Collective Timeline – What Happened When
1890       Geo W. Jones Ltd. is established in London.  
Photographer and engraver Karl Klic approaches Storey Brothers of Lancaster, offering his technical knowledge, methods, and services in the field of recess printing.
1895 Rembrandt Intaglio Printing Co. (Rembrandt) is established in Lancaster by Storey Brothers on the advice of Karl Klic. Klic and Samuel Fawcett provide the new firm’s technical direction.
1898 Anglo Engraving is founded in London by Edward Hunter and Archie Hughes – two young men just out of their engraving apprenticeships.
1900 Rembrandt Intaglio begins producing the series of Burlington Art Miniatures for The Fine Arts Publishing Co Ltd. of London. The work is typical of  the exceptional quality Rembrandt was becoming known for. The three miniatures shown here are reproductions of paintings by, respectively, Van Dyck (‘Child with Cap’ – the infant Duke of York), Del Sarto (‘The Youthful St John’), and Le Brun (‘Madame le Brun at her Easel’ – a portrait of the artist).

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1901 Geo W. Jones Ltd. prints the first book to use three-colour halftones. The book was illustrated by artist Mortimer Menpes, who now joins Jones’s business.
1905Klic succeeds in producing three-colour gravure – a technical breakthrough.
1906 Rembrandt Intaglio begins marketing colour gravure prints. Employment at the company exceeds 80.
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In this Rembrandt staff photo, Klic is seated in the front row with an arm over Samuel Fawcett’s shoulder. The young Ernie Hampton (see People and Reminiscences pages) sits at Karl Klic’s feet.

Geo W. Jones builds a new printing factory in Watford on the Whippendell Road at a cost of £14,000. He employs 160 people.

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1908 Jones leaves his company. Mortimer Menpes takes over and renames the company Menpes Printing and Engraving.
1910 Mezzogravure Co. Ltd. of Barnes (London) is set up by Anglo Engraving Co. Experiments in rotary gravure printing methods are secretly started there.

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The first rotary gravure machine, a 15 in. calico printing machine made by John Wood of Ramsbottom, Lancs, was installed at Barnes by Edward Hunter in 1910. (Photo supplied by Digby Wakeman)

1911 The name ‘Sun Engraving’ becomes available and Hunter and Hughes create a new company at Milford House, Milford Lane, London, under that name.
1912 The caretaker and ‘general factotum’ of Menpes Printing and Engraving, Thomas Farrell, and his family (see A Sun Family), are granted use of what will be known as Ascot Cottage, located just to the east of Whippendell Road on what was soon named Ascot Road. In the photo below, note a building to the left of, and probably adjoining, the cottage: this will eventually become Sun Engraving’s ‘girl’s rest room’ (see also 1932-33).

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1914 Anglo Engraving Co. and André & Sleigh (and its associated company, Bushey Colour Press) show work at a printing exhibition in Agricultural Hall, London. Edward Hunter is so impressed by the quality demonstrated by his competitors that he acquires the companies (and their manager, David Greenhill) from the publishing firm of Cassell & Co. The combined firms are renamed André, Sleigh & Anglo.
1914-16The cost of the First World War forces the UK government to stop circulating gold currency. The coins are replaced by paper notes that prove to be easily forgeable. At the request of the Treasury, David Greenhill, working with his nephew Cyril Greenhill and others, develops a new way of engraving and printing a banknote that makes it difficult to photograph and therefore difficult to forge.
1919Menpes Printing and Engraving Co. in Watford (now owned by Debenham & Freebody of London, and employing over 300) is acquired by Sun Engraving, who adapt and expand the factory for their own use. Hunter and Hughes consolidate their various production facilities at Whippendell Road under the banner of The Sun Engraving Co. Ltd., retaining their London site as their head office. A formal opening ceremony is followed by a huge sit-down luncheon for all employees.

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Sun Engraving opens its doors on Whippendell Road, Watford, in August, 1919. Four of the original directors appear in the photo: (A) Edward Hunter (founder), (B) Noel Hunter, (C) J. A. "Archie" Hughes (Edward Hunter's partner), and (D) David Greenhill. (E) is Mr Curling Hunter, father of Edward and Noel. The chairman, Sir Arthur Spurgeon, stands to Edward Hunter's left. The little girl in the flowered dress is Edward Hunter's daughter, Eileen.

