What is your
Ray: I've been a qualified
Blue Badge guide for sixteen years, qualifying in 1996. This
means I hold the national qualification for guiding in this
Digger: What is that qualification and why does somebody need
Ray: I would say that, to be
brutal, you can be a guide without any qualification in this
country because there's no legislation that says you have to
be qualified. But the advantage of being qualified by The
Institute of Tourist Guiding is that they are the national
body, approved by government to oversee quality and standards.
Digger: It guarantees that you know your stuff?
Ray: Yes. A Yellow Badge, or level
two, would mean you're qualified to guide on site, like at a
National Trust property. A Green Badge would mean that, in
places like Liverpool, Manchester, York, Birmingham,
Cambridge, Oxford - those sorts of place, they're qualified to
guide in those cities. But they're not qualified to guide
Digger: Oh, I see, A bit
like the London taxi driver passing The Knowledge?
Ray: In a way.
Digger: So you should look
for that if you're going on a tour?
Ray: Yes, I think so.
As a Blue Badge, which is
what I hold, I'm qualified not only to guide in the city but
also in the region so in my case the north-west of England.
Digger: I see.
Ray: Because of where I'm
based, I do a lot of work in Manchester which is eleven miles
away from me and also in Chester and Liverpool.
Digger: So you have
Liverpool and Chester covered as well?
Ray: Yes indeed, because I'm
qualified to cover the north-west. I can do anywhere within
that area, obviously, but the reality of tour guiding is that
the tourists come into places like Chester, Liverpool and
Digger: What is it about
Manchester and Liverpool that make them so creative?
Ray: Both cities are very
similar in many ways. Clearly Liverpool is, and through it's
history has been, a docks city.
Digger: And in a way more
Ray: It has been, because of
The Mersey and the ships coming right into the city. And
because it's always made its name from the sea, it is a very
cosmopolitan population - lots of Irish from the potato
famine. If you're coming out of Belfast or Dublin then
Liverpool is the first place you come to.
Digger: It's like the UK
version of Ellis Island.
Ray: Yes, it was. A lot
of the Irish came to Liverpool and then across the Atlantic to
New York. But an awful lot who didn't have the wherewithal to
do that just settled in Liverpool or moved on because they
might have had relatives in Manchester. Because both cities
have obviously got big Irish populations - Liverpool more so I
suppose realistically. If you were coming over 150 or
200 years ago from Ireland, you probably didn't have two
halfpennies to rub together to put it bluntly. So you settled
where you landed. But I think also because Liverpool and
Manchester are industrial cities - Liverpool's more difficult
to categorise in that sense in that its major industry has
always been the sea and the docks and its history has flown
from that connection. Whereas Manchester, being the first
industrial city in the world - you can't compare Manchester
with York, with Bath or indeed London. Although I don't think
you can compare anywhere with London in terms of the
population and nature compared to any other city in Britain.
But Manchester, because it was the lead city, has never had the
big Georgian houses in the centre of the city, so it's never
been a residential city per se. It has always been that
creation of industry, science and technology. I think when the
industry went, and particularly in the sixties with cotton
David, then everything else followed on from cotton. The
engineers produced the boilers and the machines and they
produced the railway locomotives and the canals that were the
transport system to facilitate the production and distribution
of the cotton. In Manchester particularly they didn't have a
docks until they built the 'Big Ditch' which was The
Manchester Ship Canal from the mouth of the river Mersey into
Manchester. For eighty years it had a major docks but it never
had a right to have a major docks because it's 35 miles
inland, of course. So, in a way it created that. And I think
because Manchester's roots are industrial, and the same in a
way with Liverpool, and because both cities went through major
decline in the 1960s. Containerised shipping took over and so
Liverpool saw a lot of the work at the docks and ancillary work
disappearing. I think they've had to go through great
transformations as cities. Manchester went through it quicker
and better I think, to be fair. Liverpool is catching up
certainly in the last five years but I think they both HAD to
be creative. Because when you lose your major industries and
form of work, you've then got to redefine yourself. I always
used to say that I thought Manchester was about ten years
ahead of Liverpool in terms of regeneration. I think that's
probably five now. One of the ways that both cities have done
that, Manchester really did this first, they've redefined
themselves as tourist destinations. If I'm honest when I
qualified sixteen years ago Manchester and Liverpool weren't
even on the tourist map in that sense. You could argue
Liverpool was because of The Beatles but realistically if you
excluded The Beatles then in terms of a tourist destination
Liverpool and Manchester were a joke.
