HERNE BAY SEA FRONT ATTRACTIONS
A HISTORICAL NOTE WRITTEN IN 2000 BY ROTARIAN BARRIE SMITH, THE INSTIGATOR OF THE SERIES OF ATTRACTIONS ON HERNE BAY SEA FRONT THAT CULMINATED IN
When I joined Rotary in 1957 during Bill Dawson’s year as President, the main fund-raising activity was at Christmas when the Club supported a carol collection accompanying a mechanised float which we took to many of the roads in the town.
THE MAGIC CAVE
In 1966 we created the “Magic Cave” in some empty premises at the corner of Bank Street and High Street (formerly a garage, then a caravan workshop and now partly the labour exchange and partly a wedding outfit shop). This was also a Christmas attraction, strictly a one-off event, and intended to provide funds for our Christmas parcel distribution and towards a kidney unit (Sgt. Sparrow).
I mention the Magic Cave as it was the first display that we built to collect funds and the first of my “bright ideas”. It was reasonably successful, but not as successful as I had hoped and I learnt a lot, especially about the need to think big in order to attract attention.
DOUGAL AND THE LIGHTHOUSE
In the following year, 1967, I proposed the creation of the first of the seafront displays. This was quite frankly an attempt to get money from the public painlessly and at the same time avoid Rotarians having to keep putting their hands in their own pockets to meet the various calls on our generosity.
The Club approved the suggestion and agreed to a total proposed cost of £100.
We were fortunate in obtaining permission from the Herne Bay Urban District Council to place the display on the Sea Front at the entrance to the pier where at one time the Guinness clock had stood.
Realising the need for something to grab the attention of passers-by, I designed a “lighthouse” and several club members spent many hours in the basement under the Auction Mart, building this from plywood using boatbuilding methods. Poggy Pilcher, my business partner, Eric Heselden and Geof Longley are three names that come to mind but there were several others.
The central feature of the display was a large circular trough of water, partly concealed by a “rock” wall with a coin chute at the front. A powerful washing machine pump circulated the water and carried round washing up bowls each containing a character from the “Magic Roundabout”. T he object was to try to roll a coin into one of the bowls as it passed.
I wrote to the BBC and obtained permission to use replicas of the characters in the then very popular “Magic Roundabout” series.
The heads and bodies of our replicas were carved from wood and other members helped with the attire. Bob Root’s wife Eileen dressed several of the puppets and Florence is still wearing a pair of bootees hand crafted for her by Percy Wells.
Not long after the display was established Wally the Whale arrived! Wally was an original creation (i.e. not borrowed from TV) and was a model whale in a fishpond. Wally rose to the surface and “blew” when someone put a coin in the slot.
[Sadly, the photo of Wally has been lost.]
This version of the Lighthouse had to be manned all the time it was open and it says a lot for the enthusiasm of the club members that we ran that display for two years!
THE LIGHTHOUSE MARK II
In 1970 the club approved the idea for a new attraction which was to be automated and built on a caravan chassis donated by John Fitt so that it could be easily removed in the autumn.
When it started this new display had three small hutches with a red lamp over each. The idea was that you dropped a coin into a coin box when the red light was alight over the hutch of the character you wanted to see. In the hutches we had Florence, Dougal and Brian the snail.
In the foreground was Wally the Whale. Wally was very popular with the kids, and strangely enough also with the grannies but eventually we had to abandon the idea because it caused Terry Meehan, who had the pub nearby and looked after the whole affair for the club, too many problems in keeping it going. The louts of the day thought it great fun to add ink or detergent, rubbish, fish and chips and on one occasion a live eel!
Zebedee had been featured in our first display in a small hutch part way up the side of the Lighthouse and we used him again in the second display (he was supposed to bob up and down when you put a coin in).
The club records show that a display of the attraction was taken to the Eastbourne (Rotary) conference in that year. Probably this was a set of display photographs of the original project and one or two of the original puppets as I do not think the exhibit as a whole was capable of travelling that sort of distance!
After a year or so we rebuilt the whole unit to incorporate the Magic Roundabout Train.