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1919

Sun Engraving starts printing its first periodical, The Draper’s Organizer, a letterpress weekly with four-colour illustrations, as part of a deliberate strategy to secure volume repeat business. Many other types of Organizers follow, as well as Weldon’s Ladies’ Journal and other Weldon publications. The Sun begins a large expansion of its photogravure operations. The rate of pay for a compositor (member of the Typographical Association union) at this time is £2/hr for a 48-hr work week.

Sun Engraving begins to produce monotone gravure insets for incorporation into letterpress products, so as to provide a cover or insert in a colour other than black, and then achieves a first in the industry by producing insets printed in two colours on one side of the sheet and black on the other.
1924

After popular Picturegoer moves to Sun Engraving, it becomes the first-ever all-gravure weekly, consisting of 32 pages with a two-colour cover delivered complete off the press. It is soon followed by Film Pictorial. The company experiments on ways to prolong the life of gravure cylinders and develops a process of chromium plating that results in much longer press runs per cylinder and vastly improved productivity.

1926

Sun Engraving makes history by producing the first ever four-colour sheet printed by rotary gravure. This first is achieved on a press purpose-built to specifications devised by David Greenhill. Greenhill now draws up specifications for a new type of folder to handle the many different sizes of publications being printed by the Sun. The folder is engineered in Germany and works precisely as required. Sun Engraving begins its drive to make rotary photogravure the printing method of choice for mass-market magazines.

Rembrandt Intaglio moves to Norwood (London) from Lancaster.

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1929Sun Engraving’s letterpress department starts printing the Vogue Pattern Book. Filled with pride and confidence, the company issues The Sun Compendium, a comprehensive, 196-page manual and price list ‘For Users of Photo-Process Engraving.’
1931 Sun Engraving begins the printing and re-reeling of inserts for The Times Weekly Overseas Edition, work that will continue until the outbreak of WWII.
1932 The Sun starts to print Woman’s Own, which will become one of its most valuable and durable contracts. That same year, the Sun acquires Rembrandt Intaglio.
1932-33 Sun Engraving issues its Sun Type Book, whose text samples of available fonts do not, as in other type books, simply repeat a selected passage for every font. Instead, they carry a running commentary on the engraving and printing processes, and constitute a virtual primer on the industry. By now, the Sun’s employees number about  1,600.

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The Sun Engraving works as shown in an aerial photograph from the Sun Type Book. At the intersection of Whippendell Road and Ascot Road are the canteen, rose garden, and girls' 'rest room.’ A little further back is the half-timbered water tower that supplied pressure for the ceiling sprinklers in the plant.

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The Sun’s rose garden and ‘rest room’ in more detail.

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Some of the staff, and a large group of employees’ children, photographed against the backdrop of the ‘rest room.’

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This large gravure press at Sun Engraving is a Vomag re-reeler, from the pre-WWII era.

1934

Sun Engraving begins printing the time-sensitive Farmers Weekly, using gravure.

Rembrandt Intaglio is moved to Watford and renamed Rembrandt Photogravure Ltd. The Sun equips the company with state-of-the-art sheet-fed presses, and Rembrandt continues to output the ultra-high-quality colour reproductions of fine-art subjects that it has become famous for.

1937 Odhams Press, the publishing house of one of Sun Engraving’s principal customers, builds its own production facility in North Watford after its owner, Lord Southwood, fails to persuade Edward Hunter to sell the Sun’s photogravure operations to him.
Sun Engraving obtains the printing contracts for Vogue and Everybody’s.
1938Picture Post, the magazine that pioneered photojournalism, is printed by Sun Engraving in monotone and colour, becoming the first weekly magazine to exceed a million copies per issue. Print runs of this 104-page magazine will reach a peak of 1,700,000 weekly.
By Sun Engraving’s fortieth anniversary, the 2,000-strong workforce are producing up to 1,500 tons of printed matter each week, consisting of more than 6 million copies of weekly magazines, 2½ million copies of monthly magazines, and a further 6 million copies of quarterly and special editions. To obtain more factory space, the Sun adds an extension where the garden and ‘rest room’ had been.

