talks to Brian Davey who runs Nostalgia Amusements. The TV and
Film industries and a large number of corporate clients and
events rely on Brian and his vintage amusements equipment
company to help make
their productions go with a flourish and to provide that
authentic vintage look. All of his machines are in full
working order. You will certainly have seen Brian's slot
machines, juke boxes and amusements on a number of TV
productions over the years.
Can I ask you about your background and that of the business?
I suppose the route I took was as a collector. I started off
collecting slot machines.
When was that?
I started with my first machine when I was seventeen.
So, back in the late 90s? (Both laugh)
You had me going there. You said it so seriously.
They were probably out of fashion in those days, weren't they?
It was in the sixties and I was doing some work on a Saturday
in an amusement arcade in Shepherd's Bush.
Where all the rag-and-bone men were supposed to be?
Supposedly, yes. And there was an arcade with an old slot
machine under a bench which I thought looked interesting . And I
think I bought it for £2 and ten shillings (£2.50)
Did you keep it or get rid of it?
I sold it to buy other equipment a few years later and I sold
it for about £1,200.
Wow, what a return! Well done.
That was a good investment. I didn't sell it for money, I sold
it in exchange for some other equipment. But I'd been quite
interested in memorabilia of all kinds. And, over the years, I
went from slot machines, picking up other items of memorabilia
and then I thought to myself. "Hold on now, with all this
equipment of various shapes and forms and types that I have,
somebody must be interested in it." So I thought there must be
some way for it to earn its keep.
Do you see yourself as something of a custodian?
I suppose, initially I did. Because a lot of these were being
destroyed - back in the early seventies these things were
being thrown off the end of piers and at certain points I was
just there to collect them before they were thrown over.
People thought that they just weren't going to be worth anything.
How difficult are they to maintain?
They're not so difficult, but if you haven't got a mechanical
inclination then it's not exactly a minefield, but it does
require some know-how. You've got a mechanical unit - say with
a mechanical slot machine - you put your coin in at the top and
in that second where it goes into the place where you can pull
the handle it's then measured for its weight and metal content.
Then after that in that same second it goes into an escalator
which allows it to move along and again it has to have certain
timings. So, in reality, if you don't know too much about the
mechanics it's going to be a difficult job.
There's no instructions booklet these days!
No. So for me, I was interested anyway, so it wasn't too
difficult to learn. But I'm always getting calls from people
with problems with slot machines and try to help them over the
phone. It's sometimes a matter of how long's a piece of
string. To try to get them into working order is not the
easiest thing but for me it's never been that difficult.
Are there many of these machines left? And are they hard to
There's still a number of them around - there are collectors
and people who buy them, sell them and maintain them.
Who are these people?
People who are interested in mechanical things. I think it's a
real cross section of people - like with most collecting
passions, you see something that grabs your attention and you
want to take it a stage further. There aren't any categories
of people that collect them - some people have got one in
their house and some have got dozens in their house.
I love the petrol pumps and also the automatons such as the
laughing sailor and laughing policeman.
Yes, the laughing sailor is a classic example of amusement
Who's hiring these items and what feedback are you getting?
I do a lot of work for TV, film and corporate entertainment. I
just did a job for a company in Hertfordshire and they wanted
the amusement arcade where there's about 14 machines - it was
a family fun day with a Victorian theme. They had carousel
horses and we went out and we gave out the old pennies to the
people who come up and they put them in the slots. There
was a What The Butler Saw machine there, where you drop your
coin in and there's a reel of photographs basically.
Hmm, they flip don't they?
Just like you'd do as a schoolboy and drew three or four
images on paper and then flicked through them. That then gives
the appearance of movement - these were the first moving
I can remember they always used to run out before anything too
exciting happened! (Both laugh)
The one I have is an artist and he's semi-undressing the model
and as soon as something naughty appears, he covers it back up
again. I think maybe you see a bottom cheek, but that's not
guaranteed. Again, hundreds of individually photographed
pictures and then, as you turn the handle, it gives the
impression of movement. Often, with the younger people, they
haven't seen the old pennies and wonder what they are and for the
people who know what they are that's great but why would a
youngster know how to operate a 1930s machine?
Strange isn't it? We are familiar with them but it's just the
same as the youngsters being at home with a computer game and
us possibly needing to be guided.
That's the truth.
I was having a conversation with my girlfriend's grandchildren
at the weekend and I asked the to try and guess what wasn't
around when we were young and they said
"Electricity?" which aged me a little bit. They know
we didn't have mobiles or PCs so I suppose electricity isn't
that odd a suggestion.
People come up and play our machines and it's fun because it's
all old pennies. They're given out which is part of the
experience of playing these machines. And we have the
old-fashioned crane where you have swizzle lollies and
Barrett's sherbet fountains and that machine always goes well
- you get queues of children and 'big children' queuing up to
put their penny in the slot. You aim the claw where you think
you're going to pick up some sweets and with a bit of luck and
a prevailing wind you'll get yourself a packet of sweets.
They make electronic versions of those these days and I'm sure
the grabbers are made to have no grip at all.
