Behind the BAL-AMi Factory Gate
Given that BAL-AMi stopped making jukeboxes in 1963, the number
of people that were involved in their manufacture is dwindling as time goes on. This page records
the memories of some of those employees.
If you worked at the BAL-AMi factory, or maybe knew
someone who did, drop me a line. Some names I've come across are:
Tony Fahy, Ken Calvy, Tom Maher, Irene
Goodwin, Roy Pipfer, Len Burton, and Ronnie Palmer
Norman Jones, a retired electrical engineer, now living in Berkshire, was an
apprentice at the BAL-AMi factory in Ilford from 1958-61. He recalls,
"I knew Sam Norman, he was the step father of a school friend of mine at the
time, called William. Sam was married to Elsie, William's mother.
Sam gave me an early working break and offered me an apprenticeship at
Balfour Marine Engineering in Ilford, where I worked for three years, during
which time I assembled, installed and maintained BAL AMi jukeboxes. I was
also involved in setting up the factory in Harlow, which was opened to allow
for the expansion into electronic “bar bowls” and the conversion of US
manufactured AMi Jukeboxes. This involved changing the power supply input
and the coin mechanisms. We also had to modify the turntable motor to allow
for the different mains frequency in the UK.
I have recollections about Sam and his business exploits, including the
gallons of orange juice he once purchased and filled the main entrance hall
of the factory in Ilford, at a time when there was a national shortage of
orange juice, which I think was caused by problems with the crop in Brazil.
Also his associations with Bill Larkin of Larkin's peanuts. I remember being
in hospital for a while and Bill Larkin coming to see me with enough peanuts
and coconut ice bars to feed the hospital for days.
Another character to remember was Wilf, who I think was Sam's
brother-in-law. He was general manager of the Ilford factory and had a desk
in the main entrance where he could see all the comings and goings of people
I was older than William and passed my driving test some months before him.
Whilst Sam was abroad in Le Touquet, William and I would be off in his gold
Bentley Convertible, with me driving. This was unknown to Sam of course, but
with Elsie’s agreement. On one occasion I had dropped William off to go into
Boots in Walthamstow and was driving around the block several times before
being waved down by a policeman, who wondered what a young lad was doing
driving a £40,000 motor car. The policeman showed a lot of interest in the
car and before long we had the bonnet open.
We thought nothing was going to happen, but just as we were driving away,
the policeman said he wanted to see the insurance certificate!!!! That was
going to be difficult because it was in the company safe back in Ilford and
only Sam and Wilf had the combination. However, Wilf was great and helped us
out of the jam.
On another occasion, I was driving Elsie's MGA, and smashed up the front
wing. Returning to Sam's house in Chigwell, he was leaning against the
fireplace as we entered the lounge. Instead of the rollocking we expected,
Sam said " hello ‘hoppy’, looks bloody untidy with one wing smashed, take
it back out and match up the other side!!"
(He always called me “hoppy” because of the limp I had from the polio I had
when I was twelve years old)
At our look of surprise, he said "if you don't, you might lose your driving
That was the sort of guy he was.
I also got to drive Sam's Ferrari around the Walthamstow Greyhound Stadium
car park. Got up to about 50 mph without touching the accelerator. It was
awesome. I have seen Sam leave the factory in Ilford in the Ferrari and
drive a couple of hundred yards on the wrong side of the road to get into a
gap in the traffic, well ahead of him! Wow, that was some machine!
Another character I knew well and we had plenty of laughs together was
Eddie. He was a general handyman (only he was about my age,19) and came out
with me when we did the installations to help with the lifting etc. I was
not able to carry the heavy stuff. We did the installation of the Hideway
unit at the Thatched House pub in Epping. What a laugh that was, trying to
get the machine down into the beer cellar.
It was a very cut-throat business, with people trying to sabotage machines
using washers, foreign coins and even iron filings in the coin mechanisms.
If the machines were not bringing in the money and the customers, then the
coffee bars and pubs would want them out and replaced with a competitors
I looked after about 20 installations around the east end of London and
Essex. They ranged from the smoky cafés in Bethnal Green to the Thatched
House pub in Epping. I made regular visits to empty the coin boxes and
change the record selection as appropriate. My pockets were always full of
the centres of EPs!!!!!!!!
Each machine had a “times” played recorder and if a record was not playing
much, it had to be changed. Staff were allowed to purchase the used 45’s for
a few pence, so it was tempting to add a record I liked to a collection on a
machine that was not going to play it very much, and then change it a couple
of weeks later!
One other event that occurred whilst I was working at Balfour, was the
accident I had in the company VW van, which caused some concern at the time
as I rolled down a railway embankment and landed up on the lines in front of
the Southend to Liverpool Street express. It's a wonder I got to 20 years
old, let alone 67!
The image below is a certificate I received in 1960 following an in-house
training course for the Model "K". You will notice that my certificate is
signed by Cecil Jones, a director of the company.
Known to be a friend of the family and with my surname being Jones also, I
was treated with some suspicion by the rest of the staff!!"
I used to
work in the amplifier department in the 1950's and 60's when I was a
teenager. I remember Sam Norman and visited his house many times - I lived
just a couple of miles away from him. They were wonderful days and I can
remember building my own first valve amplifier from various bits scrounged
from our department!
