Families still have that fairground attraction

West Manning next to the new kids' carousel at the Clarence Pier funfair

West Manning next to the new kids' carousel at the Clarence Pier funfair

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Pink candy floss is flowing from the stalls, the buzzing arcade machines throng with people and children’s squeals of delight echo through the fun fair.

It’s one of the hottest days of the year so far and it would be criminal not to treat yourself to a 99 cone.

We are here to make sure people have a good time and they are happy

West Manning

The seaside fun fair is in full swing as the summer holidays are finally here.

And Clarence Pier is enjoying its busiest week of the year.

The start of the summer holidays has been the most high-spirited week since the funfair was conceived 70 years ago by a London showman.

The Southsea attraction is riding high on the back of a recent online poll where it took top honours.

In a close-fought contest, which was run throughout June by Holidaylettings.co.uk, the pier edged out Great Pier in Weston-super-Mare by a handful of votes to be named the UK’s best-loved piers.

I meet the owners and managers of the pier, husband and wife Jimmy and Jill Norman, who are the third generation of the family to run the fun fair.

The couple are proud of the funfair’s heritage.

‘I have been here 30 years,’ says Jimmy.

‘I married the boss’ daughter!

‘Originally, it was Jill’s grandfather, Billy Manning, who started the company Billy Manning Ltd which is still operating today.

‘The company is now 70 years old.’

Jill, who chats to me in a top floor office that has some wondrous views of the Solent, explains how she grew up in a caravan until the age of 15 at the end of Long Curtain Road, in Southsea.

She says: ‘We come from a showman family.

‘My grandfather was a showman and he travelled around London.

‘I think he originated at Battersea Park at the funfair with his life-long friend Billy Butlin.

‘My grandfather came here in 1945, the war wasn’t quite over.’

Over those seven decades, it’s been a bit of rollercoaster for the funfair itself.

Ballroom dancing and bingo have given over to more exciting rides, but in recent years the family have concentrated on high-quality traditional attractions.

Twenty five years ago the fair was twice the size, but had to be cut back after the local authority upped the rent on the land.

‘It’s half the size that it used to be, but we have managed to keep it going,’ says Jill, who is multi-tasking today as she chats to staff on a walkie talkie.

This year the Normans have invested more than £1m in new and improved rides, including the 110ft-high Solent Wheel, a circus train, a toy carousel, flying ‘dumbos’ and a pirate bouncy castle.

Jimmy, who hails from the north east originally, says: ‘The rollercoaster is always popular and the waltzer.

‘We have tried over the years to have more hardcore, white-knuckle rides.

‘But people tend to like the good family stuff and we try and stick to that.

‘We have increased the amount of kiddy rides this year and probably have more than we ever have.’

But, like every business, there are good days and bad days.

The biggest enemy is up in the sky, explains Jimmy.

He says: ‘It’s great when everything is going right - when people are here, the sun is shining and everyone is having fun.

‘But it gets so frustrating.

‘Any sign of bad weather just cripples you.

‘It’s not so much the weather, but the weathermen who forecast it’s going to rain tomorrow.’

Today the fun fair is full of people of all ages, many of them dipping into a bag of doughnuts as they ponder the next ride to go on.

Sarah Elsby, 39, is visiting with her family from Washington DC.

‘I like the 2p machines!’ she laughs.

‘It’s just fun. It’s quite nice that it’s by the beach. It’s more theme parks in the US.’

Her mum, Marlene Davey, 67, from Cowplain, adds: ‘We are bringing the grandchildren here and we brought our children when they were younger.’

Ruth Smuts, 37, from Waterlooville, is enjoying taking her four-year-old daughter, Iris, on the dumbo ride.

And Freddy Peters, 60, is cooking up his ‘real fish and chips’ for the masses.

‘I like the company of people,’ he says.

Talya Bentley, 20, is operating the pluck a duck stall, and says: ‘I like busy days because it goes quick.

‘You are never bored.

‘If the sun is out, it’s busy.

‘I like seeing the kids enjoying it and seeing them smile.’

Jimmy believes the enduring appeal of fun fairs will never wane as they are intertwined with family memories.

‘It’s just a traditional pier as we know and love in England,’ he says.

‘There’s the amusement arcades, the candy floss, the rides, there’s something for all the family so you can come and have fun.

‘That’s what we are here for and we have been doing it for 70 years.’

‘There’s four generations of customers that have been coming and bringing their kids.

‘And you think of how many people have worked here over the 70 years - there’s a lot of memories.’

WEST MANNING

West Manning is the fourth generation of the family to be working the funfair.

Now company director and operations director(and engineer in the winter), West says: ‘I like numerous things.

‘I like socialising with the public.

‘We are here to make sure people have a good time and they are happy.’

Long hours is the only drawback to the job.

‘It’s brilliant down here,’ says West.

‘To see customers happy, that’s the main part.

‘If people leave happy that means we’ve done our job perfectly.’

MICKY GOLDRING

Micky Goldring is an institution at the funfair.

It wouldn’t be Clarence Pier without Micky’s ‘Rock and Rolls’ stall.

She has been at the fun fair for 50 years.

The 71-year-old, from North End, remembers when coachloads of people would arrive outside the pier.

‘We don’t get the crowds and crowds we used to get,’ she says.

‘My dad was here, my mum and my sister - we have all been here.

‘It’s something I’ve been brought up with.

‘I love meeting the public.

‘I like making people happy.’

SOLENT WHEEL

I’ve been wanting to go on the Solent Wheel since it opened in March.

The family ride, which has been built in Italy by attractions firm Technical Park, has 24 gondolas, each seating six people.

Today I’m being made to feel important as I sit in the VIP gondola, complete with extremely comfortable, leather seats.

As Sarah Standing, the photographer, and I soar into the sky, there’s an exhiliration.

The views across the sea to the Isle of Wight are amazing.

Turn left and there’s wondrous views of Southsea, Old Portsmouth and Gunwharf Quays.

And as I come down the other side, I just want to go up again!

Definitely a must for any visitor to the seafront.

Jeff Travis

PANEL

For more information about Clarence Pier, visit clarencepier.co.uk

For more information about Funland on Hayling visit funland.info/

For more information about West Sands Fun Fair at Selsey, visit ourbutton.com/selsey/west-sands-fun-fair/51/

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