Reinventing Shakespeare with Lenny Henry

31 March 2012

Lenny_HenryI have just returned from a trip to the National Theatre in London to see Lenny Henry in The Comedy of Errors.

This is not going to be my attempt at a theatre review, as many others are far better qualified to do that than me.

Also, I had better get my confession to not being a great fan of Shakespeare out of the way early on too. However, I should point out that Lenny Henry himself was also in this camp until relatively recently as he revealed in his Radio 4 series, What’s So Great About…

In fact that show led to an invitation to appear as Othello at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds directed by Barrie Rutter. The Daily Telegraph reviewer described his performance as “This is one of the most astonishing débuts in Shakespeare I have ever seen.” And resulted in Henry winning the best newcomer award at the age of 51.

The point I want to make is how this very contemporary version of the play creates an unexpected new angle on something dating from 1594. Who would have expected to be presented with a helicopter rescue with winch-men descending from above within the first few minutes.

The play was set in its original location of Ephesus, but updated to a rather sleazy present day by Director Dominic Cooke, with gangster bosses, pool halls, throbbing night clubs and racy prostitutes.

It felt really quite strange to listen to Shakespeare’s words coming out of the mouths of Essex bleached blonds with estuary accents. Or watching an ambulance with flashing lights swerve onto the stage and a gang of white-coated men emerge and begin pursuing our heroes Antipholus and Dromo around the stage in a Keystone Cops style chase.

From a comment I heard on the way out of the theatre, “soooo disappointing wasn’t it, none of the gentle charm of Shakespeare”, not everyone was happy with this interpretation. But, for me it not only made for an, at times, breath-taking spectacle, it also made the sometimes impenetrable Shakespearean language alive and vivid. Once again the Bard has been re-invented for another generation to enjoy.

Comedy_of_Errors


Archiving video games – the search for the impossible

30 March 2012

gameCity_logoOn Monday we had a presentation from James Newman and Iain Simons, co-authors of 100 Video Games, co-founders of Game City, and co-founders of the UK National Videogame Archive. And what an entertaining pair they made, switching seamlessly from slide to slide and from one to the other. They handled the great many enthusiastic interruptions from the very knowledgeable audience with patience and politeness.

They were at the British Library to talk about why the archive was created in 2008 and progress it has made since then. In practice much of the talk was explaining why it is impossible to archive vidoe games, due to their very temporary nature. Even the plastic of the early consoles is starting to degrade, ending eventually in a pile of fine grey dust.

With my background in computer science, I was expecting to hear about all the clever ways programmers are preserving the games so that they are playable on current hardware. They did talk about emulators and the good work fan programmers are doing, but ultimately their efforts are doomed to failure.

It will never be possible to exactly replicate the way the games played back on cathode ray tube (CRT) screens and 16 bit processors. And even if you could, the cultural context will have been lost. Consequently they are concentrating on preserving the experience of game-playing rather than the games themselves.

They do this by capturing live game playing at events like GameCity, and preserving written material relating to games such as Walkthroughs, also known as cheats.

They ended their fascinating and stimulating presentation with a wonderfully rude example of the challenges of completing a Super Mario Brothers level. This has had an amazing 20 million views on YouTube, but comes with a health warning as it is fully of swearing in response to the frustrations of playing the game.

As something of a failed gamer, it certainly make me laugh.


The Deeley Bopper rises again for Sport Relief 2012

22 March 2012

Deeley BopperThis evening I stumbled across a Deeley Bopper in a Sainsbury’s supermarket on my way home from work. In its current incarnation it is being used to raise money for Sport Relief 2012.

The Deeley Bopper or Deeley Bobber is one of my all time favourite ‘inventions’. I’ve used quotes because this multi-million selling innovation from the creative mind of Stephen Askin in 1981, is not actually registered as either a patent or even a trade mark.

Although I am definitely not a fan of the object itself, and you are unlikely to catch me wearing one out in the street (or in the house come to that), I use it as a great example in my business innovation work.

One of the strict rules we apply when we meet clients for our confidential Information Advice Clinics, is never to give an opinion on their business idea or invention. And the main reason for this, is however many years one might have in business, it is impossible to tell what will be successful – and vice versa.

The Deeley Bopper provides the perfect illustration. I just ask my colleagues to imagine how they would have reacted if Stephen Askin had come in for an advice session, and asked for their opinion on his latest business wheeze. I can imagine my response would have been something along the lines of; “You have to be joking. No one will buy those”.

And yet they sold in their millions in the 1980’s and appear almost as popular in their revised ‘Red Nose’ guise today. So, however stupid an idea might appear, it can still make a fortune for its creator.


Another great Inspiring Entrepreneurs with Mothers of Invention

19 March 2012

Another fantastic event this evening with a range of inspiring women entrepreneurs and their stories.

Jones_EmmaThe event was chaired with great warmth, energy and humour by Emma Jones  who launched her first business at age 27, and successfully sold it two years later. In 2006 she launched Enterprise Nation as a website to help anyone start and grow a business from home. The company has since expanded to offer online services, publications, events and finance to small businesses across the UK. Emma is also co-founder of StartUp Britain, and currently acting as the campaign’s chief executive.

Sophie_CornishAs co-founder of shopping website notonthehighstreet.com, Sophie Cornish has won many prestigious awards including the ECMOD Direct Commerce Award for the last three consecutive years and the Online Retail Award Prix D’or 2010. They now host over 2,500 businesses on notonthehighstreet selling 40,000 different products.

They came to the British Library Business & IP Centre early on to look at trends in Internet retailing. And worked hard on their business plan to the extent that they new their numbers inside out. Sohpie emphasised that creating a brand is the key challenge for any business.