After BAL-AMi stopped making
jukeboxes, it started designing and manufacturing one-armed bandits. They
did not last for very long and I was then involved in designing and building
ice cream machines!!
It all became rather depressing
after that and I left to pursue my passion for films and photography.
Tony Fahy building
a Model G cabinet
Freddy Bailey writes:
I met Cecil Jones, who was the Managing
Director of AMi (Great Britain) Ltd, several times with my father. He also
owned a jukebox operating company called Acoustics Developments Ltd at 4
Denbar Parade on Eastern Avenue in Romford. He also was instrumental in
setting up the Harlow plant to produce the Bally Jumbo gaming machines.
John Haddock, then President of AMi in the
US, put the deal together for AMi (Great Britain) Ltd to build the Bally
machines. The connection was that his big distributor in the US, Runyon
Sales Company Inc. of New Jersey, put up the money for Billy O'Donnell to
buy Bally in 1963.
Also I recently (2010) spoke to Ray Laren
the son of Dave Laren, who was the partner of Sam Norman in the "Silver
Queen" fruit machine venture. Ray told me that Sam had a brother who was a
pig farmer. He also told me that he (Ray Laren) went to Balfour Marine
Engineering Ltd to train how to fix the models G80, J40 and S100 models. He
said that the Super Forty model was originally going to be the Super Sixty
model but they could not get a layout right for the sixty buttons, so they
made the Super Forty Mk II. I once remember seeing a Super Sixty cabinet at
Music Hire Ltd in Leeds. If you look at the title strip panels you can see
there is provision for 60 title strips.
My Father bought the very first Bal-Ami
Super 40 for 345 pounds brand new, we had it in our arcade at Mundesley-On-Sea,
in Norfolk. The AMi G-200 was built into the same style cabinet as the
G-120, and the mechanism was the forerunner to the AMi Continental that was
a nightmare to operate.
BAL-AMi originally made
a fruit machine for a short while, it was called Silver Queen. The tooling
for that machine was later passed on to Bell-Fruit Manufacturing Ltd who
used the tooling for their very first fruit machine called "Three-Alike" in
1960. BAL-AMi also made some Bally upright games under licence known as
Peter Redding has kindly sent a photo of a
Silver Queen fruit machine that he now owns......
Louis Ward - Balfour Planning Engineer and
Design Draughtsman - 1951-59
I am indebted to Norman Leach for sourcing
the following recollection from his cousin, Louis Ward, who was a
draughtsman at the Balfour organisation - Ed
The Balfour Marine and Aviation Engineering
Company, at the time when they were situated in the Ilford High Road, were
eminent in the machining of aircraft components. The "marine" part of the
company was not evident at this time. Components were produced in batch
quantities, some from forgings which contributed to their strength and
durability due to the grain flow of the metal thus achieved.
In some instances, the manufacture of
components was insured at Lloyds of London against the risk of a false cut,
possibly after some hundreds of man/machine hours of production, to limits
of a few tens of a thousandth of an inch. The operators of the various
machine tools involved in producing the components were guided in their
operations by series of stage drawings, and added fixtures which were
planned, designed and detailed by the Balfour planning engineers and design
draughtsmen, one of whom was me.
Balfour Engineering were chosen to
undertake this work by the foremost aircraft companies in Great Britain
including D.Napier, A.V.Roe, BAC, and others whose illustrious names are now
part of the history of aviation.
The production of jukeboxes by Balfour,
which began during this time under licence from Associated Musical
Industries (AMi) of the USA, was within the compass of Balfour Engineering
and did not affect the manufacture described above.
At some stage it was realised that moulds
would be required for the quantity production of various parts such as the
tone arm and mechanism, plus trims etc.. However, due to pressure of work on
the specialist design and drawing office personnel at the Midlands offices
of an associate company, Messrs Metal Castings of Worcester, this capacity
was not forthcoming.
In this event, I was sent to live and work in
Worcester to fulfill this requirement and was engaged there for several
months. One of the zinc moulds designed and fully dimensioned for
manufacture, namely that of the tone arm, is illustrated herewith (see
below - Ed).
From Mark Hall:
I was an engineering apprentice at Balfour
between August 1970 and May 1971, when I was made redundant.
As a first year apprentice I didnt
really know exactly what Balfour were doing but as far as I am aware most of
the work was machining aero engine components for Rolls Royce. It was the
collapse of Rolls Royce in 1971 that led to the apprentices all being made
redundant, and, I presume, the closure of the company.
Somewhere I still have a heavy
stainless steel component which I was told at the time was a rejected aero
engine part. I'm sure that one of the directors was a Mr (V?) Norman and he
drove a sporty Ford Escort, probably a Mk1 Escort 1300GT, or maybe something
more exotic and specially prepared for him by Ford, who were based a few
miles away at Dagenham.
The training officer was a Mr Reg
Pitman, who lived at Chelmsford and drove a Ford too, an Anglia I think.
Chelmsford to Ilford was a long way to comute in those days. I remember one
day Reg came into work with the gear lever still in his hand! His assistant,
who kept a close eye on all apprentices, was Jock McClean. I recall Jock
telling us about jukeboxes so I suspect he may have been there a long time.