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August 8th - 9th 2000

Mount Batten Breakwater, Plymouth Sound, UK

National Firework Championships

another "content over style" web page by Steve Johnson Cyberheritage...bringing the world to your home, non political, non commercially to the world! 




This year the contestants were to be - Day 1: Essex Pyrotechnics, Frontier Fireworks, Anytime Fireworks, and Day 2: Bright Spark Fireworks, Pyro 1 and Kimbolton Fireworks.

In conversation with mainstay organisers Bill Deeker, MD of Pains Fireworks, and local man Ian Blackhouse, it was revealed that  the good news from TESA and Plymouth City Council was that the event was to be secured for Plymouth for the next 5 years! This is very good news for Plymouth, its hotels and pubs, cafes and restaurants, all who love fireworks and the firework industry itself.

Other news this year was that there would be a third prize and the winner would be invited back next year to defend it`s title; and that possibly, starting next year the event being  held in Plymouth would be regarded as the final, with heats being held in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and elsewhere in England. This of course is very good news for the industry as the competition will now touch far more firework companies. Should any of these companies be unable to compete - due to any unforeseen circumstance - then they could nominate a reserve.

Each of the competitors this year were paid 5,800 towards materials.

Looking ahead to next year - or even further, there is a tentative plan to use the Monday, the day before the two competition days, for a conference/workshop/seminar or whatever on....fireworks of course. Whether this goes ahead will all depend on interest from within the firework world.

Mount Batten Breakwater continues to be a most superb firing area, superb ease of access and plentiful safety distances and generous fallout area. Within the UK, it must be hard to beat.

As usual the amount of text and number of photographs representing each company will vary depending on the angle of sun, weather, space between set-ups, time,and available vantage points, and how much time each time had to speak with me, or how much time I had before I had to leave to do the shopping in Tescos!! - unless they fed me - then they get more coverage. I did mention this on a previous web page - hence Frontier Fireworks get a little more coverage - thanks for the chocolate bars!!!. Next year, as well as feeding me, a tee shirt or two, with a nice firework theme would go down well. Is this man joking?

Should any company dislike what I have said, or how I have represented them, then feel free to contact me and I will correct the offending or inaccurate bit - there usually are a few errors on my part.

Day 1


.......... of Saffron Walden, Essex were the first team to fire on day 1. You really could not meet a nicer bunch of firework people. Many of them will have seen these photos already as I took a notebook into the adjacent pub for a pictorial preview. It was in the pub that I was lucky enough to see just what a friendly and family like company the team from Essex were. 

As usual shells were the mainstay of the show, the difference being that Essex were using some cylindrical string-bound American effects shells. These, as they burst, had very good effects.

Shells ranged from singles of 12 inch, down to racks of  4inch  and even little tiddly 3inch ones too - as well as stunningly earbashingly loud 5inch aerial maroons!! These must rank as some of the loudest ever fired at the Plymouth Competition. Positively indecent - but very nice!

Essex also appeared to be TV stars as we see here as those giant maroons and their firing panel attract media interest. Their firing position was at the very end of the pier as we see here.

Spot the Bank Manager!!? Surely a pyro-friendly Bank Manger must be a better sort of Bank Manger than the miserable old s**d I am stuck with here in Plymouth!  Banks could do a lot worst than him - he seemed fine!...but then firework people generally are.

This is the "boom" of one of those giant maroons!


.......... of Croydon, Surrey were the youngest team I have ever, ever  seen. These lads and lasses must rank as the youngest firework company team  in the UK - maybe even in the EU or even elsewhere. Yours truly being easily old enough to be "Dad" to any of them!

They are a very "aware" bunch as they fed me well!! I do try to remain impartial, but the boundless enthusiasm and pride these youngsters took in their work, in their attitude, in their approach and outlook was one that certainly won me over - other companies could well take a leaf out of their book. If the firework industry can rely on people like these to take the profession on into the 21st century then the future is very bright. With an age from 19 to 26 years, these fireworkers, a collection of friends and pals just out of their teens (some still in them) - headed by Christian Verheyden, a former javelin athlete,... the eldest at 26 - have a boundless enthusiasm that just knocked me and my colleague out.

