Bonfire of the town’s arcade machines
PUBLISHED: 13:12 05 November 2019 | UPDATED: 13:12 05 November 2019
In my teenage years postwar, pocket money was a pittance – half-a-crown a week if you were lucky.
That was 30d -12½p today, severely limiting pleasure-seeking and seldom lasting the weekend. Squandering it on penny-a-go slot machines swiftly meant empty pockets despite an occasional small win.
But even the most disciplined lads found "the musies" - as our children called them years later - were well-nigh irresistible. The bright lighting, rows of slot machines and pin-tables, and the distinctive sounds were magnets to youths.
The abundance of arcades in seaside Great Yarmouth and Gorleston were our Meccas. Alas, much time was spent enviously watching better-off players with deep pockets rather than feeding our own sparse pennies into the machines.
Against that scenario, one can envisage the mixed feelings of local youngsters - similarly smitten with slot-machines a half-century ago when Yarmouth's Central Beach was the scene of a bizarre bonfire: the combustible content comprised hundreds of unwanted penny-in-the-slot machines!
That traditional children's plea, "Penny for the guy," took on a new and serious meaning when the arcade owners deliberately chose Guy Fawkes Night in November 1969 for their protest pyre.
According to the Mercury's sister newspaper: "For the boys who built Yarmouth's traditional beach bonfires, mostly during half-term holidays, there was competition last night.
"Amusement arcade operators trundled dozens of penny-in-the-slot machines along and over the Golden Mile during the day. Others were brought from places as far away as Hunstanton.
"The bonfire of machines blazed fiercely in the evening. No-one seemed to have kept an exact count, but one spokesman thought there could be 800, including what he described as mall machines, and another put their total value at probably £15,000 (£208,000 today).
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"Other estimates might give fewer machines and smaller value, but the protest against the Gaming Tax was certainly an out-of-season attraction.
"Operators said the tax had led them to get rid of machines they could not afford to keep - no-one wanted to buy them and many operators could not afford to store them through the winter."
For the crowds on the beach, the destruction by fire of the machines was certainly an attraction, and looked to be the best attended of the string of bonfires on the beach, the report added.
The headline declared: "£15,000 beach bonfire shows new displeasure with parliament."
The public must have puzzled over the economic logic of the amusement caterers in lighting the figurative touch-paper to such valuable assets.
Next, original telephone numbers, a recent topic attracting a response from reader David Hadingham, of Lilac Close, Bradwell, who writes about the now derelict, near-demolished Ferryside House in which he once saw a framed history of the building.
"It included the fact that it was one of the first to go on the phone and the number was Gorleston 8. I noticed this in the early 1990s when I went to register my father's death but several years later I had to return and couldn't find the information.
"We had a phone at home (Gorleston 405), essential because father had a business. This must have been the early 1950s. Being the only one in the area apart from the call-box outside the old Bradwell Post Office, my parents would get many requests from neighbours to use it - I think many of them thought it was a free service!
"Then occasionally there would be the late-night call and some strange voice would ask for a trivial message to be relayed to a not-so-near neighbour, normally in pouring rain.
"Dad was always daft enough to oblige but afterwards the air was blue, then Mum would tell him off..."
That framed history was penned by Trevor Nicholls, retired Yarmouth registrar long based at Ferryside, who confirms that Ferryside was Gorleston 8 when GP Dr James Ryley lived there.