Dracula and the Spook was, of course, a penny arcade slot machine. I encountered it on Paignton Pier sometime in the mid- to late-seventies, at a time when it was already beginning to look redundant and lonely amidst a throng of much noisier, shinier machines that gave you the chance to win something. But I always went straight for it whenever we paid a visit, and in all that time never remember anybody but me paying it the least attention. Finally, one year, I discovered it unplugged, stuck round the back in a kind of storage area, waiting for removal and perhaps even destruction. I never saw it again.
Rye, near Hastings, is one of those achingly beautiful little towns that have somehow escaped the jackboot of modernity, famous for its association with Paul Nash, Henry James and Radclyffe Hall. Worth a visit for all sorts of reasons (loads of old book shops, a beautiful church, winding streets) it also boasts - in its small tourist information centre - a magnificent permanent exhibition of these wonderful penny slot machines.
How strange and poignant it is to wander among them, observing with a clarity quite lost on their original consumers (who went to these machines on exactly the same impulse that draws their descendants to Grand Theft Auto IV) that these are works of genuine imagination and craftsmanship, as well as cutting edge in their technology. What they do is invariably simple in the extreme, but the imagination that went into them, and the fact that successful businesses made their living making them, seems strange and enchanting.
There are several from one Frederick C. Bolland, made in the early fifties, characterised by a strange, sometimes macabre sense of humour and a keen awareness of national archetypes, including The Drunkard's Dream, The Miser, The Burglar and The Haunted Churchyard.
Then there is one from Peerless Enterprises, made some time in the fifties, called The Beauty Contest and peopled with a wholly disreputable assortment of lecherous onlookers observing what, it must be said, are some pretty ropey-looking broads.
prison: what a freeze-frame of the cultural preoccupations of their day!
What else do we have? Well, there's a laughing Barnacle Bill the Sailor, like the one from Sleuth, dating from 1950, and an amazing fortune-telling Egyptian Pharaoh from whom the future course of your love life is no secret. Also good at prophecy is the mysterious Sidney, who knows, as the placard he eagerly holds proudly claims, and as he will happily prove by telling you what your future career will be for a penny.
There's even a What the Butler Saw machine, the sort with the magazine of photographs manipulated at high speed (like a flip-book) this one showing the behinds of some enchanting young ladies going for a nude swim. (And not Albert Steptoe filling a bath with milk.)
Or there's a new Batman film out. Over to you.