Plymouth Fireworks Championships 2001

My report from Day 1 of the national competition.

In August 2001 Tony and I made the pyro pilgrimage to Plymouth for day one of the fireworks championships featuring Vulcan UK, Pains and Jubilee. Sit back and enjoy loads of pictures and some fantastic video clips.

The competition

Each year six professional display teams gather in Plymouth to fire over two nights – three teams per night. At stake is the coveted prize for the best display. In addition to providing some of the year’s best pyro action, the public can view for free! Quite simply it is one of the most spectacular firework events in the UK and well worth the long journey.

The venue

The teams fire from Mount Batten Point, a long concrete jetty. Note that this area is restricted access over the two days of firing and the public are not allowed near it.

If you’re spectating, the best place is from The Hoe. This is easy to get to being near central Plymouth and gives really nice views of the whole area. It looks a long way away – but the distance is ideal considering the size of the pyro being fired.

You can click on an image to view it larger:

Mount Batten Point – as seen from the cliffs overlooking it. In this shot we can see three teams spaced out, setting up for the evening’s displays.

Here from the end of Mount Batten Point looking back towards the coast. This is a brilliant setting for the displays because most of Plymouth can see it.

Here’s the view from Mount Batten Point looking north towards The Hoe. Spectators (tens of thousands of them) gather on the grassy areas. Loads of room but for unrestricted views make your way to the front sea wall of The Hoe – but get there early!

The view from The Hoe, looking towards Mount Batten Point. The hire vans give the teams away. From left to right we have Vulcan UK, Pains and then Jubilee.

Fireworks isn’t always fun! Here I (Pyro Pete) shelter from one of many squalls. Although the competition takes place in August, being exposed to the sea breeze late at night can be quite cold – take warm clothes, waterproofs AND FOOD! Note the wall here provides a good area to set up cameras etc and ensures no-one with a large hat stands in front of you (heheh…). Tony got soaking wet taking this 🙂

The main highlight of the five hours we were waiting (we like to choose our spot early!).

Setting up

It’s a long day for the teams and being exposed to wind and rain doesn’t help.

Firstly many thanks to Jubilee who invited UKFR to see behind the scenes at their display. Their hospitality was awesome and they gave us unrestricted access to film for our members. In this picture Jubilee get their shell racks ready while I (far left) nose about.

A general view of Jubilee’s stash. You can see why it takes all day to set up.

Jubilee’s candle fans make my cat 3 attempts look puny.

One of the Jubilee team doing some fusing. Much of the set-up time for a big display is doing jobs like this.

This gives a whole new meaning to “insert upright in a bucket of sand”.

Jubilee have enough pyro here to sink any attacking battleships.

Whoops! Did we mention that wind? Anything that wasn’t secured was blown away. Here a member of Jubilee’s team who looks uncannily like Jaws from the Bond films recovers a mortar tube (although I wasn’t going to call him that to his face, heheh…). I don’t know who had it worse, Jubilee at the end or Vulcan UK downwind and working in both wind AND sand blown down from everyone else’s sandbags.

Chris Pearce from Jubilee kindly poses with one of his large shells. Once again Chris many thanks for your hospitality.

Moving down now to Pains. The number of candles, mines and rockets showed they were going all out for some creative effects.

These look very interesting. Thanks to everyone at Pains for letting us nose around and take pictures, you had some really cool pyro.

The pyro shown above is now being waterproofed. The weather may look fine in the pictures here but it didn’t stay like it for long.

One of the Pains team gets some pyro set up and fused.

Now which wire went where? You have to watch where you’re walking in all this lot. Notice for a display of this size how much is electronically fired – the only way to ensure spot-on timing.

What a novel use for a skip. If I’d known I would have brought down some old rubble to get rid of it 😉

The guy in charge of Pains’ display runs through the firing sequence on the control box.

Wow! This is serious stuff. A close-up picture of Pains’ firing box. We resisted the urge to press some buttons.

A control box like that needs lots of wire. You could wire up a small town with this lot. Thanks Pains for your time.

On to Vulcan UK now. Sadly not quite as happy to see us (nothing personal, UK Firework Who?) and they were very busy. In fact the lady there practically told us to get lost. This is a shame, their display turned out to be the most entertaining. Anyway not deterred we took this picture of their Aqua shells pointing out to sea. Then we went back and chatted to Jubilee again.

Out of interest here are a couple of Vulcan’s parachutes (picture taken the next morning) which set fire to the nearby cliff. I told you it was entertaining!

