Denton Designs (1985)

Top left: Steven Cain • John Gibson • Karen Davies • Graham 'Kenny' Everett   Bottom: Ally Noble

About the transformation of ex-Imagine to Denton Designs Ltd. and the separation of the founders.
Also, the bankruptcy of Imagine Software in Liverpool.

Crash ZX spectrum Online (issue 17)

A visit to the Liverpool hive of industry... Tucked away in the heart of Liverpool's Harley Street, down among the doctors, you can find Denton Designs. Not 'Denture Designs' as they're sometimes addressed by medical supplies firms, who can't believe that a software house could possibly set up shop in Rodney Street, Liverpool's medical heartland. Denton Designs.

The original Team with 'Gift from the Gods'
John Gibson • Karen Davies • Steve Cain • Kenny Everett • Ally Noble

As a Limited Company, Denton Designs came into being during September 1984, and it consists of a nucleus of five people - John Gibson, Karen Davies, Steve Cain, Ian Weatherburn, Graham Everett and Ally Noble. They first came together under the wing of the ill-fated Imagine where, amongst other things, they worked on the Megagames.

On 9th July 1984 the Imagine bubble burst. The crew that become Denton were made redundant, and suddenly found themselves embroiled in the wranglings over the rights to Bandersnatch. It seems the Receiver couldn't believe there was so little to show for the mega hyped games - little more than one disk existed, with most of the storyline and concept still inside the heads of programmers and designers.

Bandersnatch and Eugene Evans went to Fireiron, the company founded by Dave Lawson and Ian Hetherington, and after a few week's planning Denton Designs was set up by the Founding Five. The company's first, and major capital investment was in the Sage IV computer systems used by Imagine to develop games, which download code into the target home micro. An office, a telephone, some clean paper and a few sharp pencils later, Denton Designs were in business.

"We just sat down and rang round the major software companies offering our services," Karen Davies explains. "We were surprised at the reaction we got from companies - it was invariably favourable. Business-wise people were naturally a bit wary at first, because of the Imagine reputation, but as programmers and artists we had a good grounding and reputation, and people had heard of us through the Imagine name."

Although Denton Designs was set up as a traditional company, which means someone has to be Company Secretary, someone else Chairman and so on, it is run very much as a co-operative. There are no immediate plans for Dentons to publish software in their own right - the company acts very much as a facilities house offering the full range of services from straight conversions, through game design to an all-in parcel including conceptualisation, game design, programming and package design.

"We all work together," Karen told us, "we're not frightened to criticise each other's work, and no-one's a prima donna. There's no laying down of laws, with someone saying "I'm one of the directors so you must do what I say." Which would be difficult - everyone in the team is ranked equally as "Director" on the Denton business cards, and nobody's absolute boss in the office. "We enjoyed working together and writing games together at Imagine, which is why we decided to stay together and continue writing games - it's good fun." she added.

"...we talk about how we like to work, taking responsibility for the end product."

Argument, discussion, debate are all shared, with everyone participating in the work of the company as a whole. Each program, whether it is a conversion job ("we try to squeeze them in between big projects as they pay the wages") or a major piece of work is treated as a project. Specific staff or freelance helpers are assigned to a project, but in reality everyone gets a say in the final product, passing comment as the work progresses.

So far Denton have converted Spy Hunter for the Spectrum and are currently working on implementing Roland Rat on the same machine. Gift From The Gods was their first large project, for Ocean. David Ward of Ocean wanted a new game in time for Christmas and went to Denton who put forward a couple of ideas. A choice was made, and Denton produced the game on schedule. Frankie Goes to Hollywood, previewed on the following pages by Dash Ed himself, was born from a very basic brief indeed: "We don't want lots of Frankies running around, otherwise it's up to you" is the gist of what David Ward passed on as his requirement. And the end result is going to be pretty knockout, I assure you...

Roland rat race
By Denton Designs

Shadowfire, commissioned by Beyond and reviewed fully this issue, is the first major piece of work executed by Dentons that's already in the shops. "Lords of Midnight was one of the main spurs to Denton Designs - Mike Singleton is my hero," Steve Cain explained, "Lords of Midnight is one of my favourite games and it prompted us to approach Beyond. We did everything on Shadowfire including the packaging design, story and system." "We did the visuals and a full specification for the game and then talked it through with Beyond," Karen added, "then we went away and changed a lot of it..."

Beyond were well impressed when we showed them the finished product. "We do what we want to a degree - and it's nice to be able to choose who we work for - before signing contracts we talk about how we like to work, taking responsibility for the end product."

"People are often a bit taken aback when they come and see us for the first time," said Ally as we stumbled into their offices after the drive from Ludlow, made near-fatal by an utter nerd who nearly had us in a ditch, "..we're all a bit of a mixture... we're all different."

Wacky and zany, zany and wacky? Well not really, just not quite fully paid up members of the collar and tie brigade. Steve Cain could be described as a 'cyclical hippy' - he can't make his mind up whether he should grow his hair or keep it short. Every so often he scampers out, gets a super smart haircut and buys up half of Liverpool's mens outfitters' stock. Then his hair grows, and the image slowly changes back.

Karen, Ally and Steve all have an Art College background. Karen and Ally are the design mainstays who, like Steve, got involved in computer screen design when they joined Imagine. Karen, who was working on the C64 screens for Frankie when we arrived, trained in textile design which led her to a job in France. This was followed by a spell freelancing in Italy, then she returned to this country and was 'headhunted' into Imagine.

"...we're all a bit of a mixture... we're all different."

Ally Noble, on the other hand, the Queen of the Spectrum Screen (she'll murder me when she reads that) was a community artist type person who was working on a travelling video workshop project before going to Imagine for an interview. Ally met Steve Cain in the interview room and immediately started chatting to him about old times when they were at Liverpool Art College together - and despite their unusual approach to formal interviews, they were both hired!

Of the quintet, John Gibson's progress into games programming is probably the most spectacular. He was working in Cornwall installing suspended ceilings in offices when he decided to give it all up, move to Liverpool and enrol on a TOPS computer programming course. Newly qualified when he finished the course, John seemed destined to serve his time in the data processing bowels of some large company's mainframe installation.

Then, over a pint, he was asked by an Imagine person if he was a machine code programmer. "Yes," John replied, and he was hired on the spot. A few weeks later he was zooming round the streets of London in a company Porsche, getting paid a handsome salary for writing code on the Spectrum and watching the fire extinguisher fights in Chateau Imagine with amazement.

"I couldn't believe it," he said, "suddenly I'd got the kind of job my Mum was always on at me to get." Sadly it didn't last too long - now there's not even a company C5 at Denton, and serious work is going on all day (and into quite a few nights).

Graham Everitt - 'Kenny' to all his friends, including his wife - was originally a carpenter. Like John, he changed trades and worked on a freelance basis for Imagine writing their systems software and developing utilities for the Sage IV machines. Now with Denton, Kenny is still the Main Man when it comes to sorting out the Sages, but he's started work on games programming too, and is currently working on Frankie.

