UK theme parks from another point of view!

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The John Wardley Interview - Answers

Sat Dec 11, 2010 12:39 am

Between Saturday the 20th of November 2010 and Sunday the 5th of December TowersTimes Forum members submitted around 230 questions for John Wardley, ride consultant for Merlin Entertainments.

After 2 days of decision making, 20 questions were chosen and sent to John Wardley to be answered. Some of which were chosen at random, others due to popularity and others due to the quality of the question.
Due to the nature of some of the questions, a few have been edited and merged with other similar questions.

Thank you to everyone who submitted questions. Due to the huge volume it is unfortunate that a number of high quality questions were not chosen. (You can find the Questions topic here)

The questions will be released in batches, over the next week, with approximately 3 being posted a day. John hopes that you find his answers interesting.

Here are the first 3 questions:


Our first question was submitted by Rowe -

You said in the dark ride episode on the season pass podcast that the best dark ride you had created was Uncle Frankenstein's Scream Machine at Barry Island, but you did not expand upon the rides afterwards. Can you explain what the ride was in terms of: Theming, Music, Atmosphere, Special Effects, Visitor Reception, Story.

The Scream Machine at Barry Island was the first big dark ride I ever designed and built, and to my mind it is still the best in terms of the shear fun it created. I had complete freedom to do whatever I wanted …. no marketing brief, no budget, no restrictive health and safety rules (other than basic common sense) …. and the result was a great ride which the people of South Wales still talk about 30 years later. Those were the days when you could put up a notice which said “Keep your Arm and Legs inside the car” and if you were stupid enough to stand up or lean out and got hurt, that was your fault! So we were able to get the effects really close to the cars, which whizzed around the track at amazing speed.

Story? What story! It was just a big, fast crash-bang-wallop “Laugh in the Dark” ghost train packed with effects. Music? I seem to remember a lot of Pink Floyd inside, and the “Scream Machine Song” playing outside (which was a sort of rip-off of “Monster Mash”!). The main draw on the front (apart from the enormous animated figure of Uncle Frankenstein) was the fact that the ride burst out through doors twice during the circuit before emerging a final time at the end of the ride. Just before each emergence the cars were hit with an effect to make the riders react in a suitably spectacular way (the first time they were blasted by a jet of water and compressed air in the face, and the second time a pile of wooden crates appeared to topple over onto them just before they hit the doors) and that drew the crowds.

The ride was huge, which was why, when the park was bought by new owners many years later, they demolished it to make way for other things. Such a shame.


Gloomy Dude was the author of the second question to John Wardley -

I don't know if you were involved at all in the long, duelling/racing Schwarzkopfs in Forbidden Valley idea? (Was it even true) If so, what stopped these plans getting off the ground and what insight could you give us into this idea and the other SW's that were not built.

What stopped these plans getting off the ground? Me! Let me explain. After we had built Chessington World of Adventures I became a director of a company we formed called Tussauds Park Developments Ltd. We were looking for a second site to develop, and Alton Towers came on the market. I was charged with scrutinizing the existing park which the previous owner, John Broom, had developed. He was about to sign a contract with a company called BHS (no, not that BHS!) the principals of which were non other than Werner Stengel and Wendelin Stückl (see [url=" onclick=";return false;] ... main.shtml[/url]). It was a large steel coaster similar to the Lisebergbanen, but the layout was designed such that after the mid-track block brakes the train ascended a second lift parallel to the first, where it then “raced” the train following it. But of course for this to work it depended on the trains being dispatched from the station exactly on time …. Any delay and either the first train would have to wait at the base of the second lift for the next train to be dispatched, or it would proceed around the second part of the circuit on its own. I was not at all happy with this, and I didn’t think the ride was thrilling enough anyway, so I pulled the plugs on the project, and with the money we saved we built Nemesis!


