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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 numbers..

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 'G' !

 

 

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.)

 
     
 

BAL-AMi photo advertising the Super 40. Note the use of children to highlight the small size of this machine. It's target market was smaller coffee bars and cafes.

 
 

 

The BAL-AMi "Flying Showroom". A cargo plane which was used as a mobile display facility around the UK.

 

 
 

Employees unloading model Gs in 1955.

 

 
 
   
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