The Pier Family Entertainment (building), Hunstanton The Thomas's Amusements arcade, Hunstanton Konami Track & Field at Thomas's Amusements, Huntstanton Operation Thunderbolt cabinet at Thomas's Amusements, Hunstanton The Simpsons arcade cabinet at Thomas's Amusements, Hunstanton Four-player Virtua Racing at the Showboat arcade, Hunstanton

STAGE 3 - HUNSTANTON

The journey from Wells to Hunstanton took 50 minutes and as we entered 'Sunny Hunny' I was really looking forward to finding the classics which I was sure we would find. I have found memories of visiting the little 'museum' in the Showboat arcade and really wanted to get my hands on some real classics, especially the sit-down Space Harrier.

The first arcade we visited was on the site of the old pier (or at least the part that was on land as the main pier was destroyed during the floods of 1978). This arcade had recently been rebuilt after being badly damaged by a fire in May 2002. This was the CHS 'Pier Family Entertainment'. I expect it is no surprise to learn that we found The Fast and the Furious, House of the Dead 3, Daytona USA 2, and, Sega Rally 2. None of these were particularly old (Rally 2 being 1998) but there was one little machine sitting between the big boys that really surprised me - a Nintendo Play Choice 10 (1986). It was nice to see an old cabinet surviving in this modern arcade (I guess it was fire-proof!). As we left this arcade we made our way along the promenade to the next arcade. Right on cue, the heavens opened so we had to make a made dash to our next location.

As we entered the Thomas's Amusements arcade it didn't take long to see that there were some old games in here. We eagerly searched for a member of staff to introduce ourselves. We found the manager who explained that the owner was not around but he didn't think it would be a problem if we took some pictures. He also gave us some news that made our collective jaws drop - that the 'museum' in the Showboat arcade (which was also owned by Thomas's) had been closed down and most of the machines had been thrown in a skip. I can't put into words how utterly devastated I felt. So many years had been spent in the Showboat and it was, without a doubt, the best collection of classic coin-op's in Norfolk. The one place that had motivated me to arrange the 'hunt' was gone, forever. It was truly the end of an era.

The first machine we found was a Konami Track & Field (1983), the original button-basher and a real classic. It was getting a little worn out but I could only imagine the pounding it had suffering over the years. Next we found a Taito Operation Thunderbolt (1988), twin UZI carnage with this large cabinet and it was in very good condition. Onto another Konami classic with The Simpson's (1991), four player cartoon capers and another cabinet in good condition. Next to this was Midway's Mortal Kombat 2 (1993). Finishing off this group of four cabinets that were arranged back to back was Sega's Virtua Tennis 2 (2001). Located away from the main cluster of cabinets was a Sega Daytona USA (1994) in a large sit-down configuration. We also found a Namco Ridge Racer (1993), a Sega Manx TT Racer (1995), and lastly a Konami Silent Scope (1999) and a Silent Scope 2 (2000) sitting side by side. So all in all, a very good arcade for us old-school gamers.

We did have a bit of a scare though. Part way through us taking video and pictures a concerned Mr. Thomas walked over and wanted to know what we were doing. I can only imagine what it must have looked like but when we explained what we were doing he was amicable and as we mentioned the 'retro museum' at the Showboat he admitted that it had been hard to get rid of the old machines and he couldn't stand to be there when the machines were finally removed. Before leaving we thanked Mr Thomas and his staff for their help. He advised us that we some try the holiday camp just down the road as there were a couple of arcades there that might have some older machines.

Short tour of the classic arcade games at Thomas's Amusements, Huntstanton

It was a ten minute walk along the promenade to the holiday camp and we were soon in the Vegas Amusements arcade. Unfortunately most of the machines were relatively new. We found a Namco Rapid River (1997), a Sega Rally 2 (1998), a Sega Harley Davidson & L.A. Racers (1998), and a HME Inc Ford Racing (2001). It was nice to see some different cabinets but it wasn't really what we were looking for.

The next arcade, which was practically next door, was the Golden Sands. This was even more up to date with an Outrun 2 and The Fast and the Furious plus some others that I didn't note down. And that meant that there was only one other arcade that we hadn't visited yet, yep it was the Showboat.

I had been itching to visit the Showboat when we first arrived but now I was actually dreading it. As we approached the arcade we bumped into Mr Thomas again (he probably thought 'not them two again!') and asked if it was okay to take some more pictures in the Showboat (he owned this one as well). He was okay with it so we introduced ourselves to one of the staff. As if to rub salt in our wounds he mentioned how we should have been there a few weeks backs when the old machines were still there. This started off a conversation about classic arcade machines and collectors, whether they take away great machines that could still be played by the public or where they saving and restoring cabinets that would otherwise be destroyed eventually anyway.

Certainly looking at the state of some of the older machines at both Yarmouth and Clacton, several have discoloured screens, unresponsive controls, etc, and it could be said that these were no longer worth keeping switched on. I have to admit that I was probably sitting on the fence, seeing both sides of the argument. Of course I would love to still be able to play the amazing cabinets from the 80's, but I'm not too naive to understand that the average fruit machine is going to make much more money per month than a poor old 20 year old cabinet that has probably seen better days. Amusement arcades are businesses after all, not museums for grown men looking for the 'good old days'. And at the end of the day it makes finding the older cabinets much more exciting!!

Anyway, back to the Showboat. We soon found out that the Thomas family had retained a few more older machines in this arcade as well. As we moved through the main arcade we entered a large back room. This contained a pool table, Bowlingo lanes, and some of the larger arcade machines. We couldn't miss the huge four player Sega Virtua Racing (1992), which we just had to pump some money into.. great fun! There was also a Namco Alpine Racer (1995) and a Namco Aqua Jet (1996) The one thing that was missing (apart from the obvious) was the pinball tables. I'd always enjoyed a few games on the Bally Revenge From Mars table. They had been temporarily moved unfortunately unplugged. The other table they had was a Bally Twilight Zone (1993). So after a game of Bowlingo (which Jops won..), we headed off.

And so as the day come to a close it was time to catch the 'Coast Hopper' home. As we traveled home we mulled over what had been a mixed day. We had the lows of seeing the Grays arcade as a shell and the news that Showboat had dumped their old machines, but this was balanced by finding the old cabinets in Kay Gelder's Burger Bar and also having the chance to speak with the staff at the two Thomas's arcade (especially Mr Thomas himself, who took time out to talk to us). I'm sure we will be back to Hunstanton again in the near future, not necessarily to find the old machines but maybe to find out the history behind these arcades that have been landmarks of the Norfolk coast for so many years.

If anybody reading this article has any old pictures (digital or printed) or any video of any arcades on the Norfolk or Suffolk coast I would love to share put them up on the website. Full credit will be given including link-backs if required. It would be great to see how these arcades looked at the height of their popularity. Please use the 'contact us' form at the bottom of the page to reach me. Thanks.

 

Original article by Gary - May 2006 (revised June 2014)