Today's final question was from a number of different people. Those who asked SW7 questions include: McFlurry, fredward, seanyboyuk and Voke. (If I have missed anyone PM me)

Alton Towers Resort faces continued pressure to build rides which are both thrilling and look impressive. Given the limited availability of space at the Alton Towers Resort and the current portfolio of rollercoaster's what do you feel will be the biggest challenge for SW7? Has Morwenna Angove leaving affected the planning for SW7? And, are we still looking at a 2013 opening?

That is a question to ask Candy Holland at Merlin Studios. She is the person who has taken over the rôle I played in the 90’s, and I give her whatever help and advice she needs.


The next set of questions will be posted tomorrow at approximately 5:00pm.


Full list of questions (updated as each day's questions are released):


moog666 asked:

How often do you read forums like ours when developing a new ride and what impact, if any, do they make on the decisions that are made?

There are some forums which are intelligent, subjective and encouraging (yours is one of them). But there are others that are juvenile, waspish and spread inaccurate and misleading rumours. If you take TH13TEEN for example and look back through the various posts in the forums, you will see that several people claimed to have inside knowledge on what was being built, and were in fact totally wrong. But one or two people (who were not making boastful claims) were uncannily accurate in their predications. I have the greatest of respect for those people.

We do listen to what is being said, but always keep in the backs of our minds the fact that your views (as park enthusiasts) do not necessarily accurately reflect the desires of the average visitor to the park. Having said that, I personally consider many of you as good friends, and take on board your criticisms as well as your compliments in good part and learn from this. I know you understand that the rides developed at Alton Towers now are a team effort led by Candy Holland at Merlin Studios, and I have little or no input into some aspects of an attractions’ development (its marketing for example), but your views are important and they are considered.

This question was asked by many people, and one of the most popular questions:


As mentioned in a topic on TowersTimes, Nemesis has a SW tag on the tour bus (SW4), Oblivion on some supports (SW5) and queue building. Do Air and Th13teen have SW tags, and if so where are they?

Not that I know of. The “SW” prefix is simply a working title given to the big new ride projects at Alton Towers as a way of referring to them internally before the attraction has been given a name.


And today's final question was from .Will:

Which rollercoaster supports are sand-filled at Alton Towers for sound reasons?

That is a question you’ll have to ask Alton Towers.


CCJared asked the following question:

How did you come to have such a good working relationship with B&M and become part of their new concepts (such as the new wing-rider trains at Gardaland)?

My good relationship with B&M stems from the fact that they have always delivered what they were contracted to do, on time, on budget, and with no hassle. They are delightful people to work with and I respect them enormously. They always give a bit more than you expect, their after-sales service is superb, and they are prepared to listen to our views and work with us on developing new ideas.


Many people wanted to know about the famous "Wardley Jacket", although that question was not directly asked the following was:

Maybe people think of you as a bit of a celebrity, with many pages on the TowersTimes wiki about one of your jackets ( and the various tunnels you have created on your rides. ( ... %27s_Index) Do you think of yourself as a bit of a rollercoaster celebrity? And do you get embarrassed with the attention you get at ride openings/scarefest etc?

I regard ride openings as a great opportunity to meet fellow enthusiasts, and chat about things we all love chatting about. I’m no celebrity …. just someone who’s been fortunate enough to make a career out of something I passionately enjoy doing, and having the opportunity of sharing it with others of the same mind is an added bonus. The TH13TEEN evening was just such an occasion, and I hope there’ll be many more of them.


Finally, D4n asked:

Many have asked about the future of the Blackhole Tent. Are there currently any further plans that have developed in recent months?

Merlin Studios and Alton Towers have lots of ideas for the Black Hole tent. You’ll have to ask them if and when they might implement them.


First, a question from Badgy.

Do you consider that the building restrictions placed on Alton Towers can actually help rather than hinder the creation of a better ride experience? While obviously considerably more expensive, Nemesis on a flat piece of concrete would not be anything like the coaster it remains to this day. Maybe to a less extent Oblivion without the tunnel too.

Yes, although at times we curse the planning restrictions, it is absolutely true that it forced us to be more creative and think outside the box. We may not be able to build the world’s highest rides, but I like to think within the budgets which we have we build some of the most innovative.


deadwing asked this question:

You mention on your website that you've always been inspired by Disney and were influenced by Big Thunder Mountain in partciular. Did you ever consider working for Walt Disney Imagineering?