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The Watford works, now all business. The canteen, garden, and ‘rest room’ have been replaced by a loading bay and additional factory floor-space. The canteen has been moved into a building on the opposite side of Whippendell Road.

1938 Sun Engraving starts marketing its own ‘Sungravure’ printing presses, in collaboration with the manufacturers, Baker Perkins.

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With its large page size of 13-1/2" by 18-1/4", its rigid woven-cloth cover, a silver-printed glassine insert, and full-page foldouts, the Sungravure Printing Equipment “brochure” is an impressive promotional piece by any standard. The spectacular technical illustrations, text and other mages are all impeccably gravure-printed in one, two, and four colours on heavy paper. The images below this one are from the brochure. They show the Sun’s Watford works as of 1938, and two of the many technical illustrations.

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1939 The Sun builds its first solvent recovery plant. Recycling the petroleum derivatives that thin photogravure inks will improve air quality inside and outside the factory and greatly reduce the firm’s heavy expenditure on solvent. (For more details, see Norman Oldknow’s article on solvent recovery on the Facts & Opinions page.)
  The Sun is now printing Ladies’ Journal, Film Pictorial, Woman’s Own, Good Taste, Weldon’s Bazaar of Children’s Fashions, Mother and Home, Good Gardening, Passing Show, Picturegoer, Weekly Illustrated, Pictorial Education, Farmers Weekly, Mickey Mouse, Silver Star, Cavalcade, Everybody’s, Picture Post, Supplement to Weekly Times, Vogue, Vogue Pattern Book, Vogue Knitting Book, Housewife, Country Life, Christmas Pie, Summer Pie, Nursing, Mirror, Pearson’s Magazine, Today, inserts and covers for Radio Times ... and the list goes on to include the bulk of Britain’s myriad weekly magazines.

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In this illustration , taken from the Sungravure promotional brochure, every publication on display in the bookstall is a Sun Engraving product.

1939-45 Sun Engraving undertakes extensive war work, much of it classified and highly secret. The firm will print an estimated 1.5 billion propaganda leaflets, the emergency signals charts for the Admiralty, and Tactical Targets, popularly known as the ‘Bible of the Invasion’ – the aerial reconnaissance books for the Allied invasion of Europe.
1940 Sun Engraving produces the Haggadah and the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, both with illustrations by book illuminator and anti-Nazi propagandist Arthur Szyk (1894-1951). Szyk was a Polish Jew with extraordinary artistic skills, who had come to England to find a publisher for his Haggadah. The book was edited by Oxford don Cecil Roth, and printed on vellum in a limited subscription edition, with a small number of run-on copies on heavy paper. We show here the famous dedication page (which was not present in subsequent reprints produced in Israel) and two spreads of what is unquestionably Szyk’s masterpiece and has been called the most beautiful book ever printed.

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The Sun creates a munitions department to produce parts for tanks, bulldozers, anti-aircraft shells, and artillery. A small example of the output of this 130-person group: 679,000 bearings for Bren-gun carriers (16 per carrier); 420,000 fuze-timing rings for anti-aircraft shells; and 975 stub axles for the Hamilcar gliders, including the first ever made, for the prototype, which flew on March 27, 1942.

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Sun staff make sprockets and other parts for tanks (top and bottom photos), and axles for the Hamilcar glider (centre).

Sun staff produce and inspect anti-aircraft shells.

1941 The Sun begins printing propaganda leaflets for the Government, the first order comprising 200,000 units. Over the next four years of the contract, the factory will also produce booklets, small magazines, posters, and even a German-language daily newspaper – all of this adding up to 1.8 billion units, requiring the use of 4,400 tons of paper and 250 tons of ink.

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Just some of the daily newspapers produced by the Sun during WWII for the Political Intelligence Department and the American Office of War Information.

