Exhibition News February 2019 - Page 29

FEATURE RICHARD ARMITAGE EN talks sustainability, associations and changing the face of stand-building the winner of Outstanding Contribution to the Industry at the EN Elite Awards T here are numerous family businesses in the world of exhibitions, with generations of the same family working to improve our industry. Richard Armitage, the recipient of the Outstanding Contribution to the Industry award at the EN Elite Awards and MD of Octanorm UK for over four decades, can lay claim to two exhibition industry dynasties. “I was in the industry from birth,” he tells EN. “My mother was a Perton and my father had a company called Springvale Exhibitions & Electrics.” Perton Signs was established in 1864 and, says Armitage, was bigger back then than it is today. “Not because it’s going backwards, because they’re going onwards and upwards,” he adds. “Before computers and digitisation every sign was hand-painted, so there were more than 100 sign writers round the back of Olympia London and Earl’s Court at the Fort.” Their mutual connection to the industry was how Armitage’s parents met, when his father used to go to Perton Signs to get signs for stands that Springvale was producing. Armitage recalls Bertram Mills Circus coming to Olympia for the Christmas season during his childhood in the 1940s. “I fed elephants,” he recalls. “I took a lion cub for a walk on Blythe Road. I knew Coco the Clown – very nice man. To my knowledge all the animals were treated very well, and it was a good way of letting children see the real thing.” As the Second World War approached, Armitage’s grandfather on his father’s side was tasked with creating blackout blinds and ultimately sold his business to Beck & Pollitzer, which became Beck Exhibitions before eventually forming part of another well-known company today: GES. Despite his exhibition industry pedigree, Armitage never wanted to enter the business himself. “It was totally driven by unions, which were a nightmare,” he explains. “It was a lot of late night working – ‘ghosters’ as they were called – weekend working, and it wasn’t very sociable as a business. I never really saw my father; he’d come in after I’d gone to bed and leave before I got up in the morning.” Armitage instead entered the world of advertising in sixties London, working in various agencies and focussing on television and international advertising. “It was immense fun,” he tells EN. “You could pack up on Friday and have another job on Monday in those days, it was different to how it is today.” A successful stint advertising baby food for Glaxo resulted in a job offer with Nestle in Vevey, Switzerland, targeting Africa and the Middle East, skiing at the weekends. It was during this time that Armitage first came into contact with Hans Staeger, a German who was at that time running an exhibition contracting division of an advertising agency. Staeger had been involved in the design of a plastic clip system to hold sheets of glass together for shop displays, and Armitage had an interest in using the system for his own promotions. When Armitage’s time in Switzerland came to end, in 1968, he returned to the UK and was visiting his uncle Bill Perton (father of Perton Signs MD Mark Perton) when he came across the same plastic clip system. “A businessman down the road had gone bust and owed him money for sign work and so he had just cleared out his office,” explains Pictured: Richard Armitage with Armitage. He immediately got on the phone to EN Elite Awards compere rugby Staeger and went out to visit him in person. legend Phil Vickery exhibitionnews.co.uk | February 2019 29