Digger: Totally different
Ray: Yes, absolutely.
Today they're the third and fourth most visited cities in the
UK. So they have been very successful at that process, and not
totally through tourism.
Digger: Who is number two?
Ray: Edinburgh, and London
at number one. And in terms of visitor numbers, Liverpool and
Manchester were at three and four with the official statistics
twelve months ago. It always depends on how you count the
figures and who you include, of course. But having
said that what I can say without any question is that when I
started in 1996 to try and make a living as a qualified guide
it took me five or six years to have enough work to do it for
most of the year. Today that isn't the case because many, many
people - hundreds and thousand of them, see Manchester and
Liverpool as great places to visit. Alright, you might not
spend a fortnight of your holidays in Liverpool and Manchester
but you're certainly going to spend a long weekend here as a
Digger: What can people
expect from your tours?
Ray: From my point of
view you can expect to have perhaps any preconceptions
overturned. Because if we went back ten, fifteen or twenty
years, the thought of anybody coming to do tours in Liverpool
or Manchester was almost anathema to people. They would never
think of coming to these cities and yet they are so soaked in
history and heritage. It's a fantastic story and a
fantastic journey. Clearly, if we're looking at music, then,
of course in the 1960s the kingdom of music was, without
question, the Merseybeat sound - The Beatles, Gerry and The
Pacemakers, Cilla Black and so on. But also if you're looking
at the music scene in the late seventies and early eighties
that mantel that Liverpool held in the sixties was then passed
to Manchester with 'Madchester' - groups like Joy Division,
The Happy Mondays, The Stone Roses, New Order, Oasis - you
name it. And even up to today with Elbow. Although they are
from Bury, so you could argue Greater Manchester, the big city
is Manchester and so that defines them.
Digger: They still sound
like Manchester boys to southerners.
Ray: Well they do, and
without any question, if you ever listen to people like Guy
Garvey talk - he talks in terms of Manchester and not in terms
of Bury. And that's what I would expect.
Digger: So who are the
people coming on the tours? And what feedback are you getting?
Ray: Typical people?
Well, there's a wide-ranging age group, literally, so you're getting
anybody from their late twenties all the way up to their
sixties and seventies. Remember that if we're talking about
Liverpool's heritage, and certainly the 1960s, we're
talking nearly forty or fifty years ago. Therefore that age
range of people, when they were teenagers, The Beatles and The
Merseybeat was something they knew all about because it was
something they grew up with. If they were in Japan, America or
wherever. Looking at the demographic, David and particularly
for Liverpool rather than Manchester, but Manchester too to an
extent, it's masses of Americans and Japanese. They have a
strong connection and affinity with The Beatles.
My favourite tours of yours would have to be the Music Tours
and the TV and Film Tours.
What are your personal retro passions Ray?
passions have always been music. Strangely enough, I was never
a massive Beatles fan I have to say. Although I'm a child of
the sixties in that sense I was much more into The Rolling
Stones and things like that rather than the clean-cut Beatles.
Not that I didn't like their music, but if I had to make a
choice. I suppose I'm in the right place too, David, because one
of my other great passions is football and of course with
Liverpool and Manchester...
Digger: You're perfectly
I'm in a perfect place at these iconic football cities and I
get a lot of my tourism business, if it's not music-related
tours, from sports tours as well. The other thing we've seen a
massive growth in David in the last five years or so is what I
would call a two-centre approach with tour operators nowadays.
Because what you find increasingly is that now people are not
just coming to base themselves in Liverpool or in Manchester -
they're doing that but they want to see the other city as
well. So you find with lots of the tour operators and the
people that I see from all over the world, wherever they're
based, part of their itinerary is going to include the other
What are the best and most enjoyable aspects of running
Manchester Tour Guides and the tours?
Ray: For me, meeting people
from all over the world. Every day's a different day David.
