Profiles - A Light-Hearted Look at Industry Personalities
Managing Director, Fourth Phase London
No. 48 in a continuing series
Working life for Alan Thomson began in 1966. A good Scot, he wasn't interested in how England was doing in the World Cup and, as an apprentice electrical engineer, spent that day helping to put on a show. It was then that he got his first taste of theatre life, at the Westminster Theatre, but as a teetotal venue it wasn't truly representative of things to come. Westminster offered him a job, but his parents' advice to stay with the apprenticeship prevailed. However, three years later, apprenticeship completed, Westminster got back in touch and a long and winding career began.
Apart from a two-year stint at the Adelphi, while the Westminster was being given a facelift, Alan stayed until 1977 and appreciates his time there: "The Westminster was a bit like a rep house, and a great theatre to learn the business. Influences were people like master carpenter Denis Groutage and lighting designer Lou Fleming, from whom I learnt you do a job 100% or not at all."
In 1977 Alan's first visit to America made him realise that he needed to broaden his experience into stage techniques and so he got himself a job with the stage crew at the National. Thus began his friendship and working relationship with Alan Jacobi, the highlight of which was this year's London Golden Jubilee event.
Holidays for most of us are a distraction from work. For Alan, they're a direction: his next career change came following a trip to Shetland, where oil rigs loom large and so do the salaries. But two years is a long time working on rigs, even for an electrical engineer posing as an explosives specialist, so it was back to London and - Cats! "That was a great year," says Alan. "Cats broke a lot of new ground. We really had no idea if it was going to survive or not, but we had great fun - and a lot of hard work."
A year later he was on the Road to Rio. No, not the film, but to see a friend and the Carnival. The visit lasted seven months and had an enormous effect on him. "I had never experienced anything like Brazil. It was completely different and, apart from beginning my love affair with South America, it changed me as a person. I couldn't speak the language and was forced to become more outgoing." Sitting in an English bar, Alan and friend learned that there was nothing similar in Caracas, capital of Venezuela, so they decided to correct the situation. Together they built and successfully ran an English pub for two years, a diversion that had two happy outcomes for Alan: it gave him a lovely wife and an almost endless supply of stories to dine out on.
When he returned to England in 1984, he was delighted to discover that not only had he not been forgotten, but someone was actually willing to employ him. He joined Theatre Projects just after it became part of the Samuelson Group and met another influential figure, Sir Sidney Samuelson. "Sir Sidney is a true gentlemen and made me realise that you could be both successful and honest and gracious at the same time." Alan became general manager of lighting at TP in 1989 and then, when Vari-Lite took over, managing director. These were the heady days of Margaret Thatcher privatising everything in sight and Alan worked on some extremely prestigious corporate events - such as shareholders meetings in venues as large as the NEC. They were also the days of big rock tours and Alan considers himself extremely lucky to have been around for such memorable events as Pink Floyd's The Division Bell and the Stones' lavish tours.
As well as the variety of work, Alan also enjoyed watching youngsters coming into the business and helping them develop their talents. His enjoyment is even greater now that so many of his protegees have established themselves as industry ‘names'.
Now managing director of Fourth Phase London, Alan is doing what he still enjoys: one foot in the theatre and the other in the corporate and events industry. The company's large format projection equipment is used by brand names as diverse as Estee Lauder, Audi and Ann Summers, while theatre work includes The Lion King, Phantom in Madrid and The King and I UK tour. Not content to rest on his laurels, Alan is already planning for bigger, and better, things!
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