profiles - a light-hearted look at industry personalities
No. 54 in a continuing series
Managing Director, White Light Group
With over 35 years in the theatre industry, White Light's John Simpson began his career as a specialist teacher in English, Drama, Sociology and Mathematics in schools in Wolverhampton and Walsall in 1965. The latter was the last education authority until 1970 to issue to every teacher with the ‘tawse' - a leather strap for chastising children - as part of their contract. He has voted Labour ever since. Until this week.
Offered an Arts Council trainee administrators course by Anthony Field, then finance director of the Arts Council of Great Britain, who recognised John's ability to add up and to spell Shakespeare, he was subsequently appointed to general manager posts at Watford Palace Theatre, Glasgow Citizens Theatre and the Royal Court Theatre in London.
He was a founder member of White Light, when in 1971, while still at the Royal Court, he teamed up with the theatre's resident lighting team of Andy Phillips and Rory Dempster. Whilst no longer involved directly with the company, both Rory and Andy remain true friends to both John and White Light. In fact, White Light recently supplied Andy's latest West End play, Auntie & Me at the Wyndhams, though it is a while since Rory used any of White Light's kit as he moved to Australia over ten years ago, and lights operatic productions worldwide.
Not surprisingly, with John's background in theatre, the first project for White Light was the transfer of The Rocky Horror Show from the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs to the Kings Road Cinema - converted into a theatre in seven days - and they managed the Show for producer Michael White for the next five years. Thirty years on, White Light is still supplying equipment to the latest tour of the show. However, the rig is vastly different, including the latest automated lighting technology, and sadly the Patt 23s, Patt 123s and Mini 2 boards have long since been retired to the Theatre Museum. "Rocky was run on an 18 way Mini 2 preset with 106 cues in 98 minutes non stop - I still have the cue sheets somewhere!" comments John.
With over thirty years of supplying West End shows, John's enthusiasm for the theatre industry hasn't waned, although he can no longer claim that he personally loads every lighting unit onto the back of the trucks.
The company moved to its new headquarters in Wimbledon over a single weekend in October 2001 - no mean feat considering the amount of equipment involved and that it continued trading until 7pm on the Friday and was ready for customers by 7am on Monday morning.
It also seemed quite appropriate that both the first and last shows supplied from Filmer Road in Fulham, White Light's previous home from 1977 until 2001, were for the Royal Shakespeare Company. In 1977 there were 12 other members of staff to assist John in loading the trucks. This time round there were over 70, but John's truck loading abilities were once again required.
The new building has made preparation and truck loading a much easier task and John's skills haven't been called on since (see for yourself at White Light's next open day on May 15th), but he can still be seen patrolling the warehouse ensuring the high standards he set for the company are still met over 30 years on.
John is a main board member of Ambassadors Theatre Group that now owns or manages ten West End Theatres and eight regional theatres and with the Turnstyle Group has been responsible for over 150 productions during the past ten years.
He is a founder member of the theatrical agents Simpson Fox Associates, chairman of Stage Technologies, the specialist automation company, and a trustee of the charities Motley Theatre Design School and Light Relief.
Married for 22 Years, he has three children and claims all the usual idiosyncrasies, including the fact that he is colour blind - hence White Light.
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