Novelty Rides (1950s - 1970s)

Cole and Son's Skymaster Airthriller ride, Fareham Fair, 1950This article attempts to chart the development of the novelty ride in the often neglected decades of the 1970s and early 1980s. This period saw a need to develop more exciting rides, with development held back by the lack of technology in effect failing to create the inertia needed to drive on what became prominent in the late 1980s (arguably set in place by the 1977 debut of the Orbiter) and dominant in the 1990s. The development of novelty thrill rides can be seen in an evolutionary form, each ride preparing the way for the next one in terms of use of technology and tuning into the public's need for adrenalin and excitement.

An early novelty ride was the Mojo, though this in fact emerged from a 1950s novelty ride known as the Skymaster. There was a single Skymaster travelling in the 1950s (though it must be assumed that at least one other existed in a park) with Bernard Cole buying it in 1949 and travelling it for 10 years. This ride consisted of 2 large spaceship gondolas rotating on a large framework, the ride had no tilt and passengers embarked/disembarked via a large stepladder. In 1958 the ride was operated by the Mayne family, followed by Fred Ward, before its purchase in 1960 by Joe Grant (travelling as Joy Jets). Within three years it was taken in to Jacksons of Congleton and converted in to a Mojo, Jacksons using two sets of 4 Paratrooper cars without hoods and adding the all important tilting mechanism to make the ride easier to load and that bit more exciting. The ride had a succession of owners in the North West before spending over 15 years with Norman Lynch and it is fittingly now in preservation.

A second Skymaster appeared with Keith Emmett in 1969, identical to the first one, but origins unknown. This became the second Mojo under the ownership of Kenneth McFadden in Ireland and enjoyed a long period of success over the water. It was recently re-imported by Maxie Cole and later acquired by Robert Ballard. Four other Mojos have been recorded, but all appear to be purpose built machines. J. Corbett built a machine in the 1980s that was travelled for many years by Robert Wilkinson, Robert recalls that the machine could hold its own on a ground lacking any other thrill rides, but suffered against the rising tide of 80s hi-tech novelty machines. This led to the machine being scrapped around 1990.

Another Midlands Mojo travelled with Gary Dobson, built in 1985 and lasting for 10 years, this machine spent the summer seasons at the secluded Black Rock Sands resort in West Wales. The other 2 Mojos both originated in Ireland, one made by the Caseley family which was acquired by Paul Hans McCormick, the other with Gerry Farrell.

Another ride that began in the late 1940s was the Looper. This was used to describe two types of machine, the Eyerly version similar to a Dive Bomber that performed a large aerial loop and the ground-based rolling Looper often called Rock'n'Roll. The vertical Looper was a popular ride in its time, however the rolling Looper had parallels with the Mojo in that it seemed that a single machine existed for many years. This machine has a long history, beginning with M.A. Collins in December 1947 and is noted down as being manufactured by Brockhouse of Southport. It would appear that this ride was based on an American machine, since the Looper had been developed in America by Allan Herschell. Subsequently the next Looper to appear in the UK was a Herschell import travelled by John Collins, this machine taking a residence at Barry Island and presumably scrapped ater a short while. The Brockhouse Looper quickly passed to Leonards of Scotland and then returned to England with W. Murphy. In 1961 it was travelled by Joe Williams, but the ride was nearly scrapped in 1973 after arriving at Bennetts in a poor state. Salvation came from the Lancashire region and like its Mojo counterpart, the ride found a dedicated owner in the North West and travelled with the Bradley family for over 20 years before its recent sale to Stewart Newsome. It is rumoured to have been scrapped over the winter of 2005/6.

Joe William’s Looper, manufactured by Brockhouse , Birmingham Onion Fair, 1962

The early 1980s also saw Herschell built Loopers imported by Leonard Chadwick, Richard Cubbins and Wilmots. The American company Chance began production of a Looper ride 'Rok'n'Rol' in the 1970s, using deeper 4-seater cars with 2 such machines coming into the UK, Michael Phillips and David Pidgeley being the buyers.

The Ramba Zamba, or Swingaround, is another ride that has an almost forgotten history. The most famous machine is the Bakker Dennies import by J.W. Shaw, making a celebrated debut at Bury Fair in 1980. The Ramba Zamba was an incredible sight and sound with compressed air pushing out alternate groups of cars, the load being equally spectacular in that it appeared to consist of nothing but long, straight arms. It would appear that only a few Bakker Dennies rides made it into the UK, all of these were park based with the only survivor being the Century 2000 ride at Pleasure Island, Cleethorpes.