Dentons have no plans to publish software in their own right just yet, although Karen admitted "the more we get into it, the more we want to see a game on the shelves with the Denton Design name on it." It's a matter of economics ultimately. Denton is not in a financial position to publish just yet. "We had originally planned to sit down at the start of this year and assess our progress and make decisions about where the company should be going," Kenny explained, "but somehow we never quite had the time. In the longer time we would like to bring out our own titles."

Shadowfire 2 and a high speed, arcade-action sports game with detailed animation are the next two projects on the Denton Drawing board. A complete system, which could be used for educational programs as well as for games, is under development at Denton. Shadowfire, with its icons is part one, Frankie with the windows is part two and Shadowfire 2, which will have animated graphics controlled through icons will form part three.

A churlish observer would point out that icon driven software and windows zooming out of the screen are hardly innovative in themselves, having been well-established in business software. But it's the implementation that counts, and the way these features are incorporated into the game design which makes the Denton product outstanding. Anyway, no-one else had the programming or conceptual skills to incorporate windows in an arcade-adventure type of game, nor did the idea of having a non-text adventure see the light before Shadowfire.

Not surprisingly, the Five at Denton get a little peed off with the 'Ex-Imagine' label that is so easy to apply them. After all, they're just as much ex-ceiling fitters and ex-community artists. No. Given the standard of their product, the innovative qualities of their game designs together with the enthusiasm they have for the job they do (which shows through in the software they produce) it's much fairer to say that Imagine was 'Pre-Denton'. So there.

Sinclair User 40 (July'85) by Chris Bourne

Whatever became of the IMAGINE team?
 'Chris Bourne' meets the folk who aim to put the Mersey back on the map.

The many faces of Denton Designs
Ally Noble • John Heap • Dave Colclough • John Gibson • Steven Cain •
Karen Davies

Once upon a time there were six happy Imagine programmers working their guts out on the legendary mega-game Bandersnatch up in Liverpool.

   • There was Ian Weatherburn, the games fanatic.
   • There was John Gibson, the ace programmer.
   • There were Steven Cain and Ally Noble and Karen Davies, the artists.
   • There was Kenny Everrett, the system designer.

And there was a character at the top, where all the hype and the Ferraris and the duff cheques whirled about in a dust storm of vituperation and desperate attempts to keep going just another month, just another week, and his name was Dave Lawson.

"Do you want to know what the brief was for Bandersnatch?" asks Steve Cain. He's going to tell us anyway.

"Dave Lawson came to us and said 'You've got four weeks to produce the best game graphics the world has ever seen'. That was all. We took four months and it still wasn't finished." Then Imagine went bust, and the Bandersnatch team was out of a job, along with dozens of others who gave their soul for the most spectacular, romantic and, ultimately, sordid software company this country is ever likely to see.

Dave Lawson and Ian Hetherington, both directors, wanted to keep the Bandersnatch team. They said they could get money in America. Steve Cain and Ian Weatherburn thought differently. "They told us the market in the UK was dead, you wouldn't get more than £5000 for a game tops, even if it was a number one." They made a few phone calls and soon found out that the market was very much alive. "We talked to Bill Delaney at Beyond Software for half an hour and after that we were Beyond's men."

The idea was that Steve and Ian would set up a new company, Denton Designs, to write games for other software houses. For Steve, the attraction of Beyond had a lot to do with their products. "They had Lords of Midnight. Sometimes you see things by other people and you say 'I wish I'd done that'. Well, we thought we could produce things like that without having people of the calibre of Bruce Everiss around to cock it up for us."

Steve was anxious to include the other members of the team in the new deals. He'd been to college with Ally and Karen, and didn't want to see his friends sink without trace. The trouble was that most of them still wanted to believe in Dave Lawson. Then John and Kenny were served with writs along with Steve, so they joined up. After that, Ally and Karen came in.

Denton Design 1984

"Beyond agreed to take two games from us, fund our development and premises. They wanted us badly but weren't prepared to take an almighty risk." Meanwhile Ocean was getting in on the act. The Denton team was turning into a hot property. "All of a sudden up pops Steve Blower. He used to be at Imagine too, but he joined Ocean. Had we finished Bandersnatch? As far as we were concerned we were tied up with Beyond, and Bandersnatch would never see the light of day. But we met David Ward, nevertheless."

David Ward, chairman of Ocean, told them not to worry about Bandersnatch. "Write a different game," he said. "Write one for me and I'll give you a contract for three and buy your old equipment from the receiver at Imagine."

So Denton Designs signed up with Ocean as well and wrote Gift from the Gods. "It did OK, about 25,000 copies," says Steve. The game was designed in the main by John Gibson, and featured a large animated figure of the Greek hero Orestes searching a vast labyrinth for his sister Electra.

Denton Designs was split six ways between the original team, with everybody having an equal share. "For Ian, Imagine was heaven on earth," says Steve. "He wanted Denton to be just like Imagine." When Denton Designs was contracted to develop Shadowfire, Ian Weatherburn became disillusioned with the fact that the company was
no longer operating as it had when they had been part of Imagine, and on providing an ultimatum was sacked by the rest of the directors. He subsequently joined Ocean.

Shadowfire, which we tipped as a Sinclair User Classic last month, is the most impressive piece of software so far programmed by Denton Designs. An icon-based adventure, it dispenses with text and uses menus full of pictures of objects. You move a cursor around these pictures, or icons, to choose your action or movement.

The game is very much Denton's, although published by Beyond. "Beyond has never pressed us on a game, although they do test it, and say whether it has appeal," says Steve. "If we had a game and both Beyond and Ocean didn't like it we would respect that. They have a pretty good track record.

"Writing software is as creative as writing a song. We need to appeal to people of all ages..."

"On the Commodore 64 Shadowfire there was a bug. A phantom would appear and attack members of the Enigma team. We couldn't work out why, so we decided it was Zoff's pet. It turned out there was a spelling mistake on a single mnemonic in the machine code somewhere. We've taken the bug out now, so the bit in the booklet about Zoff's pet doesn't matter any more."

Gift from the Gods was a direct descendant of Bandersnatch, in that it had a large animated figure wandering through the screens. But the icon system on Shadowfire was new. Ian Weatherburn conceived the idea of an icon-driven adventure back in the Imagine days, but nothing was ever done about it. Denton sees the icon system as something on which a whole range of products could be based.

"After Christmas we may change direction and move away from games." ruminated Steve. "The icons could be used to produce a library of routines for education software, and maybe special software for magazines and the like.

"Commodore freak Dave Colclough joined Denton after Ian Weatherburn left, and more programmers have come in since. They are mostly ex-Imagine people - from Thor, set up by Imagine director Mark Butler, or Concept, a similar outfit to Denton but responsible for the Argus Mind Games series. A sense of déjà vu creeps in. Wasn't it this that went wrong at Imagine - growing too fast?

Dentons at work
Dave Colclough & John Heap

"We had to expand or go bust," says Steve, simply. "People say we shouldn't but we had to." Contract work demands it - you cannot afford to turn people down. If you haven't got enough programmers you have to hire some more. That's the theory, anyway.