The Sun undertakes secret experiments as a subcontractor to the Metals Division of Imperial Chemical Industries. The success of these experiments and of the Sun’s subsequent production work on the gaseous diffusion process will contribute to the development of the atomic bomb. The firm’s participation is important enough to warrant mention after the war in the Government publication of statements relating to the A-bomb.
1942 The Sun undertakes the printing of complex, colour-coded Admiralty charts. A completely new and error-free set will be produced by the Sun each month from now until the end of the war.
1943 For the Air Ministry, the Sun begins ultra-secret production of massive loose-leaf books of maps and aerial reconnaissance photographs, covering strategic bombing targets as well as tactical operations for before and after D-Day. The ‘Sun’ at War (vol. 4) explains that ‘all this work, which had to combine fine engraving with good printing and good paper, needed the utmost care.’ The work involves a huge amount of etching and hand engraving, and the printed material involves millions of hand folds and hand collations. We learn from the article that ‘the Engraving Department worked long hours; the machine staff worked 43 Saturdays out of 53, and the girls in the Binding Department completed nearly thirty consecutive week-ends.’

The Sun begins production of secret material – code-named ‘Window’ – on which the firm has already conducted experiments at the request of the Air Ministry. The product will later be cited by the R.A.F. as having saved many lives. (For a detailed description of ‘Window’ and its production, see the Facts and Opinions page.)
1944 On the night of Friday, July 28, the Milford Lane premises of the Sun receive a direct hit from a V-1 flying bomb. Half the building and much of its contents are destroyed. A team from the Watford plant works around the clock to help the London operations get up and running again. By the following Monday afternoon, work is going out once more from what remains of Milford House.

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Sun Engraving, Milford House, after being hit by a V-1 flying bomb. The view is from the Strand, with Milford Lane on the right. “A” marks the older wing of the firm, “B” the newer part.

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The remains of the wet-plate process studio.

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The remains of the stereo and electrotyping departments.

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Three months after the bombing, Milford House puts on a brave face. The Sun is only able to obtain a repair permit for the property (a permit to rebuild having been refused), so the structure will  retain a makeshift look even a year and a half later, despite flower-filled planters at the entrance.

1945 Sun Engraving spins off its now massive letterpress and gravure printing operations. They are renamed Sun Printers Ltd. by the buyers, Hazell, Watson & Viney of Aylesbury, who form the Hazell-Sun Group. The rate of pay for a compositor (member of the Typographical Association union) at this time is about £5/hr for a 45-hr work week.

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An immediate-post-war gravure press (made by John Wood).

1946 Sun Printers’ general manager, Cyril Greenhill, bids farewell and happy retirement to long-time letterpress manager W.T. Blenkarn. Mr Blenkarn had originally worked for Menpes Press and had been with the Sun since the Menpes firm was acquired by Sun Engraving in 1918. To the left, Alf Larcombe.

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1947 David Greenhill plans a major expansion of the Whippendell Road facility to meet growing post-war demand for magazine printing, but dies before the project is begun.  His nephew, Cyril Greenhill, now the Sun’s general manager, will take on the project and see it through.
1951 Watford’s Industrial Exhibition – spawned by the Festival of Britain to celebrate the centennial of the Great Exhibition of 1851 – is opened on June 14 by Douglas Fairbanks Jr and is the occasion of much activity in Watford, particularly in the printing sector. Among the distinguished visitors to the Sun works are Commander Fairbanks and H.R.H. the Duchess of Kent.

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Sun general manager and director Cyril Greenhill, vice-chairman of Watford’s Industrial Exhibition committee, shows a set of progressive proofs to the Duchess of Kent during her tour of the printing works. (Greenhill archives)

1952 The Sun’s new ink factory, built at a cost of £130,000, is opened in April by Hazel-Sun chairman Col. O.V. Viney, who calls it ‘the finest Gravure Ink Factory in the country at the present time.’ The ink works will pump ink directly to the gravure machines. By the early 1970s the factory will be producing more than a million gallons a year.

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The ink factory, under construction on the south side of Ascot Road. (Photo by George Konig, ARPS. Supplied by Basil Boden.)

1953Sun Printers’ office façade is decorated for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, the decorations designed by Sun engraver Charles (C.H.A.) Chaplin. (From a large colour transparency, probably by Sun’s ink-production manager, Jack Riley).

