities.
The percentage of visitors arriving here in their own cars – instead of by train and charabanc – necessitated provision of ample parking space as near to the seafront as possible. However, the Marina Centre occupying its prime Golden Mile spot meant that there was still little or no room left for customers to park, a serious drawback.
The original design was also ill-conceived, the near-unbroken brick frontage along the Marine Parade looking relentlessly unwelcoming to passers-by; if you went round the back and peered through the window, you could just make out the tropical-shore type pool. Moreover, nobody could amble inside to see what delights the Marina Centre contained behind that wall without paying an admission fee, an unpopular and unwarranted imposition that was scrapped later.
The Dutch-designed heating system proved a regular source of trouble.
Not all of its components were ill-considered. By and large, the Marina Centre had much to offer, in particular the lagoon-style pool and multi-sports hall; its entertainment provision also attracted customers at various times, like New Year’s Eve.
In 1978 I joined a party of councillors, town hall officers and holiday industry representatives on a fact-finding coach trip to Rotherham in Yorkshire where a leisure bathing pool and sports complex had recently opened – not at a busy central location but on a 90-acre field out in the suburb of Herringthorpe where parking was unlimited.
We enjoyed a splash in the palm-fringed ‘tropical lagoon’ and its 85 degree F blue water with wavelets lapping gently on to the ‘beach’. And we could not believe that we were disporting ourselves not in the South Pacific with Mitzi Gaynor singing breezily on the shore to American sailors...but in Rotherham!
All of us were impressed and, with the then borough treasurer assuring us that it would not cost ratepayers a penny extra (an optimistic miscalculation, it transpired), the go-ahead was given for a similar amenity.
All credit to the borough council for its boldness in providing the resort with the Marina Centre, a multi-sports and leisure complex with something for all ages. And surely most of the townsfolk hope that this latest re-vamp will get it right at last. Sadly, there must be casualties.
One of the first facilities in line for axing is the indoor bowls rink, a victim of waning usage and income, according to the centre’s operator. It is a pursuit enjoyed by older folk who are protesting, particularly as their space will become fitness-orientated aimed at younger patrons.
I can sympathise with those bowlers’ feelings because three years ago Mrs Peggotty and I were members of our local Sports Club 88 for over-50s when it was ousted from its perfect York Road Drill Hall base where it had been since it was founded 24 years earlier.
This was despite official local and national campaigns to members of the older generation active (and, therefore, healthy). Sports Club 88’s twice-weekly two-hour sessions year in, year out, for badminton, short tennis and table tennis in this wooden-floored hall seemed to be in keeping with that official aim.
Other organisations with a range of ages were similarly rendered homeless because the council-owned York Road Drill Hall was acquired by SeaChange Arts, an organisation needing all its space for an agenda which included arts-based activities and teaching circus skills.
In the case of Sports Club 88, which had a membership nearing a hundred, the Marina Centre came up trumps by offering to accommodate it, even going out of its way to ensure that the ageing users could continue with their established routines.
So, from holidaymakers to working visitors...
Some of the entertainers who spent their summers in our resident star-spangled shows kept a low profile off-stage, often venturing no farther than the nearest golf course during the day, but the three singing Beverley Sisters were often out and about in town together, instantly recognisable by their identical outfits and happy to be approached by fans.
They even dropped into the Mercury office in Regent Street occasionally.
The real-life sisters – Joy, Teddy and Babs - were here for the summers of 1955 (Royal Aquarium, supporting comedian and game-show host “Cheerful” Charlie Chester) and 1963 (Britannia Pier, top-billing).
In 1979 the tuneful trio came to Yarmouth only once, and briefly, because they were here not as performers in their own right but to support younger members of their family – Beverley Rainbow, a trio making its summer show debut at the ABC.
Beverley Rainbow comprised Joy’s daughters, Babette and Vicki, and Teddie’s daughter Sasha.
Top of the ABC bill that year were The Bachelors, the vocal trio who had established new records when they starred there in 1965. Also on the 1979 supporting bill was an up-and-coming comic named Michael Barrymore...
The Beverley Sisters were great entertainers and good company, nowadays known only to older folk. Recently the eldest Beverley, Joy, widow of famed England soccer captain Billy Wright, died at the age of 91, prompting this little bout of reminiscence.