Sometime in 1973, The King’s Road, London
Here we look back to the very beginning of Autograph, in fact in our very first year of trading, 1973.
Our first project, oddly, had nothing at all to do with theatre but quite a lot to do with sound design, even in its most nascent form. Andrew takes up the story:
“It was, and still is, a restaurant called The Jam in the Kings Road. Although I see it has been ‘refurbished’ recently, the split-level design of pine tables built on scaffolding is exactly the same as I remember.
Phil Clifford had left the ROH first (on the flip of a coin) to get the Autograph ball rolling whilst I moved up into his post and moonlighted doing the metalwork in their workshops to keep him supplied. He was installing the wiring and equipment as the restaurant was being built and I would join him at night after the opera / ballet had come down. I remember spending several happy nights in there with my soldering iron terminating the wiring before going back to my day job at the ROH the next morning.”
Now here’s the thing that makes this story really remarkable – not only is the restaurant still there, but so is the sound system as installed fifty years ago!
“Notice the date on the website home page (HERE) and the individual volume controls for each table (see image below), still a feature after 50-odd years… first suggested and introduced by those clever Autograph Sound designers! All restaurants should have such things!”
September 24th 2023, Somerset House, London
Not Just A Party – THE Party!
The highlight of our anniversary year and the result of many months meticulous planning by a crack Autograph team, our 50th Anniversary Party was surely one to remember. Our sincere thanks to everyone who joined us to celebrate this historic milestone – enjoy the photos and the memories!
Photo credit – Mark McGee / markmcgeephotography.com
September 6th 2023, London
This month’s edition of Lighting & Sound International magazine includes an in-depth interview with our co-founder Andrew Bruce, in which he discusses his life and work as one of the industry’s leading innovators since 1973. A fascinating read for anyone interested in live performance audio!
Our thanks to L&SI Editor Claire Beeson (with whose permission this article is reproduced) plus of course our old friend and author, Rob Halliday.
Click on the individual pages below to enlarge:
July 4th 2023, London:
Today we celebrate an anniversary within an anniversary as it is fifty years to the day since we supplied our very first West End show! It was a play, Alan Ayckbourn’s Absurd Person Singular produced by Michael Codron and directed by Eric Thompson at the Criterion Theatre.
Milton Shulman’s review in the Evening Standard said, “[Ayckbourn] has written one of the funniest, if not the funniest, comedy in town and I expect it will be a very long time before another first night replaces it at the Criterion…. Absurd Person Singular is one of those deft and ingenious comedies that seems to have been whipped up miraculously out of thin air.”
March 17th 2023, London:
Our co-founder Andrew Bruce has been honoured by the Society Of London Theatre, along with three other deserving recipients, with an Olivier Award for Industry Recognition. Obviously this would be very special at any time but in this, our 50th Anniversary year, it acquires an extra significance.
Eleanor Lloyd, President of the Society of London Theatre, said: “We are delighted to be honouring such deserving recipients in the Industry Recognition category. Our 2023 winners more than meet the award criteria, inciting real industry change, and paving the way for generations to come in their fields. Thank you to all four recipients for being hard-working patrons of the industry.”
WNO And Autograph – Fifty Years On
In 1973, not long after Autograph was incorporated, we delivered a cue light and comms system to Welsh National Opera, only our second sale. It was designed and built, by hand, by our co-founder Andrew Bruce. Five decades later, by a remarkable and very happy coincidence, we have just supplied WNO with a suite of new comms equipment, made by Riedel.
Thus we recently found ourselves in Cardiff, at WNO’s magnificent home in the Wales Millennium Centre and took the opportunity to mark the occasion by presenting a commemorative certificate and a bottle of bubbly to WNO’s recently retired Head Of Lighting & Sound, Ian Jones. He started there in 1979 and used our original system for some years, so he and Andrew had much to discuss!
Our sincere thanks to Ian, Grant, Ben, Christina and all the WNO crew who made us so welcome and took part in our 50th Anniversary celebrations.
Photo credits: Autograph / Copperleaf Media
Autograph Sound Recording Ltd was incorporated in 1973 and so in 2023 we celebrate five decades of doing what we do – still leading the way in audio and sound design for theatre but also now active in many other areas as the company has grown to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse array of clients.
But, while we’re in a reflective mood, let’s hark back for a moment to those heady, be-flared days of ’73 and remind ourselves what was happening in the arts:
In music, it was a belter of a year. David Bowie scored five top 10 UK hits, though Donny Osmond pipped him with six. David Cassidy and Wizzard both scored four each but the biggest selling single of the year, in both the US and the UK, was (wait for it)…Tony Orlando and Dawn with Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree. In a year full of truly memorable songs, two of the greatest Christmas hits ever recorded also charted in ’73: I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every day by Wizzard and Merry Christmas Everybody by the mighty Slade.
1973 also saw the release of numerous albums that are now regarded as classics – Steely Dan’s‘s Countdown To Ecstasy, Bowie‘s Aladdin Sane, Quadrophenia from The Who, Houses Of The Holy by Led Zeppelin, Roxy Music‘s For Your Pleasure – but one stands alone even in this exalted company, for this was the year in which Pink Floyd released The Dark Side Of The Moon…and the rest, as they say, is prog history…
For those of a certain age (ahem), 1973 was also a bumper year for television in the UK. The pilot episode of Last Of The Summer Wine aired in January, starting a 37-year run. Other new notables from the TV year include Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?, The Wombles, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave’ Em (starring Michael Crawford, later to become a major West End star in the title role of The Phantom Of The Opera) and Open All Hours with Ronnie Barker and David Jason. The Open University awarded its first degrees and experimental transmissions of Ceefax began, while other varied highlights included the first episodes of both M*A*S*H and Kung Fu, the wedding of Princess Anne and Mark Phillips and, unforgettably, the Smash Martians ad first appeared on ITV.
At the cinema, diversity was the name of the game but the quality was extraordinarily high – The Exorcist (the top-grossing film of the year), The Sting and Live And Let Die being good examples of the range on offer. Other notables included American Graffiti, Day Of The Jackal, the frankly terrifying Don’t Look Now, Bruce Lee in his most famous film Enter The Dragon, Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter, McQueen and Hoffman in Papillon, Al Pacino in Serpico, The Way We Were (with its wonderful theme tune) and The Wicker Man with Edward Woodward – something for everyone!
In London’s fashionable West End, too, there was plenty of choice – Carry On, London, Grease, Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, The King And I, The Rocky Horror Show, Treasure Island and Two Gentlemen Of Verona were among the thirteen new shows that opened in 1973. But another of the new batch was very special to us…
In 1973, things were happening at Autograph. We moved premises twice, firstly to All Saints St (which coincided with registering the company name) and then to St Georges Mews. In May we undertook our first sale to Welsh National Opera, of a custom-designed cue light and comms system (built during the three-day week) and then in July a real landmark for us: our first West End play and our first actual hire to a commercial producer, Michael Codron for Alan Ayckbourn’s Absurd Person Singular when it moved from Scarborough to the Criterion Theatre. It opened on July 4th 1973, was directed by Eric Thompson and ran until September 1974 before transferring to the Vaudeville Theatre until November ’75.
You can find out more about our history by clicking HERE.
(Click on images to enlarge)
Fifty years is a long time and we have much to look back on and much to look forward to as we celebrate this milestone – more soon!