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Thursford's Christmas gift to Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 09:14 07 November 2009 | UPDATED: 10:59 07 July 2010

Richard Parr

It's the £8m Christmas present to Norfolk's economy from a unique festive show staged in converted farm buildings in a tiny village.

The spin-offs from the Thursford Christmas Spectacular, which runs until December 23, has become such a major economic force that it even has even been given its own name - the Thursford Effect.

It's the £8m Christmas present to Norfolk's economy from a unique festive show staged in converted farm buildings in a tiny village.

The spin-offs from the Thursford Christmas Spectacular, which runs until December 23, has become such a major economic force that it even has even been given its own name - the Thursford Effect.

About 130,000 people now travel from all over the country to the tiny hamlet of Thursford, near Fakenham, to see the twice-daily shows and tickets sells out at the start of the year with only a limited number of returns available.

The £2.5m-budget show is a three-hour fast-moving celebration of the festive season featuring an eclectic fusion of the seasonal and sacred with famous chart-topping 'pop' favourites being sung alongside traditional carols.

It is now generally recognised as being the largest show of its kind in the country, if not Europe.

The region's hospitality industry benefits with hotels booked by tour operators and dozens of holiday cottages - that would otherwise be empty at this time of the year - hired by Thursford's 100-plus cast of actors, singers and musicians.

Hotel managers in Norwich talk of the Thursford Effect and say that tour operators combine a visit to the Christmas show with a mini one-night or two-night break.

Coach operators are using the 84-bedroom Maid's Head Hotel in Norwich as a location for people staying for one or two night breaks including a visit to Thursford.

“During recent years we have become aware of the Thursford Effect and coach operators offer one or two-night packages that include an outing to Thursford,” said Maid's Head general manager Christine Malcolm.

Other hotels and bed and breakfast premises in towns around the area including King's Lynn, Swaffham, Holt and Fakenham are also used by people wanting to make their visit to Thursford into a mini break.

At the Best Western Knights' Hill Hotel, on the outskirts of King's Lynn, receptionist Sam Hlalelesaid this year 40 coaches are booked to bring people to see the show and they stay the night at the hotel. “We are definitely aware of the Thursford Effect and on one day alone we have three coaches booked in,” said Mrs Hlalele.

The Crown restaurant/pub at East Rudham on the main A148 road leading to Thursford has people going to the show staying in its rooms and it even serves late meals for people returning from the show. “We do have a lot of people asking for meals when they return from the show but we do ask that they pre-book these late meals,” said manager Emma Whittle.

Thursford founder and director John Cushing said: “While the show not only brings pleasure to the thousands who attend each year I am also thrilled that it serves the local community, bringing employment and income to so many hard working people in the many diverse businesses across the county.

“From restaurants, hotels, holiday cottages and shopping centres the Thursford Effect benefits Norfolk with over £8 million being put into the economy.”

Head of marketing for Visit Norwich Clare Millar said Norfolk's tourism industry benefits greatly from the economic powerhouse of the festive season.

“Many businesses within the sector consider the lead up to Christmas as a significant economic driver to generate a substantial proportion of their annual turnover,” said Ms Millar.

To inquire about returned ticket availability and dates contact the Thursford box office on 01328 878477.

See Monday's EDP for a review of the first show.

Thursford factfile:

The Thursford Christmas Spectacular began modestly in 1977 when a carol concert was attended by 500 people. It is now seen by almost 130,000 people each year who travel from all over the country.

Famous faces in the audiences over the years have included Prince William and comedian Ken Dodd.

The 2009 show has a £2.5m budget - one four-minute scene alone will cost £30,000 to stage.

At the daily shows thousands of ice-creams and mince-pies are eaten by the audiences during the intervals.

The show is now widely recognised as the biggest production of its kind in the country, including the West End.

The show's founder and director John Cushing has never had any formal musical training.

Hundreds of girls attend auditions during the summer in a London dance studio for the 20 dancers needed for the show

The show gives more than 100 local people seasonal jobs working in the shops, cafeteria, acting as stewards and cleaners.

The 30th anniversary show was featured on BBC TV's Songs of Praise.


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