Super Bob and Matterhorn

Freddie Stokes' Superbob, manufactured by Sobema, Newcastle Town Moor Fair, 1987

Quick Facts (Super Bob)

Manufacturer(s): principally Sobema
Debut year: mid 1970s
First UK produced: n/a
Last UK produced: n/a
Total UK number: 25

Summary: Updated version of the Switchback, based on the simple 'hill and valley' roundabout. The UK saw success with the Ark and Waltzer while the Super Bob and its Alpine decor found favour in Europe. These European machines eventually made their way onto the UK fairs, though the large 'back-flash' with the rides was soon re-directed towards more contemporary themes, paving the way for modern fairground art.

Shufflebottom's Hellraiser Matterhorn, manufactured by Jackson, Hornchurch fair, 2002

Quick Facts (Matterhorn)

Manufacturer(s): Sobema, Reverchon, Jackson
Debut year: 1980
First UK produced: n/a
Last UK produced: n/a
Total UK number: 25

Summary: Again, a revamp of the Mont Blanc ride, retaining popularity on the Continent, and eventually taking root over here. The cars swing out (and in) on an axle, the swinging motion boosted by the hill and valley of the machine. Speed is of the essence, combined with a stunning 'back-flash'.

Both of these rides support the idea that not everything on the fairground is necessarily new, just re-invented at the right crucial moment(s) in time. However, the Super Bob and Matterhorn, taken together, provide an interesting piece of cultural history on both fairground art and the 80s decade.

The Super Bob is a basic two-hill roundabout (in Germany, a 'Berg and Talbahn') with a condensed set of cars, and its evolution is part of the machines including Switchbacks, Arks, Autodromes, etc. All of these machines were 'of their time' in terms of what they offered the customer, (a chance to experience something beyond the average person's capability or financial means) for instance the first Motor Car Switchbacks came at a time when only the elite few could afford a real car and the Autodromes offered rides in pristine, swanky cars.

Similarly the Super Bob gives the customer a chance to experience both the thrill of a dangerous mountain sport and the prestige of an alpine activity reserved for the better off. The Matterhorn was a similar concern, however this ride was clearly rooted in the 1930s Mont Blanc novelty ride (all but disappeared by the 1980s). Both the Matterhorn and Super Bob had the advantage of a high riding capacity whilst still retaining all the necessary cultural and 'thrill seeking' aspects to convince the public to have a go.

The artwork on these machines depicted functional scenes of alpine frivolities and exciting high-speed sports, the backflash shaped to resemble distant and dangerous mountain peaks. By the 1980s, when these machines began to arrive in the UK, the skiing holiday was partly established as a cultural norm available to most average-earning families and not so much the preserve of the 'James Bond set' of the 60s and 70s. Added to this was the craze of 'apres-ski' sweeping the country, with 'yeti-boots', garish knitwear and tight tracksuits all the rage, featuring prolifically in videos by 80s bands such as Wham! The large backflashes soon became out of date, as the accelerated culture of the 80s took hold and in many ways ushered in the current generation of air-brush artists and artwork. The whole work of art was now explosive and non-repetitive, as opposed to traditional repeating designs on Arks and Waltzers, and gradually the airbrushed figures and singularities replaced the techniques of marbling and scrolling. Film references featured heavily on these rides, including Ghostbusters and Terminator, followed by a swift move to horror references. Michael Jackson's zombie video for 'Thriller' provided a crucial bridging point between popular music and a burgeoning film genre and quickly the dark and visceral film works of Wes Craven (Freddy's Revenge) and Clive Barker (Hellraiser) gave rise to some graphic and gristly scenes painted on backflashes. By the end of the 1990s the re-theming of these rides was in decline, the airbrush artists now pushing the boundaries with Miami artwork, but both the Super Bob and Matterhorn still remain popular machines.

