Hill Farm, site of the workshop in the 1970's

I remember we were approaching Christmas 1973 and the lights had gone out again.

The oil crisis was deepening. Initially the effect was a just a gradual lessening of work but then, just as if someone had turned off the tap, the orders dried up completely.

At the time I was living on the Thomas Cook Estate in an isolated Victorian farmhouse which had extensive farm buildings. For the princely sum of £10 a week I was allowed to use 3500 sq feet of the outbuildings for workshops – and that also included the rent for the house!

To have three phase electricity for the machinery I had previously bought an old Dockside diesel Lister engine with generator. It ran beautifully but starting it each morning involved the workforce queuing up to take their turn to swing the starting handle. At least we were independent of the electricity stoppages and it ran on red farm diesel which was available!

Much to the annoyance of my accountant earlier that year I had bought my first carving machine out right. I had travelled to Germany to visit the Reichenbacher factory and put in the order with modifications specifically for carving picture frames.
Separately we had a full stock of wood, the greater part being 5 to 6 tons of ebony logs, many of which were 3 metres long.

As we worked through the back orders it quickly became apparent how serious the situation was – the end was nigh.

It was time to take stock of the future. A Company Meeting was held in the farm house dining room. The workforce had no false illusions and were prepared to cut their hours and/or do different jobs if it meant they could keep the company afloat and get through to the other side of the crisis. The down side was very limited cash reserves because I had spent it on a carving machine and wood. But the upside was that we had materials and a carving machine that could make numerous 3 dimensional replicas and the skills of the workforce to apply the finishes.

The stumbling block was coming up with something that people would want to buy in a stagnant economy. The meeting dragged on until it was suggested we should switch markets and make something totally outlandish like carved ebony dildos – French polished and selectively gilded.

Suddenly the future was clear –

we would survive and Christmas would echo Slade’s 1974 number 1

So here it is, Merry Christmas Everybody’s having fun
Look to the future now
It’s only just begun

But the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry
Who would model for it so that a cast could be made and jigged to go on the carving machine?

Regrettably there were no volunteers, but then, like the cavalry arriving at the eleventh hour Brod and Noortman, in early 1974, began their preparations for the first Pictura in 1975


And so, work recommenced.

Copyright John Davies