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You are in: Devon > Events > Events and Listings guide > How to set the skies alight

Fireworks on the first night, 2009 (Rob Taylor)

Fireworks in 2009 (Rob Taylor)

How to set the skies alight

As Plymouth hosts the 2009 British Fireworks Championships, the 2008 winners reveal the secrets of success.

++ The 2009 winners were Phoenix Fireworks from Kent - the second display on Tuesday night ++

Remember when you used to nail a Catherine Wheel to a tree in the garden and set off a few sparklers to mark an invariably cold and wet Bonfire night?

Things have changed quite a bit in recent years, especially when it comes to major fireworks events  - and they don't come any more major than the annual British Fireworks Championships held every August in Plymouth.

For two nights, the skies above the city are lit up by the best firework displays in the country. Six firms do battle for the coveted title - three on each night - with each having 10 minutes to show off their best display.

Fireworks on first night, 2009 (Rob Taylor)

Lighting up the waterfront, 2009 (Rob Taylor)

In 2008, the competition was won by Pendragon Fireworks of Cwmbran in South Wales. Jon Mellen set up the company in 1998 and winning the British title 10 years later was, he said, a real achievement.

But how do you set about designing an award-winning fireworks display? "It's all about having the right sequences of colours and effects," said Jon.

"When we won last year (2008) we had a fast and furious, loud, multi-coloured start. And then we calmed it down to an orange sequence and lifted it up again.

"Basically, you're changing the sequences all the time."

The competing teams discuss the colours and sequences which go best together and then buy the fireworks which match their ideas.

The winning display in 2008 featured over 700 different fireworks, but the image of a man running around madly to light them all is way off the mark - these displays are programmed into a laptop computer.

"You put it all down on pen and paper to start with and then put it into the computer," explained Jon.

"We work out the sequence and the timings and it's downloaded into a digital firing system."

That in turn is linked via wires to electric charges which creates the sparks to set off the fireworks (we've simplified this!).

Fireworks on the 2nd night, 2008

Six teams take part in the finals

Of course, things can go wrong: "In 2007, the waves came over the breakwater at Mount Battten where the fireworks are ignited and it hit our equipment, which threw our system out. It wrecked our chances of winning," said Jon.

Because Pendragon won the contest in 2008, they cannot compete again until the Champion of Champions event in 2012, but Jon will be in Plymouth to watch the 2009 final on 11-12 August.

The event is a chance for the nation's top firework display firms to show what they can do. This year, more than ever before, the publicity for the teams is like gold dust.

Jon said: "Fireworks are a luxury thing and corporate companies will cut them off their budgets to save money.

"This year has been very difficult because of the recession which is why they haven't had heats this year - the expense for the companies is just too much.

"But it's the British title and to win the competition is a very prestigious thing."

The six teams taking part in 2009 are:

August 11th 2009

Dragon Dynasty
Phoenix Fireworks
Skyburst the Fireworks Co

August 12th 2009

Vulcan (Fireking)
Celebration Fireworks
Highlight Pyrotechnics

The best places to view the fireworks are Plymouth Hoe, Jennycliff, the Mayflower Steps area of The Barbican, Mount Batten, and Queen Anne's Battery.

For details of road closures and public transport services, visit Plymouth City Council's website which is linked from the top right of this page.

British Fireworks Championships 2009
11-12 August 2009
From approx 9.30pm

last updated: 13/08/2009 at 10:18
created: 31/07/2009

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