The West Pier

'What the Butler saw'

By Jennifer Drury

Photo:Schoolboys looking at the naughty photos 1901

Schoolboys looking at the naughty photos 1901

Image reproduced with kind permission of The Regency Society and The James Gray Collection


The Mutoscope

The young chaps in the photograph, enjoying a ‘What the Butler saw’ show on the West Pier in 1901 were using a Mutoscope. This was an early motion picture device patented by Herman Casler in 1894. It worked on the same principle as a ‘flip book’ which contained individual images that appeared to move when you ‘flipped’ the pages. The Mutoscope had individual image frames of silver based photographic prints attached to a circular core – a bit like a huge Rolodex. A typical reel held approximately 850 images and was viewed through a single lens; the machine was hand cranked by the person viewing.

A popular end of the pier amusement

Photo:Even in the early 1970s people wanted to see 'What the Butler saw'

Even in the early 1970s people wanted to see 'What the Butler saw'

Image reproduced with kind permission of .the Royal Pavilion and Museums Brighton and Hove

Mutoscopes were a popular feature of amusement arcades and pleasure piers in the UK until the introduction of decimal coinage in 1971, made the mechanisms difficult to convert, and many were subsequently destroyed. The typical arcade installation included multiple machines offering a mixture of fare. Both in the early days and during the revival, that mixture usually included ‘girlie’ reels which ran the gamut from risqué to outright soft-core pornography. It was, however, common for these reels to have suggestive titles that implied more than the reel actually delivered.

Do you remember them?

Do you remember enjoying the 'What the Butler saw' type of machines on the West Pier, or even the Palace Pier. What did you see? Did you think they were naughty? Let us know by posting a comment below.

This page was added on 02/04/2012.
Comments about this page

Yes I remember using them with my mates, probably around 1967/8. I always felt "short changed" however taking into account they were only 1d, probably my expectations were too high! I never remember seeing anything anywhere near to being pornographic, risqué yes. However, compared to the games and scantily clad girls shown on the computer games on the Palace Pier now, they were very tame and a small fraction of the price!

By Peter Groves (03/04/2012)

I recall a follow-on from this old pier technology in the 60s. At a stall, there were a series of white hardboard walls in which small holes had been drilled vertically and horizontally. The holes had miniature viewers inserted in them, and you were (for a small fee) allowed to look through them at transparencies, which were fairly novel in those days. It is of course of no surprise that the photos were of naked pin-ups on the lines of Playboy and Mayfair! Not that I read those, of course.

By Stefan Bremner-Morris (07/04/2012)

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