The little firm with the bright ideas

SHINING BRIGHT The management team at Anglepoise. Front centre from left, managing director Richard Sellwood with brand and innovation manager Simon Terry and operations director John Purnell together with the whole team. Picture: Malcolm Wells (1471-6343)
SHINING BRIGHT The management team at Anglepoise. Front centre from left, managing director Richard Sellwood with brand and innovation manager Simon Terry and operations director John Purnell together with the whole team. Picture: Malcolm Wells (1471-6343)
Picture: Malcolm Wells

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Its brand is a globally-recognised name, but the company behind the Anglepoise lamp is tiny.

In a small corner of the Railway Triangle Industrial Estate in Farlington, the firm that produces the internationally-renowned lamps is busy getting its name back in the spotlight on the global stage.

Walk into the firm’s offices and you will find the firm’s past, and its future, in the same place.

Guarding the door like an overgrown sentry is a green version of its giant Anglepoise lamp – a statement that the firm has big plans.

But then, adorning the walls as you climb the stairs, are prints of Anglepoise newspaper adverts and posters from the 30s and the 50s, nestled among pictures of the firm’s past owners.

Then, at the top of the stairs, a picture shows a stamp collection from Royal Mail, with Anglepoise joining Mini, Concorde, the London Underground Map, Penguin books and the Routemaster bus as examples of iconic British designs.

So how did it all begin? Well, with a spring.

Up in the midlands, family firm Herbert Terry and Sons made springs. It made springs for any kind of product that could need one, and, crucially, the firm was the best in the business.

So when, in the 1930s, automotive engineer George Carwadine found a way to keep a moveable lamp fixed in mid-air with the help of a spring, there was only one company to which he could turn to manufacture it.

In 1935 the first Anglepoise 1227 was designed, using three springs to hold the lamp in whatever position it needed to be in.

From then on, the lamps grew in popularity, becoming so well respected they were used in bombers during World War Two to help the navigators see their maps, and so chic they were used in films such as James Bond’s Goldfinger.

Even the Queen has an Anglepoise.

The firm remained under ownership of the Terry family, passing down from father to son.

But by 2003 the brand had got a little tired and the manufacturing process needed some investment.

It was around that time that iconic designer Sir Kenneth Grange described, in a British magazine, Anglepoise as a ‘minor miracle of balance’ and the product he most admired for its design.

Having been responsible for the design of the Kenwood Chef mixer, the Kodak Instamatic, the Intercity 125 train and the updated London taxi, his views carried weight.

Anglepoise had passed into the hands of Simon Terry, an art graduate who worked on films, who moved its operations down to Portsmouth.

He approached Sir Kenneth and asked him to come on board with Anglepoise to update the design and get the firm back to where it should be.

Then, three years ago, he brought Richard Sellwood in as the company’s new managing director.

Richard takes up the Anglepoise tale: ‘Simon could have shut the whole thing down, but he had the vision to see it was still a huge brand.

‘It’s got history, it’s got a track record, and it’s a fantastic product.’

What happened next was pure product development. With Sir Kenneth on board the different types of table lamps grew, from the original – classic – 1227 to the Sir Kenneth-designed Type 3. And then were added different styles of table lamps, wall lamps, pendants, a modern arched LED and, finally, the giant 1227.

‘That was originally created when Roald Dahl, the children’s author, died,’ said Richard.

‘He used to have an Anglepoise on his desk in his writing den in his garden.

‘After he died his widow wanted to recreate his den in a museum, except three times the size.

‘So we made three giants. The first went into the museum, the second was auction and bought by Tim Burton, the film director, and the third we kept.

‘But we had hundreds of people asking for it, so we decided to manufacture it.’

The giant is the only lamp built in Portsmouth, as the rest of the lamps are made in China, shipped into Southampton, and trucked to Farlington where they are then sent out to customers.

Last year the firm saw 20 per cent growth, and in the next three years it hopes to double in size.

It is looking to work with architects and designers more closely, as well as exploiting online sales through Amazon and positioning its product in top-end department stores from John Lewis and up.

It’s expanding overseas, has just been included in the American Museum of Modern Art catalogue, and will be working in collaboration with other household-name firms to launch new twists on its product.

The firm is taking on the world with just 13 staff from a small corner of Portsmouth.

The firm will be looking to take on nine more staff during the next two years, with some based overseas.

It’s even back in James Bond – dozens of Anglepoise lamps featured in Skyfall, the latest film in the franchise.

‘It’s incredible,’ said Richard.

LOCH NESS MONSTER SEARCH

Anglepoise designed lamps for industrial use as well as for desks.

The firm made lamps for bombers during World War Two, so navigators could see the maps.

An American team searching for the Loch Ness monster 40 years after the war ended dug up a Wellington bomber from the loch’s mud.

Its lamp still worked.