Digger: How big are the
Ray: I do a
lot of coach work so my groups can be anything from twenty
people to fifty people. For the popular walking tours I tend
to be restrictive on those. I know there are guides out there
who, if there are 100 people that turn up to do a walking tour
then they'll do one for 100 people and I think that's
ludicrous. (Digger laughs) I'll be honest. I make a very
specific point that I will not take more than 25 people on a
walking tour. I do that because, from an aesthetic point of
view, I think if you've got more than that they're not getting
good value for money. If you've got forty or fifty people in
your group, no matter how good your voice is, some of those
people are not going to hear what you've got to say. The other
side of that when doing a walking tour is that you're going to
cover much less ground in the same time with fifty people than
you would with twenty people. If you think about it, it's
logical and I just think if you're taking money off of people
to do tours they're entitled to have the best tour you can
give them. And the only way that's going to happen for me is by
not dragging fifty people around, many who can't hear and only
covering half the ground you should have. So I keep the tours
smaller and seek to offer good value for money.
Digger: What sort of comments
and feedback do you get from people?
give two particular examples if I can. I did
three or four days of tours in Liverpool and the surrounding
area at the end of last year for a group from the Kent area. They had decided that they were going to Liverpool
on a cultural stay. They were going to the Anglican Cathedral
to an opera presentation within the cathedral and seeing
another show in the days they were here. I did five days with
them, based in both Liverpool and Manchester and the region. Their view was that they had never anticipated, even though
they'd booked the itinerary, how friendly the welcome would
be, how wonderful the cities were and what an incredibly
fabulous time they would have while they were here.
Digger: That can't be bad can
think that's part of breaking the preconceptions.
Digger: I've been up to
Liverpool several times in the past five years and I'm just
knocked-out by the place. It's always been friendly, there's a
buzz and there's a lot to see, both historical and
If you look at Liverpool today compared even with Liverpool
five years ago, being realistic, I often say that in many ways
the best thing that's happened to Liverpool in that time has
been the Liverpool 1 Shopping Centre. That's not because I am
in the least interested in shopping David. Along with thing like the opening of
The Liverpool Museum, the transformation of Albert Dock and
all that, but what Liverpool 1 has given Liverpool and has led
to such incredible redevelopment around the whole area. It's
given for the first time in years a connection between the
city centre and the docks. Because the Liverpool 1 development
flows from the city centre literally down to the docks and,
for me, that's the best thing that has happened there for
years. That has been so well thought out. For ten years when
I was taking groups of people to Liverpool, you either
concentrated on the city and left the docks alone or the other
way around. Because
walking people through some of the declining, derelict areas
outside the city shops was an awful stretch. Now you can walk
them down through a very modern development, it's seamless and
makes a massive difference.
Digger: That old shopping
centre in the centre was like a time-warp from the seventies.
Ray: It was, very much
so. What I would also say is a regular occurrence is that when
we get people coming to Manchester, particularly we get
visitors who knew Manchester because they lived here or who
were born here or they came to university here thirty or forty
years ago. When they come back they are blown away by how
different it is today. Manchester today absolutely destroys
any industrial preconceptions that they have because even if
their view was founded thirty or forty years ago, Manchester
was just a totally different place and is so transformed
today. I was born and brought up in Manchester and I know.
Digger: It's worth a visit
even if you've been here before.
Ray: That's right. We get
lots of visitors from Australia, from Canada and New Zealand
who had emigrated in the fifties, sixties and seventies. When I take people around the area of Salford Quays - the old
docks area of the city and they see The Lowry, The Imperial
War Museum, The New Media City and the BBC Headquarters, they
not only don't recognise it and some of them worked on the
docks by the way, they are literally blown away at how
wonderful it is. What a metropolitan city it is and what a
diverse population it's got and what a diverse offer it's got
nowadays. So I think Liverpool and Manchester are just
increasing in the number of visitors they're getting for very
Digger: There have certainly
been some huge changes and developments in both cities in the
last few years.
Ray: That's what's
bringing people here. When people come here who have not been
to Liverpool or Manchester before the one thing that you hear
time and time and time again is "Wow, we've got to come back.
We've not had enough time to really do and see these two
wonderful cities and it's something we want to do." The
impression it makes on people today is magnificent and I think
that in Manchester's case that really began to happen in a
major way with the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
Digger: Ray I'm picking up on
your passion for your subject and your expertise of the
history and culture of these cities. Next time I'm up your way
I will let you know and you can take us around.
Ray: Excellent. I would
love to do so.
Digger: Thanks for letting
us know about your tours.
Ray: Thanks David.