Certainly Denton has been in demand. Apart from Gift from the Gods and Shadowfire, the list of credits includes World Series Baseball for Imagine 84, Spyhunter for US Gold, and, yet to be released, Roland Rat and Frankie goes to Hollywood for Ocean, Shadowfire II and Bounces for Beyond, plus, no doubt, more secret projects.

The games fall into two categories. There's conversion work, like Spyhunter and Roland Rat, and there's Denton's own which seem to be considerably superior. The Frankie game, example, is Denton's own work, and quite superb. "Frankie was designed by four non-games-playing people and that could prove to be really good," says Steve.

John Gibson, Kenny Everrett, Ally Noble and Karen Davis are the lucky quartet. Lest you find the naming of names boring, know that Steve and his pals are saddened by the lack of recognition given to the programmers and artists. "These days when you pick up a paper it shouldn't be 'Bill Delaney of Beyond says ...'. It should be 'Mike Singleton says ...'." It's a fair point; Mike wrote Lords of Midnight, and he's a freelance.

"It works because we're all close friends," says John Gibson, taking a brief break from his labours on Frankie. "We argue a lot and call each other names but we're still friends. If my games lack anything I suppose they lack gamesmanship."

"Your games don't lack anything at all," soothes Karen.

"No, it winds me up sometimes," says John. "A game like Elite's Airwolf gets slagged off by all the reviewers but gets to number two in the charts. Other games with rave reviews don't sell at all." Haven't the distributors and retailers got something to do with that? "Smiths and Boots are important, yes. I strongly object to people like Boots who say they won't stock a game because the box won't fit on their shelves."

If anything has crossed over from Imagine, it's the sense that programmers are creative people, artists in their own right, and that software is part of the entertainment industry. "It's just as creative as writing a song," says Steve. "I'm talking from experience." Mind you, Steve Cain never made any money out of his songs.

"I'd like to see designers and programmers seen as creative people. Software is too much regarded as a toy. The vital statistics of the end user are changing." What? They're getting fatter? "No, they're getting older. We need to appeal to people, of all ages, instead of just producing masses and masses of arcade-type games. Mind you, it's probably about time for an old-style shoot-em-up."

"We need a female character in Shadowfire..."

Games design does not come easily, according to Steve. The idea of having a team of characters in Shadowfire, the Enigma team, was so the player would identify with at least one. "Karen insisted the game needed a female character so we invented Sevrina," explains Steve.

sevrina c64
Sevrina Maris

The desire to include female characters and the like opens up some of the moral questions about games. Does Denton Designs have strong feelings about the sort of games they write particularly since the programs are written for other companies? After all, the company has worked for US Gold in the past, who brought out Raid over Moscow, criticised for its political overtones.

"We wouldn't see that sort of thing as a game idea in the first place," says Steve after much reflection. "There are definitely some people here who would feel unhappy about it, although I have no strong feelings myself."

Violence in itself however is not an objection. Christmas will see the launch of Bounces, which is what Denton is calling a new game for Beyond on its Monolith label. "The game has gladiators of the future trying to propel a metal ball to a goal. There are eight character types to choose from and you can play against an opponent."

The success of Denton in a short space of time has much to do with the relaxed, enthusiastic attitude of the team. It is also a benefit not to have to worry about advertising, duplication, packaging, distribution and all the other expensive aspects of producing games which so often bankrupt software houses. Are we seeing the birth of a new type of progamming house, where publishers seek out the creative team they require for particular projects? Steve is quite convinced of the rightness of Denton's approach.

"It will be more important to our clients to have our names on the box than theirs," he says, confidently. At Imagine they tried to conquer the universe, and failed. Today they'll be happy with a decent slice of the market - and seem set to capture a lot more.

ZZAP 64 Christmas Special p.39(issue 21 1986/87) Art for Art´s Sake... Money for Gods´s sake? (by Julian Rignall)

A liverpudlian Interlude... Early this year the jungle drums of the software industry beat out a rumour: the Denton Design team was breaking up. Apparently, the founder members had peeled away from the company to pursue their own interests. So what did happen to Dentons? 'Julian Rignall' travelled to Liverpool to find out what went on, and what's going on... original programs are getting a bit scarce nowadays - licences seem to have taken over.

Peer over the bannisters at Canvas HQ..
Kenny Everett • Karen Davies • Steve Cain

The first port of call was the offices of Denton Designs, situated in the heart of Liverpool's equivalent to Harley Street. Although only one founder member remains, graphic artist Ally Noble, the new Dentons is still very much a co-operative consisting of six people: Ally, John Heap, Andy Heap, Stuart Fotheringham, Dave Colclough and Colin Parrott. The company is alive and kicking. So what happened during the so-called split?

"The directors, Steve Cain, Karen Davies and John Gibson all wanted to go freelance", Ally Noble explains. "They didn't really want to work with the company, but wanted to work for themselves. At the time it looked as though everyone was going to pack in and give up, but we decided not to."

John Heap takes over the story, "I think they were a little disillusioned with the amount of profit actually going into their pockets and they reckoned they could get twice their wages if they went freelance, which I think is true. After they left there were rumours saying that the Denton Designs team bad split up, so we sent out lots of letters dispelling the rumours that Dentons had died. We were back in business within a week."
Which rather implies that the people who remained behind are less money orientated and, perhaps, see games designing more as a labour of love...

new denton

Ally points out their philosophy "if we wanted more money we'd all go freelance and drive around in our Porsches."  John chips in: "I think you really have to commit yourself, especially when you consider how much time you actually put into the game. When you weigh the effort against the money it's really just a pittance that we earn."
Denton Designs is a name that has become associated with original material - a reputation the new team intends to build on as Ally explains: "we see ourselves as people who are here to do our own stuff and not things like conversions." John continues: "When you are working on a game the idea for the next one starts forming in your head. Ally agrees, "yeah, and then it gets bounced around the office. The idea for Bounces came out of Frankie. I think the whole thing is a sort of progression."

John is currently doing a lot of background reading into a game set in Ancient Egypt. "We tend to do a lot of research into our games. You get more into it if you do. Ally says, "for the Great Escape I watched the Colditz series and went out and bought a load of military models."


It's all very well coming up with brilliant game designs, but surely the sheer volume and complexity of ideas must be limited by the target machine's capabilities? Spectrum programmer John shrugs his shoulders, "it's a bit like racing a Mini instead of a Porsche.You can only go so fast but you can become better at driving the Mini than you are at driving the Porsche."

"You can get just as much fun out of driving the Mini fast as you can driving the Porsche faster... I'd like to do a 128K game," he admits "not just more screens, but I'd like to push it like you push a 48K Spectrum. It's the same processor and same machine it's just the graphics potential is much bigger - bigger sprites and map size. It's really sad at the end of a 48K game where you want to put in a few extra little tricks but you haven't got the memory."

