Legendary ride designer John Wardley released his autobiography earlier this year. Is it worth a read for theme park fans?
Theme park ride designers do not enjoy a high profile. Whereas movie directors such as Steven Spielberg receive plaudits for their work, it's unlikely that anybody stepping off a masterpiece such as The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man has even the slightest clue who was behind it. For the most part, even Disney's Imagineers work in the shadows, providing entertainment to millions without receiving widespread recognition.
In the UK, at least, one man has (at least partially) broken that pattern. Rolled out to meet the media every time Alton Towers opens a new roller coaster, John Wardley is well-known as the man who created Nemesis, Oblivion, Air and many other favourites. Following the debut of The Smiler, Wardley has finally retired. But thanks to his autobiography, "Creating my own Nemesis", theme park fans have a chance to learn exactly how he forged such an unusual career path.
From "James Bond" to Chessington
Those expecting to find a simple breakdown of how Wardley and his teams created the roller coasters that he is known for are in for a surprise. The bulk of "Creating my own Nemesis" actually focuses on Wardley's career before he entered the theme park industry. On the surface, this sounds like a negative - but his career turns out to have been so varied and interesting that the reader is taken on a journey from the seafront of Great Yarmouth in its heyday, through the production of "James Bond" movies right through to meeting the Queen. It seems that there is no area of the entertainment industry that hasn't benefited from John Wardley's creativity at some point during the last few decades.
While Wardley's work on Nemesis and Oblivion is his best-known, it will surprise many to discover the extent that he was almost single-handedly responsible for bringing the concept of the theme park to Britain (at least, the concept of a true theme park, rather than a simple amusement park with a single admission charge). His dogged determination to bring Disney-style experiences to Britain culminated with the debut of Chessington World of Adventures in 1987, and Wardley's fingerprints are smudged all over just about every major theme park in the country.
If you have even the slightest interest in breaking into the theme park ride design industry, "Creating my own Nemesis" is essential reading. Yes, some of Wardley's success is down to luck and good timing. But it is very clear that he quite deliberately sought to educate himself in all aspects of the entertainment industry, and this laid the foundations for his future career.
Even if designing roller coasters isn't for you, the book is highly recommended. Few people have dedicated their lives so completely to entertaining the public as John Wardley, and the anecdotes and insights he offers throughout the book are fascinating.
Wardley is now retired, for the second time. But have we really seen the last of a man who clearly enjoys his work immensely? Readers of "Creating my own Nemesis" may have their doubts...