Southwold, Suffolk: The Under the Pier Show


In honour of the unusually warm weather we’re having in London at the moment, I’ll postpone my last couple of posts on Belgium in favour of a few on unconventional British seaside attractions. I spent the weekend in East Anglia at various coastal destinations, but my favourite had to be the brilliant “Under the Pier Show” on Southwold Pier.  I’d been dying to visit it ever since I first read about it last spring, and I can safely say it lived up to the hype.

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At first glance, Southwold seems like a perfectly nice, yet unassuming seaside town, with the usual complement of ice cream parlours, souvenir shops, a traditional arcade, and a beachside cafe.  Upon venturing down the pier, however, you will be rewarded with the sight of a shed crammed full of the most incredible arcade games you’ve ever seen.  This is the Under the Pier Show; created by the marvellous Tim Hunkin, arcade machine inventor extraordinaire.


For the history of the Under the Pier show, which opened in 2001, I’d like to direct you to their website, which features a biography of Mr. Hunkin, and a short video well worth watching. I’d rather just talk about his amazing machines!  First of all, I’d advise you to bring cash (although they will give cash back with a purchase at the cafe, but that can be a bit of a bother), and plenty of it, because although the games range in price from a modest 40p up to £2, you will want to play almost everything.  There is a change machine though, so you needn’t arriving with pockets jingling.  Secondly, it’d probably be better to arrive early in the day during the summer, as it seems like the kind of place that gets quite crowded.  We got there around 10:30, and it was fairly empty, but was starting to fill up by the time we left an hour or so later, and it’s more fun if you don’t have to queue! (I get enough of that at the bloody post office).  Now, onto the games!


Dotty was the cutest!

There were about twenty machines in total, and between my boyfriend and I, we tried most of them.  We began with the “Expressive Photobooth,” which is very much like a traditional photobooth, but with a humorous twist (a common theme amongst the machines).  Unexpected things happen inside, like a blowing fan, and a moving seat, which cause you to pose with expressions ranging from distracted to thrilled, and even weightless!  The “Bathyscape” offered a journey to the sea floor (I was drawn in by the promise of being disgusted by raw sewage, thanks to my affinity for authentic smells) , which was hilariously narrated, and culminated in us being swallowed by a fish (mind the stomach acid!).

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Some other favourites were the “Fly Drive,” where you ride on a fly’s proboscis, and land on food for as long as you can without being spotted (watch out for the swatter! I mean it!), “Pirate Practice” which involves bouncing vigorously on a stool to propel a boat to the top of the screen (to the amusement of onlookers), and “Rent-A-Dog,” where one can take the adorable Dotty for a walk.

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Other highlights included the “Mobility Masterclass,” which allows you to experience crossing the street as an elderly person, and “Autofrisk,” a pat-down with an extra “bonus” for the lads.  There were also a few slightly less-involved machines, like Crankenstein and the Doctor, and some unique spins on the traditional fortune telling booth (“Gene Forecaster,” anyone?).  There were several other machines I would have loved to try, especially “Microbreak” and “Quickfit,” which looked like a riot, but we were running out of cash.  I guess that means a return trip is in order!

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Tim Hunkin’s genius isn’t limited to the confines of the arcade building.  He’s been allowed to gradually expand along the pier, so that one can take advantage of his “Quantum Tunneling Telescope” (an improvement over the usual sea views), or have a peek at his water-powered clock.  Along with my penchant for postcards (which are also available courtesy of a coin-operated machine), I am a complete sucker for those machines whereby you convert a pound and a penny into a useless penny with a squashed design on it.  “Decoration Direct” was the most truthful version of what actually happens once you part with your money and turn the crank that I’ve ever seen, and I will forever treasure my Stupid Award, which will remind me “This used to be worth something until I squashed it” every time I find myself in need of 10p.

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I can’t speak highly enough of Tim Hunkin and his fantastically amazing machines.  My descriptions of them really don’t do them justice; they’re something you need to experience for yourself to appreciate the humour and love that’s gone into making them, not to mention the fact that they’re jolly fun!  5/5; and one of the best days out I’ve had in a long time.