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End of the line: the Black Hole would run no more after 2005
End of the line: the Black Hole would run no more after 2005

Rita - Queen of Speed opened to the public in April
Rita - Queen of Speed opened to the public in April

The hills are alive: an event celebrated The Sound of Music
The hills are alive: an event celebrated The Sound of Music

The fireworks went ahead, despite the ongoing legal battle
The fireworks went ahead, despite the ongoing legal battle

Sunday 25th December 2005

The year began with the announcement of the closure of the Black Hole. After more than two decades at the park, the old Schwarzkopf coaster was to be retired. Enthusiasts were given the chance to say goodbye, by attending an event held in early March, in which they were treated to a presentation by the head of engineering at the park, and also got to ride the Black Hole one last time.

Meanwhile, preparations were underway for the new season. The latest addition to the park, Rita - Queen of Speed, was hurriedly being completed. Just sixteen days before opening to the public, Rita had her first test run. The first test with riders on board happened literally three days before the 'soft opening'. On April 1st, a few weeks after the park had officially opened, the general public were able to come and experience the power of Rita's launch. The ride was hailed as a success, even though it continued the trend of short roller coasters at the park.

It wasn't long before the first PR Stunt of the year appeared. To coincide with Camilla Parker-Bowles' wedding to Prince Charles, Rita was renamed 'Camilla - Queen of Speed' for the day, and a modified TV advert was even made. It was to be the first of many PR tricks in 2005.

Others that followed included a promotion where guests with a gnome could get in free, a week where anybody caught playing the Crazy Frog ringtone got sprayed by staff with water pistols, and offers where guests dressed as superheroes, A-Level failures, accountants, or those caught up in the BA strike could also get free entry.

These promotions had varying degrees of success - whilst the Gnome offer was taken up by hundreds of people (it even sparked an angry reaction from the owner of Gnome World, in fear of people stealing gnomes to get free entry), the A-Level offer received hardly any takers. Four, in fact.

Also in the news was Dubai International Capital (DIC)'s £800 million aquisition of the Tussauds group, including Alton Towers and the other attractions in the group. The group had previously been owned by Charterhouse Capital Partners, who themselves had bought the group from Pearson in 1998.

The major story of the year, though, had to be the ongoing legal proceedings against Tussauds by Mr and Mrs Roper, a couple who live next to Alton Towers. Back in 2004, they had successfully taken action against the park through its parent company, claiming Alton Towers had made their life a misery. The park had been served a Noise Abatement Order which forced them to reduce the noise levels of their rides, tannoys, and even the traditional end-of-season fireworks.

In July, the Appeal against that decision was finally heard. Sadly, the Appeal failed, but when the terms of the order were redefined in mid-October, at least the restrictions placed on Alton Towers were much less harsh, and fairer.

And so the park were able to hold three fireworks nights instead of the original order's restriction of just one. Even three was cut down from the five nights the park used to have.

Unfortunately, it emerged in November that the Ropers plan to appeal against the new Abatement Order terms, so this saga will now continue into 2006.

So, looking ahead, what can we expect? Well, next year's new attraction is the revamp of Toyland Tours, which is becoming Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. If early indications are anything to go by, the ride could be as well-themed as Hex or Nemesis. Even if it isn't, it should still breathe new life into Cred Street, which was often comparable to a ghost town in 2005.

Further ahead, Project Dolphin promises to keep Alton Towers ahead of its rival parks in the UK, and things are looking good with DIC, who seem happy to invest large sums of money in the resort.

Dan Ketteringham