14 May 2018 Events

When print helped win at Waterloo

The Eurovision Song Contest is always a highlight of the television calendar. It used also to be a landmark event for some printers.

The printing industry has a long and noble traditional as a fast turnaround, print on demand operation. Newspapers have always needed to be produced and distributed within very tight schedules and have single purpose plants for precisely this reason. City and financial printers also have a long traditional of overnight production and delivery. Commercial printing can now be as fast, exploiting digital presses for short runs. But when timeliness really matters printers have always stepped forward. The Wimbledon programme, for example, has needed that day's results and the next day's schedule printed and inserted into the centre of a pre-printed souvenir publication. This was, and remains, a challenge, but there is only one point of delivery, easing the complexity.

Forty or more years ago there was another high profile job where printers, unused to overnight delivery, might demonstrate their ability to print, finish and distribute within a very tight window. These were the record sleeve printers poised to print the packaging for the winner of the Eurovision song contest. The public who had seen Abba perform Waterloo on the Saturday evening wanted to walk into a record shop on Monday morning and buy their copy. But Abba might not win, so the different record companies had each of their suppliers on standby, presses ready to print if their customer was the winner. The press would run at a maximum 6,000sph before cut and crease, glue and delivery to the pressing plant for onward shipment to the network of independent record shops, Our Price or Woolworths in order to capture the demand that would propel Abba to No 1.

Today Eurovision is dominated by digital downloads and even for a 7in disc, digital printing might play a significant part in the song's subsequent success. Somehow it doesn't seem the same. Same day litho printing and overnight delivery is effectively standard. The expectation, the frenetic activity and the satisfaction of meeting a tight deadline no longer exist in the same way when such a job was exceptional. Print on demand is taken for granted. Print is as universal ever, easier to specify and quality can always meet expectations. Sometimes though something mystical seems to have been discarded. We can need to deliver the exceptional to feel alive.

Gareth Ward

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Turing Test
Jeremy Stafford-Baker - 5 months ago

You don't mention the industry's greatest achievement in many many years, For Mrs Thatcher's privatisations, we were told the final share price just after 4 pm on a given day, and had to print and get a document through every letterbox in the land, from the Shetlands to the Channel isles and everything in between, and on every Bank and Post office counter likewise by the following morning. It was a multi-page 4 colour document with several other smaller items all hand stuffed into a C4. For the Gas operation it was the night of 'The Big Storm' , and still the demand was met. There are stories .... Burrup Mathieson conducted the entire industry wide effort with no publicity whatever and no thanks afterwards. I doubt if the industry today could attempt it.