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Novelty Automation: Surprising quirky arcade fun

By Tiziana Murgo

A brilliantly bizarre arcade is certainly not what you’d expect to find behind a Tudor shopfront, but that unexpectedness is a perfect introduction to what lies inside. Novelty Automation is home for artist and inventor Tim Hunkin’s hilarious, clever and unique arcade machines.  

You may already be familiar with his witty work if you’ve been to Suffolk, as his original arcade ‘The Under the Pier Show’ is on Southwold Pier. Hunkin has been designing arcade machines for over thirty years and when he ran out of room on the pier he opened his second in Bloomsbury, a short walk away from the British Museum.  

Many adults’ childhood holiday memories include hours and hours (and money) spent at the pier arcade. Every coin operated machine would bring you into a different world, competition and prizes, any sort of prizes: from money to useless gadgets. At that time, they were the avant-garde of modern technology and gaming but these types of entertainment slid into decline as they could no longer compare with home computer games. 

But the machines at Novelty Automation are no Pac-Man or 2p Pushers. These are handmade with surprise effects and satirical themes.  They are fun with a bit of dark humour about modern life thrown in. 

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The place is part arcade part fairground attraction part art installation. We found a “Pet or Meat” machine where you check if your lamb will actually survive as lamb or become meaty food; the “Instant Weightloss” machine where you are given weightless ingredients and then you will appreciate your slim figure… in the mirror.  

The kids really appreciated the chiropodist machine, which is one the first machines Hunkin built. After a long stroll into Covent Garden a foot massage is what you really need. I personally loved the public phone machine where you are able to hear a very romantic message from Barry White voice and the bicycle ping pong. 

While many of the arcade machines have themes only adults would fully understand, do bring the kids along as the inventions will blow their minds. The machines are all different, surprising and most of all hilarious. All of them do something bonkers which makes you lough loud. 

I won’t say more or I will spoil the surprise, but it is approximately an hour well spent in central London, you will feel like a kid again. 

Novelty Automation is located in 1a Princeton Street, WC1R 4AX, 5 minutes walk from Holborn Station, London. It is not open every day, so please check the website before you visit. 

Entry is free. Tokens to play the machines cost £1 each, with increasing discounts for quantities, up to a bucket of 30 tokens for £21.

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