No, I never considered working for Disney for one good reason. Have you ever tried to tell a joke to an American? The chances are, if you do it will fail miserably. It’s not that Americans don’t have a sense of humour, it’s just that what tickles their funny-bones is very different to what tickles ours. The psychology of entertainment is a fickle thing that changes around the world from nation-to-nation and from culture-to-culture. My background gave me a thorough insight into the way the British mind works ….. what makes us laugh, gasp with surprise, scream in fear, marvel in amazement. That is my craft, and I don’t think I would be any good at it in America. It works both ways as well, which is why none of the big American theme park designers have made any inroads into parks in Britain. We are a unique bunch, and although we go to parks in America and are impressed with what we see, it wouldn’t necessarily work back home where the sun doesn’t shine every day, we don’t have a domestic market of 310 million residents, and we have a very different take on things.


DiogoJ42 asked John Wardley...

Film special effects have become dominated by CGI these days. Many people (myself included), lament the loss of animatronics, models, stop motion etc.
Do you think this could be happening in the themepark industry as well? Rides like The Haunted House and Terror Tomb had amazing animatronics by the dozen, whereas dark rides these days tend to use static props, 3D UV paint, or video. To take it to the extreme, look at Charlie and the Chocolate Factory... Almost all video projection.
Are animatronics out of fashion these days? Or are they too expensive to build compared to the cost of animating a few pixels?

A very good question. When it is done well, cutting edge technological effects can be sensational in the context of amusement rides (take Spiderman at Universal Orlando, for example). I was not involved at all with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory so I can’t comment on it. But I think we must embrace all new technology when its application is appropriate.

In my “James Bond” days, when a scene needed to show something being blown-up, you built a set and you blew it up! Now a team of people sit at computer keyboards for a few months and type away. It’s not so much fun!


Our TH13TEENTH question is from Jem8472:

Are your family big rollercoaster fans? If so, which do they think is the best ride you have created?

Yes. Nemesis


And today's final question was a question about Scarefest. Both Ritadz and SAM93 wanted to know about this topic area.

Can you give us any insight into the park events you have worked on. I understand you worked on Scarefest this year (such as in the Carnival of Screams were many of TowersTimes saw you in the opening room). Is there anything you could tell us about the Carnival of Screams?

James Paulding (who has now left Alton Towers to work for Merlin Entertainments in the States) asked me to be involved in the Carnival of Screams, as he knew my background in film effects, stage illusions and animations. I devised the first room (with the Laughing Sailor) and the finale room (the Gorilla Cage) as well as being part of the team involved in the attraction as a whole. It was one of the most enjoyable experiences I have had in the past few years, as I like to take a hands-on approach and be involved in the operation (something which my other rôle as ride consultant doesn’t allow). There is a great team of dedicated people in the entertainment and operations departments at Alton Towers, and it was a privilege to work with them all.

We inevitably had a few sequencing and throughput teething problems through the maze on the first day, and the queue started to build up, which is why James and I stepped in and helped with the batching of the guests and the re-sequencing of the actors. By the middle of the evening we had gobbled-up the queue, and were actually exceeding the predicted hourly throughput!


Starting off the penultimate day of questions is The its man:

What spark made your come out of semi-retirement and back into the industry?

I was asked to by the Merlin Board. And it was an offer I couldn’t refuse!


This next question is from Gax:

The enthusiast community within the last six or seven years has been consistently critical of Alton Towers for an apparent departure from the 'magic' of the 90's and early 2000's. Examples of this are the replacement of themed food outlets with generic versions (eg. Nemesis Nosh to Fresh Fish and Chips) and the transformation of the original Haunted House into Duel.
What would you say to these criticisms, and would you consider that the park has lost any of the 'magic' it once harboured?

