We caught up with Marc Dawson, former Chargehand on the Pepsi Max Big One. We asked what it was like working on the most famous ride in the country and which famous faces took the plunge.
Tell us about your time working on the Pleasure Beach
I first started in Operations at BPB in the middle of the 1997 season, just after Playstation The ride opened. On my first day I was sent to the Big One, and it is on this ride that I stayed for the following 3 seasons. During prolonged periods of strong winds which closed the PMBO it was not uncommon for the big one team to be sent to other rides to help out. During these times I also worked on the Grand National, Avalanche, Steeplechase, Revolution, Ghost Train, Big Dipper, Rollercoaster (as it was called then). My role at the Big One started out as operator, learning all about the operation of the ride, including on a 3 train service, Operating the Demag, running the ride in adverse weather, E stops etc. The subsequent seasons, I progressed into the various levels of supervisor before becoming Chargehand.
Do you still visit the park as a guest? Has it changed the way you enjoy visiting theme parks and fairs?
Yes but not as much as I used to, I’m more into my Funfairs now. It certainly does change your view of going to any park. When you are in charge of a ride, particularly a ride like the PMBO, you need to have eyes in the back of your head and identify any issues, almost before they arise, like having a ‘sixth sense’. When I visit parks now, whilst everyone else is laughing and joking in the queue line and looking forward to the ride they are going on, im looking looking at cleanliness, how the operators are running the ride, and if there are any bulbs out! Haha! Whilst at BPB I took 3 operators through the mechanical ride operations NVQ level 2, so I suppose the observation of rides and how they are run never leaves you.
Do you have any interesting anecdotes about your time working on the Pleasure Beach?
During the late 90’s, and with the Big One only being a few years old, we used to regularly have celebrity guests who, were either on a day out, or filming for TV. Among the many guests we had were Robbie Williams, Steps, Atomic Kitten, Caprice, and Jeremy Clarkson and his mum!
We regularly saw the Thompson family around the park and also bringing guests up to the Big One. This added to the pressure even more as randomly during your shift, you would get a visit from Geoffrey Thompson with a guests, so the ride had to be running smoothly and be clean and tidy at all times. Often difficult when we would sometimes get 15,000 guests a day through the airgates. At the start of the day we would sometimes see Mrs L D Thompson around the park before opening, and she always had time to say hello.
What would be your advice for anything thinking about working in the industry? Does it have its ups and downs? (no pun intended 🙂 )
I would say if you enjoy working with the public, have an outgoing personality and are not afraid to try new things, then go for it. I saw a lot of operators come and go through the Big One Team that thought it was all about just chatting to guests and checking the occasional restraint. Imagine their surprise when they have to sandbag 3 trains at a moments notice because the wind has increased sharply, or they have to run up the 419 steps to the top of the lift hill to talk to guests in a train as the ride has E-stopped, all within 2 minutes. Working with rides is a very rewarding job for the the right person. Nowadays the hours are more family friendly. Back in the late 90’s it was not uncommon for us to be working 90 hrs a week, or until midnight from a 7:30am start. It can get a bit repetitive and boring during quiet days, but when there is a busy day on park, the time can just fly by!