The last decade of the 20th century has become synonymous with technological advances, Britpop and the Y2K bug, but it’s also the era that sparked the transformations which still define the world of children’s rides to this day, according to Paolo Sidoli, managing director of the UK-based SB Machines. Discussing the manufacturing, technological and political advances of the time, Sidoli reminisces on the seismic shifts that shook the industry after the 80s, the synergy between Italian manufacturers and British operators, and the famous licenced faces which launched a thousand Wild Boats over SB Machines’ 20+ years supplying the market…
The mid 1990s changed coin-operated children’s rides forever. Prior to this,rides were small, rudimentary machines with simple rocking movements using outdated technology. Rides seemed to be a forgotten afterthought in amusement arcades as the main revenue drivers were fruit machines, videogames, pushers and cranes.
Manufacturers were getting stale and it seemed that the sector would phase itself out as the millennium approached with ride design stuck in a past era. Despite motor inverters, compact electronic coin mechs, variable movements and more already being available for children’s rides, these easily adopted technologies were passing the market by.
However,during this period several rides resuscitated the sector as operators saw real revenue generated by these models. In addition rides presented a softer side to amusement premises which were focussed more on gambling rather than family entertainment. We can all remember the endless rows of 10p £5 AWPS and the ubiquitous tuppeny nudgers – let us try and argue the case today that if these machines were still about in the same quantity, they would not be thought of as the gateway to gambling for children?
Following this new energy in the sector, the most noticeable rides of the era were the British licenced rides as adding a licence to simply manufactured products transformed the market instantly.Postman Pat was born and it spawned a host of successors: Noddy,Carrot Mobile, Bob the Builder and countless others. Time and time again,the manufacturers pulled off the same trick and one wondered if the market was going to be defined only by licenced rides.It certainly seemed that way as we all looked on. Some of us found it frustrating to see artistic creativity being stifled by the constraint of a licence but this all changed when the Italian manufacturers threw their hats in the ring and introduced the Wild West Wagon.
Operators who previously were accustomed to small rides had to cope with
a much larger ride which had a novel movement. Airbrushed paintwork now replaced the monotony of gel coat and the rides were bigger, brighter and bolder even if they did cost more to purchase. In terms of the sector, the Italian manufacturers and UK operators never looked back.It was the Big Bang moment- a collision of new technologies, ideas and enhanced manufacturing processes all merging at once. Cogan’s Bigfoot came from nowhere to become an unforgettable ride and finally £1 play was upon us. At last,we could prove that larger rides could compete with their smaller licenced counterparts.
Following this boom period,‘Made-in-Italy’ rides became synonymous with quality innovation and high- end performance but perhaps the most fitting tribute to their influence and importance in the UK would be the 2003 launch of Cogan’s Magic Castle ride evoking the success of Mike Chester’s Mini Wheels back in the 80s.
It has been more than 25 years since I supplied my first WildWest Wagon, I’m pleased to say the sector is as buoyant as ever and showing no signs of slow- ing down.In my opinion, the rides we supply are evolving hand in hand with
our primary customer,the FEC. As FECs
become more developed, more articulate, more creative and more attractive, so too do our rides. Our goal is to miniaturise as expertly as possible the
fairground experience to a coin-operated format and with a constant stream of young children entering the market.I think it is safe to say that these rides will be around for a long time to come.”