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Monday, December 9, 2013

The Call of Brighton's West Pier

In the Brighton Museum resides a model of the city's former West Pier, crafted by some patient soul with an eye for detail.  The pier was originally built in 1866 as a simple promenade pier.  In 1875, a grandstand was added, and in the years that followed, other improvements widened its appeal.  By 1916, the West Pier boasted a modern theater and concert hall.  

Apparently, many seaside resort towns followed a similar course.  In his autobiography, My Life, David Jason mentions a summer he spent at the Pier Theater in Bournemouth in 1967, acting in a play called "Honeymoon Bedlam." He writes:

"When the weather was rough, the entire play took place against the background roar of waves thundering against the legs of the pier.  You often wondered whether, by the time the curtain fell, you would be halfway to France on a lump of wood."

All buildings and structures must withstand the demands of the environment.  A wooden pier that is affixed to the land, stretches into the sea, and endures the continual assault of wind, water, and storms must certainly endure continual stress.  Sadly, the West Pier began to feel the strain in the 1950's and '60's, and in 1975 was declared unsafe and closed to the public.  

In 1980, a new producer took over Doctor Who.  His name was John Nathan Turner, and as he lived in Brighton, he set the first scene of his first story there.  Director Lovett Bickford opens Episode 1 of "The Leisure Hive" by focusing the TV camera on Brighton Pier (then known as the Palace Pier).  The camera pans gradually to the right along the beach, until we finally see the Doctor relaxing on a beach chair, with the West Pier in the background.  At first glance, it looks like a normal, usable pier.  (For photos of this, see my previous entry, "K-9: Keep Away From The Water!")  But a careful study of the video, digitally remastered by the BBC for the DVD release, suggests some of the disrepair that forced the pier's closure five years previous.  

Today, the remnants of the pier stand out in the water, cut off from the tourist-lined beach and hotel-lined seafront.  At this point, improvements to her structure seem unlikely.  Yet, in view of her historical significance, the British government has awarded it Grade I listed status.  This category, the nation's highest in importance, has only been awarded to approximately 12,000 structures.  Of those, only two are piers.  People walk past her, bathe, swim and fish by her, and take millions of photographs of her.  She seems to cries out to them, "Rebuild me!  Rebuild me!"  Yet, if a few people hear her, fewer still listen.

Perhaps someday, someone will answer her plea.  Or perhaps she is destined to remain a relic of history, her only remaining purpose to remind us of an earlier era.  The future, as ever, is for us to decide.

Dragon Dave

Related Dragon Cache entries
K-9: Keep Away From The Water

Related Internet Links
The West Pier Trust
David Jason: My Life

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