The Magazine of Lenton Local History Society

Leen Gate - Old Lenton

From 'The Lenton Listener' Issue 44

February - March 1987

Bell-Fruit Manufacturing Co. Ltd

In the early 1960s, a newly formed company known as 'Counting Machines Ltd.' set up operations in part of the old tannery building on Leen Gate. Soon both its name and its product were to change as it moved into the fruit machine market and became known as the Bell-Fruit Manufacturing Co. Ltd. In 1967 the company became part of Cope Allman International plc. Bell-Fruit has since gone on to establish itself as the best-known name in the business.

Photograph by Paul Bexon

Designing the artwork for the machine

The manufacture of all Bell-Fruit's machines still takes place at Leen Gate although the company recently vacated the tannery building and concentrated operations in its purpose built premises across on the other side of the road. During the twenty five years it has been in the business, Bell-Fruit has seen the technology of the fruit machine pass from the purely mechanical, through the electro-mechanical and solid state into today's microprocessor machines. With its large research and development section, Bell-Fruit has always been well placed to incorporate the latest technologies into its machines. Within the company as a whole there is a wealth of different talents ranging from the software and mechanical engineers to the graphic designers, statisticians and marketing personnel.

In the United Kingdom the annual market requirement approximates to 60,000 fruit machines (installed in pubs and amusement arcades) and 8-10,000 Jackpot machines in private clubs. Five major manufacturers, all British, compete for this business. JPM, a South Wales firm, are probably the market leaders, but Bell-Fruit, which shares second place with Barcrest (part of the Bass Group), is always looking to increase its market share. A similar spirit of enterprise applies to overseas markets and at the moment Bell-Fruit is achieving great success with its machines in Holland. Bell-Fruit machines have, in the past, even found their way into the gambling halls of Las Vegas, but the American market, as a whole, is a rather restricted one, as gaming machines are only permitted in the State of Nevada and in Atlantic City in the State of New Jersey.

Photograph by Paul Bexon

Final checks

If the American market is a difficult one, others are presently impossible to crack. Countries such as France, Belgium and Italy have laws that prohibit fruit machines. The governments of other countries, such as West Germany and Spain, permit machine play but, although these are large markets, Bell-Fruit must compete against well-established indigenous manufacturers. In Britain fruit machines are governed by strict controls, with all dealings ultimately overseen by the Gaming Board for Great Britain. Fruit machines in pubs or amusement arcades must not provide a prize of more than £2 in coins or £4 in tokens for a stake of 10p. In private clubs the jackpots have been extended to much higher levels and those willing to gamble their 20p's could win up to £150.

Bell-Fruit place a heavy emphasis on making sure that its products are going to be well received. Continual market research goes on to determine what aspects of a fruit machine's style of play appeal to a player. Those who are not all that familiar with fruit machines may think the machines are all very similar, but to regular players there are subtle, but important, differences with each model. Bell-Fruit has to be sure the company is getting it right as a new model comes off 'the assembly line' every eight weeks.

There was a period in the late 70s-early 80s when Bell-Fruit very evidently wasn't getting it right and it led to a lot of people being made redundant. The number of employees fell from over 800 to under 300. Since then the company has made a full recovery. Unfortunately, from the point of view of the former workforce, the technology introduced in recent years requires much less labour to run it and so there is little likelihood that the numbers on the payroll will rise much above their present level for the foreseeable future.

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