Vulcan UK

This display was one of the most entertaining and magical of the night. Magical because they had two sublime sequences of parachute flares (one silver and one coloured). Entertaining because they almost broadsided the judges’ boat (from the angle we viewed it) with aqua shells and then set fire to the hill behind the display area. The locals thoroughly enjoyed the arrival of several fire engines 🙂 We gave this a ten out of ten for enjoyment! Naturally the judges did not see it this way (we need a clapometer rather than judges) and Vulcan did not make it on to the podium.

What a superb start, several layers of shells with great colour at the crown.

Various shells with long hang times makes for a “fuzzy” long exposure picture.

A nice twist on ring shells – multicolour rings.

But enough of the normal crap. Let’s have loads of salvos of aqua shells, dambuster style. Did this thrill the audience? Listen to the video clip. It was awesome. Before each salvo was a hanging canopy of persistent glitter, it took your eyes to the sky then brought them down again to water level with the shells. Brilliant.

Here Vulcan give the judges something to think about. I’d have loved to have been on that boat. It looked close. Imagine being on deck and seeing THAT go off!!

And again! Full power ahead Captain!

Look at this! Hanging silver stars. These hung around for ages. In fact they stayed around long enough to set the hill on fire. The amusing thing was the next day Tony discovered they landed about ten metres from where some builders were laying some new wooden decking at a cliffside property.

Drifting parachutes move off. Meanwhile the fire brigade arrived to try and put the hill out. This was superb entertainment. Imagine trying to hose down a hill while half a tonne of cardboard continues to fall on your head.

Towards the finale and Vulcan mix it with the best of them.

Part of the finale. The long hanging effects make this look “fuzzy”.

Afterwards, and the hill is still on fire. Seriously, this was an amazing mix of pyro and for me, the hanging effects gave this the edge. What made this entertaining for the crowd (the fire and broadside) do reflect how our opinion of an entertaining display is somewhat different from the judge’s. Mind you I was not in that boat while those aqua shells went off. The only display on the night to beat this with sheer “ooomph” was Jubilee’s.

Pains Fireworks

Pains had quite an act to follow and they pulled it off. We enjoyed this display which had a definite emphasis on creative effects rather than raw power, with sequenced candles and mines. This was the “thinking man’s” display, but sandwiched between the fluke crowd pleasing mayhem of Vulcan UK and the seasoned sky-splitting of Jubilee, it was up against it….

This is a good example of the various effects Pains created.

Almost every part of their display was carefully choreographed.

These hanging silver comets were brilliant.

Here we move back to coloured stars. Pains used the whole front of the display area to fire serious numbers of candles. The screen of colour worked well. Several sequences also made some quite fantastic “phut phut phut” sounds as shells ejected left, centre and right.

Zooming back, the candles are now supported with some shells.

Weird effect, these shells broke in half.

Another sublime mix of colour and noise.

As you can see this is a very synchronised display.

Various ground level fireworks shoot stars while some shells take the action higher.

The green stars here were a nice interlude before the “boom” of a big bore shell – with a comet tail – splits it in two.

Here we zoom out to capture the effect.

Another long hanging sequence. Personally I would like to see more of these in displays.

Pains light up the judges’ boat.

Multi-layered effects as they build towards the finale.


As is the ending sequence.

Jubilee Fireworks

Bright silver effects tear through the sky.

Big-bore sequences were evident throughout this display. The crowd loved them.

Trailing stars while candles explode below.

Jubilee now go for some quieter and more colourful effects.

These were sequenced together very well.

More candle fan effects…

… with some shells now for back-up.

Nice orange shells.

This was good. Fans of crackling silver, with more effects that seem to hang over into the water. Then, a shell slices the whole lot in two.

We zoom out to get the effect.

Look how this one hangs in the air!

This sequence really did light up the whole area.

One of my favourite shots because the timing here is spot-on. Silver trails and stunning bronze shell breaks.

Two big shells.

Various effects.

A huge (and low breaking) shell similar to what Pains used. These really did stand out from everything else. It would be nice to see other colour combinations.

These five shots show the onslaught of Jubilee’s effects….

… bright colours across the whole display area…

… ring shells…

.. now silver, green and red…

… ending with sky-filling colour at all heights.

Zooming in now we can see how Jubilee layered the effects from water level upwards.

What a view from that boat!

Another one of my favourite pictures. The whole sky turns red…

… then silver…

What a class display. Jubilee finished second, the only display on the night to make it into the top three.


After these three displays another three followed the day after. We weren’t there to see the second night however one of those displays – Shellscape – were crowned the winners. Congratulations to them.

Jubilee’s display, shown above, came second. Well done to Chris and his crew.

Thank you once again to Jubilee and Pains for their hospitality on the day and for giving us access to their firing site.

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