It wasn’t just the entertainment industry in which Jack Hylton was a leading light and forward thinker. At least three other areas are of note, those being the first UK manufactured juke boxes, the first UK bowling alleys, and the Earl’s Court Circus of the 1950’s.
This is a most extraordinary diversion for Hylton, though of course with some two thousand recorded titles in circulation through the 1940’s perhaps it’s no wonder that he found extra ways for them to be played. It’s been mentioned to this author a number of times that Hylton was the first to bring a jukebox to the UK and whilst this fact is not strictly true, the story of the Jack Hylton Music Maker is a fascinating one.
Wurlitzer jukeboxes had been imported into the UK in the 1930’s in very small numbers. Wurlitzers were popular, to the point where pre-war customers were calling any juke box Wurlitzer, such as the Seeburg Wurlitzer, or the Rock-Ola Wurlitzer, to denote Seeburg or Rock-Ola juke boxes. By the 1940’s, restrictions on non-essential goods into the UK had taken hold (as they had in many countries after the war) and of course jukeboxes were far from essential, despite their popularity. As a result, whilst some existed, they weren’t freely available, certainly not to the American GI’s, based in the UK.
“ “What we miss most over here are our wives and families, juke boxes, hot dogs.” Families and hot-dogs were not in Hylton’s line. Juke boxes were. Last week two specimens of this efforts in that direction were on show at Westminster’s Royal Horticultural Hall in the first postwar Amusement Devices and Trades Exhibition.”
Hylton had the idea to bring jukeboxes to the UK whilst having a drink with a US Colonel whilst on a trip to America. He secured a deal with the US Army to supply three hundred juke boxes at £237 10s each. He then set up Music Maker Ltd with a team of investors, who sank £30,000 into the project. Soon after, another two hundred juke boxes were ordered, with thirty being supplied each week.
Each was four feet high and two feet wide, with the facility to play sixteen ten-inch records, at 1d per play. The prototype model (Music Maker MK-1) featured the words Jack Hylton Music Maker on the front (as the picture at the front of this chapter) and was made from the American Oak used for the packing crates, which delivered the Wurlitzer Simplex mechanisms which made up the innards of the new machines. Those crates, shipped in from America in military planes, were marked as “essential war effort supplies”. Subsequent production models (Music Maker MK-2) would be of a different design and made of fibreglass.
Hylton enlisted the help of a Hawtins Ltd. of Preston New Road, Blackpool, to manufacture the Music Makers. They were previously known for the manufacture of amusement machines for sea front arcades, specialising in machines for travelling fairs, fitted into robust metal cabinets.
Within four months of the initial shipment, the juke boxes were on general sale at £285 each, plus 33½% purchase tax. Alternatively, the machines were rented out with a share of the cash box takings used as payment, with the juke box being moved to another site if it didn’t make enough money. In typical Hylton fashion, he bragged that his Music Maker could play a tune in four and a half seconds after the insertion of a coin, considerably quicker than the seven seconds the equivalent American models took! At the Amusement Devices and Trades Exhibition Hylton used the stars of his current shows to garner publicity for the new machine, with stars such as Jimmy Nervo, Teddie Knox, Arthur Askey etc. all being pictured with the Music Maker.
“Almost all the stars of the various Hylton shows were on view and had their photographs taken by zealous press men – usually in clusters around the instrument, looking at it, pointing at it, or caressing it.”
By the late 1940’s, the MK-1 machines had been transformed into fibreglass MK-2 machines by butchering the original oak versions, taking their insides and planting them in the new fibreglass bodies. The original wood was then owned. At the time of writing, there appears to be just one original machine in existence, currently being renovated by Anthony Holmes, in Sheffield. In around 1947, Hylton’s company sold the Music Maker to Norman Ditchburn Equipment Ltd., based in Dock Road, Lytham St. Annes, near Blackpool. Ditchburn manufactured the MK-2 for several years, removing the Jack Hylton part of the logo and renaming it The Ditchburn Music Maker. When Norman Ditchburn bought the Music Maker Ltd company from the Jack Hylton group, he then negotiated with Hawtin’s to buy the tooling and moved it to his factory in Lytham-St-Annes. His main interest was the contract with the U. S. Army to supply jukeboxes and also to secure his supply of mechanisms from Wurlitzer.
Later, Ditchburn would butcher these models, replacing the entire front panel with a new mechanism, enabling the playing of 45rpm singles. The machines had the top of the original cabinet sawn off, and replaced with a new pre-formed glass fibre hood and screen. The whole cabinet was repainted, had some new chrome lettering added and became the MK-2R, a best seller for many years, fighting it out for popularity with Sam Norman’s Bal-Ami company, who began selling British made juke boxes in 1953.
We don’t know exactly why Hylton sold the company, but it can be assumed that after the initial deal with the US Army, he felt his job had been done and he could move onto other projects, which, of course, he had plenty of.
By the 1960’s, Hylton decided to venture into a new arena, and bring another American tradition to the UK for the first time.
Jack’s Juke Boxes – Records On Tap, News Chronicle, 14th February 1946, at: Jack Hylton Archive, Lancaster University.
Much of the detail comes from an unsourced PDF document, with no available author. <http://www.coin-opcommunity.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Jack-Hylton-and-the-first-British-jukebox.pdf> Retrieved May 2014.
 <http://www.jukebox-world.de/Forum/Archiv/England/HawtinsMusicMaker.htm> Retrieved May 2014.
Hylton’s Juke Box, The Performer, February 14th, 1946, at: Jack Hylton Archive, Lancaster University.
BAILEY, Freddie, The Music Maker Story, <http://www.coin-opcommunity.co.uk/blog/3568-the-music-maker-story-freddy-bailey/> Retrieved May 2014.