How To Win At The Funfair Part 4

Lucky Lotto

The lotto, pick tickets, lucky dip, call it what you will is a long established game based purely on luck, or is it?

The principle is easy enough, you pick a number of tickets out of a container, open them and if you have the winning number, (usually any odd number) you win a big prize. A modern variation imported from the continent is the 21 game, where your tickets need to add up to 21 to win, this encourages repeat playing as you can keep your tickets and add to them.

The reality is slightly different, there used to be rogue operators, who never had winning tickets in the pile (very rare nowadays as with social media etc they are quickly marked out as being impossible to win on), but how it works now is that the tickets are stacked into bundles, with a pre selected number of bundles containing the winning tickets, these are then carefully fed to the players to regulate the number of winners and to try and keep the crowd interested by having enough winners come out on a regular basis to look like its easy to win. Once the stall becomes really busy then its a self perpetuating thing, that many tickets are being sold that winners are appearing every couple of minutes. The operator can keep the fever pitch going by surreptitiously slipping winners into the bundles they are starting to hand out.

Even operated this way it is a game purely of luck so there isn’t that much you can do to increase your chances of winning.

If a lotto stall has a large crowd viewing it but few players, then the operator will at some point seed a winning ticket out to try and draw the crowd in, so you probably have a higher chance of winning then, or when the stall is really busy, winners will be coming out more often due to the higher throughput of tickets, so that will slightly increase your chances.

The easiest way to gauge your chances of winning on any funfair stall, is simply to look at the value of the prize, if a prize is worth say £25, then common sense should tell you that the operator has to have more money come in from the players than the prize is worth, otherwise he goes out of business. The old come on of a super sized teddy bear with a sign saying me if you lose should tell you that the game is almost impossible to lose on (It would be illegal to be impossible, so it is made merely “Almost” impossible) and so therefore you are virtually guaranteed to win, trouble is the prize for winning will be a little tiny version of the Teddy bear worth much less.

Corporate Branding Funfair Attractions

With the modern media driven society, corporate branding is more popular than ever, giant companies such as Coca Cola can be found adorning everything from a pencil to the side of a jumbo jet.

It isn’t however a modern thing, pictured below is one of the earliest corporate branding jobs we carried out, a steam wagon painted up in the colours and logo of Thorne’s Toffees of Leeds, once a premier confectionary supplier. This one was carried out in 1926 !

image of a steam wagon painted up by Thornes Toffee of Leeds
Corporate Branded Transport

Yarm Gala 2015

This years Yarm gala is on 21st June, and once again we are supplying a funfair to support the rest of the days events.

We have been supplying the gala since 2008, but Yarm gala has a much longer history than that.

The original Gala was promoted by the The Oddfellows, an influential friendly society organisation of local tradesmen and dates back to before 1884, when at one time it was attended by some 26,000 people!

The popular annual event, was held within the grounds of The Friarage on Whit-Monday and Tuesday each year. The Meynell family, who were the Lords of the Manor, owned The Friarage and the land around it and who generously allowed the use of their land every year.

Eventually it fizzled out, and was revived for a short time in the 1920’s until disappearing once again.

Eventually a new town council decided to re launch the event, and we have been involved since the new gala came into being. Yarm is always a busy town, and usually when we attend Yarm fair in October it was always one of our best events, the gala proved similarly to be quite a well attended do.

The year of the Queens jubilee it was moved to a slightly earlier time in the year, which had us worried but in the event it proved to be even more popular that year.

We shall have a selection of family friendly rides and games there again, if its the latest white knuckle experience you are after then apologies, that’s not what the original brief from the council was, it was to be strictly aimed at families.


Things Were Bigger In The Past

It is commonly considered that the golden age of the funfair was during the steam age, without the internet, television, and public transport, people were often starved of recreational activities, with the result that when the fair came to town it was a major event during the year.

One thing we always noticed in old photos, was that the majority of rides had massive decorative front panels, dwarfing what you see nowadays, whether it was a cheaper source of labour to erect everything, or that the pace of life was slower so they had more time to put such displays up, the fact is that few of todays attractions are anywhere near as ornate.

Below are a few photos we found in our archive, the speedway pictures all show fronts that are by todays standards, massive.

Something Old, Something New

Its a funny old world, funfair operators are spending ever increasing amounts of money on the latest and greatest rides, one of the newest in the UK cost a reputed £1.5 million!

However some of the traditional rides we offer such as the Ferris Wheel are just as popular as the modern rides. One outfit Carter’s Steam Fair have built an incredibly successful business based on vintage rides, some such as the carousel is still a regular on the modern funfair, but many of their rides are of a type funfair operators ended up cutting up for their scrap value, yet presented by Carters they are still pulling the modern generation in.