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1954 Sun Printers embarks on ‘Operation Sunrise,’ a massive, 4-year modernization and expansion project that will involve new buildings, the moving of almost every department, and raising the roof over presses that must be kept running at full tilt throughout the construction period. (See the Facts and Opinions page for the text of the plan and a photo essay of the construction.)
1956 The European Rotogravure Association (ERA) is formed, with Sun Printers as a founding member. The ERA will provide an international forum for the exchange of technical information within the industry.
1957 The ERA holds its first meeting on January 31 in Zofingen, Switzerland. The Sun’s representatives are Dr George Fuchs, Cyril Greenhill, and Raymond Walker.
The Sun is now printing Vogue, Practical Householder, Practical Motorist, Motor, Woman’s Own, Farmers Weekly, Popular Gardening, Mirabelle, Titbits, Everybody’s, The Leader, Woman and Home, Housewife, Vanity Fair, Flight, Country Life, Homes and Gardens ... to name just a fraction of the contracts.

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A large new building (flat white roof) has been added to house the various process departments. And it is clear that further expansion of the Sun is already under way.

1958 When Odhams’ twenty-year sole-UK-rights agreement with Goss expires, the Sun purchases two 18-unit Goss presses for its gravure department. Woman’s Own is transferred to these presses, which are capable of producing 80-page issues, stitched but untrimmed, comprising 30 full-colour pages, 10 two-colour pages, and 40 black-only pages.

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One of the 18-unit Goss presses. (Photo courtesy of Brian Wiseman.)

1960 The company replaces its twenty-year-old solvent recovery plant with a state-of-the-art installation. Over a mere six years the new system will deliver more than 5 million gallons of recovered solvent to the ink factory for reuse.
  Sun Printers completes its new south extension (blueish roof). This aerial view, looking south-east, shows the works at its most resplendent. Besides the new extension, the photo shows the sizeable ink works (top of the picture). The Sun facility now occupies 21½ acres.

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1961 Rembrandt Photogravure is absorbed into Sun Printers. Use of the Rembrandt name ceases after sixty-six years.
1962 Thomson Newspapers awards Sun Printers a contract to produce the Sunday Times Colour Section – the first-ever colour weekend magazine supplement to accompany a British newspaper. Employment at Sun Printers peaks this year, with more than 3,600 people on the payroll.
1963

A landmark year, as the Sunday Times Colour Section starts to roll off the press. But there are troubles at the Sun. Managaing director Cyril Greenhill leaves over differences of opinion in management practice and policies. Within a year, Group management, partly blaming union intransigence, will refuse to allow the Sun to adopt the web-offset technology that is siphoning work from the company’s gravure department.

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Roy Thomson, Sun's joint managing director Cyril Greenhill, and Watford’s mayor admire a copy of the first Sunday Times colour supplement, 1963.

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Cover of the first issue of the Sunday Times Colour Section. The model is Jean Shrimpton. A James Bond short story inside is too good to put down. (Greenhill archives)

1965Edward Hunter dies on June 28. The end of an era.
1966 Sun Printers installs a 13-unit Goss gravure press, the most advanced press of its kind, capable of outputting 25,000 copies per hour of a 96-page magazine. The cost of the press is in excess of £1 million and the Sunday Times Colour Section is transferred to it.

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The 13-unit Goss, capable of very high speeds and able to produce a 96-page magazine (72 pages in full colour), complete from reels to finished, shrink-wrapped product. This press printed the Sunday Times colour supplement – at least 850,000 copies per week, although at times the run exceeded a million and at one point reached almost 2,000,000.

