Tim Hunkin

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 .
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    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. 
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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. 

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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 arcade could never have succeeded without  the enthusiasm of Matthew Wade, the pier manager. He opened and closed the arcade at the beginning and end of every day, dealt with the public and kept an eagle eye out for any person or machine misbehaving. He also nursed the new machines through their teething problems - in the case of the photobooth, this was a continuing problem. 

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 got better. The new owners were very appreciative of my stuff and 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 gave me fresh enthusiasm and many new potential ideas. The first outside machine was the Quantum Tunnelling Telescope, installed in august 2006.  I even got involved making the pier noticeboards, litter bins and signs. 

In January 2013 the pier changed hands again. The new owners run a couple of hotels in East Anglia. I was greatly relieved they wanted to keep The Under The Pier Show! They are good employers - the pier staff are more relaxed and happy. I'm no longer making things to go outside the arcade, but it leaves more time to make new arcade machines.    


Under the pier show video