Elam press

ImageWhen across at Elam my interest was aroused by some large wooden crates. I asked what was in them. A printing press I was told, to my surprise. Why then was it sitting in crates when it could be printing?





It seemed that no one could agree about where it should be installed, and there was nowhere suitable anyway. I said I would take it, and solve all the political problems.

A couple of car parking spaces in the sub-basement of the School of Architecture were ideal. A printing press needs to be perfectly stable and ideally should be attached to a thousand tons of concrete. You can park a car almost anywhere. We built a tin shed with a tin door. It was totally discreet without even a sign to indicate the wonderful world within. Asking permission would only have invited refusal so we just got on with the job.

Bob Riddell was the only person who knew what was going on and he was wonderfully supportive. Indeed his enthusiasm went further and he was very proud to display work produced on the printing press outside the door of his office. No one thought to ask why he was doing this. People weighed down by administration are bemused by others who actually prefer doing something. Those who tick boxes never realise that there is a real world over the horizon. They never discover it because they never think to look.

Meanwhile down in the bowels of the earth the half-million-dollar Heidelberg press sprang into life. John Turner had dreams of what might be, and Robin Lush was the amazing technician who brought those dreams to life. The world never guessed that inside the tin shed paper and ink were being transformed into books, stamps, posters, and just about everything else. Quality and excellence was second nature to the perfectionists at the helm.

No one set out to be subversive, and yet this was subversion at its very best. The academics were busy flying off to other countries to find out what was going on, without guessing that it was all happening right underneath them. It was all so unbelievable and that was the way it remained for many years. It survived not because it was hidden but rather because those with power did not have the eyes to see.

Ultimately Robin, John and Tony all retired, and after years of astonishing achievement the press fell silent and the political bickering began again.

Some people spend their lives grasping opportunities with delight, and solving problems because they love positive outcomes. They have all the fun. Others spend their time creating problems while collecting big salaries for doing so. They never achieve anything worthwhile but end up with excellent car parks. Some people enjoy the wild ride. Other people write regulations, and end up printing books telling other people how to live their lives. They never understand.

Few people stop to think just how subversive Caxton was. He made it possible for the powerless to not only have access to books, but also to be able to produce them. Publishing your own books sets you free and that terrifies those who see their power slipping away.

As with any story like this there are other people to thank. If anyone would care to flesh out the story of their involvement please get in touch. I do not pretend that my perception is the whole of the story.