When ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ wasn’t even yet a twinkle in the eyes of revenue-hungry reality TV producers, ‘Uncle Norman’ and ‘Aunty Dorothy’ Trafford were blazing a trail for the talent show genre at the quaint, iconic Victorian bandstand situated in the heart of Vale Park, New Brighton.
When JOYTIME was started in 1953, New Brighton was a heaving seaside resort with daily trainloads of visitors, yet how could the Traffords have possibly known the longevity of what has now become a summer rite of passage for many families across the region who still flock to try their luck at a talent show that has lasted for a record breaking 65 years?
Since Joytime began, New Brighton’s fortunes have fallen and risen again, and visitors to Vale Park these days are treated to the fantastic community-built driftwood ship the Black Pearl on the beach beyond, as well as the mysterious fairy glen within Vale Park’s grounds and a well-equipped play area, all looking out across a River Mersey that has seen a lifetime of changes.
The Tower looming over the park has long since been flattened into the Tower Grounds, the bulging Mersey, with its endless conveyer belt of ships and thousands of dockers have been replaced by container ports, huge imposing cranes and windmills that cut through the landscape, yet still the show goes on.So what better way for La Vida Liverpool to while away the lazy summer afternoons than to take a trip down memory lane and check out the Joytime of the 21st century for ourselves to find out whether treading the boards at the bandstand remains as magical for the YouTube generation as it was for those of us who came before. So, with a skip in my step, the sea breeze in my ears, and a cluster of kids at my heels, I head off to Vale Park with excitement.‘Can we bring the tablets mum?’ a request that doesn’t exactly fill me with optimism, but with a sleight of hand I divest said kids of their electronic devices and march them along the prom. ‘It’s a bit windy today isn’t it?’ Why yes, yes it is, for these are the summers of a British childhood! The wind is meant to be bracing, the sky is proud to don its marbled grey overcoat, it probably will rain – this is the stuff that memories are made of!The show is in full swing when we arrive, and overcast as it is, a crowd of 300 revellers recline on deckchairs and enjoy picnics on the grass. A succession of young hopefuls demonstrate their talents, singing their hearts out, dancing and even showcasing football skills, all eager to win their place in the Friday semi-finals. For the princely sum of 50p, we spent the afternoon watching the stars of the future follow in the footsteps of local celebrities like Keith Chegwin and Paul O’Grady, who had an early taste of success at the “bandstand of dreams”.
Over the years, kids have offered a range of unusual performances, including one talented entrant who burped their way through the entire alphabet! The kids of yesteryear sang nursery rhymes, while contestants today reel off word-perfect renditions of the latest chart hits, yet the essential charm of this traditional variety show remains.Joytime persists because it brings generations together, gives kids a space to dream, to play freely in safe surroundings, and unlike some of New Brighton’s newer attractions, it doesn’t break the bank for families looking for ways to entertain the kids over the holidays. ‘Everyone’s on a level pegging here’, Aaron Hayes, the current organiser and compere of some fifteen years, tells me when I catch up with him after the show. The longest running talent show in the UK, this place is a stalwart of Merseyside summers, and for 65 years, countless families have realised its value.
‘On a sunny day, for me, there’s no better place’ muses Aaron, and as I look out across the immaculate gardens, while the park’s Green Flag flutters in the breeze, I find it hard to disagree. Long live Joytime, and may New Brighton continue to prosper with it!Joytime runs every weekday through the summer up to August 31st, entry is just 50p per person and deckchairs are available free of charge. The gates open at 1pm and the show starts at 1.45pm with games and dances followed by the talent contest running until 4pm each day.
Kids can sign up on the day for their chances to take part, and prizes can be won in the dancing contest at the end of the show. Watch out for Crackers, the hugely popular Joytime mascot made possible by funding from Wirral Copper Jar, a not-for-profit organisation that collects donations throughout Wirral to distribute to organisations and people in need.Vale Park is accessible by train (a 15 minute walk from New Brighton station) or from the other side of the Mersey, visitors can also take the ferry to Seacombe and follow the promenade. Look out for the Black Pearl Pirate Ship, meander through the fairy glen, and Joytime lies just beyond. There is even a cafe onsite with excellent facilites. Enjoy this quintessential piece of British seaside history, it is a rare treat indeed.
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Images courtesy of Joytime