Maureen Hiron: From games mistress to Games Mistress - tBR Person of the Week
(The below is the narrative of the video above.)
I’m Maureen Hiron and I’m thrilled to be inducted into the Games Hall of Fame.
I used to be the head of the Physical Education department of an Inner London comprehensive school. Then part of that school fell on my head, and at 32 I was pensioned off from teaching.
The future looked bleak. But I did have one ace up my sleeve. I was already an expert bridge player, having represented England and Britain at bridge. So I devoted my mental energies to the game. And the thought processes involved penetrated the cloud that enshrouded my brain.
Then a medical phenomenon occurred. It appeared that the former dormant areas of my brain had taken over the role of the damaged parts. The result was that I was able to reason with the intuitive mind of a child, yet still retain my acquired knowledge and 156 IQ level.
The first manifestation of this came on April Fools Day 1982. I was listening to music by my favourite composer, Bach – when in a lightbulb moment I invented the first of my games.
This was Continuo. A game that is a nice blend of skill and luck. That a 5-year-old can play on equal terms with all other ages. That many can play together, yet is also pleasing as a solo patience game. That is understood in seconds and transcends all language barriers. Yes – that’s a lot of claims for one small game, yet it all proved to be true, judging by the millions sold.
But Continuo was no One Game wonder for me. I’ve now had over 70 games published, which are sold in over 50 countries.
I’ve been asked, “What makes a game successful?” If I had the answer to that, I’d never invent a bummer!
But for me, it seems that the quicker I invent a game, the more successful it becomes. Especially if the rules are minimal.
Take 7Ate9 (Unter Spannung in Germany and various other names in other countries.) I was helping Irish Bridge International Desmond Deery putting new cards into the bridge duplicate boards, when I had another of those flashes of inspiration.
Me and my company HIRON GAMES LTD came to the attention of City of London financiers – maybe because of my high-profiling with the media – I had even been the subject of a BBC TV documentary A WILL TO WIN. In the time-honoured phrase, they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. The idea was that my company would make a reverse take-over of a major UK games company, which had a stock-market listing.
My life – written off by my previous employers, had taken a considerable upturn.
But tragedy struck again. I was diagnosed with cancer, so my business ambitions (I had reached the semi-finals of the Businesswoman of the Year competition) couldn’t be brought to fruition – I needed to address the problem of kicking this cancer into touch.
But even whilst an in-patient at the Royal Marsden Hospital – the world’s first specialist cancer hospital – I continued to invent games, using my fellow patients as play-testers. Including CHIP IN, which my company produced to spearhead the Marsden’s £25 million appeal – under the then presidency of Princess Diana.
And I persuaded Brian Hitchen CBE, then editor of the Daily Star, to back the appeal. This he did, in a big way for two months, and often from the front page of the Daily Star. Sadly, Brian and his wife were killed in a car accident in Alicante, Spain.
I also involved the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – happily playing CHIP IN with her in her study, whilst members of the Cabinet waited patiently downstairs.
I’ve not restricted myself to inventing games. With my late husband Alan we wrote several best-selling books, including The Ultimate Trivia Quiz Game Book, which reached No.2 in the British Bestsellers list.
I also worked on a number of TV shows, including Krypton Factor and Fifteen to One.
And in 1990 I was voted ‘Londoner of the Year’ in London Electricity’s ‘Brightening Up London’ awards.
Sadly, Alan died in 1999, and my idyllic world came crashing down. Alan Hiron was a bridge world champion and was bridge correspondent to The Independent. We were considered to be the perfect partnership – as opposites – for I was as hyper as Alan was laid back.
I proof-read Alan’s articles and he play-tested my games. On his death I was appointed Bridge Correspondent to The Independent, and soon added 6 columns per week for the Irish Independent.
The music you hear is ‘Forward to Freedom’ – composed in the Matzar genre which I created. I wrote the music – tweaked for the better by Sheyla Bonnick of Boney M. Sheyla wrote the lyrics, with tweaks from me, and the whole is arranged by Sheyla’s Icelandic husband Ingvar Areliusson. And singing it is Sheyla Bonnick – a founder member of Boney M.
Just Sheyla – including all harmonies – her voice has gone from strength to strength.
During my college days I wrote a children’s operetta, which I called CATS – based on T.S. Eliot’s ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.’ Sounds familiar? But I did it first.
Then music went onto the back burner, when I got bitten by the bridge bug, and later the games bug. However…
Whilst on a Caribbean cruise in 2011 I met Sheyla Bonnick on MV Braemar. Boney M were the star turn on that cruise, and I was the bridge lecturer. There was immediate empathy between Sheyla and I.
Then I brought Boney M over to Spain to perform at my 70th birthday party, which was a roaring success.
Having recently renewed my interest in music, I had installed a concert organ, which I was teaching myself to play. Sheyla was impressed by the pieces I’d composed, and in a style she’d never heard before. When Ingvar came to take Sheyla home, she asked me to play those compositions again.
Ingvar was also impressed – impressed enough to to suggest Sheyla and I do an album together. And so the album LOOK BEYOND – in the new musical genre of Matzar was created, sung in its entirety by Sheyla Bonnick
It transpired that Sheyla was a keen games player, and so became a trustworthy play-tester of my games creations. And I became her business adviser.
Boney M – and especially Sheyla Bonnick’s group (all former members formed their own groups) have come back into demand again. Whereas the voices of the others have gone downhill, Sheyla’s has gone from strength to strength. It is a pleasure and a privilege to work with her and Ingvar.
Especially as, in our breaks, we play-test my new games.