THE EEL MEETS PINBALL GEOFF
January 3, 2010 by EEL COLLECTIVE
“I’ve always been called Pinball Geoff ever since I was a young boy and played the silver ball.”
So says Geoffrey Harvey of Stoke Newington- an avid collector of everything from armadillos to bowler hats to robots but most especially Pinball machines, in fact he has well over 200 of them.
“I had a holiday romance when I was thirteen, “ jokes Geoff, I saw this wonderful figure with sexy shiny legs- it was a Chicago Coin Gunsmoke.”
Over the next few years Geoff built up his pinball collection and quickly acquired around fifty machines, which filled his parents house in Hampstead “I used to have to sleep under the machines because there was no room,” recalls Geoff who still today sleeps in a bed less than a foot from the ceiling.
Born in North London in the late fifties, Geoff is a Grandson of the Raj; his parents were brought up in Burma and always encouraged Geoff in his pursuits. However they weren’t quite prepared for where his hobby would lead him.
Despite being sent to public school Geoff spent his teens bunking off school to hustle his thumbs in the West End. “I earned a living, much to my parents horror as a pinball hustler in The Golden Goose Arcade in Leicester Square.” Geoff’s skills soon came to the attention of local gangsters who would bet on the schoolboy with the crazy flipper fingers.
However Geoff’s benevolent nature got him into some scrapes; “To be a proper hustler you are meant to play badly to get the odds up, but because it was a semi religious exercise it was very hard for me to play badly”
Geoff was blissfully unaware of what was going on around him until someone pulled out a gun on him. “I thought it was terribly inconvenient’ says Geoff who was thankfully able to diffuse the situation with his youthful charm.
Geoff nevertheless went to university to study law but became interested in Sociology and transferred. This led to a career as a psychiatric social worker, which meant the Pinball became more of a hobby.
Geoff ended up running a needle exchange in the West End “I absolutely loved it” admits Geoff who still works for The Samaritans today. I find it very energising, I always come away thinking aren’t a lucky fellow, because we all have our ups and downs but my worst day maybe somebody else’s best day.”
As well as playing pinball machines Geoff is a renowned drummer, indeed one of his first gigs was supporting the legendary Hawkwind at Glastonbury in ’75 where he had a strange encounter with a horse. “The generator ran out of fuel so I jumped on this white horse and rode into town. No-one believed me until that film came out about Glastonbury and sure enough there was a shot of lots of horses.”
In recent years Geoff has provided pinball machines at Glastonbury.
“I only bring mechanical ones because they are easier to fix at 4am when you are a little worse for wear.”
These days he bashes the skins for surf-popsters The Bikini Beach Band, who can be seen playing regularly in venues around Hackney sporting their distinctive fezzes. “They put up with my peculiarities,” says Geoff who is officially the longest serving member of the band.
In 2009 he opened a pinball museum in Ramsgate with a friend who edits a pinball magazine and it is already proving popular with pinball enthusiasts from all over the UK. “Its turned out to be absolutely brilliant” says Geoff who is slowly moving all of his old machines into the museum,
“One of the joys of it is that all those machines gathering dust can now be used, there’s nothing worse than a derelict pinball machine.”
The museum hoses some of Geoffrey’s favourite machines including a 1932 machine called The Flying Scot, which replicates the journey of a steam train. It has no flippers and costs an old penny for a game. Geoffrey is a keen historian of the art. “A lot of people see pinball machines as antiquated’” he says “but they were in fact at the forefront of design.”
Pinball machines originate from bagatelle tables though there are also links with the game of croquet. They originally had no flippers so the skill was down to the power used to propel the ball. Flippers and electrical components came in the 1940’s “they were very skilled inventions” says Geoff who loves the artwork on the older machines. “It’s fascinating how the graphics reflected a style, they often look much older than they are.”
The early games reflected family values particularly those made by the famous Gottleib manufacturers. Games were based around card games and dominoes. Geoff’s own favourite is one called ‘Alien Poker’ in which aliens play a hand of cards for domination of the earth.
“Top marks says Geoff excitedly “Aliens and cards all in one game!”
Today there is still only one company making machines, which Geoff admits is very sad. Machines tend to be electronic and based around film tie-ins e.g. Spiderman and the X-men.
“The new generation find the old ones very dull whereas I find the old ones delightful.” Says Geoff
Although Geoff is still an excellent player he says one shouldn’t take the playing side too seriously “its basically fun with a serious element- 75%skill and 25% luck, and you need that lady luck element to give that sense of excitement.”
He continues to live in his beloved Stokey where he lives and has a studio. His flat is a museum in itself, home to his collection of Armadillos, (not real ones) Robots, Jukeboxes and an Egyptology department. There is also a signed photo of Einstein obtained by his great Uncle who used to decipher equations for the great man.
Also among the ephemera is an owl he received from Russian dancers who were aboard an oil tanker off the Cyprus coast in 1974. Geoff had been picked up after escaping from the Island following five days of shelling by Turkish dive-bombers. “That was the last family holiday we went on” says Geoff “of course nobody believed the story when I got back.”
These days Geoff divides his time between Ramsgate and London ad can often be spotted sporting his distinctive bowler hat or driving ‘Old Smokey’ is a reassuring sight. With the museum about to take off he is very excited about the future. He puts this positive outlook down to the philosophy gleaned from his parents- ‘they had a marvellous view of the world,
“The wonderful thing they gave me,” says Geoff “was the ability to embrace everything and never be bored.”
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