If you know Tim Hunkin from his C4 show The Secret Life Of Machines or his books, Almost Everything There Is To Know and Hunkin's Experiements, then you probably won't be surprised to learn about his passion for automata. If you've spent any time at all in Southwold then you definitely won't. Hunkin's Under The Pier Show arcade has been issuing tokens to holidaymakers for over fifteen years.
Hunkin, an engineer and cartoonist with a passion for the eighteenth century satirists Hogarth and Gilray, became hooked on making arcade machines in the 1980s when he was working with the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre in Covent Garden. The first model was the Chiropodist: a lady foot specialist made out of wire and papier maché who would examine and treat any foot placed in inspection booth of her "surgery".
"I was really unsure if anyone would even take their shoe off, let alone put their foot in a dark unknown space," Tim says, "but they did. In fact 20,000 people did every year. I was excited by the money it made, but even more excited that people were enticed to follow weird instructions to get their money’s worth. I’ve been addicted ever since."
He makes almost all the machines himself from recycled materials and the result is a delightfully eccentirc antidote to all the brashly whirring, flashing, pinging slot machines more usually associated with piers today.
The Cabaret Mechanical Theatre is sadly no more, but spurred on by the success of his Under the pier show and with no more room in his house for the growing number of his own machines or those from like-minded inventors he has brought the penny arcade back to London.
Situated five minute from Holborn tube, Novelty
Automation is packed with machines including the Friskomatic Biologically Active Processor - a security auto-frisking device, the scary Alien Probe and Pet or Meat where you get to decide whether a family's pet lamb lives or ends up on the dinner table.
There's a Small Hadron Collider which teaches Quantum Physics for Beginners - it awarded me a "Nobel Pri
ze" which shows how much it knows about me and physics. In the Money-Laundering Machine the aim is to get cash from the gutter into City institutions without the regulators catching you. My favourite was the Instant Micro-Break To Spain which is exactly what it says - a fast efficient holiday in minutes.
it in the battered old armchair and allow
yourself to be whisked away to the sunny costas by plane and coach to lie on a hot sandy beach. It is the ultimate package holiday.
There's a new machine called Celeb arriving for the arcade's first anniverary in February. where the aim is to spy on stars in their Beverley Hills mansions with a drone.
It is all extremely silly and extremely brilliant.