from a very young age Geoff was always an artist, at the age of thirteen he
sold a painting to the receptionist at his school. So everybody was convinced
he would go to Art College, but there was a problem, in the 60s you had to
have at least five GCE O levels, two had to be at least on subjects such as
math’s and English, unfortunately for Geoff he suffered from dyslexia
and in the sixties this affliction not recognized, so you were just labeled
thick and the system forced you into the manual labor market.
Geoff’s first job was as a diesel fitter in a central Manchester garage,
fortunately for Geoff the business actually invested in its staff and sent
Geoff on day release to a local college. Geoff decided that a career as a
diesel fitter wasn’t for him and after a pleasant chat with the manager
Geoff was transferred into the paint and bodyshop and a more appropriate course
was acquired at Openshaw Technical College.
Within eighteen-months of starting college, Geoff was busy making space in
a damp and leaking shed that his father had built to house his motorbike;
the problem was you couldn’t stand up and it had no power. This was
at the bottom of the backyard behind the family two-up and two-down in foggy
Longsight, with the acquired knowledge from the college and a handful of inspiration
from a coveted pile of rare American Hot Rod magazines. Geoff set to work
on his own scooter..!!!
Not as straight forward as today. In the UK during the 1960’s dedicated
custom paint materials just weren’t available, so ingenuity had to be
the order of the day.
Not having any spraying equipment was another huge problem, when an obscure
company called ‘Holts’ came to the rescue, when they started to
market the spray can. Geoff could have been classed as one of the first ‘up
market vandals’ a title even today he doesn’t shy away from..
Geoff had also been taught to coach
paint, so all his base coat work and varnishes were laid on with a brush;
an art in itself..!!!
Metallic base coats were either silver leaf or gold leaf, so all his work
had unquantifiable depth and a finish that had to be seen to be fully appreciated..!!!
Geoff was now working for a coach painter in Stockport, when he decided to
trade his scooter in for a Reliant van, the exact model as featured in Fools
and Horses, but in far a worse condition, he might as well have bought the
thing from Del Boy himself.
Only days after buying the thing he was driving down a country road at night
when the van started to acquire a disturbing list, a few miles later and the
problem became obvious when Geoff experienced what can only be described as
a kick up the arse from a cart horse, the chassis had snapped and the rear
spring had embedded itself into the base of the drivers’ seat not a
comfortable situation to be in, twenty miles from home, but with the help
of a flagstone, a piece of fence and a belt he managed to limp the contraption
After a review of the chassis he decided to build his own from box section
steel, he also set about the body, a chop here and there and a Geoff Ridgway
coach painted paint job, with gold leaf and tasteful pin lining job.
People at the time must have taken Geoff’s creation seriously, as he
was invited to show the vehicle at the very first Custom Car Show at Belle
Vue by Colin Gamm the magazine’s editor, and we do know that Colin did
have sense of humor, but a Reliant Van in a Custom show..!!!!
eventually had access to spray equipment, after impressing Bill Wakefield
at Motorcycle Centre in Stockport; ( he was the Del Boy he had bought the
van off ) he turned around offering Geoff a job on the condition that all
he did was customize their motorcycles and Reliants. A dream comes true for
It soon became the fashion within certain circles in Stockport to own a vehicle
that sported a Geoff Ridgway paint job...!!! Motor Cycle Centre became a popular
hangout for bikers on a Saturday just to see the latest creations in the showroom!
Geoff still hadn’t acquired an airbrush at this stage, and was using
a large spray gun and intricate paper masks.
Geoff was approached
by Graham Kelsey who had been employed to install illuminated signs at Motor
Cycle Centre. After a long and torturous hair pulling discussion it was decided
to paint his little orange Honda Z with dragons and other colorful fantasy
creatures, the only thing Geoff insisted on was that the orange had to go.
They were both soon on their way down to London in Grahams colourful little
Z, to take part in the first London cruise at Chelsea Bridge, they must both
have been impressed, as what transpired was the “Rainy City Cruisers”,
a club created to cater for hot rodders in the Northwest of England.
The first thing that was needed was a club logo. With no time and a very inpatient
Graham, the first logo was literately knocked up on the back of a fag packet
in the back of Geoff’s van in about ten minutes with a ball-pen; Graham
added the lettering and immediately roared off to the printers.
Eventually Geoff donated a new logo to the club, but before the ink was even
dry the logo was immediately hijacked by Graham for the Rod and Custom Show
that was to be held at Belle Vue, this logo was to represent Rainy City Cruisers
support and presence for the first of the Manchester Rod and Custom Shows.
this time Geoff was working flat out developing his art, rather than slavishly
copy album covers or themes from films, which seemed to be a fashion trend
emanating from South of Watford. Geoff didn’t see this as art, in his
eyes this was more decoupage.
What Geoff wanted to create was something far more personal to the owner of
the vehicle and not just a piece of self gratification for the artist. Forever
the innovator Geoff was forever working on new techniques, some that worked,
and occasionally some that disastrously didn’t, but as Geoff would say,
“success is buried deep in the fields of failure”, but his determination
and tenacity would eventually pay off.
He was eventually
persuaded into working at A&L Autos in Romford, after Al Llewellyn's previous
artist had been escorted from the premises for upsetting the staff and generally
acting as a prima donna.