On a recent trip to Vienna we were reminded of this situation when we visited the historic Prater theme park on the outskirts of the city. They actually had 2 giant wheels, one a modern type such as you would see at Hyde Park Winter Wonderland or Edinburgh Christmas festival, the other a wheel installed in 1897.

Designed and constructed by a British engineer called Walter Bassett (ex Royal Navy) it was until 1985 the largest extant wheel in the world.  Its full history can be found at .

The funny thing was the vintage wheel was twice the price of the modern wheel, and had a substantial queue, whilst the modern wheel hadn’t even bothered opening.

The pictures below were snapped whilst we were in Vienna, except for the close up with the 2 people in, that is actually a lip from the James Bond film The Living Daylights and shows Timothy Dalton and Maryam d’Abo.

Prater wheel in Vienna
Giant Prater Wheel Vienna
Close Up Of The Prater Wheel Carriage
Close Up Of The Prater Wheel Carriage
Giant Prater Wheel
Giant Prater Wheel


Going To The “Shows”

We’re off to the shows

The funfair in this country is called by different names in different parts of the country, Yorkshire folk often refer to it as the Feast, around Newcastle Upon Tyne it is often called “The Hoppings”, probably because the largest fair in the area, indeed in the UK is known as Newcastle Hoppings, so most fairs in the area tend to have that moniker attached.

The rest of the North East where I grew up it was referred to as “The Shows”. Like many things the true reason for this is probably lost in the mists of time, but, in the days of old, before the advent of steam and the invention of mechanical rides, most funfairs consisted of games and sideshows. A sideshow could be many things, during my childhood in the 80’s there was Wee McGregor, Scotlands smallest man, The Wolfman (a youth in a rather poor wolf mask) operated by the legendary Gooch Brothers who once at an event in Durham found themselves without anything to put in their show, they promptly solved this by removing the roof from their sideshow and selling tickets to see “Durham Sky At Night”, yes you walked in looked up and saw exactly that. Another of their famous exploits was “The Holy Water Otter”, which turned out to be a kettle punched full of holes.

Scotlands Tallest man George the Gentle Giant was a family favourite, operated by a family Uncle we had our pictures taken with George as kids and he used to sell signed copies of these to the visitors. George was a true gentle giant, and we used to go round and see him as kids, being from the Scottish Highlands he had the broadest Scottish accent I had ever heard, and to be truthful none of us could understand a word he said, we just used to smile and nod, and hope we did it at the right point in his story, it probably wasn’t but George was too much of a gentleman to tell us otherwise.

Another incongruity (or it was to us as kids) was that Bible classes during the Newcastle hoppings (which our parents used to send us to, not so much to help our spiritual development, but to gain an hour of peace on a morning) were held in the strip tease show (I believe another Gooch Brothers presentation), that particular show disappeared before we were old enough to be allowed in at the same time as the girls and it held an illusion of exoticism for many of us for years after.

One of the most famous sideshows, was sadly before my time, the Colorado’s was a Wild West show, like a cut down version of Buffalo Bill’s show, with knife throwing and displays of marksmanship using real guns firing real bullets. Imagine trying to get that approved by today’s health and safety executive, it would probably cause mass apoplexy just the thought of it.

The best known of the “Colorado’s” was Florence. Cowboy boots, short skirt and stunning looks along with her marksmanship skills made her the dream girl for most teenage boys (and probably their fathers) of that era. I was too young to ever see Florence in action, but with her son marrying my maternal Aunt I got to see her quite regularly. At the time Florence was probably in her early 50’s and still absolutely stunning, looks that never really left her even up to her recent death.

Sadly shows are pretty much extinct on the modern fairground, todays youth is more interested in the thrill rides, and families having access to television and the internet etc don’t really find the thrill in seeing a particularly short person or similar, and the traditional “Freak Show” style offering wouldn’t be acceptable in todays culture. At one time the Showmen’s Guild rule book actually had a rule that a specified percentage of each fairground had to be reserved specifically for shows.

Images from the Colorado’s Wild West show can be seen below;

The Live Snake Was Florence's Party Piece, The Snake Used To Place Its Head In Her Mouth
The Live Snake Was Florence’s Party Piece, The Snake Used To Place Its Head In Her Mouth
The Colorado's Troupe
The Colorado’s Troupe
Gary Again
Gary Again
Florence and "Uncle Gary"
Florence and “Uncle Gary”
Knife Throwing
Knife Throwing
Florence Preparing to Perform The Kiss Of Death
Florence Preparing to Perform The Kiss Of Death
Florence With Her Pistol
Florence With Her Pistol
Colarado's Wild West Show Board
Colarado’s Wild West Show Board