Profiles - A Light-Hearted Look at Industry Personalities

Tony Dickson

General Manager, Tomcat UK

No. 117 in a continuing series

Tony Dickson

Caricatures by

David Lewis

The first in his family to go to grammar school, Tony duly gained 11 O levels and was looking forward to going on to the sixth form. However, his father told him that he had two options: either get a ‘real job' or join the army - and not ponce about at university and waste his and taxpayers' money.

Dickson senior was a boy soldier during the Second World War and went on to make the army his career, ending up as a Regimental Sergeant Major in the Royal Engineers. "However, not wanting to join the forces and follow in my father's footsteps I chose the second option and got a job as an apprentice electrician," explains Tony.

"During my apprenticeship I was lucky enough to be sent on a ‘character building exercise' which turned out to be a month on board the Sail Training Association's ship the Sir Winston Churchill which was taking part in the Tall Ships Transatlantic Race. For a working class boy who hadn't ventured outside Birkenhead - apart from a wet week-end in Llandudno when I was 14 - it really was a turning point in my life and from then on I had the wander lust!"

Having completed his apprenticeship in electrical engineering and working on industrial cranes and lifting equipment, Tony thought, like most people his age, that he was the dog's dinner and decided to quit his job and actually see the world. He spent a year travelling around Europe working in bars and picking fruit then a few months on the west coast of America enjoying himself until his money ran out.

Back in the UK as a contracting electrician he then stumbled into the oil industry where he was trained as a well test engineer spending several remarkable years in the Republic of Gabon in West Africa via jaunts to the North Sea, Italy and Algeria. "It was during this period that I learned a great deal about rigging, winches and electronic control systems - which stood me in good stead for my present occupation. Anyway, then came the world oil glut and as my job was primarily involved in exploration I was made redundant."

Back in the UK Tony then set about building up his own electrical business specialising in fire alarms and fire extinguishing systems, and it was whilst working on these systems that he first encountered addressable systems and cabling which he now knows as DMX.

He spent eight years building up the business to a reasonable level and dealing with blue chip companies throughout the UK. All was well until interest rates rose to unmanageable heights and when major clients took between 90 and 120 days to pay it became impossible for him to continue. He had to shut the doors and look for a ‘real job' again.

It was a hard time. "I even tried my hand at selling insurance! I was quite good at this and it paid the bills but it I was never really happy, but with a mortgage and family to support I just had to do it."

Then through contact with a friend he received a phone call asking if he could help out for a few days whilst they did a stock take. "Nobody wanted an insurance man knocking on their door right after Christmas so I jumped at the chance," explains Tony.

"I went along to the company and helped count stock, sweep up and did some labouring jobs and as luck would have it I was offered a full-time position with the company - Pfaff Silber Blau - which had just started an entertainment division PCM which was introducing the mighty Lodestar hoist into the European entertainment market.

"I was quickly introduced to the life of the ‘moor man' and what I then described as the ‘upside-down-back-to-front-hoist' as I had until that point only been involved in industrial lifting and had not even thought about taking the chain up to the point and leaving the motor on the ground. It was all very strange and wondrous. However, my electrical background stood me in good stead and I was soon chaining up Lodestars with the best of them, and in those days it was not unusual to receive orders for 50 motors that had to be delivered yesterday.

"My first ‘outing' was to Manchester City's ground where Oasis were playing and there was a problem with a controller. No one else really wanted to go out and face the wrath of the Gallagher brothers so they sent the new boy! Off I went tool box in hand not knowing what to expect, and backstage for the first time was mind blowing. As it was, the fault was a simple phasing problem, so after my first taste of catering home I came with a smile.

"I soon moved on in the company after this and ran the workshop for several years before becoming the outside sales rep for PCM and then on to be the divisional manager. During my years at PCM we were involved in some very weird and wacky things for our own exhibition stands and for our clients in the industry: things like the Aquastar, a Lodestar that we fully waterproofed so that we could rig it inverted and drop it live into a pond of water hundreds of times a day for the duration of a PLASA Show.

"And so things went on - continually solving problems for our clients who wanted to do anything from moving video screens along a track to flying Ali G on a bed in the Brits. Then, of course, there was the Lodestar Blind Fold challenge where I had not only re-build but re-wire the Lodestar whilst blind-folded then plug it in and run it in front of the gathering crowds of the PLASA Show - great! (my record for this is 12 mins 40 seconds by the way).

"Of course there is the serious side of our industry with the development of new products to meet the ever growing legislation. I was part of the team that developed the first Lodestars to meet the VBG 70/BGV C1 German safety standard and I have had the great privilege to have met and trained over 1500 entertainment professionals world-wide in the PCM Lodestar Motor Schools. I keep bumping into these guys all around the world and really enjoy catching up on what they have done. I take pride in the fact that they remember me from a two-day course several years ago."

People and things move on, and after those memorable times with PCM Tony recently landed the position of general manager with Tomcat UK Ltd. One of the leading manufactures of truss in the world, Tomcat is the biggest distributor of the Lodestar in the entertainment industry.

"It is a great challenge to take the reins of this company and now more than ever I am involved with the whole product from concept to completion. Working with Brilliant Stages and the whole Tomcat Global organisation has allowed me to enter a different level of professionalism in the industry and I can now be involved in projects ranging from McFly to The Rolling Stones. This not only impresses my children but the lads down at the pub!

"The UK organisation is growing daily and we are becoming more established in mainland Europe which is where I am concentrating my efforts. Once again I'm living very much out of a suitcase, in Madrid providing solutions and quotations one day then back in the Wirral the next day to do general manager duties."

The latest news from the Tomcat camp is that they have acquired the PCM brand and welcomed them into the Tomcat Global family. "The addition of PCM has brought me great personal pleasure, having been in at the deep end in steering PCM to where it is in our industry I am pleased to be back in the driving seat and now able to offer clients a virtual one stop shop for their rigging, motor, control and truss requirements. I will be continuing with the product training started at PCM and Tomcat Global here in the UK - not only for the Lodestar but for Tomcat products.

"So here's to the next 1500 professionals, and the future!"

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