Ian, a Commodore programmer, joins in. "With the C64 it's a case of finding new tricks you can do with the machine, but it is annoying to have to throw out ideas because you can't get the machine to do them."  Stuart Fotheringham, another Commodore specialist, agrees: "the big problem with the 64 is the actual speed of the processor."

John laughs. "If you look at the Commodore you have sprites and all that and you think: 'what am I going to do with them'. On the Spectrum you have none of those, so the actual thought about how the machine is to be used is much more diverse - you get things like Knight Lore. If the Spectrum had died a death and the Commodore was reigning supreme I don't think you'd ever get anything like Knight Lore games."

"...Transformers was an embarrassment"

John mentions Knight Lore with a certain amount of respect. Do the DENTON members pay attention to other games on the market? John: "Not much really, we're not really games players. We're a bit insular really."  Ally takes over: "we went to the PCW Show and there was nothing which really impressed us. Oh, the title screen on Alleykat (HEWSON), that was nice."

Roland rat race
Rolands Rat Race (Spectrum 48k)
By Denton Designs

In response to the question 'which DENTON game were you least pleased with?,  Ally instantly retorts "definitely Transformers... it's really a personal thing, we all like different products, but I think Transformers was an embarrassment".  "We were a bit over a barrel and we had to do it."  John admits, "There wasn't much you could do with the subject matter of the program... we did our best." Nobody says anything about Roland Rat...

So why don't the DENTON team launch a label in their own right to avoid Transformers type problems? Ally shakes her head...  "We don't know anything about marketing," John says. It boils down to money: "there's also a problem with cash flow - we wouldn't get any money for six months, and we'd have to pay people in the meantime. We may do something like that in the future with one game perhaps being financed by another company. We don't really know all the tricks and all the wheeling and dealings. I think we're all a bit naive really."

There may be room for compromise, as Ally explains: "we wouldn't mind trying some joint publishing, where we put in the development and somebody else puts in the marketing skills and then split the profits half and half. I think we'd have to get a lot bigger, though. Small is good."


john gibson plane
The solo flight
John Gibson

If small is good then John Gibson, programmer of Gift to the Gods, Cosmic Wartoad and Frankie, has gone one better. After splitting from DENTONS he pursued a solo career under contract to OCEAN.

"I'm mainly doing licensed programs now, he reveals. I'd like to do original programs, but Ocean seem to be dead wary about releasing original games - you're guaranteed to sell a licensed product. If you want to do an original product it's got to be very convincing. I don't really like doing arcade conversions - they're nearly always pale imitations of the original - there hardly seems much point in doing them."

He's just finished work on GALIVAN - so why does he do conversions if he sees so little point in them? "When I started five years ago I did it because it was what I enjoyed. Now I tend to think more about the money than the art form. Mind you, that wouldn't stop me for working for less if the job made me more enthusiastic."

"If anything goes wrong I know it's my fault..."

Was the break from Dentons a good move?

GALIVAN (Spectrum 48K)

"Oh yes. I've got rid of the responsibilities of looking after other people. If anything goes wrong I know it's my fault. It's a bit lonely, especially when I've been working alone in my flat for a couple of days, but I do go down to DENTON and CANVAS for a bit of company. I suppose that's what I miss.

When Dentons started it was a very close-knit company. I was one of the founder members, and a Director. It was great when we started, and we had loads of ideas about being a software development house.

"At first it was like us versus the rest of the world, but after a while both Steve and I got disillusioned. There was too much turmoil in the office with too many meetings. All I wanted to do was write programs and I felt that I was getting too wound up by the difficulty of running a company. I did want more money, so when David Ward of Ocean, after approaching me several times, made me an offer I couldn't refuse, I left."

So money, or rather lack of it, seemed to be at the root of the Dentons split. Was this the case with the rest of the original crew? It was time to travel eight miles up the Southport road to visit CANVAS, a regular haunt for the other three original Denton Designers...


canvas team
Here at CANVAS
Roy Gibson and Steve Cain in laughing mode...

Located above a large supermarket with a carpark that is apparently the source of a significant proportion of Liverpool's crime figures, CANVAS is a new company set up by Steve Cain and ex-Argus Press Software programmer Roy Gibson. Recently they contracted 'Kenny' Everett to develop the Atari ST version of Star Trek (for Beyond) and Karen Davies, like CANVAS founder Steve Cain, regularly freelances for the company.

Steve explains the financial motives that lay behind the Dentons split: "The thing at Dentons is that we couldn't, as individuals, earn enough money for ourselves. Looking back, at the time of the split, we really had no choice. Dentons cost too much - it was a bit of a luxury and self-indulgent. I've been a lot happier since.

"Originally the idea was to wind the company up, but we handed it over and now it seems to be doing really well. We did some good stuff which I'm proud to have worked on, and they're doing good stuff now. Some of the guys they've got there now are brilliant - Colin Parrott is a genius. But I felt I just couldn't work with them any more."

Kenny airs his view. "At Dentons we were making X pounds. Now we're working for ourselves, we're making X times three. The theory with Dentons was that we'd take on a load of extra programmers and we'd make money out of those programmers. We'd get so much money from employing them we'd be able to pay the overheads, pay them and there would be a hit left over for us. In practice we were subsidising the extra programmers. Although we haven't got a public reputation now, the people that matter know who we are. As long as the publishers know who I am, I don't give a toss about the public."

"´s the sort what licence you get."

Karen Davies looks rather perturbed, and exclaims "that's not a very nice thing to say..."  Unrepentant, Kenny continues... "Yeah, but it'll never be like the pop industry. Jeff Minter's about the only exception, but then how many people bought Colourspace? It doesn't matter what you write, it's what sort of licence you get. Look at Bounces - that has eight frames of animation when the player falls over. Nobody noticed that - it was dead smooth cartoon animation and nobody noticed it. Nobody cared about the flicker-free animation. Things like that are so annoying."

Produced by Kenny Everett & Steve Cain

Turning to the function of CANVAS, Roy explains what the company aims to do. "We are a commercial programming agency - we don't really intend to do our own stuff, not straight away at least. What we're about is doing conversions for other people. We just churn away. Perhaps next year we'll have enough money in the bank to allow us to take the chance and do something original. At the moment we find coin-ops the best thing to do - our artists can start work straight away and everybody else knows exactly what is expected of them." "At the moment, we don't have the reputation that Dentons have. We've been talking to companies such as BRITISH TELECOM who have given us stuff to do like Star Trek - now that's a stepping stone for us."

"Anonymity isn't a thing we're really bothered about, not this year. Why should we splash CANVAS all over a licensed conversion? An original program we're working on at the moment, Wizard War, will go out with our name on it. We might even publish it ourselves, we don't really know... we'll have to see how it goes."

Publishers haven't got enough money left over for paying us because the licence cost so much...

