[ In Spanish | Index ]

[Jonathan M. Smith]
Jonathan M. Smith
(1967 – 2010, softography)

Doug Burns
Sob, Sob!

That's how I finished this brief announcement. "Sob, Sob" was a character that Jof invented in his teens. He was a gifted cartoonist. He was a gifted film-maker, artist, human being and games programmer as well and, although I never heard him, I'm sure he was a gifted DJ too. Jof excelled at everything he did, apart perhaps from his inability to deal with most human beings face to face. Don't get me wrong, he was funny as hell and his friends loved him to bits, but human contact was a much bigger struggle for him than anything else. Particularly with women. But I knew him in his 20s mainly, so maybe that track record improved.

Which brings us back to Sob, Sob! We'd known each other quite a while before he started to show me his 'other' artwork, away from games. Sob, sob would go through life with the best of hopes and intentions but life would turn back on him and the final frame would just feature him saying 'Sob, sob'. Pure Joffa. Laughing at emotions and melancholia (he was a Widnes lad, after all) but being painfully aware of them. He always cared much more about films and art than he did about games, but games gave him an immediate outlet for his artistic bent and, better still, he turned out to be a top, top technician.

He never sucked up, never made 'the right move' and never attempted to grab the limelight when I knew him. He was anti-fame and virtually anti-recognition, which is why he originally wasn't held in the same regard as people like the teams at Ultimate, Imagine, the Matthew Smith's et. al. His games were appreciated by kids in bedrooms, though, and when those kids revisited their youthful years on forums at WOS, (where he used another old alias of frobush), he discovered that actually people did love him and his work and I think (mainly judging from his postings) he enjoyed the appreciation more than I ever remember him enjoying the original experience of being a games programmer. I'm so glad that he found that appreciation in the end. He always knew he was good, but to be loved by people who would accept his eccentricities was a different thing altogether.

Ah, eccentricities! Many of the tributes have mentioned him being as daft as a brush. There's no question that he had an enormous internal world of imagination and feelings, but I also remember him as being incredibly down to earth and although we'd have a brilliant laugh and he loved the absurd, he wasn't quite as crazy as he seemed from some of the WOS forum postings. But Jof's big thing was that he was always just having a laugh anyway. He was, but that was often to cover up a pretty deep and emotional guy. I think he liked to play up to being a little crazy. But, as many forum posters have recognised, everything was just a big piss-take with Jof. That was his form of anarchy.

I suppose by some standard definition of these things, we lost touch. Actually, we didn't and we'd have the occasional burst of contact, a couple of days mail flurry or a long phone call and everything would instantly feel the same as the old days, but we hadn't spent much time together for a long time. Therein lies the dilemma. My guilt is nothing compared to the pain he obviously went through recently and his family are going through now but I remember him in happier times and wish I'd done more to make him happier later on. I was delighted when we discussed him getting into DJ-ing and partying because I knew he'd have a great time, open up to other people a lot more and it might make him happier. Actually, I remember seeing him in that time and he did seem a lot happier and had changed and I was reassured. But he deserved better from me.

When I saw last year's Byte Back conference being organised, I stuck it in my diary. I was going to turn up and surprise him and was really looking forward to it. Then, sigh, sh*t happened and I couldn't go. I wish I had now, or checked the forums in May or June and could have seen him again.

Joff achieved so much in his life, regardless of whether he thought he had. He did certain things with a Spectrum that others hadn't yet (although he did *not* write Ping Pong! Just the music! He'd appreciate that comment and the music was the best bit, of course ;-)), he followed his own path even though that might have made his life more difficult but, most of all, he cared about things. He cared about art, politics, people, the planet, music, .... this could go on forever. But beneath that painfully shy exterior lay a deep personality and that's why he found his home in forums, where he could communicate with people on a deep/shallow level who wouldn't take things at face value.

Ultimately, I could write for days and weeks and still not do him justice. I could write 50 different tributes (and I'm not kidding). All I know is that the world is a worse place for Joffa not being in it. Mine certainly is. He changed my view of the world, was the best of mates and as a confirmed atheist I hope I'm wrong but relieved that he won't be in any pain any more.

