The Twist

J. J. Butterworth's Whirlaround (Cyclone), manufactured by Edwin Hall, Nottingham Goose Fair, 1961Quick Facts

Manufacturer(s): Edwin Hall, Bennett, Pollard, Stevens, Eli Bridge, Hammond, etc
Debut year: 1959
First UK produced: 1959
Last UK produced: still current
Total UK number: approaching 300

Summary: Hugely successful ride with ingenious motion of 'wheels within wheels'. The ride rotates in one direction, whilst the individual car groups rotate in a counter direction creating a weaving effect. The motion is thus 'slowed' at the outermost point and 'accelerated' at the innermost point, creating seeming 'near-misses' with other carriages.

The Twist ride has proved to be one of the most popular and enduring rides ever to grace the UK fairgrounds. Production began at the start of the 1960s and continues to the present day. Neither the motion of the ride nor the specifics of the passenger containment have changed in all this time, showing the ingenious formula to be an absolute success. The ride has effectively 're-invented' itself aesthetically in each decade, proving another formula for success: the fact that showmen want to be seen as presenting up-to-date amusements. The 1970s saw the introduction of a platform based ride, adding a chance to incorporate 'flash' in the form of painted sections. The 1980s saw the development of the 'Sizzler' ride, with Perrin Stevens developing the motion drive and portability of the Twist, while introducing a hard and stark aesthetic of angular fibre-glass flash. Finally the 1990s saw the Twist become the 'Twister' as the ride re-themed itself to join in with popular culture's adopting of the 'hurricane as entertainment' phenomena.

The first Twist rides to be built in the UK were manufactured by Edwin Hall under licence from US company Eli Bridge. Hall had a contract to build 6 machines for the Butlins camps in 1959/60 and produced a 'Grasscutter' design similar to the robust Eli machines that would later be imported into the UK. Hall followed this with a flood of machines built for travelling showmen and the Twist was an instant hit in the UK. Such a success that it can be reckoned that Twist rides have been built consistently for over 50 years in this country with no sign of the trend abating, a consequence of this intense production and importing is the difficulty created in untangling an accurate history of the ride. The original theming and classification, based first upon a contemporary dance craze and later on climatic freak occurrences, has remained with the ride throughout this time with an influx of 'Sizzlers' arriving in the 1980s, only to be ousted by a return to a variation on the original name in the 1990s, the'Twister' happening to coincide with a film of the same name about a bunch of maverick hurricane hunters, complete with scenes of cows dropping from the skies.

The Hall design was a standard 12-car 'Grasscutter' model and the Butlins machines proved a success in the camps with machines present until recent years. It is debatable when the term Grasscutter emerged, possibly in later years with the arrival of the platform Twists to distinguish the old from the new, but the implications of the name are obvious as the arms of the ride resemble blades sweeping close to ground-level. Another early name for these Twists, popularised by Butlins, was 'Merry Mixer', leaning more to the social origins of the Twist and its rooting in the popular dance craze. Other machines quickly moved to capture the excitement of the ride, with terms like 'Cyclone' and 'Whirlaround' appearing as early as 1961. The first Twist built for a showman went to John Hoadley in 1960, this made an early appearance at Hull Fair sharing a debut with the UK's first Upright Paratrooper, but spent most of its time in Whitley Bay. John Scarrott bought this machine in 1983 and it was then sold to Terry Wright in the Scottish section.

Around 16 Hall Twists were then completed for showmen, though tracking their history is somewhat difficult. Albert Holland and John Silcock both have examples that have been with their families since new, whilst other early owners include J.J. Butterworth, Herbert Silcock (open at New Brighton and remarkably unchanged), Harry Gray, J. Dowse, Clifford Codona, John Ling, Chipperfield Brothers, J. Botton and S. J. Cubbins. Barrys at Portrush had a machine delivered new in 1962, this remaining at their park. Many of these rides are still around and a Hall built Twist is a popular choice for non-guild showmen.

David Wallis can be thanked for developing the visual impact of the ride, his machine (ex J.J. Butterworth) having the first ornate centre crowns that set the trend for other machines.

The success of the Hall machines spurred other showmen and manufacturers into production: John Hoadley built two further machines based upon his own model, these machines being based at sister North East parks Crimdon Dene and Seaton Carew. John Wall built updated versions of the Hall machines in the 1970s, producing 12 models (3 of which went to Sweden). Wall's machines (marketed as Walldren Engineering) used box-section construction rather than tubular and had large modern payboxes, but apart from that were fairly similar to the original models. Most of these machines still survive, though you have to look very closely to distinguish them from their Hall built contemporaries.

A bargain version of the Grasscutter Twist was produced by the Church company, related to the travelling Yorkshire family. Church Twists were more affordable versions and proved another big success, with the company producing 32 machines. The first of these, produced in 1975, travelled with original owners the Hackett family up until 2003, though has now been exported. Church Twists are very basic in design, but have distinctive handrails, any individual theming of the ride was usually added by the showman himself. Tracking the changing histories of these Church machines quickly became a difficult task since many of them took residencies on small seaside parks and most of them retained their plain appearances.

