Ulverston's Record Breaking Silliness
Article by Jennie Dennett, 18th June 2021.
On 18th June 2016, Ulverston splatted its way into the record books by staging the World’s Largest Shaving Cream Pie Fight.
1,860 people took part in the flan-flinging feat as part of Another Fine Fest, the annual music, comedy & arts festival which celebrates Ulverston-born comedy legend Stan Laurel.
It was a proud and joyful moment for this little town as it smooshed the record previously held by much-bigger Belfast with 869 pie participants. At the time of writing five years later – Ulverston remains undefeated.
The story of how the Record was clinched revolves around the settling of five pretty silly questions because, as it turns out, there are a lot of serious rules to foam flinging to Guinness WR standards.
Herewith the behind-the-scenes, into the Pie Kitchen, Record-breaking tale as recalled by the organisers Jennie Dennett, Ceri Hutton & Rachael Weaver.
Which shaving foam makes the best pie?
Before buying enough foam for a record-breaking pie fight, we needed to establish the best recipe. We actually thought we had this one settled after a flashmob pie fight in 2014.
Then, we’d donned white coats for Pie Lab tests and gingerly poked small dobs of foam into our eyes to determine the least-stinging variety.
There were also splatablity tests timed with a stopwatch, if you’ve got to spray a lot of pies they need to remain upstanding and not dissolve disappointingly onto your plate before splat-off. Peppa Pig Foam Soap excelled in all these tests. But The Man (Record assistant Mark) from Guinness said NO – it may have the same ingredients as shaving foam but it doesn’t say Shaving Foam on the tin. This was a blow as there was a glut of PP soap in Poundland at the time and we’d already bought all 80 cans (it took four years of gifts & baths to get rid of it).
There followed another messy afternoon in the garden for Jennie, eating foam & poking-it in her good eye. These Human Guinea Pig Pie tests confirmed that Gillette Regular was the best a pie fighter could get. But unfortunately it turned out you couldn’t actually buy that much of it, Gillette shaving gels not foams being favoured by retailers & toiletry wholesalers at the time.
The second-ranking, low-sting, not-too-scented varieties of Asda Ocean Breeze & Erasmic Aloe Vera then had to be sourced. At this point we discovered shaving foam is generally stocked in small quantities and you cannot just click 400 cans into your shopping cart. A lot of internet research & phone bashing later, we eventually nailed a Welsh wholesaler with a bargain pallet of Erasmic. The Barrow Asda community team helped source the remaining 150 cans of Ocean Breeze. But neither delivery arrived as scheduled… in the week before splat-off we were foam-less & frothing with anxiety.
Rachael set-off on a cross-Cumbrian supermarket sweep, cleaning-out shelves of shaving foam from Carlisle to Barrow. Only 50 cans resulted (and a regional surge in beard-growing possibly). A precious stash of Erasmic also went up in a fire at Bargain Brands.
Fretful foam conversations followed on the couch of Two by Two. What would we do if The Foam Did Not Arrive? The term Code Pig was born, we would use the previously-hoarded Peppa Pig Foam Soap. It would risk disqualification but at least a fun pie fight would go on.
Thankfully no such risk was taken on the day. The Erasmic palette arrived on Pie Fight’s Eve, Asda’s arrived in the morning. We could’ve rinsed-off several cans-worth of foam with our tears of relief.
How do you count over 1,000 people?
Any organiser of a mass participation World Record will encounter what are called Guinness Counting Protocols.
Not only do you have to break the record, you’ve got to prove you’ve broken it and counted the number of participants accurately in several different ways to allow for cross-checking.
For records involving over 1,000 people you’re not allowed to count them into your Record-defined area with a clicker, you need a turnstile and they’re not cheap.
Sorting-out one of these for an event with no up-front budget felt for a while like a deal-breaker. But then Ceri called The Protector Group. This security firm based in Gateshead were tickled by the sound of a World Record-Breaking pie fight in Stan Laurel’s home town. It sounded like a laugh & a test run for a new bit of kit. Yes, they’d bring a turnstile, a brand-new one to boot, and no, no fee as long as we’d put them-up for the night somewhere nice.
On Pie Fight’s Eve, along came the brilliant Graeme & Mark with a huge turnstile on a truck. They were delighted to help, had it efficiently installed in Ford Park within an hour and retired to The Bay Horse for a lovely pint or three plus excellent nosh with a Bay view.
