Sidelines - Andrew Martin enjoys Naval Warfare in Scarborough

For politically incorrect seaside entertainment, just visit Scarborough

I was given pause in my plans to write about Naval Warfare in Scarborough this week by the news that the Spanish had sent warships to north Africa following the Moroccan capture of Perejil. But I decided to go ahead anyway.

Not many people know that Naval Warfare takes place in Scarborough every summer. It happens in Peasholm Park on summer Saturdays at 7.30pm and Thursdays at 3pm, with extra shows at 3pm on Mondays in August. It involves miniature, manned battleships, and is possibly the most politically incorrect seaside entertainment ever devised. It is not, however, as politically incorrect as it used to be. The vessels blasted (and in one, unmanned case actually sunk) by the boats with Royal Navy insignia used to be designated as "German". But when we joined the European Community, it was decided to refer to them as "the enemy", which turned out to be a shrewd move, as the park received a substantial injection of European funding.

This may well be the 75th anniversary of Naval Warfare at Scarborough. Its origins are hazy, but the best guess is that it was started in 1927 by Harry Smith, then the Scarborough engineer. In 1927, the boats were replicas of dreadnoughts, powered by the pedalling of men crammed inside. By the 1940s, the event had become a replica of the Battle of the River Plate, with the boats electrically powered, but still with men inside. The first of these boats were stored during winter in the tunnel of a miniature railway, from where they were stolen, presumably by a childish man with a very large bathtub.

Besides being politically incorrect, Naval Warfare is also very strange. It is preceded by a man playing Fifties rock'n'roll classics on an organ situated inside a pagoda on an island. In between tunes, he announces that "a jolly good battle" is coming up. The boats then appear, powered by recumbent council employees, and the organist commentates on the battle, straining to make himself heard above the cracking pyrotechnics. You keep expecting him to commit the faux pas of yelling: "The Royal Navy has breached the German stronghold!" But no, it's "the enemy stronghold". Even so, I imagine some NS readers will wish to complain, and they might write in the first instance to . . . I don't know . . . the mayor of Scarborough? As for me, I do believe I've seen Naval Warfare every year since about 1968.

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