It doesn’t appear to be widely known why Ocean Software were named as such, and I’ve met few people who have even asked the question. “Ocean were just Ocean. Now where did I leave my Batman cassette?” I don’t know why that’s in quotation marks – no-one in particular said it, I made it up to illustrate the point.
Perhaps the reason it doesn’t garner much attention is that the explanation is hardly a heart-stopping anecdote by any stretch of the imagination; certainly not one you’d relay at a cocktail party and expect people to roll on the floor laughing at, or squirrel away for future rehashes of their own. Yes, that was a shoehorned in Mr Nutz reference, sorry.
It all stems from a small footnote in Ocean’s genesis story, and more specifically, the temporary building from which they operated before relocating to the iconic Quaker Friends’ Meeting House based on Central Street, Manchester.
Open for business in 1983, Ocean were originally known as Spectrum Software, though soon realising this restricted the public’s perception of their scope, founders David Ward and Jon Woods decided the company needed a less restrictive trading name.
Looking to their immediate vicinity for inspiration they started thinking about who occupied the Ralli building – constructed in 1915 – prior to themselves, and what line of business they were in. Based on the cobbles of Stanley Street in Salford, situated on the banks of the River Irwell, the warehouse was prime real estate for a shipping magnate operation; a description that precisely encapsulated the Ralli Brothers’ core enterprise strangely enough.
They were an entrepreneurial force to be reckoned with in Victorian England: comprised of five brothers, Greek expatriates, descended from a wealthy merchant Chios family who instead thought of Marseille as home, before branching out into London and beyond.
By 1800 the entire clan were deeply entrenched in trading a myriad of cargo, and shipping it around the globe, though the Manchester textile export division was the purview of Eustratios Ralli (1800-1884). Back then there were two sites located in Manchester, the second being the Harvester House headquarters on Peter Street, as it happens only a stone’s throw from what would become the birthplace of some of Ocean’s most memorable gaming triumphs, prior to their exodus to larger premises in Castlefield.
Shifting twiddleybobs and doohickeys from A to B and selling them to C isn’t rocket science. Where the Ralli Brothers made a niche for themselves is in foreseeing gaps in the market that would arise due to political or commercial instability, and exploiting them regardless of their controversial connotations. For instance during World War I they secured a lucrative government contract with the War Office to supply jute bags for transporting military munitions, and for the production of sandbags, despite India being renowned for the cultivation of the fibre on behalf of the British Empire under which they served. Of course being of Greek heritage – at a time of heightened nationalism and xenophobia – this would have gone down like a lead balloon.
Wikipedia’s coverage on the history of the company is fairly extensive if you’d like to delve deeper. For our purposes, it suffices to say that the ‘Ocean Software’ moniker was an acknowledgement of their roots, and possibly a tip of the hat towards the achievements of a respected fellow entrepreneur.
Ocean only occupied the building for six months before finding God and shipping out… well, they relocated to the Quaker Meeting House in any case. I’m pretty sure there were never any intentions to release bible belt edutainment software of any kind. 😉
Then again, they might have needed help of a spiritual nature had they stayed put given that the Ralli Building was demolished in 1985.