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Light Research @ MMU

Blackpool Amusement Arcade Interiors

Posted on behalf of Martha Lineham: MA Visual Culture student at MMU

‘Where the commodities are suspended and shoved together in such boundless confusion… like images out of the most incoherent dreams.’ (Walter Benjamin on arcades, 1892 – 1940)

An anarchic collage of conflicting sounds, crass imagery, seductive text and rhythmic light sequences; the amusement arcade is a disorientating experience of real and imaginary conditions. These labyrinthic spaces have an absence of external reference points and are reminiscent of the fairground’s hedonistic lure.

Mechanical and video games outstretch in a noisy juxtaposition of physical demand and surface effects. Consumer and object merge in these virtual, drug-like, timeless places. Everything in the arcade appears immediate and accessible.

My thesis project is an exploration of Blackpool’s amusement arcades in the late 1970s / early 1980s, when video game popularity peaked in British arcades. I am interested in the make-up of the interiors, the arcade’s contribution to Blackpool’s cultural significance, and how amusement arcades functioned as social spaces during this time.

To contribute your thoughts on this project please email:

Source: Wikicommons

March 20th, 2013 - 21:44pm

Massage parlours: an alternative Blackpool Illuminations (posted on behalf of Emily Bowes)

During my current research into the impacts of living in close proximity to the massage parlours of Blackpool, I have become very interested in perceptions (both of residents and my own) of the various ways in which the parlours are illuminated.   While they are used for obvious purposes of advertising and to provide safety, this lighting also has other effects. Often described as located in the more ‘lonely’ streets of Blackpool, ‘where even the pigeons don’t frequent’ (interviews with residents), these massage parlours are constantly – and sometimes vibrantly – illuminated.  The ‘red’ of ‘red-light district’ is seemingly absent here. Contrary to the specific stereotyping of ‘red’ associated with areas of sex work, these establishments use a variety of different colours and style of lighting that vary widely in luminosity.  From white to neon blue or pink, from Victorian-style table lamps to illuminated barbed wire lights, the lightscape is extremely diverse and temporally fluid, with some establishments changing these features monthly, weekly and sometimes daily.  This might reflect crackdowns on the parlours’ visibility by local authority gatekeepers but for me, this constant, fluctuating illumination allows individual expression as well as the longevity of some of these businesses.

tabooThe lights also effectively consolidate Blackpool’s reputation as a leisure and pleasure resort with which the illumination is inextricably linked.  Furthermore, the lighting also represents somewhat of a sanctuary.   At night, while spending time here (where I also grew up), these streets are often rather isolated and people usually use them as thoroughfares.  Despite the nationwide economic recession, such establishments have been relatively successful. Thus the lights indicate that people are present in these otherwise quiet areas, and that some businesses are at least open and functioning. Moreover, they paradoxically reinforce the insider-outsider dichotomy often associated with conflicts around the usage of public space. The lighting draws ‘outsiders’ in visually and physically (there is a desire to walk towards them, to look beyond the exterior illumination into the interior) and yet there is a simultaneous desire to not look, and not be seen as a voyeur by the businesses or anybody else.

March 7th, 2013 - 16:24pm

Art of the Light Fantastic

Last chance to see the Art of the Light Fantastic, an exhibition at the Stanley Park Visitor’s Centre in Blackpool, featuring designs for seafront tableaux and installations from the 1920s to the 1970s unearthed from the Illuminations archive by Professor Vanessa Toulmin. The exhibit is on display until 10th March.


March 4th, 2013 - 08:52am

Blackpool Illuminations lecture at the Manchester Geographical Society

Giving a lunch-time lecture today at 1pm to the Manchester Geographical Society.  The lecture will examine how the production and consumption of Blackpool Illuminations presents important challenges to the rebranding of places as creative centres.  Drawing on ethnographic work and interviews undertaken in Blackpool, the lecture will include historic photos of the goings-on inside the now demolished Rigby Road depot, where the Blackpool lights were formerly constructed and maintained.  The lecture concludes with some thoughts about what we might learn from Blackpool in terms of lighting the public realm

Brian Griffiths

Grundy Art Gallery

The lecture starts at 1pm in the Cross Street Chape, Cross Street Manchester. M2 1NL

February 26th, 2013 - 11:53am

Modernity, municipalism and light: 100 years of Blackpool Illuminations

I have been working with the Manchester Modernist Society , North West Film Archive and Manchester City Art Gallery, curating a season of monthly archive film screenings as part of the Gallery’s Thursday Lates programme.

