Dev History: Philip Morris
For its five short years in business, English Software, originally known as The English Software
Company, published many successful titles on the Atari 8-bit system in particular. With many of its
games available on Antstream Arcade, we thought it was about time we caught up with English
Software’s founder, Philip Morris.
Antstream Arcade: Hi Philip! What were the first videogames you remember, and what got you into computing?
Philip Morris: Hi. Probably arcade machines such as Pong and eventually Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Battlezone, and Galaxians. At home, I was a huge fan of the original Atari VCS, but more so of the Atari 400/800 computers, which had superb graphics. I began by retailing the Atari VCS, and trying to use its BASIC programming cartridge.
AA: Was this before English Software?
PM: Yes, I started a mail order business in central Manchester called Gemini Electronics in February of 1978. We were selling Chess Challenger computers and, eventually, Atari VCS game systems,
Commodore 64s and Atari computers. This evolved into a full scale computer and games software
shop, also selling Vic 20s, Mattel Intellivisions, Vectrex and Colecovision games machines and games.
AA: Did you ever try to code yourself?
PM: Not programming, but I thought up several ideas for English Software games like Leviathan,
Witchswitch and Knight Games.
AA: When did English Software begin, and why that name?
PM: It was around 1981, after I started selling Airstrike for the Atari 400/800, which was
programmed by a customer, Steve Riding. I chose the name because I wanted a name that would
eventually appeal to the US Atari market.
AA: And the reasoning behind the cottage motif for the early English Software adverts?
PM: At the time, most independent game developers in the UK were very small and working on very small budgets. In effect, they were cottage industries, so the logo and name seemed perfect at the time!
AA: What attracted you to the Atari computers so much?
PM: I just thought they had the best graphics and sound chips, and at the time there was a complete shortage of UK-produced games, and a real gap in the market for original UK programmed Atari games. Of course, as time went on, we moved into Commodore 64, PC, Spectrum, BBC, Atari ST, and Commodore Amiga too.
AA: Who else was involved in the company other than yourself?
PM: I owned the company and the brand name, and worked with a network of freelance
programmers, graphic artists, audio programmers and musicians, who wrote the sheet music for the audio guys to encode. I dealt purely with freelance programmers who earned royalties, the best being Steve, Jon Williams and Adam Billyard.
AA: That must have been hard work!
PM: Yep! I ran the whole business, from issuing just one game to eventually recruiting programmers, creating game ideas and packaging designs, game and bug testing, right through to hiring printers for game sleeves and posters. The company eventually released around 50 game titles!
AA: What were your favourite games and biggest success?
PM: Favourites include Jet-Boot Jack, Airstrike 2, Diamonds and Leviathan. I went to the US and met Mastertronic USA who, among other games, issued Knight Games on PC and Commodore 64, which was a big hit in the States.
AA: How did the end of English Software come about?
PM: Around late 1987, the games market was being taken over by Sega and Nintendo, who were
really hard to compete with, as well as the UK budget games by Mastertronic. So I left to set up a
Cheshire based independent record company called Nowyertalkin’ Records, issuing records by UK, Swedish and Canadian recording artists.
AA: How do you look back at your time with English Software, and is there anything you’d have done differently in retrospect?
PM: It was a fantastically creative time for the growing UK games industry, which has now evolved into the multi-billion worldwide industry it is today. As to if I’d have done anything differently, probably issued more Sinclair Spectrum games – even though in the company, we all hated that computer!
Thank you Philip for your time!