THE UNDER THE PIER SHOW ORIGINS
Tim Hunkin Aug 2004

I have had a recurring fantasy about having my own amusement arcade ever since I was a teenager. 
As a kid in the 1950s I made silly contraptions, struggling to get them to work at all.
 In the 60s as a teenager I had a Saturday job with Ruffler and Walker, a company building coin op machines. My own first coin op machine, built a few years after leaving college in 1974, was too successful - 
the coins completely overfilled the box and shorted the electrics. 
I carried on to make others, still too unreliable to be left unattended, which I took to local fairs and fetes.

 These ended up as an exhibition at the ICA in 1981 – my brief brush with fine art. 
Then in 1984 I started collaborating with Cabaret Mechanical theatre –
 making machines to stand outside their museum in Covent Garden. 
In 1999 I made The Instant Eclipse machine for Southwold High Street. 
When I  put it out again in 2000, the people living next door complained. 
This was the reason I first approached Chris Iredale, the owner of the pier,
 and he let me put the Eclipse outside the pier cafe.
 It was not a great success. The salt air kept tripping the RCD, stopping it working .
pier.jpg (7650 bytes)       
    Meanwhile, Chris had started rebuilding the pier. Despite the dismal performance of the Eclipse, he agreed to let me have a tiny arcade (about 12 ft square) for my home-made slot machines the following summer. 
arcade exterior.jpg (9053 bytes)
So The Under the Pier Show first opened in June 2001, initially just with 5 old Cabaret machines, and the pier still half built. 
 
Enjoying my regular trips to the pier and taking to bits the old machines thrown out of the pier’s conventional arcade – I decided to expand, investing some of my savings to make the first new machines. 

arcade in use.jpg (10377 bytes) frisker in use.jpg (8921 bytes)

Machines in the 2001 arcade:
The Doctor
The Chiropodist

The Gene Forecaster
The Rodent Retail Trainer
The frisker

Before the pier opened, on a visit to my house to see the slot machines, Chris saw the water clock in my garden. He asked if I could put it on the pier. His enthusiasm for the clock was partly why he risked giving me the space for the arcade   see :Southwold pier waterclock

 

During the first summer Chris gave me a few old machines from the main arcade that had become too unreliable. I found the Sega Space Harrier particularly inspiring, and decided to convert it into a machine of my own. 

By summer 2002 it had become the Microbreak, and I had also had time to make the Bathyscape. Test Your Nerve, another machine originally from Cabaret, returned from a holiday in Los Angeles, and Will Jackson refurbished his old Cabaret machines - Brainwash and Crankenstein - to join the collection. In June 2002, the arcade expanded to squeeze in the extra machines. The Booth of Truth, made in collaboration with Sarah Angliss, arrived in October 2002.  By this time I was keen to take over the entire shed and built Instant Weightloss, Quickfit and The Expressive Photobooth over the winter and expanded the arcade again in June 2003 to its current size.   Satisfyingly, I’ve recouped the investment and it now pays not only for new machines but also for my catalogue habit, playing with new electronic gadgets.  

The success of the arcade is as much to do with the pier's contribution, particularly the enthusiasm of Matthew Wade, the pier manager. He opens and closes the arcade at the beginning and end of every day, deals with the public and keeps an eagle eye out for any person or machine misbehaving. He also nurses the new machines through their teething problems - in the case of the photobooth, this went on for a whole year. 

In March 2005, Chris sold the pier to another local family, the Bournes. I was nervous about the change, and sadly Matthew left, but in general things are better. The new owners are very appreciative of my stuff and have encouraged me to start putting machines outside. The idea of having a whole pier to play with rather than just one small shed on a pier has given me fresh enthusiasm and many new potential ideas. The first outside machine is the Quantum Tunnelling Telescope, installed in august 2006.  I've even got involved making the pier noticeboards, litter bins and signs. 

Watch a video of The Under The Pier Show full of people 

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