Thinking big

Dame Barbara Cartland

Ronnie Barker


Thinking big

Newnorth CharleswellscalFor my second year in Bedford I found a big local company that would pay to use it as their own calendar worldwide. That was a really good move and it completely covered my production costs in Bedford. Charles Wells, who had brewed in the town for over a century, were a family-run firm sponsoring a number of local activities and they bought into the Bedford calendar for a year. They also got one of their pubs featured in return as we photographed a group of Morris Men dancing outside The Fox public house in Carlton (see foot of page). This meant that if I only sold one copy of the Bedford calendar in 1995 then I would make a profit. Simple!

I also set up a calendar in Milton Keynes. The city has a wonderful camera club with keen and inventive picture takers and so I would never want for attractive images from there. And contrary to impressions at the time (and perhaps even today) there's much more to the area than concrete cows and endless cement tower blocks. Thanks to John Credland, a helpful local cameraman and printer we got Buckingham Colour Press to use the calendar as their own to send to clients. It also meant that I was able to print at a reduced rate and if I could sell 1,200, then I could start making money there.

LutonFinally, I set a calendar up in Luton - and that was a mistake. It was a mistake for many reasons. I found the pictures needed easily enough and some of them were really great, I especially like the cherry blossom scene taken in Stockwood Park (see below). I also found a good local printer who wanted to use it as its own, which Filmergraphic Press committed to. However, I couldn't find a local company keen enough on Luton to use it as their company calendar. This meant that the amount that I need to sell to break even was even higher in Luton at 1,500.

Local news item highlighting the Milton Keynes, Luton and Bedford calendarsI realised as I got to October that I had probably bitten off more than I could chew. I would need to sell a huge amount to break even. I was only one person and I needed to drum up some publicity quickly.  I managed to get a two-minute slot on the local Anglia TV news programme broadcast after the main news at 6.30pm. Check out this clip..

The publicity worked well for Bedford and enabled me to get WH Smith to stock the calendar in their respective branches in Luton, Milton Keynes and Bedford. This boosted sales but not really profits as the mark down the supplier gets with Smith's is really quite small. In all, Bedford made a profit, Milton Keynes nearly broke even and the Luton & Dunstable one made a massive loss. Well, massive to me anyway. After paying the photographers it amounted to thousands of pounds lost which meant that I couldn't immediately pay the Luton printers and repay a bank loan. I seriously considered going bankrupt but the implications for future borrowing and house ownership were forbidding. So I took the hit and arranged with the printers and bank to pay them back in instalments every month for three years.

Whisper statueI had learnt a few lessons along the way including don't assume that because an idea works in one area that the same format will work in another. I was though, hooked on making the calendars and decided to persevere with Bedford and Milton Keynes.

For Milton Keynes I stuck with the colour photographs because the quality that came from the photo club members was just superb. You'll see from the images around this text that there are some very gifted people there who can capture both landscapes and seasons. I'm especially indebted to Ian and Anne-Louise Mellor who not only supplied images, they also encouraged me, and sold hundreds of calendars through their clubs, church and schools. And similarly big thanks to Robert and Ruth Meardon who were another husband-and-wife team that had both taste and connections.

Reflection of fireworks in John Lewis's window, Central Milton KeynesThe MK Tourist Information staff were helpful too, and actively talked up the calendar and sold hundreds each year. And although it is a totally new city, most of the inhabitants appreciate that its modern purpose-built centre and oldish haphazard outskirts make for an attractive visual mix. In 1995 I won a six month contract at the BBC Open University (after several tests and interviews and competition from more than a hundred applicants) to help write the links that were spoken in between OU programmes on BBC2 and Radio 4. I sold quite a few more through contacts there and found love at the BBC too! I met the TV producer Jenny Bardwell at the Open University and after several tentative chats at work we had a first date at the Groucho Club in Soho. I was seduced both by London and Jenny. At the first opportunity I moved to join her in North London while managing to keep the MK calendars going till 1999.

For Bedford, I decided that there just weren't sufficient photos of quality to continue with a large colour calendar. However, I had an idea....

A Winter's day on Chichley Hill Rape Fields on Chicheley Hill Bedford Morris Men outside the 'The Fox' public house at Carlton The Concrete Cows - with horse - at Bancroft, Milton Keynes Picknicking at Stockwood Park The Old Wharf House at Great Linford The Windmill at New Bradwell

Local news item highlighting the Milton Keynes, Luton and Bedford calendars. Broadcast November 1995Close