Tag Archives: Disneyland

Age of Innocence, 1955 – Disney and McDonalds in France

Walt Disney (2)

The year 1955 unleashed another American icon on the world when Walt Disney opened his Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California.

Sixteen years later the World Disney World resort opened in Orlando, Florida and although I have never been to California I went to Disney World three times in the 1990’s which was good fun but at least one time too many.  My young children enjoyed it of course but I tired of the theme parks fairly quickly and looking back I would have to say that my favourite was EPCOT and here in Walt’s own personal dream my favourite was the World Showcase.

EPCOT Future World

In 1955 Disney and McDonalds almost got together when Ray Kroc wrote to Walt Disney offering a deal: “I have very recently taken over the national franchise of the McDonald’s system. I would like to inquire if there may be an opportunity for a McDonald’s in your Disneyland Development.” The story goes that Walt was too busy to deal with the matter himself so he passed it on to the President in charge of concessions.  Allegedly he agreed but wanted to increase prices by 50% with all the extra profit going to Disney.  Kroc refused and it was to be another thirty years before they worked together.

I am not sure just how big a set back that was because since then McDonalds has globalised and like a giant tsunami swept into every continent  in the World, the company has more than 34,000 restaurants in 118 countries, with 1.8 million employees and serving nearly 69 million people.  Although a lot of us deny ever dining there most of us secretly do.

EPCOT France

The French are famously snooty about anything Gallic and they didn’t take very kindly to Micky Mouse when plans were revealed to open a Disney theme park in Paris and the proposal was a subject of fierce debate and controversy. Prominent French intellectuals denounced what they considered to be the cultural imperialism of Euro Disney and felt it would encourage in France an unhealthy American type of consumerism. For others, Euro Disney became a symbol of America within France. But they were powerless to stop it and it opened in April 1992.  There was one final act of defiance in June of the same year when a group of French farmers blockaded Euro Disney in protest of farm policies supported at the time by the United States.

Jose Bove

After language the French get most uptight about food and for McDonalds the battle for France was one of the most difficult.  The first outlet was opened in the Paris suburb of  Créteil in 1972 and in 1999 a farmer turned environmental activist and anti-globalisation protester Jose Bové gave a whole new meaning to the term ‘drive-thru’ when he vandalised a half built McDonald’s in the town of Millau in the south of France by driving a tractor into it.

At the time he was running for President and must have thought this would be popular with the French electorate but he was no match for Le Big Mac and this act of folly completely scuppered his chances. Most electorates don’t really want a vandal heading up their government. The first round of the presidential election was held  and Bové finished an embarrassing tenth, getting barely one percent of the total vote. By then, McDonalds was expanding rapidly in the land of classic cuisine and fine dining and had three hundred more than it had had when Bové began his high profile campaign.  The company was pulling in over a million people per day in France, and annual turnover was growing at twice the rate it was in the United States.  Against McDonald’s, Bové had lost in a landslide of burgers and nuggets.  He spent a few weeks in jail but he is now representative at the European Parliament

Even though the French still maintain that they despise the fast food chain and the concept an awful lot of people do eat there. Across France there are nearly twelve hundred restaurants and in Paris alone there are almost seventy restaurants under golden arches, with even more dotted around the outer suburbs. That’s much the same as London, but with only a third of the people.  McDonald’s, or “macdoh” as it is known, is France’s dirty secret.   In 2013 sales reached 4.46 billion euros.

mcbaguette

That is more than it generates in Britain and in terms of profit, France is second only to the United States itself and it has the most locations per capita in Europe and the fourth-highest rate in the world.  It is now so firmly a part of French culture that the menu includes McBaguette and Croque McDo and in 2009 McDonald’s reached a deal with the French museum, the Louvre, to open a McDonald’s restaurant and McCafé on its premises by their underground entrance.

In the world of national and international politics, in this year Winston Churchill resigned as Prime Minister in Great Britain and Juan Peron, who was famously married to Eva Duarte, or Evita as we popularly know her, was overthrown from power in a coup in Argentina.  Cardiff became the official capital of Wales, Austria was restored to the status of sovereign independent state and faithfully promised the world to remain forever neutral and the Soviet Union finally declared the end of the Second-World-War with Germany.

In sport the 1955 Le Mans disaster occurred during the 24 Hours motor race when a racing car involved in an accident flew into the crowd, killing the driver and eighty-two spectators which in terms of human casualties was, and hopefully always will be, the most catastrophic accident in the history of motor sport.

