is an extract from John's next book
"Life after Nemesis"
I am often
introduced to people at parties as “the guy who
builds rollercoasters”. This annoys me intensely.
Although rollercoasters are one of the tools of my
trade, that is a gross over-simplification of what I
do. And anyone can build a rollercoaster. All you
have to do is research the companies that
manufacture them, and say to them “I’ve got £x
million, and an area on my park where I want to put
a ride, what do you suggest?”. They then come back
with some ideas. You select one of them, and sign a
contract. All you have to do is work out what colour
you’re going to paint it, and what silly name you’re
going to give it. Simple!
But it’s not
“So you’re an
engineer” people say.
No, I’m not an
engineer. I know enough about engineering so that
others can’t pull the wool over my eyes and baffle
me with technicalities, and I have a thorough grasp
of the basic laws of physics so I know what will and
will not work. But I leave the engineering details
must be a designer” they say.
If by that they
mean someone who can draw pretty pictures, or create
detailed images of structures or object, then no,
I’m not a designer.
are you then?” they think.
I am hesitant to
give them my truthful reply, because it will sound
very pretentious. But I’ll let you into the secret
and tell you. I’m an ENTERTAINER.
People think of
an entertainer as a performer. Someone who stands on
a stage and tells jokes, or sings songs, or pulls
rabbits out of hats. But an entertainer doesn’t
necessarily have to be in the public eye. The
conductor of an orchestra creates music. He doesn’t
play any of the instruments himself, but he
coordinates the musicians and helps them make
wonderful music. And that’s entertainment. The
producer of a film isn’t the cameraman, or an actor,
or a scriptwriter, or a set designer or even a
director. But he knows just about enough of all
these crafts to assemble a team of talented people
to make his film. And that’s entertainment. The
impresario of a West End musical doesn’t appear
onstage, he is not a singer or dancer, he cannot
design the costumes, or arrange the music, but he is
the guy who puts on the show. And that’s
The secret of
all these people is that they have a basic
understanding of the talents of all those they
assemble around them to do the entertaining. But
there is one other important thing they all have in
common ….. they have a very thorough understanding
of their audience. Without this there is no magic,
no enchantment, no thrill, no humour. This is
perhaps the most important ability of them all. A
few lucky people have this innate ability, but I had
to learn it through hard work and experience.
So what did I do
to gain this experience? (The following paragraph is
a long boring list of jobs and tasks which I don’t
expect you to read, so feel free to skip over it.)
I was a ticket
seller in a bingo hall, operated a travelling ghost
train, performed my own magic and puppet show, was a
stage manager in the theatre, invented a mechanism
for animating Madame Tussauds waxworks, became a
circus ring boy, worked as a cashier in an amusement
arcade change desk, built illusions and props for
conjurors, operated the lighting switchboard in a
theatre, was a pantomime horse in a pantomime,
manufactured dummy rubber skeletons, invented a gun
for spraying artificial cobwebs on film sets, built
and operated a logflume and haunted house
walk-through ….. the list goes on and on.
A Jack of all
trades (and master of none)? Perhaps. They say a
little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but I would
contest that. Provided one knows one’s limitations,
a little knowledge can be a very useful thing,
particularly if it helps you get inside the mind of
your audience. And that’s the trick. I might not
have wanted to actually play the mundane game of
bingo myself, but as a sixteen-year-old lad I gained
an understanding of the way the minds work of all
those punters in the Windmill Theatre bingo hall in
Great Yarmouth. I could see it was a profitable
business, and something could be learned from this.
You can’t necessarily make a success out of what you
find entertaining. I put aside my own likes and
dislikes, and worked out what others might enjoy.
experiences helped me understand what intrigues,
amuses, thrills, mystifies, scares, and enchants the
British population. And then when I was involved in
the development of Port Aventura in Spain, I learnt
that there were subtle differences in the psyche of
the Spanish audience which had to be taken on board.
Similarly, with Heide Park in Germany and Gardaland
in Italy. The mindset of a typical American is
different to that of the British or European, which
is why the big American companies haven’t managed to
make major in-roads into our theme park market
(perhaps with the exception of Disney?). As a
consequence, if I were to work out the basic secret
of my success as an entertainer, I would say that I
have the ability to get inside the mind of my target
audience, and exploit that. Sinister? No. Positively
entertaining? Yes. That’s showbusiness!
I get hundreds
of emails and messages from young people asking
advice as to how they can follow in my footsteps.
When I was young I got much encouragement from those
more experienced in the areas in which I wanted to
make a career. So I do my best to be encouraging and
positive. It is not easy to make them understand
what I have described in the preceding paragraphs.
Most have their minds set on designing the world’s
most outrageous stomach-churning rollercoasters, and
it is difficult to get them to take a step back and
analyse a few basic principles. (Perhaps I should
tell them to read this book, and take note of these
So now I’ve
blown it! I’ve let you in on the secret of my
success, and there’s nothing stopping you now from
making a successful career in the theme park
business. Over to you.
(This was an
extract from "Life after Nemesis" to be published in
the future. In the meantime, his current book
"Creating my own Nemesis" is available on Amazon.)