Colin Aldred of Aerial Artwork in Ulverston also stepped-up, literally high-up, to provide the necessary aerial shot of the crowd required by Guinness and footage of the complete Record Attempt. We didn’t know we had such capability in Ulverston but if ever you need someone skilled in the art of putting the right cameras up poles and getting the shot whatever the wind is doing to jeopardize efforts, Colin’s you man.
How long does it take to make 2,400 foam pies?
Seemingly simple tasks become slippery at scale. Guinness rules decree that a Record Breaking foam pie must be 16.5cm wide and ‘cover the plate’.
Leaving people to spray their own was simple & quick but we worried that the Keepers of the Clipboards at Guinness would shake their heads. How could we prove we had an arena full of perfectly compliant pies? No, we would have to have ‘trained’ pie sprayers overseen by Official Witnesses, able to exert quality control over foam pies. Like I said, serious rules for silly business.
Which raises the question, how long does it take to make 2,400 pies (i.e. at least two each for an anticipated crowd of 1,200)?
Trying to answer this question in a Barrow car park on a foam-buying run prompted probably the silliest phone call of the entire enterprise.
“Ceri, I’m going to make the noise of me spraying the pie cos I‘ve got a feel for that now and you time me… psssssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhh..”
“OK Jennie.. right.. erm 10 seconds?”
“Yeah, that feels about right.. oh hang on this is ridiculous!!!”
We did spray with actual foam rather than spitty mimes to answer this question later, though I cannot remember the exact answer now, it was ages. Various pie-spraying plans were cooked-up and binned along the way. There was to be a pie-spraying team in chefs hats delivering to each pie fighting zone but how could we stop our pies blowing away? Borrowing bakers trays and racks was considered for mass pie preparation, storage & delivery. Thomas’s Bakery in Dalton bravely offered us theirs but we needed a truck to get them there and back & cleaned in time for next-day baking. Structural engineer Simon Wand of Bleasdale Wand, a logistical whizz, got on board to figure it all out and find a lorry. It all got a bit complicated.
On the Pi(e) Maths Quiz Sheet…
1) How many pies (plate diameter 23cm / foam diameter 16.5cm) can you fit in a baking tray & rack (47x63x173cm)?
2) How many rolls of Croppers Mill Felt does it take to cover a Pie Fighting Arena 80mx80m?
3) You have 50 fencing stakes and need to erect a fence 160m long with two gates, what is the optimum spacing for a fencing stake and do you need any more?
4) You calculate that 1 can of Asda Ocean Breeze shaving foam provides 9 foam pies of 16.5cm diameter. You need 2,400 pies, how many cans do you need?
5) Measure the volume of tears leaked during your workings and calculate the probability of ever staging a similar event again.
These are the kind of bizarre brain teasers you tangle with if you wanna be a Record Breaker.
In the event, we gave up on mass pie prep and simply hoped/prayed/danced for a day without wind and rain… and got lucky.
The pie plates were duly laid out at the feet of our pie fighters, and a team of 25 brilliant stewards overseen by witnesses (including a bona fide magistrate) served-up a field-full of perfect, 16.5cm-wide, plate-covering foam pies. Guinness approved.
How to avoid killing the grass?
In the run up to Pie Day, grass was a source of great anxiety. Jennie had sprayed the selected shaving foams about her garden without noticeable side effects, but could we guarantee 400 can-loads wouldn’t upset the much-treasured turf of Ford Park? It was hard to be sure.
Covering the grass seemed the safest course of action, but 80m2 is A LOT to cover. Fruitless calls were made to marquee firms, they didn’t have enough matting and it would be ruinously expensive. Croppers of Burneside came to the rescue offering rolls of thick paper, similar to banquet-roll used as disposable table cloths. But would it all become a trip hazard in the thrilling moment of pie-battle?
After many fretful chats, the idea of covering an entire field was thrown-out. Ulverston’s fire crew offered to help and hose it all down afterwards, dilution at scale to avert soap-scum-pollution. Truly a complete emergency service.
But by the time the final pie was flung it was clear we needn’t have worried. The foam was all over the backs, bums and bonces of the 1,180 people who pie-ed their way into the Record books. There was hardly any on the grass. Ulverston’s fire fighters surveyed the clean park and never needed to unroll their hose.