Kenny Everett agrees. "It's just like the early Dentons stuff which went out with a miniscule credit on it. Any customer would have thought it was produced by David Ward." Were they pleased with Frankie?  Steve replies "it was nice being the programmer, but the hassles in doing it were tremendous, it practically broke Dentons." "Frankie was really original, different...."  Kenny adds, "I'm not blowing Frankie's trumpet especially, what I'm saying is that there is really nothing else like it.

bounces gif
By Denton Designs 1986

"The problem with doing your own thing is that it's all down to a matter of personal taste. I think Bounces is the best thing I've done. Gameplay wise it was far superior to Frankie or anything else around at the time. As a two player game it was brilliant, but it was a marketing failure. The Spectrum version of Bounces was a complete load of rubbish - the difference was about three months of playtesting."

Steve continues the story behind the DENTON days. "We got into a bit of trouble over Transformer with Ocean which we managed to do in the end - we were all under so much pressure. I designed it, so I take all the blame for it. It was the worst game Dentons ever did, and it was the biggest seller. That tells you a lot about the computer industry doesn't it ?"

Roy continues on the licence theme. "Licence deals annoy me. We lose directly in proportion to the size of the licence. If you're on a royalties deal publishers screw you substantially. What they say is "we've got a brilliant licence and are guaranteed 100,000 sales, therefore we'll pay you less royalties because you don't need them." You ask for a lump sum and they say they haven't got enough money left over because the licence cost so much, so their priorities are "pay for the licence, then worry about the programming" - so how can the game be any good?

"Money had a lot to do with the Dentons split..."

Steve doesn't totally agree... "I think the only good licence I've seen recently is Cobra. The graphics are really bloody great but the game hasn't got much to do with the film. Frankie was another one, a lot of thought went into that. The software industry could be generating brilliant characters and licensing them out to films and TV, but look what happens. We end up having to write a game about some crappy American TV series. It's the wrong way round."

Cobra (C64)
Graphics by Karen Davies

"Licences do take money out of the industry which should left in. I'd like to get out of games and move into the film industry using videos and computers and all that stuff. That's what I want to do..."

Money had a lot to do with the Dentons split. The individual programmers who came together to form the original Dentons are still working within the industry, and we can expect some interesting products in the near future: it's just the motivation behind the programming effort that has changed - in some cases, quite radically.

Roger Kean - CRASH December 1984


A look at the crash of Imagine Software as seen through the eyes of a film crew. Depending on when you read this article, you may be about to see, have seen or maybe missed, a fascinating program on BBC2 television (December 13th at 8.00pm) in the Commercial Breaks series about Imagine Software Limited.

Imagine Logo

The Liverpool software giant crashed out during the summer after a life of a little over 18 months, during which time it produced more hype than any other software house before. The company appeared to bask in self-created publicity, much of which was very clever, and it seems appropiate that its death should also have been as well recorded for posterity by the media it sought for its promotion, as had its successes in life.

As things turned out, the BBC film crew got a rather different story to the one they had conceived, but much of the material shot for Commercial Breaks cannot appear in the finished programme, because it falls outside the scope of the series format.

Roger Kean spoke to BBC director Paul Andersen as he was busy putting the finishing touches to the programme.


eugene evans in lotus
Eugene Evans

Early in the new year of 1984 BBC television director Paul Andersen, who among other things was about to direct some of the programmes for the Commercial Breaks series, witnessed the enthusiasm surrounding some of the new generation of computer games that were beginning to appear in the shops, and appreciated that the emerging software houses were pioneering a new market.

Commercial Breaks is a series which broadly examines the struggles of individuals and companies who are trying to 'break' a new product into the market place. To Andersen the new computer games software 'moguls' seemed like a good subject for a programme and he began researching, looking for a suitable company to feature.

An obvious place to look was in computer magazines, and it rapidly became apparent that Imagine was a strong contender because of the spate of clever advertising that was then appearing which was designed for Imagine by Stephen Blower of Studio Sting, an offshoot company of Imagine, coupled with the fact that Andersen, like so many people in Britan, was reading the national press publicity about Imagine's teenage programmer Eugene Evans, who was said to be earning £35,000 a year and could afford a fabulously expensive car when he was still too young to drive it. There was obviously a story here for Commercial Breaks.

Imagine Office

The next step was to approach Imagine and ask the owners wether they would mind being featured. So Andersen travelled to Liverpool and spoke to the young bossess of the new company, Mark Butler and David Lawson.

They were also joined by the younger programmer Eugene Evans, but for unexplained reasons Evans never invited to sit on the Board and remains a jobbing , if senior, games designer. Lawson (Spectrum) and Evans (C64) had written Arcadia, Imagine's biggest hit at the time, and Butler had sold it into shops starved of software over the 82 Christmas.

At first they seemed reluctant, and Imagine's Operations Manager, Bruce Everiss, explained that there were too many things under wraps to allow in the prying eyes of television. On the other hand the publicity-eager Everiss must have been able to see the promotional capital that could be made out of having BBC TV hanging around for some weeks making a film about them. Dave Lawson saw another angle altogether, and to appreciate this it's worth remembering what put Liverpool on the map in the early sixties.


The Beatles transformed British (and then world) pop music in the early sixties, and created a modern myth about Liverpool, their home city. Over the years Liverpool has come to see itself as a possibly undernorished and underpriviledged city, but one bursting at the seams with imagination and guts.

lawson butler
from more innocent days

With the eighties something similar to the Beatles seemed to be happening, only in computer software this time, and Dave Lawson must have seen Imagine as being at its very centre. Stephen Blower said that, 'Lawson had some greater vision of what could be produced in software than anyone else I've ever met.' At the time when Paul Andersen approached them, Imagine was working on the concept of megagames, having exhausted the possibilities of the home computer's limited memory.

Lawson, who was largely responsible for overseeing their development, saw that the BBC would be able to record for posterity the concept, development and creative effort of a dedicated team in bringing these new super games out. In a way, the Imagine team, and especially the men who ran the operation, would be seen to be ushering in a new Beatles era, but in software rather than in music. For the TV director the megagames also offered an essential linch pin on which to hang his programme. It all seemed ideal and, at the time neither party knew how dramatically different things would turn out.

Eugene Evans

When the BBC film crew went in to start shooting material for the programme they realised that Imagine made good visual material; huge, luxurious offices, acres of carpet, computer terminals by the ton load, lots of young programmers, secretaries in abundance, young 'gophers' acting as runners for the management and a company garage packed with a fleet of Ferrari Boxers, BMWs for the lesser executives and the famous Mark Butler custom hand-built Harris motorbike. At the time Imagine was employing 103 members of staff. Andersen had a funny feeling that it all looked too good to be true - and it was.

He noted that beneath the energy and bustle there were inconsistancies. Principal of these was an apparent split in the senior management which meant factions were working against each other. But the first noted disrepancy in the outward bravado was that Eugene Evans had obviously never recieved anything like his £35,000 a year quoted in the PR story. But what seemed more suprising to Andersen was that Evans had never really written any programs either - certainly nothing that Imagine cared to publish. This might not have suprised some of his contempary Liverpudlian programmers who were working for other software houses, however, who knew much better.
It became clear that Eugene Evans perfectly fit as a young and successfull PR posterchild for Imagine based on the visions of Bruce Everiss. In later interviews, however, Evans corrected that it was actually £5,000.


