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The Bubble Bursts
CRASH, August 1984

Imagine is dead - long live imagination.

After months of rumours and counter-rumours, the lively, publicity-seeking Liverpool software company has collapsed owing half a million pounds to its bank and creditors.

The company founded by Mark Butler and David Lawson, who originally split away from Bug-Byte, has lasted a little over a year, having attracted enormous news coverage from all the media including television. Shortly before the collapse, Imagine was claiming to be worth in the region of £30 million.


But behind the facade of software bustle, money and fast cars there has been a long history of internal discord. The earliest rumours of Imagine's instability started before Christmas when a large amount of their massive advertising bills remained unpaid. The ads had been booked by Imagine's agency, Studio Sting and an estimated amount of over £50,000 of advertising was unpaid when Studio Sting went into liquidation. The agency's proprietor was Stephen Blower, who was also a shareholder in Imagine. Blower became a victim, according to close witnesses to the Imagine in-fighting.

Another member of Imagine's staff to fall foul of the founding fathers was Alan Maton, who has also been at Bug-Byte. He hadn't been with Imagine for very long when he became unwillingly involved in a somewhat messy situation which was the creation of another company intended as a hidden offshoot of Imagine. When Alan was offered a more suitable partnership and the chance to run his own affairs away from the fog of the Butler/Lawson administration, he took it and Software Projects was formed. For months afterwards Maton was forced to retreat behind a legal shield as all manner of threats and writs were hurled in his direction by the apparently incensed Dave Lawson acting in Imagine's 'best interests'. Maton was accused of setting up a rival software company with secret inside knowledge of Imagines business dealings.

When Colin Stokes, sales manager for Imagine, left the company and went to work for Alan Maton's Software Projects, he was faced with the same barrage of invective, both verbal and legal, with Imagine publishing in their Newsletter a whole chunk transcribed, it is claimed, from telephone conversations between Colin and Imagine's competitors in the business. Colin had come under the heading of 'unreliable' in the Butler/Lawson cannon and so his office phones had been bugged.

Mounting Debts

Imagine had over expanded. It was booking town ads in the magazines and not paying for them. Debts were mounting with tape duplication firms and remaining unpaid. A few weeks ago, being pressed for payment, Imagine sent out a duplicated letter to creditors saying that they were expecting to receive £250,000 within 21 days and would settle all accounts at that time. The deadline came and went.

Sale of Titles

Then the news was announced that Imagine had concluded a deal with London-based Beau Jolly to sell the marketing rights of all their current titles, Beau Jolly's Managing Director, Colin Ashby, told CRASH, 'To be honest, I'm not very happy with the deal. We're still waiting for the master tape of VC Bill, and I'm not convinced we've got everything we agreed to.' He went on to explain, 'We weren't paying over money just for old stock. The idea was to invest in the new games as well, but (think something s gone wrong.'

The news of the sale alarmed many creditors, CRASH included. it is impossible to get money from a company without assets, and hadn't it just sold the assets? It is a criminal offence to sell assets of a company which is insolvent. CRASH put this to Colin Ashby. He said, 'What a revelation. I hadn't thought of that.'

The new games Ashby was referring to are the 'mega-games' Psyclapse and Bandersnatch. He told us, 'I've been trying to get Lawson, Butler or Heatherington for weeks because we thought we were doing the new games as well in this deal. But I can't get hold of them.'

No wonder, Messrs Butler, Lawson and Heatherington were not in the country - at least, according to Bruce Everiss, Operations Controller of Imagine, David Lawson and Ian Heatherington were in San Francisco trying to raise more money.

The Collapse

On the 28th June the CRASH offices heard that Personal Computer Games had issued a writ against Imagine for their debts. A call to Imagine was fobbed off with the comment by Dave Leon, financial controller, not to pay attention to silly rumours. When pressed he did admit that a writ had been served. We then called Bruce Everiss and the confusion began to clear. When asked what was happening at Imagine Bruce replied shortly, 'The company is up shit street. There has been no proper financial control. Not even a VAT return has been done.'

Responsibility for Imagine's financial affairs belongs to Ian Heatherington, who together with Butler and Lawson form the Imagine triumvirate. According to Bruce Everiss, when Heatherington saw the state he had allowed things to reach, he formed a personal survival plan together with Dave Lawson. The idea was to form a new company and gradually transfer the assets of Imagine into it. This would normally be subject to legal scrutiny by any creditors, but according to Everiss they had the best lawyers money could buy and the whole is water tight.

The new company is called Finchspeed and its directors are Mark Butler, David Lawson and Ian Heatherington. Finchspeed is expected to take about 20 staff from Imagine, the minimum needed to produce the mega-games which Colin Ashby thought Beau Jolly would be marketing.

The future of Imagine was in doubt by the time the PGG writ landed on them. With all the assets stripped and with debts of half a million pounds, Bruce Everiss was left to find jobs for 60 people. 'It makes me sick,' he said to CRASH, to think that the people who have worked so hard to make the wealth of Imagine have been left high and dry while the directors of the company have stripped it bare and got away scot free. They did everything to line their own pockets.'

So will we see the mega-games? A member of the advertisement department at Personal Computer Games has told us that should anyone having anything at all to do with Finchspeed or any of its directors approach them for advertising space they would be told where to go. Bruce Everiss is more pragmatic about Finchspeed's chances. 'They have a lot of money,' he says, 'if they go round paying in advance for their ads, who will refuse them?'

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