Revealed by Theme Park Tourist: The BBC theme park that never was

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Details of a never-built theme park planned by the BBC, as well as several other "phantom" theme parks, are revealed in a new book published by Theme Park Tourist.

'Beeb World' would have included themed restaurants, a quiz show studio, stunt shows and replicas of sets from BBC shows.

Details have been uncovered of an ambitious theme park that the BBC planned to construct during the 1990s, along with those of a number of other never-built leisure parks.

In 1993, the UK’s national broadcaster partnered with The Tussauds Group – then the owner of Alton Towers and Chessington World of Adventures – to conduct a feasibility study into the building of the park. Details of the attractions that were planned are included in the new book “Tales from the Towers” by Nick Sim, which chronicles the history of Alton Towers, Britain’s most popular theme park.

The park, dubbed “Beeb World” by the press, would have included themed restaurants, a quiz show studio, stunt shows and replicas of sets from BBC shows. The aim was to emulate the success of Granada’s Studio Tour in Manchester, which attracted 780,000 guests to the set of Coronation Street in 1994. A budget of £100 million was said to have been allocated to the theme park project.

Cybermen and Daleks would fight on the set of “Doctor Who”, and guests would be able to enjoy a pint in a recreation of the Queen Vic pub in “Eastenders”’ Albert Square. An “Only Fools and Horses” ride would see guests boarding Reliant Robins chauffeured by an animatronic Del Boy for a tour around his London haunts, while a Universal Studios Hollywood-style tram tour would take them past sets from “Dad’s Army”, “Birds of a Feather”, “Casualty” and “Noel’s House Party” (featuring Mr Blobby). The BBC’s Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire were considered as a potential location.

Plans for the park were quietly dropped after the study was completed in 1995, with legendary ride designer John Wardley (who created Alton Towers’ Nemesis and Oblivion) recalling: “The project failed to go ahead because of complications in negotiating the intellectual property rights of the various programmes which were to be featured as rides and shows within the park, and which the BBC did not actually own themselves.”

“Beeb World” wasn’t the only theme park conceived during the 1980s and 1990s that failed to come to fruition. In 1989, Tussauds itself hoped to build a major park at Woburn Abbey, in order to compete with Alton Towers. Wardley had produced an outline plan for the property, and the park was to include a wooden roller coaster, a log flume, a rapids ride and an updated version of the existing Woburn Safari Park. The plans were dropped in the face of fierce opposition from local residents, despite backing from the Duke of Bedford (the owner of the Abbey).

Meanwhile, Alton Towers’ then-owner, John Broome, was struggling to build a major new theme park in the heart of London. Broome had acquired the derelict Battersea Power Station, and hoped to attract more than 7,000 visitors per hour. For an entry fee of £4.50 for both adults and children, guests would gain access to five floors of attractions inside the building, as well as a handful of outdoor rides. The headliners would be the Jumbo Jet roller coaster, a balloon ride around the interior of the power station’s enormous main gallery, and a Disney-style dark ride that would pass by 60 animated tableaux populated by 17,000 animated figures telling the story of the history of the British Empire.

Unfortunately for Broome, the project was a disaster. Tons of toxic asbestos were found on the site, and there were huge problems with the building’s foundations, which were “virtually non-existent”. Work ground to a halt after just four months, but not before the power station’s roof and west wall had been demolished to remove the giant turbines. This left parts of the building exposed to the elements for years, accelerating its decay. Rather than building a theme park, Broome recalls ruefully, “I had to spend 4 months just putting in 300 piles 600 feet deep to pin up the building”. As a result of the project’s failure and the rejection of Tussauds’ plans for Woburn Abbey, Alton Towers was sold to the Tussauds Group in 1990.

One final “phantom” theme park was even more ambitious. Wonderworld was to occupy the site of the shuttered British Steel plant in Corby, and was originally scheduled to open in 1985. The park, modelled on Walt Disney World’s Epcot, was projected to cost a huge £346 million to build. The educational attractions would have included a mock safari designed by botanist David Bellamy, an observatory designed by Sir Patrick Moore and a ride on a sausage-style canoe past surrealistic scenes depicting the human interior designed by Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam. Eventually, the project was dropped in the early 1990s as funding dried up. The only things built on the site was a large Wonderworld sign, along with a small cabin.

“Tales from the Towers” is available now in paperback and Kindle formats from Amazon.co.uk. The book is published by Theme Park Tourist, the web’s leading source of theme park news, reviews and discounts. More details and extracts from the book can be found at http://www.themeparktourist.com/tales-from-the-towers/.

About Theme Park Tourist

Theme Park Tourist is the web’s leading theme park resource, with full guides to 90+ parks, 3500+ rides and 1,600 restaurants. The site brings readers the latest news and discounts for theme parks around the world, including special offers and money saving tricks for parks including Disney, Universal Studios, SeaWorld and Alton Towers. Started by husband-and-wife team Nick and Natalie Sim in 2009, it now has a following of more than 55,000 fans on Facebook.

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