In 1989 I had one of my first ever visits to Chessington World of Adventures, it was one of my earliest theme park memories. A large section of the theme park was blocked off with a massive hoarding for a new ride ‘The Vampire’. I peered through the gap in the fence to see very little but a construction site. The next year we returned early in the season to ride ‘The Vampire’, but came across another ride, something very intriguing – Professor Burp’s Bubbleworks.
We joined the queue for the first ride of the day. The sound of a German ‘Oopma’ band filled the air, and the metal shutter lifted allowing riders to enter. I had no idea what on earth we were about to do. The walls were covered with massive hand painted ‘adverts’ for all kinds of fictional fizzy pop. My favourite a ‘Glow in the Dark Pop’ for reading books at bedtime. As we snaked the queue and went over the bridge I could see a line of round boats bobbing off into the ride.
Juice + Gas = Pop
I was fascinated by it all, there was so much happening, lots of animated scenes, silly jokes that made me giggle. All finished off with fantastic ‘pop’ smells, and a perfectly timed soundtrack that followed you around the ride. It had massive ‘re-ride-ability’, the level of detail meant you’d see things you’d previously missed. It all ended in a glorious finale – fountains of water dancing over your head and colourful lights flashing.
The music swelled into a fantastic crescendo, and was lead by a conducting Professor Burp floating on a fountain of pop on top of a bottle cap. The lights strobed occasional, making the droplets of water appear to reverse.
It was beautiful. Like nothing I’d ever experienced on a ride before.
As time went by, and the management and ownership of Chessington changed, the ride lost its polish as the years went on. By the early 2000’s it was a depressing journey, the animatronics were jerking, sets were broken, and lights blown. It needed some love, and fast.
There were rumours that it would have a much needed refurbishment in the 2005 closed season.
The ride was ruined.
Imperial Leather threw some money at the Tussauds Group to sponsor the ride. Professor Burp disappeared and it was known as ‘The Bubbleworks’. It retained the idea of a ‘factory tour’, but most of the scenes were ripped out, or painted over, and an army of rubber ducks in various sizes tossed around. The music was kept in places, but the meticulous timing throughout the ride was ignored. It often stopped and fell silent, with random quacking sounds thrown over the top.
Since then, the deal with Imperial Leather ended, the branding was removed, and the ride has been left to die. The aging lift hill was replaced over the winter, and I was hopeful it could signal the start of a revamp.
Sadly, I was wrong – Chessington have announced that the Bubbleworks is due to close in September and ‘New Management’ will take over for 2017.
Is it Professor Burp making a return?
No it’s not. It’s becoming another ‘branded’ ride. Which, I’m sure will be great, and the kids will love it. But, it’s like going to your favourite pub and finding it’s had a refurb. All the character is gone, the sounds, sights and echoes of the past are slowly fading memories.
The Bubbleworks closed in 2005, for the last 11 years it’s been a poor impersonation of it’s original self – a cheap knock off. I HOPE what comes in 2017 is a fraction of the quality of the ride that once lived in that building. I’m just gutted that my kids will never remember that building the way I do.
Chessington are offering ‘Behind the Scenes Tours’ of the Bubbleworks before its closure. There will also be an auction of some of the props from the ride too. Part of me would like to partake in both, but for me ‘my’ Bubbleworks went in 2005.
For those of you interested in the story of Professor Burps Bubbleworks, Peter at the British Dark Rides Project has made a fantastic documentary. Watch it here. Peter has kindly shared some of his archive images of the rides for this post, he’s a fabulous man – give his page a ‘Like’.