Designer Profile: Geoffrey Parker
Posted on January 13 2015
Max Parker Answers Our Q&A:
- Tell us about your background, how did you get into manufacturing backgammon boards?
- My father, Geoffrey, started out Company in 1958 manufacturing midget leather-bound books; Shakespeare plays, English poetry and language dictionaries. Then address and birthday books etc – these were sold to tourist shops (often with hand painted scenes on the leather covers) and on ocean liners, department stores and gift shops; one of which was Alfred Dunhill in London. So it came to pass, that in 1961, we were approached by the Chairman of Dunhill; Richard Dunhill, who asked if we would make him a Chessboard in leather. This we did and quickly found that the inlaying skills required to produce a flat intricate board, we akin to many of the skills we employed within our bookbinding. This quickly led to us producing a Backgammon board and by the end of the decade we were already regarded as # 1 in the World for luxury championship boards, culminating in 1974 with Dunhill’s $100,000 prize “World Championship” on board the QEII ocean liner sailing from Southampton to New York for a week, where GP supplied the 20 board required (by the way, we also made the chessboards and boxes for the famous, Spassky vs Fischer clash in Reykjavik in 1972. Personally, I used to help my dad and his growing staff of craftsmen in my school holidays until I was old enough to join “officially” at the age of 17.
- Do you play backgammon? Are you any good?
- Yes, on and off since I was 6 – did manage to beat the European Champion once, but I think this was more lucky dice and aggressive cube play! Do not I am afraid have much time to play as making the boards takes up most of my time!
- We are obsessed with the challenge backgammon board, can you tell us the background on this product?
- The “Challenge” size board is actually relatively new (we introduced this size in the early nineties – up until then the main sizes we 1”, 1.25” and 2” stones, then we added 1.5” and 1.75”). Bascially there is no real difference in build between the sizes – just because it is smaller we see no reason why a customer whom may have a larger size board at home, should compromise on quality or playability while on the move. It is now one of our most popular boards, along with the next size up, the “Tournament”, when the slightly smaller “Fireside” and much larger, “Competition” size boards used to dominate sales for many years.
- Where do you produce your product?
- In our back yard – we have a team of craftsmen and women who are all trained here and occupy 5 workshops. We are located in the depths of the English countryside in the north west corner of Essex (not at all like TV’s The Only Way is Essex”, more Lovejoy if that ever was broadcast across the pond?) 40 miles north of London, 20 miles south of Cambridge and in the shadow of our 14th century family home.
- Who is the most interesting person you have ever made a custom backgammon board for?
- There have been a few – Stevie Wonder who of course required a “blind” board. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. A billionaire retail magnet who wanted solid gold checkers set with Diamonds and an Alligator and Shagreen inlaid board for his private jet. Many world Backgammon champions. F1™ World Champions, Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel. Screen legend Omar Sheriff; Sean Combs and Jay-Z. Actor Stephen Fry. HRH The Prince Aga Khan. There are many more which I am afraid I cannot mention.
- What was the most unusual custom board you have ever made?
- We made a giant board in Velcro® with 3” checkers to hang from a wall as a tuition board. The Alligator and Diamond set was the most challenging at the time as was producing the “blind” board for Mr Wonder so as not to immediately reveal that the board was “different” in any way. We have also set many boards in game tables, which look stunning.
- We see Elliot Parker on our emails, is this a family business?
- Yes, Elliot is my youngest son and represents the 3rd generation – i.e. his grandfather was Geoffrey. He is bringing much joy to my daily work, having lost my father back in 2000, it is good now to have a young and enthusiastic person bringing this traditional company who have for so many years been hidden behind the World’s finest luxury brands, to a wider audience.
- Where did you go on vacation last?
- Marrakech – hectic and vibrant.
- When you are not working you are….?
- Rarely I am not a work; but I enjoy cooking, fine wine, a good movie and book (but not Sci-fi or fantasy).
- What’s you’re favorite quote?
- Illegitimi non carborundum – sums up how we often feel as a small craft unit battling against a corporate world – to use a modern term; our “mission statement” is “We relish the unusual and unique in a World that is so often filled with the ordinary and mundane."
- Bath or shower?
- I am English – the bath of course!
- Do you cook and do you have a favorite dish to cook?
- A number – Monkfish Thai Green Curry; a hot and fiery Chilli; Clam Chowder; English roasts; seared Tuna; Risotto Nero (squid ink) and throwing together whatever is in the fridge!
- The first thing I do in the morning is…
- Squeeze two oranges for breakfast
- What are you presently reading?
- The hundred year old man, who stepped out of the window.
- What three things would you take to a desert island?
- Lemons; an in-exhaustible supply of good wine; and I guess a solar powered ipad which I hope would provide much reading, music and a means of escape once what had had enough of the situation!
- Do you have a most favorite piece of furniture in your home?
- I have an old green chair that my father found in a furniture shop whilst searching for the perfect chair in which to have his afternoon nap. The shopkeeper woke him up when the store was closing; so obviously he bought it! Unfortunately, I cannot nod off like my dad (he learned the art of “cat-napping” whilst in the RAF in WWII), but I think of him while attempting to!
- Favorite cocktail?
- Margareta’s or a Hendrick’s Gin with cucumber and tonic.