Entitled The Changing Face of the North West: Modernist Dreams and Utopias, the films chart the transformation of the North West landscape through the aspirations of 20th Century dreamers, citizens and planners.

This evening I showcased three films about Blackpool, sourced from the NWFA: Blackpool: A Nation’s Playground(1939); Holiday!(1957); and Northern Lights (1959).

A Nation’s Playground

Blackpool: A Nation’s Playground (1939) was made by the London Midland & Scottish railway Co, which made over thirty films between 1934-1939. Playground was probably shot in the last summer before the outbreak of WWII to promote Blackpool, which they hoped people would then travel to, using the company’s trains of course.


Holiday! (1957). With the coming of peace and the nationalisation of the railways in 1948, individual railway film units, such as, the London Midland & Scottish railway Co, became part of the British Transport Commission. Made by British Transport Films in 1957, Holiday is one of over 1300 educational and promotional films commissioned made by the BTC. In 1955 the film unit had travelled to the North West to work on a promotional film for the region’s resorts entitled Lancashire Coast. But with so much good material available, another film was created, said almost to have been made up of the ‘leftover trims’. With the addition of a jazz soundtrack by Chris Barber and his band we end up with a film simply called Holiday!

The pre-war art deco landscape is submerged by resolutely post-war design, where concrete, colour and pop-cultural stylings contrast starkly to pre-war Blackpool. In 1950s Britain, the post-war optimism of the new Welfare State and the 1951 Festival of Britain continue to resonate in Holiday!, which foregrounds progress, technology and change. The shots focusing on the Illuminations, in particular, underscore these themes, as the lights themselves were reinvented.

Northern Lights

Northern Lights (1959), features both Morecambe and Blackpool illuminations. The film includes footage of the 1959 switch-on ceremony, noted for how the Mayor deals with the sexual presence of Hollywood superstar Jayne Mansfield. Thisceremony remains a key event in the Blackpool Calendar. Whereas other resorts shut up shop after the summer season, the switch-on event at the end of August marks the beginning of Blackpool’s busy period. In recent times, the event has been reinvented as a televised extravaganza, featuring chart topping pop-stars and TV celebrities.

The array of ‘people’ who have switched on the lights is bewildering, from George Formby to Red Rum. The chosen personality is often figure at the centre of British popular culture at the time. And so Stanley Mathews in 1951 is no surprise. And neither should we be surprised that in 1971 it was the cast of Dad’s Army, whereas in 1991 the stars included Judith Chalmers and Derek Jameson.

In the 1950s, however, the ceremony became particularly fascinating as a balcony attached to a municipal town hall in North West England, become the focal point of the Cold War. For reasons, we still can’t quite understand, a delegation from Soviet Russia visiting housing developments in Manchester, were invited to switch on the lights in 1955. This party included the Soviet Ambassador, Jacob Malik, who was to become a key figure in the Cuban Missile Crisis. To restore international diplomatic balance, US ambassador, John H Whitney was invited to switch on the lights two years later. But typically for Blackpool, sandwiched in-between these two global political figures, was Reginald Dixon, inventor and long-time player of Blackpool Tower’s famous Wurlitzer.

The film concludes with an interview between the technical director of the illuminations, Harry Carpenter, and Professor Stanley Unwin, a British comedian fluent in the language of Unwinese, or “Basic Engly Twenty Fido”. Carpenter was appointed in 1950 and become a key figure in transforming the lights during this decade. Carpenter introduced fibre glass mouldings, which enabled the illumination’s team to create and shape a much greater menagerie of three dimensional objects and figures. This material also enabled them to create plastic panels that could be illuminated to create new forms of animated tableaux. Both these technologies remain significant elements of the Illuminations today. Gone, however, are Carpenter’s huge theatrical animated tableaux, which dominated the North Shore, including a huge 650 ft long Merry England display. Tableaux remain important, but many of the traditional displays, including the wonderful Alice in Wonderland tableaux, were damaged beyond repair during recent bad weather, leaving huge gaps along the seafront. Unfortunately in age of austerity, we are unlikely to see large scale displays like this return to Blackpool in the near future. At least Northern Lights gives us some indication about what these spectacular displays were like.

For information about future screenings please check out:

Thursday Lates

February 21st, 2013 - 14:25pm