Mcdonalds France

 

A Life in a Year – 16th August, Disneyland Paris

August 2009 and we were on holiday in France and had planned a day to go and visit Micky Mouse.  When we had suggested a visit to Disneyland we hadn’t really appreciated just how far it was and it was a shock when the Satnav told us that it was about three hundred kilometres and a two and a half hour journey but there was no going back now because the girls were too excited about the visit to let them down.

To begin with it was a nice easy run along an almost deserted A16 toll road and all we had to worry about was the weather because there was a disappointing start to the day with thick white clouds that blocked out the sun.  We passed the Cathedral city of Amiens and made optimistic estimates of our journey time for the benefit of the girls just like we used to when they were much younger and they found travelling tedious.

Disneyland Paris is the tenth most visited attraction in the World and the third in Europe after The Louvre and Trafalgar Square but despite this it is quite difficult to find.  I suspect that the French have not yet fully overcome their objection to the cultural shock of finding a bit of America in its precious back yard and there is a distinct lack of road signs to help.  Every little child’s playground appears on the direction boards even if it only has a couple of swings and a slide but signs for Disneyland are few and far between and some of those had been deliberately dismantled or interfered with just to make life difficult.

The French have always been reluctant hosts for Disneyland and when it was first built in the 1990’s there were objections that it threatened French culture and the whole Gallic way of life that spilled over into full scale demonstrations against its construction.  The Disney Corporation got their way of course but even now nearly twenty years later there seems to be lingering bitterness and resentment.

We arrived at the Park after three hours, parked the car and walked to the entrance and paid the admission charge of 62€ each for entry into two parks which I thought was a bit optimistic but went along with it anyway and then joined thousands of other visitors as we went through the gates and into Main Street, USA.

It was very crowded and for the first half an hour or so we wandered rather aimlessly through the attractions.  It was getting hot, Molly was getting overheated and agitated, everyone was hungry but the food queues were long and slow to move and I began to wonder if we had made a mistake.  We tried a couple of places but with patience tanks showing empty abandoned them both before finally sticking it out and waiting for an overpriced burger meal in a cowboy themed restaurant.  Then things began to pick up, after a rather messy nappy incident Molly settled down and we started to think straight and make plans and agreed to leave Magic Kingdom and return later that afternoon and in the meantime visit MGM Studios next door.

MGM is smaller than Magic Kingdom but it was a lot less busy and far more comfortable.  Molly slept for a while now and we eventually got to go on some rides, first the Tower of Terror, then the Rock ‘n’ Roller, which was a bit too fast for me, and then the Backstage Studio Tour where even Molly joined us.  Then we returned to the Magic Kingdom with fast track tickets to ride the Big Thunder Mountain but it was temporarily broken down so rather than stay in a queue that was getting longer by the second we went instead to find some rides where Molly could join us.  We went on the Pirates of the Caribbean where she devised her own entertainment in the queue by constantly moving from one to the other of us in a teasing and playful manner.  Then we did the Small World ride twice (because Richard enjoyed it so much) finally got onto Big Thunder Mountain, the girls did a bit of last minute shopping and suddenly it was nearly ten o’clock and time to think about going home.

It was dark now of course so as it is supposed to be the law I thought it sensible to fit the headlamp beam deflectors.  I wasn’t really sure how they should be applied so I just stuck them randomly onto the lenses and hoped that they would work.  This did interfere with the effectiveness of the lights but what made driving especially difficult was that that I didn’t have my night driving glasses and had to set off in sun glasses instead.  This combined to make the journey a bit dark and a bit difficult and after two thirds distance I had to give in to extreme tiredness and let Richard take over the driving duties.

We didn’t arrive home until about one in the morning which made it a very long day but this didn’t stop us from finishing with our customary last thing gin and tonic and we sat for a while and reflected on the day.  I enjoyed Disneyland Paris but having been to the real thing in the USA I have to say that my final assessment is that there is something missing.  It doesn’t have the soul of Disney and feels like a very good theme park rather than the real Disney experience.  It is expensive, the staff are slow and lack enthusiasm for the place and the real disappointment is that the characters are not wandering about so regularly as they are in America where they appear around nearly every corner but here they were restricted to special areas and then only for very short appearances.

1955 – Polio, McDonalds and Disneyland

In 1955 there was a major medical breakthrough with the introduction of a vaccine to prevent the spread of an illness that caused widespread panic amongst parents.  Polio!

This is a highly infectious disease that affects the nervous system, sometimes resulting in paralysis. It is transmitted through contaminated food, drinking water and swimming pool water.   Major polio epidemics were unknown before the twentieth century, even though the disease had caused paralysis and death for much of human history.  Polio had existed for thousands of years but epidemics only began to occur in Europe in the early nineteenth century and soon after became widespread in the United States as cities got bigger and a lack of hygiene and sanitation created serious health hazards.

