BAL-AMi Jukeboxes - A Brief History
The history of BAL-AMi jukeboxes spans only 10 years, 1953-1963.
For the most part they were derivatives of those produced by AMi (Automatic
Musical Instrument Company) of the USA, with some notable exceptions.
In 1953, import restrictions in the UK determined that manufactured
goods from abroad could only be sold if at least 53% of the content was
British made. Samuel Norman (born Ilford 1915), of the Balfour (Marine)
Engineering Company based at 290/296 High Road, Ilford, Essex, saw an opportunity to build
jukeboxes in the UK using existing American designs. He met John Haddock
who ran AMi at that time and set up an agreement to import some of the
AMi components, whilst manufacturing others in the UK. These parts would
be used to build AMi designed jukeboxes under licence. The UK machines
would be called BAL-AMi.
Whilst the first machines to be built in Ilford were the 'D' and
'E' models, the BAL-AMi name was not used until the G80 of 1955, priced
at around 625 UKP. The model 'F' was never made in England, although it appears
that somehow some 'F' machines were converted to 240v in Australia, had a Beam
Echo amp installed, and then had the BAL-AMi name added. The background to these
machines is not entirely clear.
The most popular (in terms of numbers) BAL-AMi jukebox was the 1958
model 'I' which were manufactured in manual select format only (the AMi version
was available with electric select). Some BAL-AMi electric machines do exist,
but these were actually made in the USA and just re-badged as a BAL-AMi
for the UK market. The UK BAL-AMi I200M was manufactured almost entirely in the
pink/charcoal configuration, but some turquoise examples do exist, albeit with a
pink diffuser and cap (which makes them look very odd). The American version came in
both pink and turquoise (with a turquoise diffuser/cap!) in large
Perhaps the biggest innovation during the BAL-AMi era was the production
of a range of scaled down jukeboxes to address the needs of smaller UK
locations. These used 40-selection mechanisms and were known as the Junior
40, Super 40, and Super 40 Deluxe, and were built between 1956-1959. The
J40 was a design based upon the model 'F' using some parts from the model
Typical coffee bar jukebox
location in the 1950s. This is the Rose Cafe in South Croydon,
November 1957, with a BAL-AMi G80 in the corner.
(Photo courtesy of Clive
Poge - standing next to the juke on the right !)
By 1956 demand had substantially increased, and an
additional factory in Harlow, Essex (just north-east of London) was
purchased by Balfour for production of cabinets for the 'G' models. Production
and assembly remained at Ilford.
BAL-AMi did not clone every AMi jukebox during the 1950's. The most
notable absentees were that of the AMi model 'H' and the Continental. Perhaps
the departure in AMi design that came with these models was too much of
a shock for Balfour!
They did, however, continue the design ethos of the 'H' and 'I' into
the 1960's with the Super 100 model. This shared many visual features from
the model 'I' and even used the glass windscreen from the 'H'. Many of
these machines have since been converted to 200 selection jukeboxes.
In the early 1960's, a number of import restrictions were lifted
and BAL-AMi found themselves competing to sell the 'J' and 'K' models against
the American AMi versions being sold by other UK agents. Wurlitzers, Seeburgs
and Rock-Olas were also now free to enter the country.
What turned out to be the last model built by BAL-AMi was the New
Yorker. This was a hotch-potch of a machine using parts from the model
'K' and the front grille and star from the mark one Continental.
Samuel Norman died in March 1962 of leukaemia aged
only 47. I'm told that his family took over the running of the company but
encountered some serious industrial unrest problems in 1963. Around about the
same time, the AMi corporation in the USA merged with Rowe, creating an even
more powerful competitor. In the face of such
difficulties, the decision was taken to cease jukebox production for good. A sad end to an exciting 10 years !
As well as continuing to make spares for BAL-AMi jukeboxes,
the engineering side of the company continued to manufacture
record players, ice cream machines, and aircraft engine parts for Rolls Royce,
including turbine blades for Concorde. They were also heavily involved in
work for the TSR2 fighter aircraft, but that was cancelled by the Government of
the day in favour of the American F111 swing wing fighter. Balfour eventually
closed its doors for the last time in the early 1970s.
Samuel Eric Norman, founder of BAL-AMi, 1915-1962
(With thanks to Tony
Holmes, Terry Lovell , and Keith Hutchinson for much of the information contained in this article.)