Imagine Logo

Eugene Evans, like Mark Butler had worked at Microdigital, one of the first ever British computer stores, situated in Liverpool. Bruce Everiss was also associated with Microdigital, and so were many of the programmers who were later to become the bedrock of the Liverpool software business. They all knew each other pretty well. It was the sort of in-bred atmosphere which leads to personality clashes, and soon enough the BBC team began to see evidence of them.

The disparity between the publicity hype and the reality became increasingly apparent during the summer months. Central to the problem was the fact that both Mark Butler and Dave Lawson had catapulted to fame and fortune within a few months. They would have been super-human if they had not come to believe a little in their own publicity and both in their different ways appear to have failed in coping with the fortune.

Mark Butler's background after leaving Microdigital was as Sales Manager for Bug-Byte software where Lawson also worked as a programmer. They both left to set up Imagine in a small front room after several disagreements with the Bug-Byte management. The money that the sales of Arcadia made over the Christmas of 82 was reinvested in bigger premises, personnel and in new programs, which also sold well. Naturally, the two young moguls needed staff and management to help administrate the in-pouring fortune, a classic stuation which encourages the development of court chamberlains.

One of the first such was Bruce Everiss, who seems to have naturally attached himself more to Mark than to Dave. Everiss was responsible for the day to day running of the company, but the responsibility for financial control and a directorship was put in the hands of Ian Hetherington. Hetherington attached himself to Lawson. The factions had begun.

Imagine Race Team 1
Tourist Trophy - Isle of Man

One of Mark's hobbies is fast motorbikes. He created the Imagine racing team and himself rode on the track. In fact Paul Andersen and the BBC crew were at the Isle of Man TT races in June filming at a time when Imagine was already in serious trouble and teetering on the brink of a crash. Mark did suffer a crash. Ironically he was driven to the dismemberment of his empire swathed in bandages.

According to Andersen (a view backed up by many other observers), the two bosses thought that because of their success in the field of games production, it meant they could handle all sorts of other businesses as well. Almost at the outset they founded Studio Sting, together with Stephen Blower, the designer whose art work helped sell the company's image and which adorned Imagine covers. Studio Sting was to act as a design centre and advertising agency for Imagine, which meant the company would be entitled to a discount on ad space booked in magazines. In return Stephen Blower recieved a 10% share of Imagine (which wasn't worth all too much when the share was gladly handed over).


Within a few months this situation has changed and the 10% was worth a lot on paper. The triad of Butler, Lawson and Hetherington wanted things rationalised - ie, they wanted the 10% back. There are many rumors attached to the goings on at this time, in-fighting appears to have been rife, but whatever actually took place, the outcome was that Studio Sting was left holding huge magazine advertising debts (which have remained upaid) but Stephen held onto his 10%, although he lost any executive post within Imagine. He therefore lost control over his own destiny when management decisions led to its downfall, and is still undergoing legal wrangles between himself and Butler/Lawson as to his financial responsibilities in the matter of Imagine's vast debt.

In a telephone conversation with Crash's Kevin Foster, Blower said, 'Imagine tried to accuse me of certain things I didn't do. For instance, they said that I was detrimental to the company's image and I was booking advertising space that wasn't wanted. I was accused of stealing, or misappropiating £10,000, and my wife was accused of being incapable of keeping the books at Studio Sting.All this was later disproved in court.'

He went on to say, 'They were obviously after my 10%. Imagine owed Studio Sting £89,000, so the way I see it is that they attempted to brush that debt under the carpet. The allegations were just an attempt to condone their own actions.
I was probably the only one at Imagine who stuck to doing what he was best at doing.'


Megagames AD
Psyclapse & Bandersnatch

Late in 83 Imagine had set up a deal to produce games for publishers Marshall Cavendish which may have been worth as much as £11 million to Imagine. Early in 84 the contracts were signed, but even before Andersen had received the co-operation of Imagine to start shooting there were signs that all was not well with the deal.

By the time the BBC crew was installed it was clear things were going badly wrong. The megagames had intervened. Dave Lawson who, according to Bruce Everiss, always insisted that the programmers be left strictly alone, free to create without management interference, wanted to concentrate on the development of the megagames.

Marshall Cavendish became disenchanted by the lack of progress on their games. They had already paid out a lot of money and seem to have been unhappy with the quality of what was ready. They pulled out and wanted their money back. But Imagine had taken on more people to cope, programmers, artists, musicans, gophers. None of these was laid off, the overheads went up alarmingly.

Meanwhile the megagames were not progressing as well as it was originally hoped they would. Andersen noticed that John Gibson was working hard at Bandersnatch with Ian Weatherburn, but Psyclapse was nowhere, nothing more than a paper idea. Yet at this stage the artist Roger Dean (famous for his record album sleeves and mythological books) had already designed the boxes and ads which were beginning to appear. Dean reputedly asked £6,000 for this job, and Andersen thought he was 'smart enough' to have demanded it up front.

An important problem with the megagames was that they required a hardware add-on which was to be made in the East. To get the price right, enormous quantities would have to be manufactured. Imagine did not possess the money any more, and anyway could not have sensibly decided how many games would eventually sell. There was indecision all round. Bruce Everiss was to say later, 'One option that we have is to sell the company as a whole to Sinclair Research, and I've been speaking to Sinclair Research, and they're not interested. They're saying that they want to keep programming of that nature outside their company.'

4 guys at imagine
Weatherburn • Gibson • Evans • Glover

It transpired that Sinclair Research was only interested in buying finished product and that the megagames would have to be designed to work on the micro-drive, because they would not undertake the production of masses of hardware add-ons. In the event Sinclair Research did buy an option on Bandersnatch for the QL computer to go on micro-drive.

Another interesting rumour that Paul Andersen's film team were able to verify, was what occured over the Christmas period of 83. In 1982 there had been a software shortage in the shops. 1983 was to be a boom time, and Imagine decided on a clever ploy to foil the duplication of their rivals tapes. Ahead of time they booked the entire duplicating capacity of Kiltdale, one of the biggest duplicators for the software business.

The idea, obviously, was to make it impossible for other major companies to get enough tapes duplicated for the Christmas rush. On paper it looked like an elegant a piece of industrial sabotage. In practice it backfired. Imagine ended up hiring a warehouse for the storage of the hundreds of thousands cassettes that they ended up with. After Christmas, the bottom fell out of the market, and there was no way they could shift the games.

This was a principal reason behind the strange move to lower the price of Imagine software. It also backfired because they had flooded the shops with non-selling tapes, and then expected everyone to like the fact that the tapes would have to be sold at a price lower than the wholesale price the shopkeepers had bought the tapes for in the first place.


Imagine Conference

So in the middle of shooting a TV programme about a company that was going places fast, Paul Andersen found himself filming one with a huge staff it no longer needed or could afford, sitting on a vast stock of product it could not sell, with programmers left to their own devices much of the time and producing games that were completely unplayable and usually released with bugs still in them (remember Stonkers), run by a management team that was beginning to fall apart at the seams.