Her tips were:

  • Own your mistakes
  • There is no silver bullet
  • Hard work is your unique selling point
  • Cash is king

Kamal_BasranFrom helping her parents prepare samosas for the English pub they ran, to setting up her own food business The Authentic Food Company in 1985, Kamal Basran indulged her passion for cooking authentic Indian food and opened a small business supplying local catering establishments with hand-made samosas and other Indian snack food.

Today, the company has over 240 employees and has a turnover of over £31 million. The company are supplying many of the UK’s top hotels, pub chains, restaurants and retail outlets with the range of quality international cuisine.

When Kamal started out in business, she was a full-time teacher, settled in a comfortable lifestyle, married with two children. While out shopping she saw some ready made samosas, but once home discovered they tasted horrible and threw them into the dustbin. This was the trigger for starting her own business. She had no idea how to start, but wonders in retrospect if this is perhaps the best way.

She began making 600 samosas a week, and grew the business to over a million meals a week.

Her tips were:

Number one priority was to organise her children.
Then, learn how to do everything yourself (nothing is too menial).
Finally, don’t listen to other people (especially your parents!)

Her reasons for success were:

  1. Target your market
  2. Grow gradually
  3. People – 25 nationalities
  4. Products – are the best quality
  5. Customers – we love our customers

Rosie_WolfendenRosie Wolfenden and Harriet Vine are the founders of Tatty Devine whose distinctive fashion designs have made them brand leaders. In 2011 they had a boom year, with a £1 million turnover and kick started 2012 with opening a Selfridges pop up shop which launched their new silver label. The two London Tatty Devine boutiques are located in Brick Lane and Covent Garden.

Harriet_VineThey are independently run and design every piece, 99% of the jewellery is made by hand in their workshops (based in London and Kent). Their custom-made jewellery has been worn by everyone from Claudia Schiffer to Jessie J.

They are very proud of producing their own book on How to Make Jewellery.

In the last two years they have started letting others in to their business, such as developing a new website, to enable them to concentrate on the jewellery.

Christina_RichardsonChristina Richardson is founder of The Nurture Network the UK’s first on-demand marketing department for start-ups and entrepreneurial growth businesses. Christina has spent much of her career managing and growing FMCG brands worth in excess of £100 million.

Now she and her blue-chip trained team, work flexibly across multiple businesses – being their marketing expertise, part time or for specific projects – calling in creative specialists from their network as and when they are needed.

Her tips for new businesses:

  1. You need to give yourself the strongest foundations you can. Be distinctly different by playing a different game.
  2. Define your brand by being clear on your ‘onlyness’. Think about who your brand would be if it were a person.
  3. Test your brand out with real people.
  4. Have a vision, but with numbers. Know the future you want to create.

And for existing businesses:

  1. Marketing is everything that touches your consumer.
  2. Always think consumer first. Choose which group will be your most valuable customers. This will inform your marketing chooses.
  3. Plan with the end in mind and be objectives driven.
  4. Use everything you can do to spread your brand
  5. Bootstrap and collaborate

The evening closed with a lively question and answer session followed by some serious networking until closing time.


Our Spring Festival has sprung

7 March 2012

British_Library_Spring_Festival_creativeIn January I blogged about our Spring Market competition for designers and makers. From the 80+ applicants, the 12 lucky winners got the chance to set up shop in the British Library Piazza last Thursday.

This was all part of our Spring Festival week of events which ran from 1 to 5 March, as a five day celebration of fashion, design and creativity. Highlights included the Spring Market, ‘Make it, Sell it’ speed mentoring sessions, talks from Quentin Blake and Jamie Hewlett (Gorillaz), a pop-up exhibition, Vintage Knitting and a pecha-lecture with Neville Brody.

I have to admit I was a bit worried about the Spring Market as we have had some very mixed weather recently (it is cold and wet as I write this), so we were very fortunate to have a warm sunny day for the market. I popped down to have a look and say hello, and ended up buying some of the wonderful items on display.

history_mugsThe first stall I visited was Cole of London founded by Sarah Cole. Sarah designs colourful mugs that are a contemporary take on age old themes. Featuring figures from history and illustrations. Her mugs feature English monarchs, great writers and the wives of Henry VIII. She has used the Business & IP Centre to learn about copyright and research the ceramics market.

Next was SquidLondon, who I have mentioned before (SquidLondon brighten up a rainy autumn day). Rather than go for one of their best-selling line of colour changing umbrellas, I plumped for a ‘Miss Squidolette’ Shower Curtain which comes to colourful life each time the shower is turned on. It makes a great gift for anyone with young children who might be reluctant to ‘get wet’.

Miss_Squidolette-Shower_Curtain

BathSoak-200x200Next came Ruby Red Cosmetics founded by Martine Burford who is passionate about ethical cosmetics, and her skincare range contains no synthetic chemicals, fragrances or dyes, and has not been tested on animals. She makes all her products locally in London and they are beautifully packaged .

The idea for Ruby Red grew and grew during the 18 months sabbatical Mike and Martine took in 2005. We had given up our high flying jobs to travel around South East Asia and spent a lot of that time with the locals, discovering effective natural apothecary remedies for keeping skin looking healthy and glowing.

The happy ‘punters’ at the fair, seemed to be a mix of British Library staff (showing what good taste they have for innovative products), and visitors to the library who got a nice surprise on their way in to do their research.

All the stall holders I spoke to said they were getting a lot of interest, and sales, so I am hoping this might be first of many such events at the Library. Congratulations to Fran Taylor our Marketing Manager for Creative industries, for masterminding the Spring Festival.

We were also lucky to have Buzz Films present during the week and posting several excellent short clips onto Vimeo.

Fran_Taylor

Fran Taylor Marketing Manager for Creative Industries