Never Underestimate The Predictability Of Stupidity

We meet all sorts of folks on our (mis)adventures around this green and pleasant land of ours. We have met some extremely clever people, but conversely some rip roaring idiots.

There are 2 in particular which stand out head and shoulders above the others. The first was the dean of a major Oxford college, now you would, not unreasonably in my opinion, expect a man holding this august position to possess as least a modicum of sense.

A close friend of mine, William was operating a Ferris Wheel on my behalf at the college in question, he rang me a little worried, “Have we been paid for this job?”,

“Yep all paid up” was the confident reply, “Why?”

“Well”, says William, “The Dean has just told me the ride is unsafe and asked me to remove it from his college”

Now all of our attractions carry an annual inspection certificate from an independent engineer, and have a daily check record that is filled in every time the ride is operated, additionally the ride in question was a first class Wheel, so this puzzled me a little, I sent William back to find out exactly what the Dean’s problem was.

When he rang me back, he could just about tell the why between howling with laughter, what had transpired was this, when a Ferris wheel is erected, you basically construct what look like to giant spoked wheels parallel with each other. Once you have done this you hang, what we call the ‘cars’ (but are actually bench seats) between the 2 wheels at predetermined points. William had got as far as constructing the wheels but not fitting the cars when the Dean had turned up, what he had actually said was “Look at that ride, its a disgrace, there is no where for my students to sit, if they have to cling to the arms as it goes around and fall off near the top, THEY COULD BE KILLED!, look how high it is”.

Once William had actually shown him the seats and explained where they went he calmed down and the night went ahead as planned.

The second genius we encountered made this man look like Albert Einstein, but I will tell you about her in the next post.

Ferris Wheel
William Lock Big Wheel

Helping You Plan An Event

Planning a successful event is a major challenge, and can involve dealing with multiple suppliers, council departments, the police, fire brigade, press and many other organisations. Even a small company funday can involve weeks of planning and for someone not used to it, prove incredibly stressful.

Our advice is wherever possible use a professional event planner, the money they cost may well be saved by the deals they can negotiate with suppliers, and just imagine your event opening its doors, only to find the Police waiting to close it down because you haven’t applied for the relevant licence!

However, its quite possible that your planning a smaller event and feel confident you can do it, or even relish the challenge, or perhaps your company director has decided to hold a funday for the staff and given you the job, what next.

No amount of tips will ever replace the experience that a professional will bring to the table, but a little bit of research and some methodical planning can give you a fighting chance at delivering a successful event and hopefully help you avoid some of the pitfalls along the way. There are a few pages explaining the basics, then a resource page at the end with information that can be downloaded and links to more in depth resources.

Getting Started

There are 6 basic questions you need answering before you can proceed with planning these are;

  • How many people is it for
  • What will the age groups be
  • What sort of entertainment is required
  • Will catering be required
  • Where will it be held
  • Who Needs To Be Informed

How Many People Is It For

This question is the most important as it will  dictate the answers to many of  the others. The number of guests is the first thing you need to find out. There is little point booking a local pub to try and house 500 members of staff. Similarly a major exhibition centre is overkill if you have 20 members of staff coming for a little party (although many exhibition centres will have a number of smaller rooms that can be hired for smaller events).

The guest numbers will also dictate how much entertainment you need (booking a funfair ride that will carry 4 people is little use if your event lasts 2 hours and you have 500 people there). Similarly you don’t want to order a hog roast for 100 guests and expect to spread it between 500, many guests will ask for seconds so really you should be ordering more than you need, we usually try to stock up for an additional 10% or so.

What will the age group be

Any entertainment, and to a lesser extent catering, will need tailoring to the age of the guests. Booking a selection of high speed thrill rides will be great for the bulk of people, but won’t impress a gang of 5 year olds, or their mothers!

Similarly a hot young contemporary comedian might go down a storm with the 30 somethings but upset the older generation, and if your company directors come into this bracket it might not be a good idea to upset them.

We would normally work the guests into catogeries;

  • Young Kids
  • Teenagers
  • Pensioners
  • Everybody else

What Sort Of Entertainment Is Required

You are lucky nowadays, with the advent of the Internet there is an unbelievable choice of entertainment for your event. From bands to team-building to funfair’s and much more besides.

With the information you have selected, you will be able to prepare a plan of what you are going to need. Make sure there is something for everybody, any group left out is going to complain. Obviously if there is only going to be 2 children there then you can’t really justify 4 or 5 children’s entertainers (unless they happen to be the owners kids), similarly if there are only a small number of older people in the mix you may well get away with booking a risque comedian, you could always explain that it is someone the majority of the people like and explain why they might find him offensive, you might be surprised, we’ve been to many events where the liveliest group are the older generation.

Some choices such as funfair games (hey we are a funfair company so we are going to tell you about our stuff), works equally well for all ages, kids love games such as the coconut shie, whilst the grown ups will be competitive and want to beat their mates (or impress their girlfriend/boyfriend/partner).

Your entertainment choice might be dictated by the choice of venue, if you are having an indoor event then there is no point thinking about something like a ferris wheel, there are few venues that it will fit inside. Equally a crooning singer might not like the idea of working outdoors. You need to draw up your entertainment list and then review it after you have sorted the venue out.

Is Catering Required

I can think of very few events we have attended where catering hasn’t been provided, people basically need to eat and drink, and the catering can easily make or break the event. A small number of guests at an intimate party might be better served by a sit down meal, though we regularly see 4-500 sit down guests being served a 3 course dinner, for that you will probably be better using the venues caterer as the logistics involved in laying out 500 places in a tent in the middle of a field are complex, and you would need to be sure an outside caterer was up to the task.