Andersen recalls filming a meeting where the bosses sat around deciding how large the megagame boxes should be, wether they should be huge to entice punters to fork out £30 to £40, or wether the large size would put buyers off on the grounds that everyone knows model kit boxes are usually full of air. And this at a time when their empire was literally falling apart through lack of money and mounting debts.

Lawson was buried in his megagames, Butler was acting out the role of playboy in his Ferrari and at the bike tracks. Everiss was trying to keep the offices running, while the rest of the 'top management team' struggled to cope with the increasing bitterness that was developing between the triad at the top. Some of the effects of what was happening were apparent to outsiders as well.

A custommade bike

I recall visiting Imagine for a meeting with Dave Lawson and Bruce Everiss sometime in late April. Lawson never turned up and Mark Butler appeared for a few moments, having just popped into the building to pick up some petty cash. It seemed a bit odd. The resulting article which appeared in Crash naturally quoted Everiss the most. When the issue was published Butler rang me to complain that the emphasis was wrong - it made it sound like Everiss ran the company, he told me, when in fact he and Dave were still in charge.

As early as 16th April 1984, a petition was presented to the High Court by Cornhill Publications Ltd, to have Imagine Software Ltd wound-up for non-payment of debts. At the time of writing I have been unable to establish what these debts were, or how they were incurred. The matter was 'heard' on the 11th June, three of four days before the TT races.

On Monday 9th July at the High Court of Justice (Chancery Division) a futher petition to wind-up Imagine on behalf of VNU Business Press (publishers of Personal Computer Games among others) went unopposed. Imagine was finished.

But what was happening back in Liverpool? The BBC crew were filming right up to the last moment, and witnessed the apathy and confusion that attended the last days. A memorable scene is the man from Kiltdale the duplicators, walking up and down Imagine's offices trying to get to see either Mark Butler, Dave Lawson or Ian Hetherington, the only people who could pay him the £60,000 owed by Imagine, much of it for the mass duplication done over Christmas in an attempt to prevent other software houses having games ready. He was in despair. But Mark Butler was not available, and the Lawson/Hetherington faction had disappeared.

Imagine Logo

According to Bruce Everiss, they had already made their plans well beforehand, and events would appear to back him up. What he told Paul Andersen, is substantially the same as what he told me over the phone back in July. 'I'm not a signatory on the bank or anything, but I've had a look at the financial records of the company and there has never been a VAT return (Imagine had been running for 18 months and should therefore made at least 6 VAT returns by law), never a bank concillation, never a creditor's ledger control account, never any budgeting, never any cash-flow forecasting, no cost centres, not even an invoice authorisation procedure. Just no financial controls at all.' All these financial aspects were supposedly the responsibility of Ian Hetherington. Paul Andersen recalls that Heatherinton was usually unapproachable during filming and had little if anything to say to the film crew.

Is it possible that Hetherington has already sussed out the true financial position right at the start of his tenure? It would be odd if he hadn't, since the cracks were there even before Christmas 83. What must surely have occured to him is that Imagine was capable of making a lot of money, and that the megagames were going to make them all very rich. A lot of Imagine was now defunct and wasting money. Debts were getting to be astronomical, various attempts to raise money in the City had failed, or been abandoned. If the company went, so would the investment in the megagames, so too would their personal finances.

Everiss again: 'Dave has become anxious about losing his big house in Coldy and about his kids at expensive schools and Ian has become greedy and wants to become a millionaire overnight. So Ian has presented this Finchspeed plan to Dave. Dave, grasping at straws, has taken it on board - which means that only 20 people will be employed.'


Financial Director

Finchspeed. The name first hit the press after the Imagine collapse. Finchspeed was the new company founded by Dave Lawson and Ian Hetherington for what appears to be the express purpose of aquiring all the Imagine assets. As a result of canvassing opinion and currying favour with those programmers whom Lawson and Hetherington considered 'sympathetic' to them (rather than to the Butler/Everiss faction), jobs were offered to approximately 20 people - in fact those needed to continue work on and complete the megagames.

At the time the Finchspeed documents were drawn up, very few people knew about the Lawson/Hetherington plans.
It seems Mark Butler had no idea and Bruce Everiss certainly didn't. 'They didn't tell Mark about this till the very last minute when they let him in on a third of Finchspeed,' Everiss told Paul Andersen later.

It seems incredible that the duo thought they could get away with transferring assets from a company part-owned by Butler, without his knowledge. Stephen Blower was also in the dark. Later he was to be held jointly responsible in law
for Imagine's debts. He told us, 'I'm still liable for the overdraft, which was £112,000 at the last count. If it came to court

I think I would have a good case against them, as has been shown last time I took them to court.'
Blower appears to have maintained that Butler and Lawson should have protected his interests better, and the courts have agreed. Butler and Lawson were ordered to pay Blower back the £89,000, but failed to do so.

Bruce Everiss 2
'The company is up
shit street'

At a later hearing the Judge said that he ought to send Butler and Lawson to jail for refusing a court order to pay, but they were let off on the grounds that in jail they would be unable to put matters right and that it was in the best interests of both parties if they were allowed to continue their present work to be enabled to pay Blower.

Although the Finchspeed arrangements were made in secrecy, it did not quite escape the notice of the BBC team, who actually filmed Dave Lawson signing a legal document relating to some aspect of Finchspeed. This shot appeared in the 'rough cut' of the programme (at the time of writing it is not known wether it remains), but because this deal was largely outside the scope of the programme, the shot is just there as visual background.

On a later occasion the film crew were also present when Dave Lawson's wife came into his office to get papers signed for a passport shortly before he left for America with Hetherington. With the winding- up orders going through the courts unopposed, Lawson and Butler prepared to disappear from the scene.

On the telephone, Hetherington told us 'I didn't run away anywhere. I spent four weeks, day and night, writing a business report. I was in America for fund-raising, and we were damn near successful, but we had to have our trip cut short because of the goings-on at Imagine. ' He added, 'I am sick to death of people insinuating that anything untoward happened at Imagine.'

In retrospect it seems incredible that they should leave the country at such a time, unless one supposes that they felt unable to face the imminent disaster. Protests that the trip was a realistic fund-raising exercise for Imagine seem undermined in the face of writs going unopposed through the law courts before and during their trip. As soon as the two men had gone, numerous creditors, trying for weeks to get some reply to their demands for overdue payment, were stumped, because with Lawton and Hetherington gone, there was no-one to cope with the financial problems.

gibson bug
'So, that is a BUG!'

It's two or three days later before the assembled staff and told them in a brief speech that it was over, that he hoped they'd get paid what they were owed if it was possible, and that he would try to find alternative employment for as many as possible. During the period between Lawson and Hetherington vanishing and the baliffs arriving, life in the Imagine HQ appears to have been as disorganised and dream-like as it was in Hitler's Berlin bunker.

In reply to Paul Andersen's question about what had been happening, Everiss replied: 'Well, there was a whole pile of people just playing games there and they're hiding from the camera. If you go round the corner here, by the exit, you'll find there's a big pile of empty fire extinguishers because there's been fire extinguisher fights all week. That's been the main event.'

