In the second of our three-part series on the 20th anniversary of the Morecambe Blobby Gate scandal, we talk to the Morecambe DJ who saw the saga unfold first-hand.
Noel Edmonds turned to Steve Middlesbrough and, with a hint of mischief in his eye, said: “I’ve got just the role for you.”
The next thing, Steve became the latest victim of Noel’s dreaded ‘gunge tank’.
The Morecambe DJ was drenched from head to foot in clammy gloop as a 50,000-strong crowd on the Promenade roared with delight. This was August 5 1994, the day Noel and Mr Blobby came to switch on the Morecambe Illuminations and drew massive crowds for the second consecutive year.
Despite being ‘gunged’, it was one of the highlights of Steve’s career as he joined the TV personality on stage during a special live version of his hit telly show ‘Noel’s House Party’.
“It was amazing, everybody was buzzing,” said Noel.
“Noel and Blobby were the only celebrities ever to be invited back to switch on the lights two years running. Not even Morecambe and Wise did that.Everybody forgets about that, with what came later.”
Steve first met Noel in 1982, when the-then Radio 1 presenter was hired for a gig at the old Warton Grange nightclub. They also worked together on the Morecambe switch-on in 1993. When Steve first heard about the idea for a Mr Blobby-themed attraction in Happy Mount Park, he thought it was a no-brainer.
“Noel and Blobby were extremely popular and anybody would have thought it was a good idea for Morecambe,” he said. “There was also a Blobby theme park in Cricket St Thomas, Somerset, at the time.
“The problem was in the execution. The promotion, the implementation and the branding had to be right. But it wasn’t that much different from the old Happy Mount Park.”
Steve visited the opening of ‘World of Crinkley Bottom’ on July 30 1994 and realised immediately there was a problem.
“The queue was halfway down the park. But I looked around at the big aluminium Mr Blobby house and the few Crinkley Bottom-style signs in the Japanese Gardens and thought to myself ‘there isn’t enough here’. It was a cheap version of the TV show. It certainly wasn’t Disney.
“People were coming up to me and asking ‘Where is it?’ And I told them: ‘You’ve just been through it!’”
As complaints and demands for refunds began to flood in, Steve spoke to Noel about his thoughts on the impending crisis.
“Noel is a creative guy and he wanted it to work. He was willing to do whatever it took. He said to me, he would have moved it. probably put it in the centre of town. The problem was, Granada TV were right on it from the start, putting it in an unfavourable light, interviewing the neighbours, who were really dead against it.”
In September 1994, Steve was asked to come and work on the park in an attempt to turn things around.
“I wanted to make it more entertaining for the kids. We did a Saturday night show with Mr Blobby, got the children involved, made it more panto. In my mind, we were just getting through four weeks until the end of the season, then we’d look at next year.”
At the end of season staff party at the old Charlestons bar on the seafront, everybody was demoralised. But still Steve and his colleagues were told by councillors they’d done a great job, and to get ready for 1995 when things would turn around. Little did they know, they’d already worked their last day at Blobby Land.
In November, Lancaster City Council voted to close the park, kickstarting a bitter legal battle with Edmonds.
Steve believes closure was the wrong decision. “We walked with placards to Morecambe Town Hall, saying ‘Don’t Close Crinkley Bottom’.
“They had other options. Anything that’s popular, can be made to work. But they didn’t give it a chance.”
*In our final part next week, we look at the legacy of Blobby Land and the lessons learned.