Geoff soon settled in and within a few weeks had already started to set the
trend for the next few years, nearly every paint job that left A&L Autos
would appear in Custom Car, Hot Car or Street Machine and on some occasions
Inevitably the media would eventually jump on the bandwagon and Geoff was
commissioned to take part in a documentary.
documentary would be a disaster from start to finish, (The Curse of television)
but in this day and age of television the tantrums and the squabbles would
have been left in, it would have been hilarious and compulsive viewing, as
the guy whose car Geoff was painting insisted that it was painted at his home,
as he wouldn’t or couldn’t pay to have the car sprayed in a body-shop…
This was just the start, the guy’s behavior at times was bizarre which
I suppose could be explained as he was experiencing personal problems with
his partner and his brother was ill, so his personality was in constant flux.
The BBC then insisted that they hadn’t enough light or space to film
Geoff airbrushing in the guys garage, a rather obvious point to anybody but
the guy. Geoff tried at length to convince him to use a commercial body shop
without much effect so the only place left to apply the artwork was the living
room, with the infamous Budgie for company.
So rather than have the death of a Budgie on his hands Geoff decided to use
water based acrylics, a material Geoff had never seriously used through an
airbrush before on to a painted surface. Geoff said “the situation was
comparable to running up a ski jump”…
wife was not impressed with the house being converted into a workshop, a fully
understandable situation and she definitely didn’t want Geoff there,
well at least they had something in common, you could have sold the atmosphere
as building material.
Geoff was stuck between a rock and a hard place, on one side was the BBC threatening
breach of contract if Geoff walked away, and the owner of the car constantly
complaining over the smallest of details, then to add to Geoff’s traumas
a personal problem in Cornwall needed urgent attention and couldn’t
be ignored, this deflected Geoff’s mind on to more important matters
allowing him to stand back and rethink his situation with the BBC.
On his return Geoff
was shocked to discover the guy had changed his mind about the agreed artwork
and had stripped and repainted part of the car. Geoff’s understandable
response was to wash his hands of the whole situation and after a long discussion
with the documentaries director, they both decided to just give in to the
Philistines demands, as it was obvious he has no understanding of the creative
process or the effect his behavior was having on it, he was making life intolerable
for everybody. This situation made life with the Osborne’s seem normal..
So Geoff airbrushed a predictably recognizable image on the boot lid, finished
off the lettering along with the graphics then applied the pearl and candy,
eventually finishing off with numerous coats of lacquer. (That didn’t
fully dry, after being supplied with a faulty batch of material, but that’s
a story in itself)…AHHHH.!!!
custom vehicles became more commercial, and impractical, the hardcore hot
rodders drifted away as they were being replaced by a completely new market,
mainly consisting of promoters and marketers.
Ford and Subaru were the first in the market to see the full potential of
out and out show vehicles, the idea wasn’t new but the presentation
It appeared that the bespoke vehicle market from the 1930’s had returned
and hasn’t really disappeared…
was now very active in the designing of aftermarket bolt on goodies for vehicles
as well as being commissioned by sixties pop art icon Allan Aldridge designing
and applying racing livery for Samson Tobacco to a Shadow Racing formula one
car and transporter; this was shortly followed by a rash of commissions from
the racing fraternity…
A chance meeting with World Powerboat Champion Jackie Wilson opened the doors
to the world of Powerboats, his first commission being for two mini powerboats
for Colin Chapman’s children, that commission was immediately followed
by a monster inshore powerboat powered by a modified Cosworth formula one
V8 by Keith Duckworth for Jack.
Jackie Wilson and his son Mark were soon sponsored by Rolatruc. Jack demanded
that Geoff designed and applied the racing livery, this lead to Geoff being
commissioned by Rolatruc to redesign its commercial vehicle livery to reflect
its commitment to world powerboat racing…
was now consulting for Ford and providing concept ideas for numerous aftermarket
This was a busy time for Geoff as he had now moved back up north and had a
son, travelling between London and Stockport was taking its toll and Geoff
was looking for a new challenge…
So Geoff and another protagonist the
late Dennis Foy, editor of Hot Car magazine, decide to set up a Creative studio
This was in a tiny studio in Stockport town centre above a beauty shop, most
of the studio was taken up with the central heating system, so they called
their business “Boilerhouse Creative Studios”, one of their first
jobs in conjunction with Steve Myatt was to help produce the dummy artwork
for the first Backstreet Heroes magazine; this wasn’t as glamorous as
it sounds, as the desks hadn’t arrived and neither had the process camera,
so all this work was all carried out on the studio floor with the aid of a
photocopier and a can of spraymount.
The business eventually moved to much larger premises and Dennis eventually
decided to do his own thing and went off to become a successful writer, journalist,
photographer, sometime broadcaster and finally a university lecturer.
Geoff slowly restructured the business around his illustrative and design
talents acquiring a large and prestigious client list in the process...
Over the next decade Geoff’s business grew acquiring clients such as
Channel 4, Cheerleader, and Trillion etc.
in all good stories everything must come to an end and this took the form
of his son being taken very seriously ill, for twelve long and stressful months
everything hung in the balance. Geoff’s business started to suffer as
it was a big ask to expect anybody to be creative under this kind of pressure,
eventually his son was given the all clear, but Geoff’s problems were
far from over, the stress had also damaged his marriage this developed into
a long and drawn out divorce, followed by a near bankruptcy and the loss of
his home, this was Geoff’s personal 9-11. All this torment had left
needed to get his life back on track and the ideal catalyst for this was a
project that would not only showcase Geoff’s creative talents, but something
that he could immerse himself in. The project was eventually called nicknamed