All joking apart, ie. the fact they fed me, -  Frontier Fireworks furnished me with all the facts I could want in a press release type company profile. The company was formed in 1996 - when they were all even younger!! For such a young company - and I mean in personal age , rather than company age - they must hate that word "young" - they have done many impressive displays from Dover Castle to the Sussex Symphony Orchestra to English Heritage.

Their enthusiasm is boundless and their professional approach faultless. If I appear to be partisan here it is a credit to their approach. Don`t forget that before I met them, I did not know them from Adam. If they won me over, they will win many others over too!!!!!

The industry needs more like them to flourish - more young and energetic blood to vitalise the UK firework scene.

Hey you big boys in the firework world - this is the one to watch out for!!

P.S. psst....Hey Guys - when you become the most famous and rich firework company in the UK - remember me - one large crate of fireworks to the address on the main page - stuff the chocolate and candy bars!

Much of the magic of their approach is one of a very professional bunch of mates, Christian Verheyden makes a perfect balance to his Assistant Manager Helen Stenlake, 23, who is also his girlfriend of the last 6 years plus; perhaps this couple may well become part of the main spine of British Pyrotechnic pairings -  along the lines of Graham and Christine Lundegaard, the Lancasters and the Deeker family, or the Kosankes in the US - surely a "marriage" made in gunpowder heaven!!

Their set up consisted of lots of roman candles ( many from Sumsong), lots of different types, lots and lots and lots of rockets, shellburst and flight, and mixtures of the two, decent cakes in the brown boxes, as well as the ubiquitous shells -all arranged and laid out under copious amounts of waterproof plastic sheet....and some more roman candles.....and some more cakes and more candles. For a finale Frontier had 2 by 10 inch shells, 2 by 8, 5 by 6 and 6 by 5 inch shells.

Here is Helen with a "Peanut Shell." This is a double break shell that both burst and open and the same time. This is a nifty bit of fuzing.

"It`s hard work setting up all these rockets!"

"Where does this bit go?"

What a lot of rockets and shells!

The Firework Mistress at work with her candles....err...ummm!!

"This bit goes here...I think!"

"So it's all held together with parcel tape!"

Let's rock with Frontier Fireworks.

Before I forget - they fed me with a truly "pyro menu!!"....have a look!



.......... of Weymouth, Dorset really should have offered me a chip! However, not being one to bear a grudge, .....what a superb bunch of people. Later I met some of their families in the nearby Mount Batten Pub. To me, meeting folk like these is what the competition is all about. I know it must be heresy to say this, but I enjoyed meeting ALL the firework people over the two days much, much more than seeing the 6 superb displays.

The company was formed in 1987 and at peak times has between 12 to 15 people working for it.

Allan Vincent`s Anytime Fireworks had a superb waterfall - possibly the biggest at 80 foot - and best yet seen at the Plymouth shows. It consisted of 4 by 20 foot waterfall strings. When fired it had the benefit of having a low tide to provide a maximum drop. They had a very and most varied mixture of shells of all sizes and origin. Some had tails. They look like chocolates in a chocolate box -well they do to me! Each one placed with loving care!....and all nicely lined up!! What a lovely pyro landscape we have here.

To go with this they had some very nice cakes - you know the decent ones in plain brown cardboard boxes, believe it or not, two of these boxes - within this mega pile of boxes - are actually accurately placed and spaced cakes all set up and ready to go!! We can have a much better look here, also here. 

On the TV and media front - Anytime did not miss out as their set up operations are filmed here. As you can see here they had some rather interesting cylindrical effects shells.

As I said earlier in this piece it was a pleasure to meet and talk to the folks from Anytime Fireworks - as you are from Weymouth which is not too far away you are almost a"home team."