But that's just my view and my heart goes out to others who will be devastated to not be around him any more. He loved his family and we talked about them a lot. He was just a normal working class lad from Widnes who got to play around with things and be creative. That view might be out of fashion, but I don't give a shit and neither did Joff.

A class act, Jof. But at least you knew I thought that. Will f*cking miss you loads, mate, knowing we'll never speak again.

Sob, sob ... forever.

P.S. If the spelling and variation of Jonathan Smith's names is a distraction then tough. I could never work it out and he changed it constantly. Love, Bernie Dugggs.

Mark R. Jones
I didn't know Jonathan 'Joffa' Smith well by any stretch of the imagination but I did meet him a few times back in the day then became reacquainted with him via this forum. I first became aware of him way back in 1984. I was on a school holiday and, through boredom, was flicking through the 4 channels of TV to try and find something to watch. It was on BBC 2, who were showing Ceefax, that I heard Spectrum loading noises coming through the speakers. I grabbed my tape recorder and held it up to the speaker of the TV, but didn't know what I was recording. When the noises had stopped I turned on my ZX Spectrum and typed LOAD "" and sat back and waited. First, there was some very nice loading screens from Ocean Software, some for games that hadn't been released yet. Then, after those, there was a program. The words 'Program: Pud Pud' appeared on the screen. When it had loaded I was introduced, for the first time, to the weird world of Joffa Smiff. The first things that grabbed me was the fact that the music was different every time it played and the strange graphics. Anyway, "Fantastic", I thought, "a free game!" After that, me and my mates noticed that almost every great game from Ocean or Imagine had this Joffa fella's name on it. Mikie, Hypersports, Green Beret, Cobra, Terra Cresta, all fantastic games, very polished, great graphics, usually great sound, playability and difficulty levels.

In January of 1987 I started work at Ocean Software and one of the first games celebrities I was in the same vicinity as, as well as Jon Ritman, Simon Butler & David Whittaker, was Joffa. He was in the process of leaving Ocean to set up Special FX and he was watching a game work in progress with Paul Finnegan. Some time after, us Ocean employees were partaking in our usual Friday night drinks in the Square Albert pub and Joffa was there. Bill Harbison had just finished the first in-house Ocean Comic (full of in-jokes that no one else would get!) so I pulled out my copy and duly asked Joffa to sign it (the cover is in the Archive at WOS) ! I didn't see Joffa again for a long time.

Fast forward 20 years to 2007 and I received a private message on the 'World Of Spectrum' forums. "Hi Mark! Hows it going! Jof." My reply said it all: "Joffa Smiff? Lordy lord! I'm not worthy! I'm good cheers, still in Manc. How's things your end? Mark". I told him about when I asked him for his autograph and he said he remembered some spotty oik shoving an Ocean Comic under his nose in the pub. We exchanged a few messages every now and again and Joffa filled me in on what he'd been up to over the last 20 years, at the end of which he said "Don't you dare tell anyone any of all this!" I did actually become a bit concerned for him but he told me not to worry: "I sound so down - but I'm really not!" and he sent me link to the video of 'Nice Weather For Ducks' by Lemon Jelly. It's a song I loved when it came out, and I can see why the video would have appealed to Joffa. Very weird and wonderful.

In 2008 we conversed via the forum again, I was going through a rough patch at the time. Joffa replied "That sounds like a cry for help! Super Jof to the rescue! Everything is fine here. What's up mate? Lay it on thick! Job? Love? Gerbils? If you have your health then things can't be too bad! [citation needed] (oh, **** of mum - stop reading my e-mails! I'll call the police. Again!) Jof." I asked him if he thought it was strange that people still knew him now for work he did 2 decades ago: "...it does suprise me sometimes - because I more or less stayed out of the PR limelight at the time, and even now rarely use my real name for anything (but then, with a name like 'John Smith' you have to do something to get noticed/unnoticed. I blame the parents)!" We spoke about the 'Crash' review of his conversion of 'Hypersports' which I'd just been reading in the bath: "I remember that review - my 1st Crash Smash! A year out of school and I've gottten my name in the mag everyone of my mates read! Woo! Anyway - you didn't do too bad in the fame department! Jof." The messages continued in to 2009, sometimes they were completely random: "I love the word "shall". And you used it twice. I also like the word "sharn't". And that's the 1st time I've ever used it. Jof."

