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Interview: John Wardley on the Rides That Were Never Built

Arrow Pipeline Coaster

Legendary ride designer John Wardley recently released his autobiography, Creating My Own Nemesis (you can read our full review of it here). In the book, Wardley explains how some of his greatest creations, including Nemesis and Oblivion at Alton Towers, came to be.

But what about "the ones that got away" - the rides (and even entire theme parks) that Wardley designed, but that were ultimately never built? We caught up with John to find out what could have been...

In the late 1980s, Tussauds was looking to establish itself as the market leader in the UK theme park industry. After building Chessington, it set its sights on building a major new theme park on the site of Woburn Safari Park (see the plans here). What was your involvement in that project, and do you think it could have really have posed a threat to Alton Towers' dominance?

Woburn Festival Park plans

Yes, if we had built the park at Woburn it would have had the same design ethos as that which we eventually built at Alton. In consequence, it would have been a superior product to the original Alton Towers park before we got our hands on it, and therefore a serious threat. My involvement was the outline concept design taken to a stage whereby an outline planning application could be prepared.

In the end, Tussauds acquired Alton Towers instead. One of its first projects was to add a major roller coaster, which ultimately resulted in Nemesis. Prior to that, though, you looked at other options for the site, including the infamous Pipeline Coaster concept from Arrow. As one of the only people ever to ride Arrow's Pipeline, what did you make of it? Was it beyond rescue, or could it ever have been made to be a success?

Arrow Pipeline coaster

It was a very cumbersome device, slow and rather boring. Also, the riders’ views were contained to a large extent within the enclosed pipe structure, making the effect of travelling through the external environment almost irrelevant.

Many theme park fans were left disappointed when plans for a "cross-valley" wooden roller coaster were dropped by Alton Towers in 2003. It had quite an extraordinary design, plunging down into the woodlands between Forbidden Valley and Ug Land. What was the thinking behind the design, and why was it dropped?

Cross Valley coaster

Alton Towers have always been keen to create unique attractions that others would find hard to copy. The cross-valley coaster would have been virtually impossible to copy, and used the unique terrain at the park to maximum advantage. It was dropped because it was felt too expensive to develop, and had no unique selling point (although it is my contention that its USP was that it would have been one of the best and most thrilling roller coasters in the world!)

Merlin's long-term development plan for Alton Towers still refers to a cross-valley coaster. Do you think there's any hope of the concept being revived in future?

That is out of my hands!

Since then, there have been several other proposals for wooden roller coasters at Alton Towers (you recently mentioned one with a Wallace and Gromit theme, and another with a circus theme). Can you tell us anything about them, and why they weren't ultimately built?

They weren't built because Merlin felt the British public were not receptive to wooden coasters.

Nick Hutson recently published an article on TPT in which he stated his belief that (for commercial and perception reasons) there will never be another wooden roller coaster in the UK. Yet wooden coasters (or at least wood-steel hybrids) seem to be making a comeback in the US. Do you agree with Nick's sentiments, or will things change?

Even if Merlin don’t change their policy, other parks in the UK could certainly consider building woodies. Oakwood did, and have benefitted from it ever since. They are a very cost-effective way of creating a big, spectacular, unique attraction.

Finally, you've always been a big proponent of "bump-in-the-dark" dark rides, and many of your most famous creations are dark rides. Yet dark rides seem to be overlooked in favour of roller coasters by UK theme parks when planning new projects. With Cedar Fair experimenting with relatively low-budget dark rides in the US, do you think there's any hope of a revival of dark rides in the UK?

I have written much on this subject. If a park expects to have big things come of a dark ride, they will almost certainly need a block-buster IPR to promote it. But if they regard the dark ride as a nice, family, capacity-filler with no great hype attached, they can certainly benefit from a well-designed dark ride.

Creating my own Nemesis is available in paperback format from Amazon, or in e-book format from the Amazon Kindle Store.


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