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Noel Edmonds and Phibber ride Bicton Park's 'Woolwich' train.

In July 1996, Bicton Park, Devon hosted one of Noel Edmonds' strangest ventures. 'Gotchaland' was a theme park based around the 'Noel's House Party' segment where celebrities were unknowingly pranked by Noel.

The park’s mascot was 'Phibber' the lying toad. A small puppet of the character appeared in Series 8 of 'Noel's House Party' in the 'My Little Friend' segment along with Waffle the Squirrel (voiced respectively by Noel Edmonds and Barry Killerby). The park’s version was a full-sized costume with a giant head. 

 

The park was a large and expensive practical joke. Visitors would be 'Gotcha'd', with empty cages instead of promised wildlife, including a pile of sticks representing stick insects, and advertised boat tours that didn’t exist. The public didn't find the joke as funny as they did on TV, so after opening on 11th July 1996, the park closed its doors only two months later. Steve Stevens said: "It was a Gotcha but it's not funny, especially when you've paid £4.85 to get in. Kids couldn't see the funny side."

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Gotchaland Leaflet 1996

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Gotchaland pin badge featuring Phibber.

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Gotcha! Noel and Phibber.

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The Woolwich train which took visitors around the grounds and gardens.

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A small Mr Blobby reference can be found hidden in the Gotchaland map!

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Bicton Park Leaflet 1995, the season before Gotchaland.

Bicton Park had already established itself as a well-loved botanical garden with trains taking visitors around the perimeter of the grounds. Steve and Jenny Stevens, owners of Bicton at the time, agreed to a small section of the park to become Gotchaland, however the branding took over with Bicton Park’s own gardens and museums suffering. Visitors didn’t take well to the new addition, and after one season it was decided that Gotchaland would be no more. Noel Edmonds, however, had planned for a three-year takeover (much like his other theme park ventures) and sued the Stevens’ for not sticking to the contract. Jenny Stevens stated that regular visitors were turning away, saying they loved the gardens but not Gotchaland. Investments for attractions were paid for by the Stevens’, with Noel Edmonds claiming they didn’t invest enough. In truth, the concept was a novelty, the joke would only work once and visitors wouldn’t want to come back. In a court case in 1997, “Stanley Burton QC stated that the Unique scheme for Bicton ‘manifestly required the deception of the public, or at least of children’, that Unique’s ‘proposals were not reasonably fit for their purpose. Rather than adding value to Bicton, they detracted from it.’

With grateful thanks to Jenny Stevens.

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The Italian Gardens at Bicton Park.