Manufacturer(s): Edwin Hall, Bennett, Pollard, Stevens, Eli Bridge, Hammond,
Debut year: 1959
First UK produced: 1959
Last UK produced: still current
Total UK number: approaching 300!
Summary: Hugely successful ride with ingenious motion of 'wheels within
wheels'. The ride rotates in one direction, whilst the individual car
groups rotate in a counter direction creating a weaving effect. The motion
is thus 'slowed' at the outermost point and 'accelerated' at the innermost
point, creating seeming 'near-misses' with other carriages.
The Twist ride has proved to be one of the most popular
and enduring rides ever to grace the UK fairgrounds. Production began
at the start of the 1960s and continues to the present day. Neither the
motion of the ride nor the specifics of the passenger containment have
changed in all this time - showing the ingenious formula to be an absolute
success. The ride has effectively 're-invented' itself aesthetically in
each decade, proving another formula for success: the fact that showmen
want to be seen as presenting up-to-date amusements. The 1970s saw the
introduction of a platform based ride, adding a chance to incorporate
'flash' in the form of painted sections. The 1980s saw the development
of the 'Sizzler' ride, with Perrin Stevens developing the motion drive
and portability of the Twist, while introducing a hard and stark aesthetic
of angular fibre-glass flash. Finally the 1990s saw the Twist become the
'Twister' as the ride re-themed itself to join in with popular culture's
adopting of the 'hurricane as entertainment' phenomena.
The first Twist rides to be built in the UK were manufactured
by Edwin Hall under licence from US company Eli Bridge. Hall had a contract
to build 6 machines for the Butlins camps in 1959/60, and produced a
design similar to the robust Eli machines that would later be imported
into the UK. Hall followed this with a flood of machines built for travelling
showmen, and the Twist was an instant hit in the UK. Such a success that
it can be reckoned that Twist rides have been built consistently for over
50 years in this country, with no sign of the trend abating a consequence
of this intense production (and importing) is the difficulty created in
untangling an accurate history of the ride. The original theming and nomenclature,
based first upon a contemporary dance craze and later on climatic freak
occurrences, has remained with the ride throughout this time, with an
'Sizzlers' arriving in the 1980s, only to be ousted by
a return to (a variation on) the original name in the 1990s the
'Twister' happening to coincide with a film of the same name about
a bunch of maverick hurricane hunters, complete with scenes of cows dropping
from the skies!
The Hall design was a standard 12-car 'grasscutter'
model, and the Butlins machines proved a success in the camps, with machines
present until recent years. It is debatable when the term grasscutter
emerged - possibly in later years with the arrival of the platform Twists
to distinguish the old from the new - but the implications of the name
are obvious as the arms of the ride resemble blades sweeping close to
ground-level. Another early name for these Twists, popularised by Butlins,
was 'Merry Mixer', leaning more to the social origins of the Twist and
its rooting in the popular dance craze. Other machines quickly moved to
capture the excitement of the ride, with terms like 'Cyclone' and 'Whirlaround'
appearing as early as 1961. The first Twist built for a showman went to
John Hoadley in 1960 this made an early appearance at Hull Fair
sharing a debut with the UK's first Upright Paratrooper, but spent most
of its time in Whitley Bay. John Scarrott bought this machine in 1983,
and it was then sold to Terry Wright in the Scottish section.
Around 16 Hall Twists were then completed for showmen,
though tracking their history is somewhat difficult. Albert Holland and
John Silcock both have examples that have been with their families since
new, whilst other early owners include J.J. Butterworth, Herbert Silcock
(open recently at New Brighton and remarkably unchanged), Harry Gray,
J. Dowse, Clifford Codona, John Ling, Chipperfield Brothers, J. Botton
and S. J. Cubbins. Barrys at Portrush had a machine delivered new in 1962,
this remaining at their park. Many of these rides are still around, and
a Hall built Twist is a popular choice for non-guild showmen.
David Wallis can be thanked for developing the visual impact of the ride, his machine (ex J.J. Butterworth) having the first ornate centre crowns that set the trend for other machines.
David Wallis' Edwin Hall Twist with additional ornate centre crown, 1980.
Silcock Brothers' Whirlaround, 1961.
The success of the Hall machines spurred other showmen
and manufacturers into production: John Hoadley built two further machines
based upon his own model, these machines being based at sister North East
parks Crimdon Dene and Seaton Carew. John Wall built updated versions
of the Hall machines in the 1970s, producing 12 models (3 of which went
to Sweden). Wall's machines (marketed as
used box-section construction rather than tubular, and had large modern
payboxes, but apart from that were fairly similar to the original models.
Most of these machines still survive, though you have to look very closely
to distinguish them from their Hall built contemporaries.
Hoadley's original Hall machine at Whitley Bay, circa 1960.
John Wall built Twist for Anthony Harris, 1983.
A bargain version of the grasscutter Twist was produced
by the Church company, related to the travelling Yorkshire family. Church
Twists were more affordable versions, and proved another big success,
with the company producing 32 machines. The first of these, produced in
1975, travelled with original owners the Hackett family up until 2003,
though has now been exported. Church Twists are very basic in design,
but have distinctive handrails any individual theming of the ride
was usually added by the showman himself. Tracking the changing histories
of these Church machines quickly became a difficult task (see the attached
machine list) since many of them took residencies on small seaside parks,
and most of them retained their spartan appearances.
La Zig Zag
Church Twist with distinctive Church handrails.
Barry Hudson's Twist - an example of a Church machine surviving in Ireland, 2003.