Whatever might have happened after Tussauds sold the park (and I retired) and before Merlin Entertainments bought it has certainly been reversed by the Merlin Team. You must all have seen a big change for the better in the last few years, and it is all down to the Merlin influence. Nothing happens overnight, but the magic is definitely back!


And today's last question is from ElectricBill, a question about The Haunted House.

You have described the Haunted House in the past as a "laugh in the dark" attraction and something you were always keen to do. Did you think the finished product was how you had wanted it to turn out? Many scenes and effected failed or had to be changed very early n in the ride's lifetime. Would you say your vision for the ride suffered as a result of this or were the solutions carried out well enough to fix its problems? I am very interested in the past, and the Haunted House sticks out in terms of its history of alternations and changed effects. Were there particular reasons as to why there were so many changes, both before opening day and after, or simple bad luck?

The Haunted House was a very complicated project. On the one hand we needed a very high capacity ride (in the order of 1200 per hour plus) but on the other hand I wanted the ride experience to be event-based and intimate. I was under pressure to settle for a continuous endless transit system (like Disney’s Haunted Mansion) but that does not allow for pop-up or confrontational effects. I devised the transit system such that it would load in a continuous manner (and thereby deliver the capacity), but then the cars would peel-off and negotiate the track circuit on their own. If any of you have seen the control system of the Haunted House (or Duel, as it now is) you’ll know how complicated this is. Opening day was a nightmare, as the ride kept stopping and needed re-setting. Fortunately, Mack (the ride’s builders) got it sorted out very quickly and the ride operates very reliably to this day (….. and please remember, most of the time when the ride stops when you are in it, it is because they are loading disabled guests in the station and the whole ride has to be stopped for this to take place safely …. So the ride hasn’t broken down!)

The other problem was that the original design was quite scary and edgy. When I presented the designs to the development team, they were concerned that small children would be frightened by it, and that it should be a ride suitable for the whole family. My experience had taught me that kids are far more emotionally robust than adults give them credit for, but I was asked to tone-down the whole ride to be much cuter and family-friendly (hence, why the giant rat in the hand of the monster that looms up after the ballroom scene was replaced by a cup and saucer!). However, when the marketing team made the TV commercial for the ride, it was presented as the most terrifying ride in the world! So people were disappointed, and we had to retro fit some of the effects that had been originally planned. That’s why changes were made.


Ritadz submitted this question:

When you first started the planning/concepts for Nemesis, did you ever imagine after 16 years it would still be regarded as one of the best rollercoasters in the world?

No, I certainly didn’t. But we didn’t have time to think too much about the future way back then! We wanted to build something special, and the local planners had forced us to think outside the box. I get too much credit for the creation of Nemesis. There was a big team of people working on it, and they deserve as much credit as I.


mattbailey asked:

Seeing as different coaster types seem to have popularity phases, what do you think is the next "big thing" in coaster design?

Merlin Studios are working on that …. And I’m honoured to be involved!


And our last question was one of the most popular questions was about Air. It was decided to combine a number of questions into one. Those who wanted to know about Air included: Rob, Stern John, Nightfall and others who I might have missed.

The pre-lift tunnel for Air has been a big debate amongst Alton Towers fans in recent years. Are there any plans to add anything to the tunnel? Many years ago it was rumoured that Air would have a military theme or was this rumour false? And finally, was the Oasis theme fountains and waterfalls cut before opening due to budget or creative reasons?

To understand the situation, put yourself in the shoes of Alton Towers management for a minute. When we originally designed Air, the tunnel had some decoration and a few effects in it. Then as the project neared opening day and the budget was getting tighter and tighter some cuts had to be made, and the tunnel decoration was one of those cuts.

Now, imagine a few years later you are faced with the decision of putting the effects back into the tunnel or spending the money on something else. Is the Air tunnel top of the list of priorities? No. The money can better be spent somewhere else. So it is! The same was true of the fountains and waterfalls.

The problem with developing innovative world’s first rides such as Air is that there are inevitably unknown elements which cannot be foreseen and budgeted-for. A contingency is built in to allow for this, and I think in general the rides at Alton Towers reflect their original designs and ethos very accurately indeed. I am proud ofthem all, and I’m not going to let an empty tunnel or non-existent fountain detract from this.

