Publication: London Evening Standard

London Planetarium to close

My SpaceStories agency broke the news of the closure of one of the world's leading star theatres, the London Planetarium, in a world exclusive that appeared in the Evening Standard. It was followed up by newspapers and broadcast media in the UK and around the world.

Madame Tussauds has been attacked for destroying one of the UK's most famous tourist attractions, the London Planetarium.

The entertainment group is accused of abandoning its 50-year role in teaching schools and the public the wonders of the night sky.

The famous green-domed building at Baker Street is being renamed the Auditorium.

Several schools have already written to the Planetarium complaining about the changes. They have been told that Tussauds want to focus on the world of celebrities and fame.

The Planetarium's School Education officer, Teresa Grafton, retired this month after presenting shows to schools since 1986. She says the schools shows were always packed - but she was told they didn't fit Tussauds' new image.

Angry Teresa said: "When I first came here as schoolgirl from Birmingham I was absolutely overwhelmed by what I saw - the London skyline and stars slowly moving overhead accompanied by a voice explaining what everything was.

"I could never have dreamt that I would one day get the chance myself to become that voice, hopefully enthusing other youngsters.

"I hugely regret that the big green dome will open no more - the London Planetarium is no more - and no more children will share the excitement and feel the magic of getting to know our universe.

"Along with that regret goes a feeling of failure that the London Planetarium died on my watch and that I was not able to prevent it happening."

Teresa added: The schools shows were always very good and always put bums on seats. But when I was retiring, I think think the management decided it no longer fitted with the brand image.

"The whole thing now is to do with celebrity culture. They want to be the Heat magazine of visitor attractions. Shows that used to last up to 45 minutes have long gone and there is now just one ten-minute show called Journey to Infinity.

"It is very sad that interest in science is nose-diving in our schools. Yet I found the kids were never short of questions when they came to the Planetarium. I belong to the International Planetarium Society and the London Planetarium has always been held respected and held in high regard worldwide."

Robin Scagell, vice-president of the UK's Society for Popular Astronomy and a TV space expert, said yesterday: "The Planetarium has inspired generations of schoolchildren and their parents and to lose it now would be a tragedy. Tussauds should stay in touch with the community rather than just concentrating on celebs and footballers who will be forgotten in a year or two.

"The Planetarium always made money for Tussauds when it featured real astronomy shows.
"I'm amazed that the Tussauds management can't come up with exciting and interesting shows about the wonders of the universe that will attract audiences again. They have a valuable resource that they are squandering through a lack of imagination."

Tussauds' communications manager Diane Moon said yesterday: "I appreciate that the experience has been invaluable to many school groups but it is nevertheless largely ignored by the majority of Madame Tussauds' guests. Over the past year only three in 10 of the people visiting the attraction have bothered to visit the Planetarium, even though it is included in the admission price.

"While our main experience moves away from the educative towards the world of
entertainment, so the Planetarium becomes more disjointed and a bolt-on to the attraction rather than part of it.

"The building is being renamed and the experience within will become a show reflecting the world of celebrity and fame, which for our two million guests a year remains the core motivation to visit.

"I do appreciate the importance of the Planetarium as a tool to learning but this is simply not the field within which our brand stands today."

The London Planetarium was built in the 1950s, seating around an audience of around 330 beneath an 18-metre dome. For its first 50 years, the sky was displayed by a dumb-bell shaped mechanical projector. Its director and most famous presenter was Radio 4's From The Archives legend John Ebdon.

During the 1990s, the old projector was replaced with a digital system called Digistar and this was upgraded again to a Digistar 3 projector in 2004.

The Madame Tussauds waxworks began in 1802. Last year the group, which now operates Alton Towers, Chessington World of Adventures and Thorpe Park and has other interests worldwide, was bought by Dubai International Capital for £800million.

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