Since being about 8, I’ve always wanted to meet Matthew Smith. It’s like something I’ve always wanted to do. Not just any Matthew Smith would do, though. It would have to be the one who wrote Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy on the ZX Spectrum.
Yes, THAT Matthew Smith.
That man is responsible for making me into the computer-obsessed guy I am today. If you add together the total hours I must have spent during my youth, playing Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy, you’d be looking at a good few months. I played his games for hour upon hour, every evening and every day during the school summer holidays… He wrote what were, in my opinion, two of the best games on earth.
Over the years, I’ve managed to interview a few 80s celebs, (Jim Bowen, Gaz Topp, Violet Berlin, Nigel Alderton,) but Matthew Smith is one of those people who is notoriously hard to get in touch with. He doesn’t use facebook or twitter. He doesn’t have a “contact me” website. In fact, he could well be one of the least easy to find people ever.
In fact, in 1988 he disappeared completely. Having written Styx, Manic Miner and JSW for the spectrum,(and Scrabble on the gameboy color) he completely vanished from the face of the earth.
He reappeared in the UK in 1995, having been deported from Holland where he had spent 7 years working as a bicycle repairman and a factory worker, completely unaware that his absence had been sure a big deal.
I read that he was scheduled to appear at the Urbis in Manchester, as part of their Videogame Nation exhibition. So not only was he making a very rare public appearance, but it was practically on my doorstep! As soon as I found this out, I bought a ticket. Well, actually, I was that excited I bought two tickets. They arrived months ahead of time, and I stored them next to my monitor so I could look at them daily.
I also decided to try to contact him through various means, to see if he would be able to donate a few minutes and take part in a brief interview for 80sNostalgia.com
I sent a message to the editor at Retro Gamer, an email to the Urbis Museum direct, and a message to a forum member on the RetroGamer website who had published photos of how the exhibition was being constructed. I also remember a couple of years ago a different RG member had asked the forum if they had any questions that they would like to put to Matt, as they were going to his house. I searched for the original topic and messaged the original poster.
The message I sent just said something along the lines of…
I’m looking to contact Matthew Smith of Manic Miner fame. I understand that you would be unwilling to give out his contact details to a complete stranger, so instead would you mind forwarding my contact details to him with a quick note asking if he would spare me a few minutes of his time to participate in an interview for 80sNostalgia.com.
My email address is *******
My phone number is *********
Thanks for your time.
I got an email back the next day from a David Crookes, saying that he was the curator of the exhibition. He had no contact details for Matthew Smith himself, but he would forward my email to Paul Drury who was the one bringing him. He also assured me that Paul was a thoroughly nice chap.
I emailed back my thanks, as I was immensely thankful!
A few days later, while I was at work, I noticed I had a missed call. I listened to my answerphone, to hear the following message…
“Hi this is Paul Drury. You’ve been trying to contact me using a two-pronged attack, via the Retro Gamer website and via David, about how to contact Matthew Smith. I’ll be in England for the next week, after which I’m on holiday, so give us a ring back on this number or my landline which is ********* and I’ll see what I can do. I won’t bore you with where I am going next week…. well, ok I will bore you with it, I’m off to America to meet the guy who invented Simon! Y’know, that memory game with the four beepy colours that you press? How cool is that?!? Er, So, anyway, give me a ring when you’re free. Cheers mate,”
I rang him back VERY quickly!
His advice was simple. Come to the Urbis event. At the end of the event, go up to Paul and introduce myself to him. He’ll get Matthews attention, and introduce me as a good friend, and we’ll all go for a drink together. While drinking, just leave a dictaphone running, and ask him whatever I want.
It was THAT simple.
A month passed, and the Urbis event loomed.
The day before the Urbis event, I got a text from Paul. “Hi Mate. Still coming to the Urbis tomorrow?” “Yep indeed!” I replied. I had written a few questions out in advance, and put them with my tickets.
On the day, I set off to Manchester, and got there at about 1pm. It didn’t start until 2pm, so I had a coffee and quickly read through my questions again.
About 1:30, I set out across the road to the Urbis. I was chatting on the phone. Looking around, I couldn’t believe how many nerds there seemed to be. You know, people who are quite obviously into computer games and look a bit geeky. I commented, on the phone, about how many nerds there were outside the Urbis. “They’re probably looking at you and thinking the same thing” was the reply. My wife graduated ironic-comment college way before I did.
At 2pm, all the attendees were ushered into the event, and Matthew Smith took his place on a chair at the front of the stage, next to Paul.
The two hours of Matt chat absolutely shot by and at the end of the event loads of geeks, myself included, lined up to get autographs and share a few sentences.
(I actually have Matthew Smiths autograph on the covers of both my Manic Miner tape, AND on my Jet Set Willy tape. How COOL is THAT?!?)
So, I stepped to one side and introduced myself to Paul Drury. He couldn’t have been more welcoming. He shook my hand, encouraged me to stay around, asked about 80sNostalgia.com, and chatted about his America trip. As David Crookes said, what a thoroughly nice chap!
Half an hour after the event had meant to have ended, and just after Matt had finished signing things, Paul introduced me to him.
“Matt, this is Craig from 80sNostalgia.com, and he’d like to buy you a drink.”
“Great!” said Matt, beaming at me.
Another guy then stepped up and asked if I minded if he joined us for the drink. “Yeah, no problem” was the resounding reply, and Mike Mason from http://www.Cubed3.com was added to our group. Mike had also prepared some questions to ask Matt, so we all went to the cafe and I bought drinks for all.
So Paul, Matt, Mike and myself were all sat around a table, three of us drinking Pepsi and Matt with a beer, and I just asked random questions for 15 minutes. The questions I had prepared earlier went completely out of the window, and I just asked things that I wanted to know. They are probably not questions that other people are interested in, but to me they were very important. I didn’t want to waste my time asking things that are well documented all over the internet already, I asked things that mattered to me, and I was very pleased with his answers.
(The following excerpt is from memory)
Me : There are some seriously scary things in Jet Set Willy, aren’t there?
MS : Errr….. Like what?
Me : Spinning razor blades?
MS : (nods) Yep.
Me : Monks with extending noses?
MS : (smiles and nods again) Yep.
Me : A massive Satan head?
MS : (giggles) ….yep…
Me : (Preparing to ask him if he was an evil child, but Matt interjects)
MS : I should have put some foxes in there too!
Me : Foxes?
MS : You wouldn’t believe how many people are scared of foxes! And moths.
Me : Moths?
MS : Yeah, flappin’ about. And clowns!
Group : *communal fear noise*
At the end, I asked Matt if I could take a photo of him drinking the beer I’d promised him, to prove that I had done it. ” ‘Ang on” he said, picking up his beer and doing his “posh drinking” pose…
(A pose he started doing even before my camera was ready. He maintained this pose for 15 full seconds in the middle of a cafe while I put my drink down, picked up my phone, navigated to photo mode, and snapped a shot.)
For the full interview, please visit The Matthew Smith Interview at 80sNostalgia.com