Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Tour 'The Las Vegas of the North'

By Andy Capper, VICE UK Editor
Click to play
Tour 'The Las Vegas of the North'
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Blackpool was once a popular destination for British families
  • In the 1960s Blackpool would attract 17 million visitors
  • VBS: All-inclusive holidays to Spain eventually cut Blackpool's business in half
  • Despite their bleak situation, Blackpool's inhabitants hang on to their traditional seaside values
RELATED TOPICS
  • Blackpool
  • Spain
  • Las Vegas

Editor's note: The staff at CNN.com has recently been intrigued by the journalism of VICE, an independent media company and website based in Brooklyn, New York. VBS.TV is Vice's broadband television network. The reports, which are produced solely by VICE, reflect a transparent approach to journalism, where viewers are taken along on every step of the reporting process. We believe this unique reporting approach is worthy of sharing with our CNN.com readers.

London (VBS.TV) -- The North West seaside town of Blackpool was once the No.1 holiday destination for working-class British families. In the 1960s it would attract 17 million of them a year, until cheap, all-inclusive holidays to Spain cut their business in half. They called it "The Las Vegas Of The North" because of its bright lights and reputation for bawdy thrills.

These days the town makes most of its money from old people and "stag and hen" nights -- drunken pre-nuptial parties with half-naked gangs of drunken lads and lasses falling in and out of strip clubs, sex shops, bars and brothels.

They stumble past gift shops selling novelties concerned with sexual organs, like pens shaped like penises and coffee mugs with breasts on them. The town's like a British version of New York's Coney Island, with miles of rundown old buildings, tattered and torn and closed-down shops.

The unpredictability of the British summer is never kind to Blackpool, and during winter months the place is a ghost town. The wind that blows in from the Atlantic Ocean is perishingly cold.

The large amount of cheap bed-and-breakfast hotels in the town attracts a very transient population, a noticeable portion of whom are young men and women in the grips of addictions to heroin. Other residents of Blackpool town center include students who work in the amusement arcades and bars, and there's a sizeable proportion of aged pensioners who've retired there.

In January 2009, I went up there with Leo Leigh, with whom I made "Swansea Love Story," and we spent a week with Leo's aunt and uncle in their B&B, getting to know the residents of Blackpool as much as we could.

We met old ladies, adult entertainers, clowns, drug addicts, donkey ride operators, criminals and some of the people who run the town's burgeoning sex shop trade.

The other businesses that are doing well are the shops who sell the cut-price alcohol, which are putting Blackpool's pubs out of business.

You could be forgiven for thinking this documentary -- set in January 2009 against the spectre of the bleakest economic climate the Western world has had in living memory -- is one of the most depressing you could ever watch, but there's a magic about Blackpool that lies in the resilience of its inhabitants and how they're clinging onto the traditional seaside values that once made them the "Jewel In The Crown" of British holiday-making.

See the rest of Blackpool at VBS.TV