As for the military theme, I don’t know where this rumour has come. Right from the start, we decided that just as Nemesis was the “villain”, so Air would be the “hero”. It always had a clean-cut techno theme from its original conception.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to answer some of your questions. May I wish you all a Happy Christmas, and look forward to meeting as many of you as possible at Alton Towers next year.[/spoiler:2wi9ik34]
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Re: The John Wardley Interview - Answers

Sat Dec 11, 2010 6:02 pm

Shame he's being so cagey about SW7! A Candy Holland interview next? :P

I still wonder where the Schwarzkopf would have gone... are we presuming the Nemesis (former) hillside?

Edit: the link in John's second answer is broken. :)

Re: The John Wardley Interview - Answers

Sat Dec 11, 2010 6:09 pm

No it's not *shifty eyed look*
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Re: The John Wardley Interview - Answers

Sat Dec 11, 2010 6:44 pm

I was really hoping for some answers to SW7 Questions. Oh, well. Looks like this Candy Holland is the woman to sk. I'm new to the coaster world, so this may sound slightly stupid to those who know but am I alone in not knowing who Candy is?
Also, nice to hear an example of his early Theatrical Brilliance. :D
Thanks to all the staff who made the interview possible. Have a Merry Christmas everyone.
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Re: The John Wardley Interview - Answers

Sat Dec 11, 2010 7:10 pm

Am I the only one who read that in a John Wardley voice?

Wonderful stuff! I can't wait for the next installment! :mrgreen:

Re: The John Wardley Interview - Answers

Sat Dec 11, 2010 7:12 pm

Thankyou very much Mr Wardley for answering these questions! and thanks everyone involved to make this interview possible! I'm very exited to read the future questions! It's like the most awesome advent-ish calander ever!
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Re: The John Wardley Interview - Answers

Sat Dec 11, 2010 7:18 pm

Thanks for sending him my SW7 related question, although he's basicly asking us to ask someone else.

Re: The John Wardley Interview - Answers

Sat Dec 11, 2010 8:01 pm

John Wardley a Pink Floyd fan?!? :mrgreen:

Have not read all of it yet, that just caught my eye! Will carry on reading now. :P

Well, the information about Uncle Frankenstein's Scream Machine is what I find the most interesting. It has answered a lot of my questions about the origins of the Haunted House at Alton Towers in the process as well. Great stuff, I would love to be able to research more on it but sadly there seems to be nothing left to find. Well, on the internet anyway.

I might go on a quest to discover the past one day, but for now it is great to hear John Wardley's own memories of what sounds like a classic "ghost train", before the days of more professional and sophisticated dark rides. :D
Last edited by [Archive] on Sat Dec 11, 2010 8:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The John Wardley Interview - Answers

Sat Dec 11, 2010 8:18 pm

Q2 is really interesting, and quite relevant to what I’m currently looking at. Thanks to everyone involved in the 1st 3 questions.

Re: The John Wardley Interview - Answers

Sat Dec 11, 2010 8:26 pm

"HarveyButterfield" wrote:
I'm new to the coaster world, so this may sound slightly stupid to those who know but am I alone in not knowing who Candy is?
Well, John Wardley did explain what she does in his answer. It is also worth noting that she has worked on projects for quite a while now, since stuff like Oblivion and Air. I think, but I am not completely sure, that her first project in which she was a leading role was Saw The Ride at Thorpe Park, and then she did Thirteen.

Also, nice to hear an example of his early Theatrical Brilliance.
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Re: The John Wardley Interview - Answers

Sat Dec 11, 2010 11:11 pm

"HarveyButterfield" wrote:
I'm new to the coaster world, so this may sound slightly stupid to those who know but am I alone in not knowing who Candy is?