Other Ramba Zamba type machines included an early Hrubetz model 'Hurricane' operated by M. and D. Taylor at Hull 1981 with similar machines reported fleetingly in the 1980s. By all accounts the Hrubetz Hurricane was a fearsome and thrilling ride, and remains a popular attraction in the USA. Self-built Ramba Zambas were travelled by David Gray (sold to Keith Barton in 1987, travelled as NASA, presumably scrapped?) and Glen Gray, a machine built in 1980 that was eventually purchased by Billy Caris, and has recently been exported.

The Swingaround Ride had a different construction, using a wide aerial circumference to hang the arms from. The most famous Swingaround is stationed at Rhyl, new to the park in 1980 and with the park until closure in the 2000s. Showman Wally Shufflebottom made a further two machines in 1979, one being the Leslie Price Sky Skimmer (exported to Ireland, now laid up), the other travelled by Wally for 10 years, sold to P. Appleton, to Bernard Searle in 1993, and currently unaccounted for. An early Swingaround was travelled briefly by Pat Collins and a modern version was travelled in the last decade by the Hickey family.

The Scat was a 1977 introduction, marketed by a company called Fairplace based in the Erewash Valley hub of engineering activity (Bennetts, Pollards, Harry Steers, etc). The ride consisted of two spinning cages on a tilted platform, with the riders standing in a very inclined position. At least four Scats were made by Fairplace in 1977  for Porthcawl, Rhyl, Alfred Codona and Blackpool, though these struggled to make any impact on the fair. Pat Evans took one for Porthcawl, but this was quickly sold to Bob Wilson, who exported it. Further machines were mentioned at Aberdeen, Rhyl, Southport, Morecambe and Blackpool, this final machine listed as being manufactured by 'Venture', the US company who invented the ride. Two of these machines seemed to survive, each having a long chain of ownerships and various spells of operation in Ireland. Finally, Henry Anderson built his own Scat in 1979, this machine being exported in 1982.

Rhyl Amusements' Ramba Zamba 1990

Fairplace also manufactured two Cobra rides, an intricate hybrid of various rides. Sandra Payne took the first Cobra in 1977, selling the machine to Roger Tuby around 1987, who in turn sold to Garner and Fossett, then to Robert Wilkinson, before its current spell in Ireland with the Williams family. The second Cobra was new to T. Wilmot in 1978, sold to Freemans in 1982, William Summers in 1984, then to Ian Harniess and owner Fred Proctor, this machine was cut down and travelled as Tornado and joined its twin in Ireland.

Wisdom manufactured the Hustler and Tempest rides, another late 70s novelty ride that hybridised various existing rides. Henry Manning made this ride famous with other machines resident at Butlins parks. The chain of ownership of these machines is still uncertain, but a number persisted in recent years in Ireland, Kenneth McFadden travelled the old Henry Manning Hustler, the Williams family had an ex-Butlin Tempest, whilst George McFadden had the ride travelled by Perry Day and Mulhearns. Bert Stocks also built a version of the Tempest in 1980, calling this ride Pathfinder.

Probably the most audacious novelty ride appeared in 1978, with Willie Wilson's Chance Zipper making a big impact on the UK fairground. This machine had developed on the US carnival circuit and seemed a quantum leap forward in terms of white knuckle capacity. Wilson's machine travelled on the major fairground circuit up until the end of the 80s and it travelled as a last remaining example with Joey Wilson until the late 2000s. A second Zipper was imported by John Bomber Smith in 1988, sold to Slaters after a spell with John Wall and Nightingales and eventually exported to Australia, a third machine imported by William Thurston in 1991, exported by Joey Noyce in 1995, and a fourth machine had a brief tenure with Baron Hart and Warren Taylor between 1994 and 1997.

Single novelty rides also featured heavily in the 1970s. The variously named Bubble Bounce / TipTop / Bouncearound was a Hrubetz machine brought over to Belle Vue in 1956. It seemed to add to the trend for strange rides in the North West and was travelled by Victor Manders between 1963 and 1975, before being sold to J.F. Day. Later owners included Alfie Hart, Arthur Wright and Peter Swallow, before being sold to Ireland, it has now returned with a Superbowl theme under the ownership of Leonard Chadwick. The Wisdom manufactured Magic Carpet opened on Skegness Pier around 1980, and was later travelled by William Summers and Fred Proctor before heading off for Ireland.

For images of fairground rides visit our collections online

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