Later still we added Mr Rusty in another weird shaped box at the front (as Zebedee had given continual problems) and changed the method of selecting what you got for your money. Mr Rusty wound a ball into view and this was released down a chute into a rotating wheel (you will realise that this was the fore-runner of the Tele-Go-Round Wheel).
Up to this time I had made all the characters, as well as the train and the whale and as you may imagine it kept me quite busy! Several times we had one or other of the characters stolen and even enlisted the Herne Bay Press in an attempt to get them back.
In 1983 the lighthouse team decided on the third major rebuild, and with club agreement work was started on Telly-Go-Round. Eric Hall, who had done the scene painting on the earlier exhibits, suggested this name and it has stuck.
This time the characters were the “Muppets” but ITV and the Muppets’ creator Jim Hanson would not give me permission to replicate the puppets though he did give me a long play record of the Muppets “signed” by many of the characters.
Eventually we decided to go ahead anyway using dolls bought readymade from the shops. The intention of this rebuild was to incorporate more puppets, to improve the reliability of the mechanical parts of the machine and also, if possible, to include some animation in the puppets.
The cost to the club for building Telly-Go-Round was £150, but this takes no account of the many contributions from club members, primarily from John Fitt who built the new display housing to the rather complicated plans I provided, and George Jones who has been our presiding electrical genius in all these displays.
Telly-Go-Round, like our other offerings, has seen improvements and alterations to the original design, for example in 1987 we changed the train from the old Magic Roundabout train to the fashionable Thomas the Tank train. That has been very popular though my own favourite is still Dougal’s train from the Magic Roundabout TV programme. Throughout the life of Telly-Go-Round we have gradually improved the animation of the puppets and in 1988 we found space for two additional drums and puppets and animated these last two puppets in 1989.
Over the years several of the purchased puppets have disintegrated and replacements have had to be produced. Wiggli Willi was an original from the BRS stable and Postman Pat is from another TV series.
Miss Piggy had to be replaced and her new image is, I think, one of my more successful efforts at animation.
In the early 90s I made a set of “International Rescue” models and we replaced the train with Thunderbirds 1, 2 and 3 but rather to our surprise these were not as popular with the kids as the train which was quickly reinstated.
In 1962 the club agreed that all the money collected that year should be donated to the RNLI, so the next job was to make a model of the Whitstable lifeboat which was attached to the train for the season.
[Sadly the photo of the lifeboat has been lost.]
In 1985 we won the Significant Achievement Award for Rotary District 1120, receiving the award from District Governor Jack Rowe.
As we approach the end of the 1999 season these displays on the Sea Front have been entertaining kids of all ages for over 30 years and the Tele-Go-Round has been operational for sixteen of these.
I have mentioned the making of the puppets and it is interesting to me that four of the original Magic Roundabout puppets (Dougal, Florence, Brian and Zebedee) are still in service in Telly-Go-Round today.
None of this would have been possible without the support of all the members of the Herne Bay Rotary Club who have opened and closed the attraction on a daily rota throughout each season and have counted the incredible amount of coppers which have been dropped into the coin slots!
When we started out I don’t think we ever thought the machines would last as long as they have and no accurate records appear to have been kept of the “take”. I think that each of the early years before 1976 raised at least £200 and I know that in the ten year period from 1976 to 1986 we raised £9,949.94.
I hope to get a more accurate figure for recent years from our Treasurer David when he has finished with the business of the year’s accounts but I feel certain that since 1986 we have raised at least £2,000 in each year.
Assuming these figures are right, the grand total our Sea Front attractions have collected (1967-1999) is something of the order of £38,000.
Note: TGR has been on Herne Bay seafront every year save for 2020 and the early part of 2021, the absences being only due to COVID-19 restrictions.
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more Like any piece of equipment, TGR needs regular maintenance during the season on the seafront, and more major off-season works. This page is intended as an update to the more detailed 2003 history from its "˜founder"™, Barrie Smith.
more The Telly-go-round had a terrific 2019 season when it raised over £6,000 for our charities. Sadly, Covid-19 put paid to plans for the 2020 season and the early 2021 season, but it is now back in place from 20 June 2021.