To add to what electricBlll has said, Candy has previously taken a creative role with Merlin/Tussauds, working more on the visual aspects of rides and attractions, such as theming. She's also played a key role in the set designs for the scare mazes at Thorpe Park, as set design is her specialism. I know for a fact she was one of the people that played a leading role in the creation of Saw The Ride at Thorpe, also working with the creation of Th13teen and now SW7. Merlin seem to like her work, and I think she's done a great job so far.

John has given great answers I must say, Rowe's question being a particularly interesting one. It's a shame on how down hill Barry Island has gotten over the years. Looking forward to the other questions and answers on the days ahead.


Re: The John Wardley Interview - Answers

Sat Dec 11, 2010 11:57 pm

Nothing like beating around the bush is there John?

But hopefully Morwenna leaving will have an affect on it, no more BS marketing would be a nice one.
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Re: The John Wardley Interview - Answers

Sun Dec 12, 2010 12:16 am

:clap: I realy am happy that he answered a question about the haunted house at barry island, i realy loved that ride, since i was a little toddler me my parents brother and grandparents would ride it repeatedly, loving it every time. But this year has been very sad, i went down the barry island, to say goodbye to it, and it was not a pretty sight, it did bring a tear to my eye, all thos memorys are basicly distant pictures compared to what it is now. Unfortunatley will not be returning for many years as my grandpa has just passed away, and it will bring back so many memories.I would ust like to say to Mr Wardley well done, you made me a happy boy when i was young, i just wish Barry Island still had that glory it used to, such a shame..well the end of an Era as they say :(
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Re: The John Wardley Interview - Answers

Sun Dec 12, 2010 3:07 am

His opinion on Duel has made the list, right?
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Re: The John Wardley Interview - Answers

Sun Dec 12, 2010 8:12 am

John's answers are fantastic and extremely well thought out.

Can't blame him on being quiet on SW7 at all...

Re: The John Wardley Interview - Answers

Sun Dec 12, 2010 9:29 am

"Dorsia" wrote:
His opinion on Duel has made the list, right?
Well it is pretty obvious what he is going to say. :P He also mentioned in the Season Pass interview that he doesn't "really like the guns because they take your attention away from the effects". He can hardly shout out "I HATE IT" because he probably still works with the people who were in charge of refurbishing the Haunted House at the end of 2002. :wink:

Re: The John Wardley Interview - Answers

Sun Dec 12, 2010 11:25 am

I'm incredibly pleased by John's answer to my question on Uncle Frankenstein's Scream Machine and I'm happy Chris chose it so it could be asked!

It's one of the details he's always kept quiet due to answering common questions and the entire thing has always intrigued me so it's fantastic to hear what his first dark ride was all about as it's the crux to his job within the theme park industry.
I'm also very pleased this mysterious ride has now been uncovered (only in text, sadly but heh) for everyone and especially for the up and coming detailed biography I'm doing on John Wardley, it's an important part I want to get right.

Anyway, mucho thanks to Chris for choosing the question and getting to send the interview to John, as well as the other 19 people who've had their questions put through.

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Re: The John Wardley Interview - Answers

Sun Dec 12, 2010 12:59 pm

"rickydoodle" wrote:
Can't blame him on being quiet on SW7 at all...

When I first heard about the interview I couldnt help thinking that any questions regarding SW7 would be dodged. I would have thought it obvious he couldnt say anything. Oh well at least we tried.

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Re: The John Wardley Interview - Answers

Sun Dec 12, 2010 2:21 pm

wooo my name was mentioned!

john is a great man i would pay to goto a 3 hr talk with him! maybe ttf could hold some type of event in the future?!
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Re: The John Wardley Interview - Answers

Sun Dec 12, 2010 4:27 pm

It annoys me loads when John has gone out of his way to answer our questions and certain people make digs at his replies. Did you honestly think he is going to say anything about SW7? Did you expect him to talk about private stuff about the park?

John is a professional working for a large company. Hes hardly going to do or say anything that might upset the company he works for! So please be happy that he has gone out of his way to talk to us. Sorry if Im coming across a tad harsh, but hes a great guy and didnt have to do this.

I am really looking forward to the next lot of questions/answers :D :clap:

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