However, the chronological development of the Twist,
following the original Hall machines, implies that Bennett of Long Eaton
should come next. Bennett began production of their Twist quite close
to 1960, with showman Arthur Armstrong helping to design and then travel
the first Bennett Twist. The Bennett Twist was a step up from the grasscutter
model in terms of design and decoration, and involved the introduction of a wooden platform to allow a better sense of decoration and visibility
giving the ride an instant stand-out appeal. The drive for the ride was slightly altered dispensing with the single drive and gear system to power the arm units and opting for individual arm unit motors and electric brakes. This original Bennett Twist was sold
in 1971 to Anderton and Rowland, and is now with Billy Pettigrove.
Arthur Armstrong's original Bennett Twist, 1963.
Typical artwork on Beach's Bennett Twist, 1989.
Bennetts had been establishing a production base at
Long Eaton, and the demand for their platform Twist helped kickstart the
company. These Twists soon began to roll off the production line, all
with brightly coloured geometric decoration running through the handrails,
cars and platform floor - exploding stars and concentric circles. Approximately
17 machines were produced, many of which still travel. Following 1965
Bennetts switched production to Trabants, and then switched again to Lifting
Paratroopers ('Skydivers'). However, 2 more Twists were developed in 1978
and 1980, using advanced design. The story goes that the final Bennett
Twist paved the way for Stevens 'Sizzler'...
John Edwards' Twist shows finely preserved Bennett theming - the ride
was recently broken up.
Irvin's Twist - the last Bennett Twist to be built.
Pollards of Ilkeston filled in the missing period of
the 1970s by building 8 platform Twists. As Arthur Armstrong sold his
Bennett Twist, he became the first owner of a Pollards machine, this machine
standing for many years at the top section of the Goose Fair and only
recently going in to storage. Other Pollards machines proved good purchases,
with all machines still evident. A particularly fine example can be seen
in Ireland with the McGurk family, this ride still maintaining the original
McGurk's Twist shows striking original décor, seen here at Dungloe.
Another Irish Pollard Twist - John Mohan's machine in a serine setting.
Hayes Fabrication built at least 2 platform Twists,
using a Bennetts design but adding some traditional Hayes Fabrication
artwork - one of these machines remained as original at the park on Walton-on-the-Naze
Pier. Individual platform Twists were also built by Billy Hebborn, Charlie
Ive and Dudley Bowers, but the Stevens family were about to take the market
by the scruff of the neck and develop their Sizzler Twist. The Sizzler
quickly became the definitive fairground item for the early 1980s. The
Stevens family had supposedly had a hand in building an early grasscutter
style Twist but more significantly Joe and Perrin
Stevens had built their first friction drive Twist in 1972. This drive mechanism proved ingenious and was such that many existing Bennett machines were converted. After their protoype in 1972 Stevens then produced
a series a modified Twists that had design aspects suitable for quick
build-up and effective transportation for William Studt and for
M. DeVey culminating in the first all-out Sizzler developed in
1982 for S. and J. Thurston. This machine set the
look and feel
for the next generation of machines masses of lights, jagged and
angular flash, ultra-functional colour schemes (normally with lots of
black fibre-glass). Even though this
artwork was seen at the time
as somewhat heretical to the fine tradition laid out before it, it can
be seen now as an important blend where the fast movement and modernism
of the ride is expressed more through a design aesthetic (art and architecture
wrapped together) as opposed to traditional painted imagery.
S. and J. Thurston's Sizzler, 1982
Stark aesthetics display speed and futurism.
In effect, the stakes were now raised for Twist production.
Stevens (or PWS) hit upon a successful design and were rewarded with full
order books. Suddenly every owner of a Twist wanted this 'new' ride. The
history of the ride effectively began again. The
look and feel
remained constant throughout, an aesthetic taken on board by the Hammond
built Twists which became prolific in the early 1990s. It was not until
Hammond became Sonacase that the design aesthetic moved forward, partly
through necessity due to the fact that the Sizzler had become wildly prevalent
and certain showmen wanted something extra to stand out. The 1990s saw
the realm of the Twister, the design pushed forward by companies such
as Sonacase, Protech and Keith Emmett, with Scott Manning's model being
both an example of the peak of technological development, and a fusion
of pre-existing Twist styles. This machine retains the some of the technological
imprint that was carried through the bleak aesthetics of the Sizzlers,
but utilises richer curves and colours that almost hark back to the artistic
splendour of the Bennett machines.
Scott Manning's immaculate machine, 2002
David Wallis' Twist with tilted floor and back-flash.
Other Twists remain travelling in the UK. The Eli Bridge Twist was first imported in 1979, and there exists about 15 of these ornate grasscutter machines in the country recognisable by their abundantly lit centres and curved foot-rests. American company Wisdom also have about 3 distinctive Twists on these shores.
Distinctive cars on an Eli machine in Ireland.
Little attempt has been made to waver from the original
design, or to increase the number of cars on the Twist, though some examples
can be quoted. Jacksons built 2 machines, both attempts at a new hybrid
creating a roofed type design and an
armless twist mechanism, but
both quickly resorting to
normal type Twists (the Jackson machines
were recently travelled by Thomas Hiscoe and John Fowkes). A Safeco machine
was imported by Albert Botton in 1975, this machine having 18 cars split
between 3 arms (still travelling in Ireland), and most astonishing of
all was the 4-arm Twist made by the Dowse family and used with the Sheeran family at South
Shields for many years. This 16-car machine was rumoured to still exist in a cut-down
state near the west coast of Ireland, but ceased travelling in 2003.
Jackson built Twist at Loughborough in 1962.
The huge Safeco machine in Ireland.