If you are having some outdoor entertainment, then hog roast, burger van, buffet type food is probably the way to go, the guests can mix and mingle, listen to the entertainment/use the attractions and feed when they feel like it. An ice cream cart or candy floss cart or other fun food will make a nice addition and usually keep going throughout the event.

Don’t forget to take into account any special dietary requirements, such as vegetarians or someone that can only eat Halal or Kosher.

Where Will It Be Held

Again this ties in with the number of guests you have and the type of event. If its a large family funday you are going to need enough space for the rides, games and catering attractions, and just as importantly suitable access, there is no point booking a 30 acre field for a full scale funfair, if the only access road is 6ft wide (believe me we have had this happen), any reputable supplier would arrange a site visit to check access fro large vehicles, though you may either have to pay for it, or be patient so they can arrange to carry it out when they are in the area.

Indoor venues are licensed for a set number of people, so they will be able to tell you exactly how many guests you can have. A popular range of venues are football stadiums, they tend to have enough seating indoors and catering expertise for a large sit down meal, and plenty of room outside if you want a large outdoor event to go with it, racecourses are pretty similar.

If its a small intimate function, then usually a local bar or bistro would tick all the boxes for you.

But don’t be afraid to use unusual venues, we provided catering for an event in what used to be the cells of Clarkenwell prison, spooky and damp but really fun nonetheless.

Who Needs To Be Informed

At a small gathering in a local bistro, its probably a good idea to inform your guests of the event, otherwise it could be a little quiet, but there aren’t usually any statutory bodies that you are required to talk to.

Larger events depend on what you are going to be doing, alcohol usually requires a temporary event notice if you are charging for it, if it is being given away then it doesn’t fall under the retail sale of alcohol regulations so you don’t need to apply for one, if you need one remember to do it in good time, applications that are late will be refused.

A peculiarity of the act (at least we think so) is that the T.E.N. act doesn’t just cover alcohol, the full list of activities are;

  • selling alcohol
  • serving alcohol to members of a private club
  • providing entertainment (eg music, dancing or indoor sporting events, but funfairs are exempt)
  • serving hot food or drink between 11pm and 5am

So be careful, if you are having a live band or a late night event you could come under the terms of this. Normally you have to apply for a license 21 days before the event, but this has now been relaxed and you are allowed to apply for 10 Late TENS a year, these need putting in 5 days before.

A major event will also require first aid cover, and its probably a good idea to inform both the police and fire service.

 

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.

How To Win At The Funfair Part 3

Winning On The Hoopla Stall

Another old time game that is still a staple of the modern funfair. Basically you need to throw a ring over a block (traditionally wood, but plastic tends to be used nowadays), if you manage to do it successfully you win whatever is on the block.

Now the first problem that crops up is, even after all these years, people don’t know the rules of the game, basically the ring needs to go over the block and lay flat on the table. Unfortunately many people still seem to think that all you need to do is throw a ring over the prize to win, something Stevie Wonder could manage to do with a little help.

In fact I once jumped into a hoopla stall to let a friend nip to the toilet and had an almighty row with a woman whose kid had managed to drop the ring over an Xbox or something similar and thought they had won it, even though the stall at the time had numerous signs indicating the rules, luckily my friend came back pretty quickly and he bore the brunt of her wrath

There are a couple of things you can do to improve your chances of winning, some of the blocks will have lower value prizes on, these tend to be ever so slightly smaller than the other blocks and consequently you have a slightly better chance of winning.

The only real advantage you can give yourself if playing for the more expensive prizes is to throw the rings like a Frisbee, imparting plenty of spin to them, sometimes they go over the prizes and spin their way down the block, but other than that it is pretty much a game of chance.

Yee Haa Ride Em Cowboys

Themed Side Stalls For Hire

One of the upgrades we are making this season to our games units is to carry the theming to a new level. Pictured here are our new Wild West sidestalls and Wild West themed Photo Booth built into a full sized stagecoach.

These are available for events throughout the UK and Europe and are ideal for hoe downs and other Western themed events.

 

 

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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiener_Riesenrad .

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

The-Living-Daylights-James-Bond-Kara-Timothy-Dalton-Maryam-dAbo-Vienna-ferris-wheel

Winning At The Funfair Darts

Winning On Funfair Darts Stalls

There is a plethora of darts games on any decent sized fairground, from 3 separate whites to win, through bust a balloon and stick 3 separate cards.

Usually these are pretty straight games, and can be won by someone who is a good darts player (which most people are not), indeed some operators will happily let you use your own darts.

However there are a couple of things to watch out for. The bust a balloon game seems to easy to be true, well, guess what, it is too easy to be true. The fact is the darts are not competition sharp, the balloons are only partly inflated so they tend to give rather than bust. You can win on the game, just not as easily as you think.

The stick 3 separate cards is another one that can be slightly modified, again the darts tend not to be the sharpest, the cards are mounted on wooden panels so the darts need throwing quite hard to make them stick which affects your accuracy, again you can win but it isn’t as easy as it looks.

The one that does need an explanation though relies not on trickery, but peoples greed blinding their common sense. You walk up to a stall and spot a giant soft toy, probably something with a retail value of £40-£50. Around its neck hangs a sign proclaiming “Me If You Lose”. Wow you think, I am going to hand my £1.50 over and am guaranteed to walk away with at least that giant toy. Dream on, economics dictate that the operator would be bankrupt pretty quick if that were true. The game is usually something like score over 6 with 3 separate numbers to win. Now if you look at it the only way to lose is to stick 1,2 and 3. Darts outside the board tend to count as 6 as does sticking the same number twice, so you play and are almost guaranteed to win, when you do you receive a small toy which obviously has cost less wholesale than the price you paid. “AH but” you complain, why have I only get this little teddy for winning when you get that great big giant toy for losing? Because that’s the game!  Really all the operator has done is interchange the terms winning and losing.

 

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