By 1910, much of the world experienced a dramatic increase in polio cases and frequent epidemics became regular events, primarily in these big cities during the summer months.  It became an imperative to discover a vaccine so when this came along this was really good news.

There were a number of forms of polio with varying degrees of seriousness but the one that you really didn’t want to catch was spinal polio which was a viral invasion of the motor neurons in the spinal column which rather importantly are responsible for movement of the muscles, including those of the body and the major limbs.  When spinal neurons die, degeneration takes place, leading to weakness of muscles, and with the destruction of nerve cells, they no longer receive signals from the brain or spinal cord and without nerve stimulation the muscles becoming weak, floppy and poorly controlled, and finally completely paralysed.  Progression to maximum paralysis is as quick as two to four days.

Not being a doctor I have massively simplified the medical details here of course but one thing that was absolutely certain was that polio was a very nasty business indeed and parents were understandably worried sick about it because there was no known cure and if you caught it at best you would spend the rest of your life in leg irons or at worst in an iron lung.  The vaccine was administered by an especially nasty injection which if you were unlucky left an ugly crater in the top of the arm, but that was a small price to pay for peace of mind.  Thankfully, polio is now practically unheard of in those countries that use the vaccine.

Polio wasn’t the only killer of course and there were also vaccines and injections for other nasties like smallpox, typhoid and tuberculosis.  And then there were the common children’s diseases like measles, mumps, rubella and chicken pox which didn’t kill you outright but made you feel rather poorly for a day or two.  To protect against them there were regular trips to the doctor’s surgery for injections against them all and there were so many pricks in your arm that you began to look a bit like a pin cushion.  By the age of six or seven children of my age had had so many needles inserted that they must have had more pricks than an Amsterdam red light district prostitute!

So the nightmare of polio was under control but then, also in 1955, a man called Ray Kroc unleashed a new monster and the beginning of the western world obesity problem when he opened the ninth McDonalds franchise restaurant, in Des Plaines, Illinois, which eventually led to the McDonalds Corporation and world domination by the hamburger giant.

Kroc was a milkshake machine salesman and his work brought him into contact with the two brothers, Maurice and Richard McDonald, at their innovative hamburger restaurant in San Bernardino in California.

The brothers were interesting characters who were inspired by the assembly line manufacturing method of Henry Ford and in 1948 they closed their traditional restaurant for several months and applied the principles of mass production to the restaurant industry.  They pared the service back to the essentials, offering a simple menu of hamburgers, french fries and milkshakes, which were produced on a continuous basis, rather than made to order, and with no alternatives offered.  Food could thus be served to a formula, nearly instantaneously and always consistently, a new idea that they called “fast food“.  The waitresses were dispensed with and customers walked to a single window to place and receive their orders.  They made the food preparation area visible to the customers, to exhibit its standards of cleanliness, and they eliminated all plates and cutlery, serving only in paper bags.

The two brothers were not particularly ambitious however and only wanted to have their one restaurant but Ray Kroc wanted to have even more new McDonalds and he pressed then to expand the operation.  Eventually he lost patience and forced the brothers out of business by opening a rival diner that  he called McDOnalds (similar but not the same) right on the other side of the street.  The small restaurant of the two brothers lost their customers and Ray Kroc bought them out in 1961 for $2.7 million, which was a tidy sum in 1961.  McDonalds didn’t reach the United Kingdom until 1974 and now there are over a thousand of them.  I don’t remember when I first started using McDonalds, probably at about the time the children started to request it as a dining option, and now I would only use it if I am absolutely desperate!

France and McDonalds and obesity

1955 unleashed another American icon on the world when Walt Disney opened his Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California.  Sixteen years later the World Disney World resort opened in Orlando, Florida and although I have never been to California I went to Disney World three times in the 1990’s which was good fun but at least one time to many.

In the world of national and international politics, in this year Winston Churchill resigned as Prime Minister in Great Britain and Juan Peron, who was famously married to Eva Duarte, or Evita as we popularly know her, was overthrown from power in a coup in Argentina.  Cardiff became the official capital of Wales, Austria became a sovereign state and faithfully promised the world to remain forever neutral and the Soviet Union finally declared the end of the Second-World-War with Germany.

In sport the 1955 Le Mans disaster occurred during the 24 Hours of Le Mans motor race when a racing car involved in an accident flew into the crowd, killing the driver and eighty-two spectators which in terms of human casualties has been the most catastrophic accident in the history of motor sport.