Day 2


.......... of Leicester certainly put on a display that lived up to their name. It was BRIGHT, and very bright, and brighter still; one well known pyro-person from a well known "fantastic" firework company commented that possibly it was designed to match their name. This feeling was echoed by lay spectators too. Established in 1990 by Chris Winch, they employ a staff of 4.

Bright Spark made good use of Roman Candles as these various photos show here. They had some novel and very effective ways of holding/positioning roman candles at precise angles - as you see here. The same overall basic idea keeps these cakes in tidy order.

The ever present risk of a summer shower/downpour brought out the plastic sheeting by the acre.

Quite a lot of Kimbolton material was used by the various competing companies, and Bright Star used these Kimbolton 75mm mines.

Due to circumstance I was unable to spend as much time with the Bright Spark people as I would have liked to, but as ever, as with all the teams, the welcome was very warm - all having a good sense of humour.

As Bright Spark are not yet on the .net, here is their phone number 0116 254 8298.


.......... of Harpenden, Herts were another young team headed up by Jonathan Finch - but not as young as Frontier. What good news for the firework industry that such young people are being involved in it at the sharp end.

Established in 1996, Pyro 1 had a team of 7 staff on site for the Plymouth competition.

Some of the mines used in their display were specially made by a small manufacturer in Britain - Hooray!! - "Minster" of Oxfordshire.

When it came to "tinfoiling" -well .... I've never seen it this neat before. Pyro 1 also had some unusual single shot "candles" - looking very fetching here in red livery and here Jonathan poses for a press photo (the press photographer is to my left) in front of them! Here he is again - another photo!

The very biggest shells at 300mm - 12 inch, were by Brunchu, of Valencia, Spain.

When you look at the complex array of mortars and racks here you can see just how effort Pyro 1, and of course all the other teams have to put in to make sure the displays run smoothly. In this similar view you can see a new addition for this year, to facilitate working and final touches in the intervals between displays, portable flood lights were used to provide a workable level of ground illumination.

Once again time and circumstance prevented me from spending more time with these young "ish" but extremely able and professional fireworkers!


.......... of Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire without any doubt were the "heavy artillery" in the sense of company size and being a truly internationally known UK firework business. While 5 of the 6 teams worked like mad to be ready to fire on time, Kimbolton all knocked off for a nice lunch at the pub!!

When it came to setting up, I have never seen a team do it as quickly as they did!! It was impressive to see how they set up their mortar racks - in a sort of modular design that just interlocked...note the pyrotechnic delays also. These are not often seen at the competition. This is what a 9 second delay looks like.

Let's look in this box...yummy, and what about this one....lovely jubbly, and this one too! (note those very accurate pyrotechnic delays again)

These shells - of Kimbolton`s own manufacture have a very unusual lifting charge holder - it's transparent and you can see the coarse grained gunpowder inside.

Here we see the larger calibre mortar tubes, held together in an interesting construction of scaffold, steel drums and a lot of sand.

A rather unusual device was this "Flying Saucer" - not dissimilar to a Crown Wheel  -at least that's what I thought!

The Results

FIRST:Pyro 1

SECOND:Kimbolton Fireworks

THIRD:Frontier Fireworks

All teams were given a souvenir to commemorate their taking part: here we see Anytime Fireworks at the reception held at the Mount Batten Shore`s Restaurant; and here is the team from Essex Pyrotechnics. I hate to admit this but I missed the presentation to Bright Spark Fireworks as my camera battery went flat! Sorry Bright Star!

Notice any common factor between the first and third prize winners? answer - lack of experience in receiving birthday cards! e.g. both teams made up of young people!! Brilliant news for the industry in it's long term future.

One interesting factor was that as we all awaited the result, there was a very real sense of "sweating it out" from the various teams - so the feeling of competition is very real.

e-mail Steve Johnson at the Firework Museum

Photos from the displays

ahhhhhhh, ooohhhhhhhh, whhheeeeeee, whhisssshh, whizzzzzz, bang, boom

e-mail Steve Johnson at the Firework Museum

...hhmm, what's this `ere then?