profiles - a light-hearted look at industry personalities
No. 7 in a continuing series
Technical Marketing Consultant and Author
Andy Collier never had the chance of a real career from birth. With a mother who trod the boards with comedian Ted Ray, and a father who worked in Rollo Gillespie Williams' stage lighting emporium at Holophane, early ambitions of being a scrap metal dealer took second place to a childhood spent in and around the theatre. His first major role at the age of eight was disconnecting Strand 3-in-line plugs by prizing them apart with a screwdriver. At-eight-and-a-half he learnt to isolate the circuit first.
As his knowledge of followspot techniques and adult vocabulary of the theatre technician matured by the age of 14, Andy's career took another lurch towards obscurity when the aptly named 'assistant chief spark' announced that henceforth all verbal and physical abuse of the Strand Electric and Engineering Company Limited was banned because he'd been offered a job there. Stunned by the news, Andy dropped a SEECOL cast iron stand on his foot and cursed Furse.
At school, Andy avoided academic work by volunteering for backstage duties, and on one desperate occasion was even reduced to plugging a microphone into an amplifier to avoid a cross-country run. Had it been the microphone socket and not the 100V line loudspeaker output into which he plugged the microphone, he may have well been diverted into a lucrative career in sound. A high-profile character acting part at the opening production of the Cockpit Theatre in London was all that was needed to seal his fate as an actor, and stage lighting was suggested as an alternative.
After a brief flirtation with his University's drama group (and its cast), and a once-in-a-lifetime gig at the Hammersmith Odeon where he attempted to perform a complex rock light show single handed on a Grand Master, Andy felt he knew all there was to know about being a theatre consultant and applied to Theatre Projects for a post. Michael Holden suggested a huge number of alternative career opportunities.
He duly joined Rank Strand Electric's busy 'specials' department and within a very short time many of superiors had departed, leaving him in charge of an engineering department of 20 at the tender age of 24. Many famous special projects followed, including a custom MMS carry-cot module for Martin Moore's secretary, an extendable 'gnat's cock rule' for the retirement of the metalshop chargehand, the National Theatre, Barbican Theatre and Concert Hall, BBC Television Centre, Royal Opera House, Kammerspiel Munich and La Scala Milan, and nearly every theatre and TV studio in the civilised world, plus a few in Australia.
Offers from the management flowed in for Andy to work anywhere else, such as Strand's outposts in Scotland, Los Angeles, and finally, Leningrad. The latter offered the greatest challenge as Strand had no facility or communication whatsoever in that part of the world, so on his return from a sentence at the Kirov ballet, he decided to get his own back and took the post of Product Manager for Controls and Dimmers in the marketing department. On the first day in his new job, Andy was informed that every one of the previous marketing team had just left. It still is not known if the two events were connected.
As the expert in controls and dimmers, he was appointed product manager for the new technology of automated lights. Having being present at the famous Strand board meeting where the 'new' Parcan device was presented, and roundly rejected by the burghers of the board as being a 'flash in the pan' and a fashion statement, he felt that the launch of motorised Parcans into the European marketplace would be worth a laugh. For the launch, he commissioned the Ballet Rambert to perform at Photokina, and devised a marketing campaign including posters, sweatshirts and colour brochures. The lights moved, but not in the right direction. Prompted by a tirade from Strand's American management who concluded he was sabotaging their technology in Europe, Andy moved to Italy and to the fledgling Teatro, famous for Parmesan cheese and Mike Lowe.
After 48 months as Product Manager for Controls and Dimmers for Teatro and host to 52 groups of holidaying visitors, Andy, his wife Margaret and newly-arrived son Benjamin left behind a happy time in Italy, and many friends, to return to the UK and the unknown.
With all his past conveniently forgotten by the new Strand management, he was approached by David Brooks to join the revitalised Marketing Department. The new team which included Steve Norman in the USA and a young Edward Pagett (now famously in charge of Vari-Lite's car parking spaces at Greenford) launched itself into new marketing initiatives for Europe, USA and beyond. This involved developing innovative, leading-edge ideas of market analysis, knowledge management, marketing communications, company infrastructure, database marketing, internet marketing, direct mail marketing, and multimedia sales resources. However, all the senior management wanted were more datasheets.
In 1995, he knew there was more to life than stage lighting and so he left Strand to set up Teatro UK Ltd with Mike Lowe, selling stage lights in the UK. Sales increased, but profits didn't and in 1999, Andy registered Technical Marketing Limited with David Brooks and Steve Norman to teach the world about technical marketing. He now writes data sheets for stage lighting companies.
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