Are you brave enough for Southwold Pier’s newest attraction?
Tim Hunkin’s latest amusement, Air Bed-n-bug comes to Southwold Pier.
Amusement arcades have been a staple of seaside entertainment for more than a century, but the collection that makes up the Under the Pier Show on Southwold Pier is quite different to anything that has come before.
The man behind the collection of coin-operated machines, inventor, cartoonist and TV presenter Tim Hunkin, has certainly been inspired by arcade and simulator games but with his work including the Bathyscape, in which you are sealed in a deep sea submersible complete with a deafening Jacques Cousteau-like commentary, and Quickfit, in which you lie back and watch a Jane Fonda workout video while your bed does all the exercising for you, it’s clear he has quite a singular vision.
The collection is never hard to find on the pier - you just follow the laughter as the interactive machines are a delight to play for young and old. Now there is even more reason to try out the fun with a new addition to the collection. Air Bed-n-bug is described by Tim as “an epic tale of our times - part comic strip, part flea circus, part movie”.
The machine is an audio-visual experience in which you peep into miniature dioramas which come to life one by one to reveal the epic tale all to a soundtrack that plays through headphones you strap on.
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Tim says it is a work in progress. “It has still got a rough version of the soundtrack at the moment, “ he said. “I often put new machines on the pier when they’re not completely finished to see people’s reactions and work out how to make the best of the ingredients.”
The 67-year-old is pleased with his new creation. He said: “A while ago I was keen on simulator rides because they can be so all- absorbing. The Bathyscape, a simulator with more of a story, remains one of the most popular machines in The Under The Pier Show. So when I had an idea for a new way for telling a story, a cross between comic strip, movie and flea circus, I was excited.”
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The idea for the machine, Tim says, came from time the presenter of Channel 4 show The Secret Life of Machines, spent working at the Exploratorium, a museum in San Francisco for which he created a large, unfolding clock in 2013.
“At the Exploratorium they run a ‘Tinkering Studio’ to engage visitors with workshops to make things lasting 30 minutes to an hour,” Tim, who lives in Suffolk, said. “I suggested dioramas inside shoeboxes, lit by LEDs. I spent a week making a few examples and then thought of linking them together. I bought a recordable sound module for a greetings card and put all the shoeboxes inside a big box. Another project I had been working on was to make programming more tangible, so I’d made them some electromechanical cam timers. I used one of these to turn the LEDs in the different scenes on at the right moment while the audio played.
“It excited me, both because it only took 10 days to make, and also because of this different way of telling a story. I came home wondering if in some form it could be an arcade machine. I have considered making dioramas or peep shows before, but a plain box with an eyehole would be unlikely to tempt anyone to part with their cash. But then I realised I could leave all the scenes visible, lighting them up in sequence. The machine would look like a giant page from a comic.”
The machines at The Under the Pier Show are wonderfully interactive while taking a swipe at contemporary life - think of Autofrisk, which simulates the experience of being body searched inflated rubber gloves and has you laughing hysterically while considering the escalated levels of security we now live with. Tim did plan for Air bed-n-bug to have more bite to its audience interaction.
He said: “Early on I had the idea that the finale would be that the people wearing the headphones would get bitten on their heads, with some sort of mechanism hidden in the headphones. I left making this until everything else was finished and got really stuck. For a start the top of the head is surprisingly insensitive to touch (ask a friend to touch your head and guess the number of fingers touching - it is not easy).
“The closest I got to a ‘bite’ was a bit of fishing wire poked into the scalp. But then the noise of any mechanism is amplified enormously by mechanical transmission through headphones. This dominates over any physical ‘bite’ effect. I finally tried air jets to avoid any mechanism in the headphones, but the head is used to this – it just feels like a cold wind. Nothing linked instinctively to the people in the final scene being bitten.”
The bug bite trick may have not come off, but the new machine is one of Tim’s most detailed and intricate yet. It is the latest addition to a collection which began in 2001, when Southwold Pier was being rebuilt.
Chris Iredale, who owned the pier at that time, clearly recognised Tim’s talent and gave him space to house five of his incredible creations.
Tim’s work has become synonomous with the pier and as new owners have come and gone his machines have remained. Get yourself down to there and catch the bug of this wildly inventive true British original.
The Under the Pier show is on Southwold Pier, North Parade, Southwold.