With the modern equipment, the grabbers are set so that they can make
money but ensure at the same time that things come out from
time to time. People are quite wise and if slot machines don't
pay out or grabbers don't deliver a soft toy - if they don't
see that, then they will not play. That's the truth, so what they
must do is put their coin in and somewhere along the line
someone has got to win, otherwise the machine doesn't get
played. What they do now is calibrate the machine for the
first five goes so that it will go through the motions of getting a
grip on the prize and lift it without much power and it will
drop it. That's so the player thinks "Sugar! I missed
that one." And they have another go. But what happens on
the sixth go is that you get full power so the coin goes in,
the grabber takes the prize and will drop it down. It gives
the operator control to judge how much money he's going to
make on that machine. It's clever stuff and the player doesn't
know that. When you're playing these machines, and I've
watched a lot of people at funfairs, all they have in their
minds is "Nearly." Famous last phrase - you get
three bars on a slot machine and one drops down and the player
says "Nearly. Maybe next time." And that makes them
put in another coin.
That says something about human nature. Why do you think we
are so nostalgic?
I think people want to look back. Even when we hire our juke
boxes for parties, the client will ask for mainly sixties and
seventies. It all depends on the age of the person, of course,
it's a 30 year-old then they'll want the 1990s and a fifty
year-old will want the 60s and 70s and they will specify that.
"Will you please make sure there's some 1970s music on
there?" It takes them back to their youth and a few
tracks on a juke box allows them to look back. I think that's
real - people look back to when they were happiest or when
they were going out with certain people.
Or at least they know what has happened whereas the future is
It's good for us.
It is good for us. Nostalgia is a big thing. I went to the
Jukebox Madness exhibition at Kempton at the weekend and it
was packed. There were dresses, furniture, TV, vinyl and CDs -
all types of memorabilia from the 50s and 60s. It was very
busy and showed that there's a big market for retro.
What's the future for Nostalgia Hire?
I think , as far as we're concerned, we're supplying a need
for props and ultimately that's what we are - a working prop
house and people will always want props. Over the years, we've
done a lot of work for Heartbeat, so working memorabilia is
Do you make props as well?
I don't, only because the space and storage is difficult
and you can't have every prop. There are prop houses that have
thousands of items.
Yes, I think they exist because the BBC and other TV companies
don't want to have the expense of running props departments
like they used to.
Yes, so the BBC and commercial companies come to people like
me. I'm quite unusual because I have items that are fully
working, whereas years ago people had a juke box stuck in the
corner and it might light up and work but it might not.
Because all my kit is operational. They're now going for a
second series of the Only Fools And Horses spin-off showing
them when they were younger and they're just getting the
production sorted out now, but I'll be involved in that too.
So the future of nostalgia is looking good!
(Laughs) You know what my favourite juke box is? It's the one
with the platter that goes up to meet the record rather than
the other way around.
had one of those. It was a Wurlitzer 1100, but again, very
spectacular to look at and ideal for TV and film work. It's
not just pressing a button but you can see something's
happening. That's the key.
Often with modern electronics you don't even know if something
is on or working.
No, that's very true. I've got equipment like that, but that's
what they want because they can put their own music on over
the recording. I've supplied the series Two Pints Of Lager And
A Packet Of Crisps and the juke box, the pinball and so on -
we've done about three or four series of that. I've got Space
Invaders machines too. I keep a database of what goes in and
what goes out. Sometimes I think about getting rid of some
items and then someone books them!
What are the most popular items?
There isn't a most popular. From juke boxes to slot machines
and everything in between, there isn't any rhyme or reason.
That also applies to when you might be busy during the year.
Which makes it challenging. Obviously, Christmastime is
particularly busy because of the parties, but it's difficult
to know when during the rest of the year people will be
looking for items and what items they'll want. A lot depends
on the productions that are being made.
Makes life interesting.
Definitely, that's what is nice about it. You can't look back
and say "I was busy at this time last year so this year
it will also be busy now." because it doesn't follow.
Sometimes, these days, companies will decide whether or not to
have a party or a promotional event and the themes of these
will change each time - last year it was 1950s but this year
it will be Punk. There is no way of knowing that which makes
it interesting but difficult to predict and plan what items I
should have ready and what I might get rid of.
Brian - thanks very much for that. It's been good talking to
you and a fascinating look at the world of vintage amusements.
Lovely, bye for now David.
Amusements - Specialists in the Hire of Unusual Coin
in the Hire of Unusual Coin Operated Equipment. We
have been supplying equipment to the TV and film
industry, corporate entertainment and private parties
for over twenty years. The equipment ranges from the
end of the nineteenth century to the present day.
Also for hire is an assortment of video & pub
games including space invaders, asteroids and football
tables. All of the machines that Nostalgia Amusements
supply are delivered in full working order with a 24
hour service back-up at all times. Tokens, pre-decimal
and American coinage is provided where needed. All
machines are available for daily, weekend, weekly and
machines and one-arm bandits
(Cash registers, Petrol pumps, wall-mounted
phones, wall-mounted dispensers, laughing
policemen, laughing sailors)
Tel: 0208 398 2141 Mobile: 07973 506 869