How do you convince over 1,000 people to splat pies?
Fairly easily as it turns out. Thanks perhaps to nostalgic memories of Roy Castle & Record Breakers on the telly, a lot of people are excited about becoming a World Record Breaker, especially when all it takes is to turn up and get messy. Our sternly-worded disclaimers to satisfy our risk assessment warned of eye sting, slipping, tripping, even broken bones, but the Eventbrite sign-up steadily clicked upwards. And though the day was grey, still citizens of Ulverston, Cumbria and even some pie-lovers from Preston and Manchester, put on shower hats and never-mind-the-splat T-shirts to join us.
Recruiting 80 volunteers for Team Steward was a harder ask since the role involved upholding the minutiae of not-very-comedic Guinness WR Rules. At a preliminary pub briefing in the Old Friends, Ceri & Rachael set out the scale of the task and chewed-over tactics. How would we keep people corralled in their pie zones to satisfy Guinness Counting Protocols? What could we do to keep-up spirits through the wait whilst ensuring that splatting was not premature? Briefings worthy of the D Day landings in their specification were produced for timekeepers, pie stewards, registration volunteers and many more roles besides. Documents including such detailed instructions as ‘Only apply foam to pre-set plates once whistle is sounded’.
On June 18 2016, Another Fine Fest’s Pie Day dawned and we were ready thanks largely to the phenomenon of Ulverston uplift – the moment when the community galvanises to deliver all the things on the list plus all the other things you hadn’t thought to put on there in the first place.
Here comes Peter Winston with a trailer-load of fencing as well as big bins cos he thought you’d need them (you did). K2B master-logician Neil Fleming arrives with a boot-load of well-ordered tools and knows exactly where Everything Needs to Go. And all the amazing volunteers who signed up to be those stewards & witnesses swing into action, erecting check-in tables & popping-on bowler hats. Finally Dan Fox pedals in on his Boom Bike and the pie party is ON.
They say it takes a town to raise a child, I don’t know about that but it definitely takes one to make a festival.
The joyful squeal as the siren sounded to start the pie fight was a moment never to be forgotten. A Record Breaking amount of fun was underway. And all the pain to make it happen felt absolutely worth it.
With everlasting thanks to all the Pie Fighters who flung foam with us, and the volunteers who made it possible….
Colin Aldred, Simon Clarke, Dan Fox, Michelle Marshall, Sara Charlesworth, Matt Benefield, Jake Byron, Max Weaver, Lindsay Ward, John McArthur, Norma Foulds, Chris Byron, Andrew Swain, Caroline Clutterbuck, Ceara Hayden, Cheryl Rankin, Chris Loynes, Clare Stebbens, Colin Kendall, Duncan Lydon, Hannah Fox, Harriet Armstrong, Harry Brunskill, Jay Huang Chern Low, Jayne Kendall, John Clough, John Metcalfe, Pat Timewell, Kathryn Ramsden, Kath Gardner, Keith Raine, Leila Raine, Lin Macintosh, Ness Wilson, Nic Mackenzie, Paul Burton, Paula Brown, Sam Reeves, Stephanie Sexton, Sarah Dearden, Robin Dawn Ray, Martin Gilbert, Shawn Weaver, Caroline Gilfillan, Caroline Tennyson, Cat Moffat, Deborah Robinson, Debbie Walker Menzler, Fran Riley, Jack Kennedy, Iain Raven, James Robinson, Jan Christof Hardwick, Janet Benefield, Janet Heffernan, Jean Povey, Kate Stalker, Sam Stalker, Maureen Baker, Nicola Alloway, Oliver Tennyson, Rachel Martin, Roger Baker, Simon McKenna, Simon Wand, Steve Robinson, Sue Stoney, Zoe Mander, Zosia Wand, Helen Walker, Anne Platt, Stu Mander, Matt Berry, Angus Adams, Carole Kitz, Harry Knowles, Roger Newbold, Jonny Williams, Victoria Noble.
The day the certificate arrived...
Here’s the actual Guinness World Records certificate! Sara Charlesworth of Tinner’s Rabbit Framers popped a classy gold frame on it, and it now hangs on permanent display in The Laurel & Hardy Museum.