Jacksons 'Early' Machines

Jacksons of Congleton provide the 'missing links' between the old and the re-invented for both the Super Bob and Matterhorn. The company were famous for their efforts to develop novelty platform rides, many of which were prototyped at the Jacksons concession at Southport Amusement Park. Their ingenious 'Stratocruiser', built in 1960 for Raymond Armstrong was travelled for a few years as a prototype Matterhorn, before re-emerging in 1983 and then being converted to a Super Bob (the machine is now with Joey Wilson). Similarly their 'Cresta Run', operated by the Jackson family at Southport, was rebuilt in 1983 as a Matterhorn to be travelled by Wally Shufflebottom.

Another important early ride is Marshall's 'L'Everest', a huge machine imported and operated through the 1970s primarily at Blackpool and later went on for preservation. This is an indication that Matterhorn type rides have always thrived on the Continent...

The Current Generation Super Bobs

One of the earliest and certainly most famous, Super Bobs was purchased for Margate's Dreamland Park and then travelled from 1975 by the Ravenscroft family. This machine, bought in 1983 by Freddie Stokes and still travelled by him has had a sequence of vibrant decorations, including many years as the famous 'Pop Express', followed by 'Tornado Express' and in a fully-roofed guise with a Paul Wright decor as 'Super Bob'. The machine was perhaps most famous for its large central portrait of Tom Jones, now airbrushed out.

Another impressive machine was imported by Jimmy Beach in 1986, the 'Sideral 2000', which initially featured a very high back section, quickly cut down. This machine passed to William Bradley and became impressively decorated as 'Demon Chase'.

Modern versions made by companies such as Sobema were imported throughout the late 1980s and 1990s with a few older versions joining these. Many of these were themed as 'Bidule', the French translation (given by Google) is 'Thingummy', and it is said that the French showman who designed the Bidule chose a name that was deliberately vague and playful, proving that the French penchant for philosophy extends even on to the fairground.

The Current Generation Matterhorns

The first Continental Matterhorns were a batch of Reverchon machines all destined for coastal resorts. The approximate order and dates were as follows: Pat Evans (Porthcawl) in 1980, Robinson (Rhyl) 1980, Botton Brothers (Skegness) 1981, Jimmy Booth (Barry Island) 1981 and Blackpool Pleasure Beach in 1982. All of these machines featured similar jagged backdrops with snow-sport action scenes and all of them were later re-themed. Pat Evans sold his Matterhorn to Raymond Codona, who quickly sold it on to Claude Cooper at Whitley Bay where it became 'Superbobs' and was then re-themed with John Birch to 'Hell Creator'. The Rhyl Matterhorn remains in place, though it has been re-themed to Terminator. The Skegness machine moved to Southsea, had a spell at Tramore and then went to Rae Armstrong-Wilson as 'Screamer'. Jimmy Booth's machine was the first Matterhorn to travel, opening under the Pat Collins guise in 1982 at fairs such as Loughborough, it remained at Barry up until 1986, its present fate unknown. The Blackpool machine moved to Minehead Butlins and is now travelled as 'Music Express' by Charlie Ive.

Other manufacturers of Matterhorns include Sobema and SDC, with the Sobema machines often having a large central decorative gantry. The Sobema machines gained a dominance in the mid 1980s with Joey Manning acting as an agent and ensuring these fast and functional machines became a popular choice. Examples include George Heath (1983) later themed 'Mega City' , Willie Wilson (1984) later themed 'Terminator' and featuring superb artwork by Paul Wright, Stanley Thurston (1984) themed 'Thriller' and later themed 'Judgment Day', Freddy Rose (1984) fitted with top structure, since exported, Perrin Stevens (1984) later themed 'Alpine Express' and travelled by Albert Holland, Joey Manning (1985) travelled for many years by Michael Wallis as the famous 'Ghostbuster', Miller (Billing) (1986) themed 'Hellraiser', Martin Holland (1988) themed as Michael Jackson's 'Thriller', William Sheldon (1990) later themed 'Hellraiser', Joey Manning (1991) themed 'Midnight Express' (and travelled in Ireland by the Cullen family), James Rogers (1991) themed 'Freddy's Revenge', John Silcock (1992) themed 'Thriller Express', and Anthony Harris (1994) themed 'Midnight Express'.

For images of fairground rides visit our collections online

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