Updated 25 June 2005 & 27 August 2004
Location: Southsea is the coastal part of Portsmouth, so it is on England's south coast between Brighton and Southampton. South Parade Pier is in the centre of the seafront..
In a previous report, we looked at Clarence Pier in Southsea.
This time around, we're up the coast about a mile at the South Parade Pier.
This is a real pier. One that sticks out into the Solent and has a fairground ride at the end.
South Parade Pier has a long association with pinball. Not only does it have a history of excellently maintained pins, it was also closely tied in with the film "Tommy".
When Ken Russell was filming the movie in 1974, he shot some of the scenes here. Sadly, one of the lights was too close to the roofing beams and set them alight, burning down much of the pier. Unlike many piers in the UK which suffer misfortunes, South Parade Pier was rapidly rebuilt.
The decline in pinball's fortunes hasn't passed the pier by. There were six games here for more years than I can remember. They held a prominent place in the arcade and they were always busy. On this Saturday evening things were very different. The reality of economics have reduced the number of games to four and now to two, and they've been moved to the rear of the site besides the pool tables.
There is a positive side, though. In their new location there is no overhead lighting, so the games' own lighting really comes into its own.
The new line-up then is the centre two games from the picture below - a Bally NBA Fastbreak, and a Scared Stiff.
The good news is that the renowned high quality of maintenance has continued.
On this visit it was the turn of the Scared Stiff to show it's mettle.
Scared Stiff is the game that benefits most from the lack of ambient lighting. It looked great and played extremely well. Everything worked, even the Spider Wheel, making Spider Mania a possibility. The GC was high at 80-odd million but on a game that played this well it's certainly beatable.
Add South Parade Pier to Clarence Pier, and Southsea is rather a good place for pinball fans.
Stopped off at South Parade Pier today and was pleased to find 2 tables in tip-top condition. But what's more, the arcade owners have actually put some thought into the position of the pins in the arcade. I remember, (in the good old days) about 6 tables on the left hand side of the main arcarde. This was never a good position with a window, over head lights and pool tables right behind you. Now the number of tables have gone down to two, they are positioned at the rear of the arcade with no windows and NO overhead lights!
The two tables are firstly, a very good and fast example of Scared Stiff, fully working including the crate. The other table is one of my favourites. NBA Fastbreak! I haven't played this table for at least 5 years and this example plays like it is just out of the box. Every light works, all targets work, all shots "In the paint" work, the mini-game in the back glass works and the playfield looks like it was waxed last week, and judging by how low the high scores were it may have been.
Overall I am glad that the pier still has a couple of tables, (although there is space for more) but the quality and position of these 2 pins are the best I have seen in any arcade for a long time.
I took a walk the 2 miles west to Clarence Pier and the 4 tables that were there this time last year are still in the same arcade. However the jewel in the crown of the four, Medieval Madness, is showing its age and is in need of a good service. One of the trolls isn't registering hits every time that it's hit, one of the skill shot lanes isn't registering and the playfield is very dirty. Plus the position of all the 4 pins is under lights.
Now for some very strange news, Bognor Regis (a little further east along the south coast - Ed) has got a pin table! It's a pinball2000 star wars and is located in Weston Amusements on the High Street. The only drawback is, it is situated almost in the arcade window and is next to a retro Glaxian machine. The table is in above average condition with just one of the targets not working. Everything else works and it gives a very good game. Hopefully this arcade will keep this pin or if it goes, gets another to replace it.
Being a Portsmouth born and bred resident, there aren't that many arcades left around here anymore, compared to the heyday of the 80's - my mate Paul and me have always spent many Saturdays through our lives visiting and playing in these arcades. We have seen 8 close in the last 10 years in this area alone.
Happily, Southsea funfair (Funacres) and also South Parade Pier still offer what they can to the arcade junkies that are Paul and me, but these days finding a good video game or a pinball is now becoming a very difficult task bordering on an obsession - it seems Fruit Machines and Cake Walk's rule.
But something tells me here Pinball machines here are not making much money and this may come as no surprise but the total amount of pins available at South Parade Pier has been reduced by 50% - there are now only 2 machines where there were 4 - Scared Stiff and Fast Break - therefore gone are both Apollo 13 and Red and Ted's Roadshow. Now both remaining machines are actually being looked after - playfield, mechanics, lamps etc all present and correct - the siting of these machines perfect with no overhead lighting. But where did these other 2 go? I wasn't overly concerned over the Sega machine (not a fan of Sega pins) so when I tried to find out where I was met with a blank expression from the cashier in her change booth - the answer being "dunno". I didn't have the time to track down the man with all the keys - the parking meter was ticking.
What's so sad about South parade pier is that only 5 years ago, the arcade constantly had changing stock with a full 6 machines always available - crikey! I remember queuing to play them! Those were the days...
© Pinball News 2005