The three most popular themes seem to have been Screen Stars
, Brooklands Totalisator
and White City
. Often they were single reelers (see first picture) and that, in a way, was their raison d'etre
. They fulfilled a niche in the British market for a straight gambling machine that wouldn't immediately be targeted by the authorities hunting down the "fruit machines". At that time "fruit machine" was synonymous with "three reels with fruit symbols", so the inevitable ruse was to reduce the reels down to one and change the symbols.
There was also a great demand after the war for new machines, little having been made in the intervening years. Because of material and legal restrictions on manufacturing non-essential goods in Britain at this time, Boland resorted to the strategy of buying old machines and revamping them as "The Very Latest". Well used post-war bandits were imported cheaply from the States, the jackpots were removed, the reel bundle was altered and the mechanisms were re-jigged to take the old penny. To finish the job, the cases were revamped (usually using parts of the original) and re-themed with prominent castings proclaiming "It's Skill", "Fair Play", etc.
Just like modern slots, popular themes of the period were chosen: stars of the film industry (British and American), the very British Brooklands
motor racing track in Surrey (also the theme of BMR's novel Brooklands Racer
) and the White City
, a former Olympic stadium which became London's most famous greyhound track. These latter themes also served to "un-Americanize" them.
This single reel (or disc) and alternative symbol ploy also accounts for the prevalence of the all-British Stock Broker type gambling machines and the Bryans Clocks.
One reel is pretty tame compared to three and doesn't allow for big payouts. Anyway, the ruse must have worn thin fairly quickly - they seem to have sold more three reel versions, often with numbers in place of the proscribed fruit symbols. By the late 1950s the moral panic about fruit machines had abated somewhat. As Jerry said, they come in many different guises, the earliest (not pictured here) being the most attractive in my opinion.