Things We Love: The Tube Train At Novelty Automation

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 14 months ago

Last Updated 04 May 2023

Things We Love: The Tube Train At Novelty Automation

Where we take a closer look at one of our favourite things in London.

The train in question
One of the best ways to spend a quid in London. Image: Londonist

What is it? The latest toy at Novelty Automation in Holborn. Although 'Travel by Tube' is so much more than a toy.

What's Novelty Automation then? A joyously crackpot gaming arcade, filled with Heath Robinson-esque hand-built machines. In genius Tim Hunkin's world, you stuff your foot into a hatch to get it seen to by a chiropodist, fly a drone around a mansion filled with celebs, and attempt to filch vast amounts of cash (i.e. 5ps) from the City of London using a crane.

Tim Hunkin... have I heard that name before? If you're familiar with the seaside town of Southwold, you may be familiar with Hunkin's Under the Pier Show. That was such a runaway success, central London beckoned. But the same lo-fi sartorial charm applies here.

Two buttons for eye contact - yes and no
Image: Londonist

And what's so great about this particular contraption? It's a tube train! Pop in a token (worth £1), and the whole thing rattles into life. Driver announcements, doors sliding open, that weird sci-fi noise Jubilee line trains make... the lot. Then it's up to you whether you press the 'yes' or 'no' button for eye contact with your fellow passengers.

What happens next? We don't want to spoil the whole show, but let's just say the characters on the train — including a young kid who's just been toy shopping, and a bookish woman flicking through a copy of Therapy Today — come to life in the most splendid way. The train also picks up one or two guest passengers along the way.

A pair of (wooden) people sitting on the tube - one reading Therapy Today
Image: Londonist

So should I press the yes or no button? OK, here's a little spoiler for you — one token lets you do both. And the reactions to each one you press is sooo spot on. Has anyone ever summed up London with so much wit in so little time? Doubt it. It's ingenious — a coin operated parable, no less.

What next? You'll find it too tempting to stop at just one game. Buy a mini bucket of tokens, and enjoy what is surely London's most beguiling gaming arcade.

Novelty Automation, 1A Princeton Street

Want to recommend a London Thing You Love? Email [email protected]