As far as the BBC team could see, the staff were mostly sitting around, watching videos and waiting for the end. Everiss was left with trying to find jobs for about 60 staff, those left behind by the new Finchspeed crew, and in the end he felt morally obliged to resign. 'Dave and Ian, being too much of cowards to face up to me, have told Mark that they wouldn't want me here when they returned,' he said.

Sylvia Jones
Sylvia Jones

That was largely it for Imagine Software Limited, but not for the people involved. Finchspeed has gone on to develop the megagame Bandersnatch for Sinclair Research to bring out on the QL in the New Year, with a royalty from each unit sold going back to the Imagine liquidators to help pay back to company's debts. It is a critical time for its directors, Dave Lawson and Ian Hetherington, who are naturally afraid of any adverse publicity. Even as I was in London seeing the rough cut of the TV programme, Ian Hetherington was on the phone trying to get hold of Paul Andersen.

When I returned to Ludlow that Friday evening, I was greeted with a message that Hetherington had rung me to find out the same thing, having heard that we were writing the story. Unfortunately for him, he spoke to our Financial Director, and was told that as he still owed us £5,825, it wasn't sound sense to bother us!

We phoned him on the following Monday morning, when he spoke to Kevin Foster and gave him the quotes used in this article. He also implied that if we printed anything he didn't like, we would be making him a rich man. Implications of libel action are all very well. The fact remains that Crash, along with other publications had been promised payments by both Imagine's promotional department and (in our case) by Hetherington personally. These never arrived.

But at the time, he and Lawson were signing assets out of Imagine into another company. Hard to accept Hetherington's comments to us at face value when (whether intended or not) his absence put a total block on payments. Yet equally it must have been clear to him that payments could not be met.

lawson pile of games
"I knew my work would
be valuable one day"

With knowledge that VNU had succesfully issued a winding-up order on Imagine, the rest of the company's creditors began jamming the switchboard to find out what was going on. Crash was one of them. The official line was that things were quite normal. But no one knew where Lawson, Hetherington and Butler were. Everiss told Paul Andersen, 'Mark didn't know where they'd gone. The only person they told was Andrew Sinclair, who basically's just David's gopher, and Andrew has been spying on Mark and myself and reporting on a daily basis to them in San Francisco.'

One press mention did suggest that the two directors were in the States trying to raise venture capital in Silicon Chip Valley to save Imagine, but this would appear to be out of character with their recent actions in moving assets from Imagine to Finchspeed, and gives strength to Bruce Everiss who said, 'All they're trying to do is finance Finchspeed with capital from San Francisco.'

The significance of the passport signing became more apparent when it was realised that both men had taken their wives with them on the trip to America at a cost estimated by Everiss to be possibly as high as £10,000, and that at a time when creditors were crawling all over the building trying to get paid. On the day Mark returned from the races, wrapped in bandages and driven by someone else, he arrived at Imagine headquarters to find the bailiffs were in.

Mark Butler

One of the items they impounded was his pride and joy, the Ferarri Boxer. Paul Andersen recalls that he seemed stunned and totally out of his depth. He didn't know what to do or not to blame, it seemed he was genuinely unaware that things had reached such a state, or that his co-directors had fled the country and were in hiding (as everyone said), incommunicado. So closely did the TV crew follow the proceedings that they almost had their camera gear locked into the building by the bailiffs!

Mark went off, to return two which they both part-owned at a time when Imagine was hoplessly in debt, and desperately required those assets if it was to have a hope of staying alive. Recognition of this fact can be seen in that a royalty on every copy of Bandersnatch sold by Sinclair will be going back to Imagine's liquidators.

Some of the programmers are now working freelance on games for Ocean, and others, including John Gibson have founded a new Liverpool company with partial backing from Ocean called Denton Designs and their first game, an adventure entitled Gift From The Gods should be released through Ocean shortly.


Stephen Blower worked for the year as a freelance and is now at Ocean, where he has recently been made a director. Of the collapse of Imagine he had this to say, 'Through greed, or little boys playing at big business, or whatever it was that carried it all they ruined something that was worthwhile carrying on with.'
Heatherington added, 'My attitude has always been that it's all over now, and what we'll do is quickly get our lives back together again. I don't want people bringing back something that happened six or seven months ago. What we're doing now, Dave and I, is improving on megagames to produce something quite startling. We want to bow out at the top.'

In summing up his unique experience in watching the death of the software giant, BBC director Paul Andersen said, 'It was a fascinating time in a city at the focus of the software business. It's a shame it all fell apart - there were a lot of talented people there who were let down. It's a bit like a movie that never got made, all the technicians and all the energy, but the producers failed. It's going to be interesting to see what will come of them all.'

With the finish of Imagine, the TV programme may have looked as though it was over too. However Ocean bought a major portion of Imagine's assets and so Paul Andersen had a finale thrown in his lap. Filming continued at Ocean's offices in Manchester, as they worked on Hunchback II.

The BBC may not have got the story of the Imagine megagames, but at least they managed to follow the development of computer games from concept to release, and in the process they saw a fascinating slice of corporate life.


So what happened to the remnants of the Imagine team?

Of the big four at the head of Imagine, there is only one real success story amongst them. (Eugene Evans was a board member in name only, but had no trading authority at Imagine.)

Ian Hetherington formed Psygnosis Games which made him the millionaire he always dreamed of being. Having pioneered Playstation software, Hetherington sold Psygnosis to Sony and quit to form Evolution Software (closed 2016 by Sony). Amazing to think that someone who was so inept at managing the finances of Imagine could reach such heights.

David Lawson involved in Brataccas, Barbarian and Obliterator in the early days of Psygnosis. It might note that Dave Lawson´s influence at Psygnosis steadily waned after Brataccas was completed, with Hetherington and Jonathan Ellis coming to the fore as the real leaders of the company. He left entirely in 1989, giving as his public reason his dissatisfaction with Psygnosis´s new focus on outside rather than in-house development. He went on to form a short-lived development studio of his own called Kinetica, who released just one unsuccessful Game (Gold of the Aztecs / US GOLD 1990) before disbanding. And after that, Dave Lawson left the industry for good, to join his old Imagine colleague Mark Butler in modern obscurity.

Mark Butler was made a director of Odin Computer Graphics, having worked as a freelance consultant for Thor, the software publish company. Shortly after their formation, Butler was forced to leave Odin because of his disagreeable behaviour. As of 6 years ago, Mark Butler was running a development team in London. According to the last info he is working with his father in another software company called Voyager. Whether he still is, we do not know.

In 1985, Bruce Everiss was made Managing Director of Tansoft, owners of Oric Computers and oversaw yet another disaster as they collapsed. After that he joined Codemasters as a senior marketing manager until 1989. Later on he joined Kwalee which was settled by David Darling.
Bruce has the website: Bruce On Games - A veteran's view on marketing games. See how this fascinating story of Imagine began.