However, the chronological development of the Twist, following the original Hall machines, implies that Bennett of Long Eaton should come next. Bennett began production of their Twist quite close to 1960 with showman Arthur Armstrong helping to design and then travel the first Bennett Twist. The Bennett Twist was a step up from the Grasscutter model in terms of design and decoration and involved the introduction of a wooden platform to allow a better sense of decoration and visibility giving the ride an instant stand-out appeal. The drive for the ride was slightly altered dispensing with the single drive and gear system to power the arm units and opting for individual arm unit motors and electric brakes. This original Bennett Twist was sold in 1971 to Anderton and Rowland, and is now with Billy Pettigrove.

Bennetts had been establishing a production base at Long Eaton and the demand for their platform Twist helped kickstart the company. These Twists soon began to roll off the production line, all with brightly coloured geometric decoration running through the handrails, cars and platform floor, exploding stars and concentric circles. Approximately 17 machines were produced, many of which still travel. Following 1965 Bennetts switched production to Trabants and then switched again to Lifting Paratroopers ('Skydivers'). However, 2 more Twists were developed in 1978 and 1980, using advanced design. The story goes that the final Bennett Twist paved the way for Stevens 'Sizzler'...

Pollards of Ilkeston filled in the missing period of the 1970s by building 8 platform Twists. As Arthur Armstrong sold his Bennett Twist, he became the first owner of a Pollards machine, this machine standing for many years at the top section of the Goose Fair and only recently going in to storage. Other Pollards machines proved good purchases with all machines still evident. A particularly fine example can be seen in Ireland with the McGurk family, this ride still maintaining the original decor.

David McCormick's Twist, manufactured by Pollard, Tramore Amusement Park, 2007

Hayes Fabrication built at least 2 platform Twists, using a Bennetts design but adding some traditional Hayes Fabrication artwork, one of these machines remained as original at the park on Walton-on-the-Naze Pier. Individual platform Twists were also built by Billy Hebborn, Charlie Ive and Dudley Bowers, but the Stevens family were about to take the market by the scruff of the neck and develop their Sizzler Twist. The Sizzler quickly became the definitive fairground item for the early 1980s. The Stevens family had supposedly had a hand in building an early Grasscutter style Twist but more significantly Joe and Perrin Stevens had built their first friction drive Twist in 1972. This drive mechanism proved ingenious and was such that many existing Bennett machines were converted. After their protoype in 1972 Stevens then produced a series a modified Twists that had design aspects suitable for quick build-up and effective transportation, for William Studt and for M. DeVey, culminating in the first all-out Sizzler developed in 1982 for S. and J. Thurston. This machine set the look and feel for the next generation of machineswith masses of lights, jagged and angular flash, ultra-functional colour schemes and normally with lots of black fibre-glass. Even though this artwork was seen at the time as somewhat heretical to the fine tradition laid out before it, it is now considered as an important blend where the fast movement and modernism of the ride is expressed more through a design aesthetic (art and architecture wrapped together) as opposed to traditional painted imagery.

In effect, the stakes were now raised for Twist production. Stevens (or PWS) hit upon a successful design and were rewarded with full order books. Suddenly every owner of a Twist wanted this 'new' ride. The history of the ride effectively began again. The look and feel remained constant throughout, an aesthetic taken on board by the Hammond built Twists which became prolific in the early 1990s. It was not until Hammond became Sonacase that the design aesthetic moved forward, partly through necessity due to the fact that the Sizzler had become wildly prevalent and certain showmen wanted something extra to stand out. The 1990s saw the realm of the Twister, the design pushed forward by companies such as Sonacase, Protech and Keith Emmett, with Scott Manning's model being both an example of the peak of technological development, and a fusion of pre-existing Twist styles. This machine retains some of the technological imprint that was carried through the bleak aesthetics of the Sizzlers, but utilises richer curves and colours that almost hark back to the artistic splendour of the Bennett machines.

Other Twists remained travelling in the UK. The Eli Bridge Twist was first imported in 1979 and there exists about 15 of these ornate Grasscutter machines in the country, recognisable by their abundantly lit centres and curved foot-rests. American company Wisdom also have had about 3 distinctive Twists in the UK.

Little attempt has been made to waver from the original design, or to increase the number of cars on the Twist, though some examples can be quoted. Jacksons built 2 machines, both attempts at a new hybrid creating a roofed type design and anarmless twist mechanism, but both quickly resorting to normal type Twists, these machines were travelled by Thomas Hiscoe and John Fowkes. A Safeco machine was imported by Albert Botton in 1975, which had 18 cars split between 3-arms (still travelling in Ireland), and most astonishing of all was the 4-arm Twist made by the Dowse family and used with the Sheeran family at South Shields for many years. This 16-car machine was rumoured to still exist in a cut-down state near the west coast of Ireland, but ceased travelling in 2003.

For images of fairground rides visit our collections online

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