I have the dubious responsibility of being the person who invited Joffa to take part in the 'Byte-Back' event that took place in Stoke in March 2009. We all know what happened there and here is not the place to go in to it. Thing is, he seemed to be genuinely looking forward to it during the run up and we spoke about it quite a lot. He said to me: "Yeah, sounds good! Count me in!... Thank you for what you are doing. I'm in a shit hole and you are digging me out. I'll pay you back one day. Jof." As we arrived at the event it was evident to me, Simon Butler & Jim Bagley that Joffa wasn't feeling too great and that his 'social phobia' had gotten the better of him. Even afterwards, when I wanted to check he was OK, he seemed cheery about it all: "That was great what you did! Really good to see you again! I'm always here, if you need to avoid me! Jof." Then I got a message I didn't really understand: "Don't ever change! Jof." I asked him what he meant and he said: "Well, just that. Most people change over time, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst - for whatever reasons. Just don't change. That's not an order or a demand. Jof." He never did really explain to me what that meant but I can only guess that maybe Joffa realised that on that Sunday in March we all had to look after him, and that I, being the one responsible for driving him to and from Oxford Road train station in Manchester, was put under more pressure than I should have been.

I had no idea Joffa was ill. I'd missed the thread on the forum about him being admitted to hospital. It was just in a section of the forum I don't usually look in. On Friday 25th June the ex-Ocean people were sent a Facebook message from Paul Hughes saying that he'd taken a turn for the worse and that he was fading fast. I was flabbergasted, as we all were. By 10:30 on Saturday morning he had gone.

Joffa made his mark. He left behind a collection of titles that will live on. At the time, he was up there with the Ultimate team, Steve Crow, Steve Turner, Jon Ritman and the cream of Spectrum games programmers. He was one of the few people in the industry that produced everything themselves. Sound, code & graphics, all a one man shebang. His pioneering 'Plip-Plop' sound routine being copied by all and sundry. When he said to me "Thank you for what you are doing. I'm in a shit hole and you are digging me out. I'll pay you back one day. Jof." I immediately thought "You don't have to pay me back, you've already done by that by writing all those games I spent hours playing when I was a kid!" I should have told him that. I didn't. When I wrote on my Facebook profile that Joffa had passed, my cousin, who has no interest in Retro Gaming, wrote: "I remember all those good times thanks to him". Now, to be remembered over 20 years later by someone who probably hasn't even come across his name since the late 80s, surely means he left a lasting impression on thousands of 30 to 40 year old's who spent many hours of their childhoods playing the first generation of computer games. Now that's something special. Sleep well Joffa.

The Retro Brothers
As most of us ZX Spectrum fans will know - one of the greatest ever coders on our humble 8-bit machine sadly passed away on 26/06/2010

Jonathan Smith (or Joffa) as he became known was responsible for some of the greatest ever titles and arcade conversions for the Speccy.

I never met Jof in person, but he was kind enough to provide me with an interview about his ZX Spectrum coding days last September.

Not only that he kept contact with me (a true legend kept in contact with little old me) and kept providing me with insights into his game coding days, (not only on the Spectrum but also on the Atari ST and other formats), and also his special effects work.

Thanks for the great games, thanks for plip-plop music, thanks for the laughs (particularly on the World Of Spectrum forums), and thanks for the brilliant YouTube videos.

And now I think it's time for another shot on Cobra - perhaps I can finally complete it after all these years.

Rest in peace, Joffa.

Acknowledgements: Doug Burns, Mark R. Jones and The Retro Brothers for the write-up.

The wreath contributed by the World of Spectrum visitors (picture taken by the florist)

[Mail] [Index]