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.
Balfour House in 2015 - now apartments and shops
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
the above article.)
How much of a BAL-AMi
jukebox was "Made in Britain" ?
As an addendum to the above short
history, a visitor to this web site, John Adams, has written a very interesting
article analysing the British content of a G80:
BAL-AMi G80 - How Much of it is British?
Much has been
documented about the BAL-AMi, and it's a well known fact that they were a
licensed product, built on the base and reputation of the established American
company, Automatic Musical Instruments. It's also fairly well known, that the
main reason for creating the partnership of a British manufacturer, together
with an American one, was compliance with import restrictions, in force due to
the need for recovery from both physical and economic damage from the (then)
But, has anyone, more
than casually, observed the differences between the original AMi and the British
counterpart models? In this study, I've taken the G80, the first to carry the
BAL-AMi badge, as the subject. Closer investigation reveals more British
manufactured components than you might imagine.
The cabinet is
obviously going to be made in Britain. Starting at the top, with
the externally defined horn, differences
can be seen. Early models of the G80 sported a wooden
trim, holding an anodised, fine mesh, aluminium grille around the edge of the
top mounted horn. Obviously a home product, as the American original was trimmed
with a chrome plated casting, and an AMi badge in the centre of the plated
Later BAL-AMi models carried
a similar casting, not an imported one, and there were obvious differences. The
BAL-AMi badge, requiring differently spaced fixing holes, and the square
punched holes in the plated grille, were slightly larger.
Looking at the original flyer
for the G, (see the advertising page on
this web site), around the wooden horn trim and cast horn trim,
there's most of the variants
shown, implying that there was little,
actually ready to market
at the time of preparation. Close
inspection shows that the
emberred charcoal one, without the badge, doesn't even have an inner trim
Inside the casing, a
horn manufactured by E.W. Drake of Billericay, Essex, could be found, with a
Goodmans of Wembley, Middlesex, compression driver connected to the throat. The
American driver was sourced from Electrovoice.
Casting the eye
downward immediately reveals a different font, to the American market's Multi
Horn High Fidelity logo. Also immediately noticeable is the fact that the side
glass doors are smaller - another home product, or was this to use up an
overproduction of doors for the model F?
Looking past the glass,
onto the actual mechanism, this is obviously an American AMi casting (at this
point in the production history), supporting
what initially looks like the complete American unit, but look closer. Firstly
the pick up arm is different. In fact, incorporating a counterbalance weight. In
terms of record care, this is a better one than that fitted to the American
product. It appears to be a cosmetically updated version of the arm fitted to
the models D and E. It's fitted with a Tannoy cartridge made by the highly
reputed West Norwood based company. Closer visual scrutiny reveals it's a one
piece turntable mechanism cover, unlike the American original, which has
removable panels, secured by visible screws. Underneath is a motor made by
Collaro, of Barking, Essex, The surrounding trim, together with the chequered
waterslide transfer is more than likely locally sourced. And isn't that green
dome, over the selection indicator light, different to the one from Grand
Looking at the door
below, the cast trim and fittings are identical, except for the grille and lock.
Mesh grilles varied, so would probably have come from various suppliers, most
likely based in Essex. However, the lock appears to be the furthest travelled
British component being from Union of Willenhall. They appear to have been the
main supplier of locks.
Opening the door
reveals a British amplifier by Beam Echo, but we all knew that, didn't we? Made
in Witham, Essex. I think there's also a strong possibility that the crossover
network was also manufactured in England, as there is a marked difference in
that there's a wire wound attenuator, to balance sound levels between speaker
drivers, not seen in the American built units. The 12” bass speaker, inside that
cover behind the amplifier, is an Audiom, another Goodmans product.
So, judging by the
pictures of the factory, available in another article, all of the looms were
made in the Balfour facility, and would have used British cable. Fluorescent
light fittings, tubes, starters etc, falling into the category of sundries,
would have come from local suppliers.
All in all, it looks as
though more than 53% was made in Britain. That seems to make Sam Norman look
like quite a shrewd businessman.
Or, prompted by the
revelation of “The best kept secret in the business”, back in May, 1961, it
could be speculated that Sam might have been somewhat more shrewd than those at
Ami, who had awarded him the contract.
On the other hand, Sam
Norman was soon building and successfully selling some of his own similar
looking machines These had less glittering trim, utilising an exclusive
combined amplifier and power supply unit, delivering around 15 watts sound
output, hence requiring lower power speakers. All of these factors reduced
manufacturing costs and selling prices. Small wonder that the name BAL-AMi was
displayed on about 80% of jukeboxes in the U.K., outselling the American
counterparts, but still bearing the AMi name. Obviously the contract allowed
this, but in 1961, with its incredibly square appearance, blatantly suggesting
low production cost, was the New Yorker the last straw?
It is widely believed
that a five year contract simply ran out. If this was the case, why was the
following statement issued to the press by Balfour in May 1961:
“We are pleased to
announce that an agreement has been concluded for the sale by Balfour (Marine)
Engineering Company Ltd., and Automatic Musical Instruments (Great
Britain) Limited, of their joint interests in the phonograph industry to the
Rowe Automatic Merchandising Company Ltd., which company, like AMi, is a member
of the Automatic Canteen Group. The sale involves a substantial payment for
stocks of spares, tools and goodwill.”
But, what about the rest of
the world? There has been some speculation about the number of BAL-AMi models,
usually G120s, found in Australia and New Zealand.
There are some pointers
towards conjecture, on the “Literature” page, there is a drawing shown,
detailing production of the American style pick up (Tone) arm.
Louis Ward comments that he
worked on these, in Worcester. It had been assumed that these were imported.
Also, on the same page, is
a news item, “How it's Done” featuring a photo of the large milling machine,
used for milling base castings.
Again, it was assumed that
these were another imported item.
Did that contract, contain
wording, possibly by default, permitting the franchise to include the British
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