The Hazell-Sun Group, Sun’s owner, merges with the Purnell Group to form the British Printing Corporation (BPC). But Purnell treats the merger more as a take-over, and the Sun fails to thrive in the new configuration. Family involvement at the senior management level of the conglomerate is almost at an end.
1968 Sun Engraving, after seventy years in business, is acquired by C.E. Layton. Renamed Layton/Sun, the firm closes its Watford operations and moves to London. Sun Printers is now employing 3,300.
1969 Five weeks of production work are lost, as are several contracts, because of an electricians’ strike in the gravure machine room. At Sun Printers the rate of pay for a compositor (member of the Typographical Association union) is now roughly £30/hr for a 40-hr work week. This same year, the Linotype department is closed down for want of work, and a number of compositors are made redundant.
1970 There is little work left for letterpress, and the Composition department continues to shrink in size. Employment numbers at Sun Printers have declined to just over 3,000. Weekly paper consumption is a little over 1,750 tons.
1973 Sun Printers’ employment numbers decline further, to 2,500. The factory, too, has shrunk – to 18½ acres. The ‘new’ south extension, originally built to house the Letterpress and Composition departments, is closed after only 13 years (the building will be sold to the Post Office and will become a main sorting station). Annual revenues of £10 million include export work of £500,000.
1974 A bright note: The day after their wedding, Frank Venables and Linda Horwood, both of the Sun warehouse, win the European Amateur Ballroom Dancing championship at Linz. Later that year they will take the World Title in Bremen.

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Sun’s managing director, Roy Smith (right), makes a presentation to Frank and Linda Venables following their World Amateur Ballroom Dancing championship title win.

1975 OPEC’s energy embargo of 1974 is followed by a miners’ strike to protest the Heath government’s launching of wage and price controls. Facing a major fuel crisis, the government mandates a nation-wide, three-day work week. The restriction will last for two months. Added to the Sun’s recent loss of Titbits, TVTimes, and other magazine contracts (some £3,000,000-worth of business, mostly to web-offset printers), the difficult economic situation triggers more staff cuts. Under a voluntary severance scheme, 330 employees leave the company.
  Both the Sun and Odhams are now struggling, but merger talks between Watford’s two gravure houses fail when the plans are strenuously opposed by Odhams employees. BPC reluctantly withdraws from discussions. Wages and salaries, which have kept on rising despite the loss of business, now account for a crippling 94.2% of the value of production at the Sun.
1976 BPC injects £2 million in cash into the Sun ‘to keep it in existence.’ Wages and salaries represent 92.2% of the value of production this year. As part of a new five-year plan, the Sun orders an Albert 10-unit gravure press, the first ‘thoroughbred’ jobbing press purchased in twenty years, in the hope that, being faster, better in quality, and less costly to operate, it will open up new markets.

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Machine No. 71 (a 15-unit John Wood press) is dismantled to make way for the Albert. Two hundred tons of masonry and steel work will be removed and reformed to accommodate the new press. (Photo courtesy of Brian Wiseman.)

1977 Sun financial statements report ‘a disastrous year,’ with trading losses at nearly £700,000. The company loses True Story, True Romances, and Woman’s Story to more-flexible, less-expensive, web-offset printers. Writes a manager in the house magazine Sunews: ‘The Sun is mired in endless industrial relations disputes with its multiple trades unions.’ Management tries to get the various chapels to agree to a 25% productivity increase to reverse losses and fend off competition from UK web-offset printers and German and Italian gravure printers.
1978 Condé Nast moves its magazines to web offset, ending letterpress contracts with the Sun for Brides, Vogue, and House and Garden. The Letterpress department will be closed in 1979.
  After many technical hold-ups the Albert press is commissioned and takes on new mail-order work. But a year-long series of national and industry trades union disputes, involving everyone from road hauliers and tanker drivers to the National Union of Journalists, keeps raw materials from reaching the works and printed product from reaching the public.

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A vertiginous view over the Albert press. (Photo courtesy of Len Hooker.)

1979 Margaret Thatcher becomes Prime Minister on May 4, vowing to curb the power of the country’s unions. Sun Printers lands a big new contract – Weekend magazine – and more work comes in for the Albert. But industrial disputes at the Sunday Times and Woman’s Own are disastrous for the Sun, and help to double the firm’s losses over the previous year – to £1.8 million. The dispute between Times Newspapers and the trades unions is resolved only after a year-long work stoppage. The Sun starts printing the Sunday Times again in November.
1980 Sun Printers lands the contract for a ‘new-look’ TVTimes magazine, whose requirements call for new gravure presses. The Sun settles on two Ceruttis from Italy and embarks on a massive 18-month engineering program that will literally raise the roof to make room for the presses.

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Printing director Brian Reynolds takes Sun Printers gravure, finishing, and warehouse staff to Oslo and Cologne to observe Muller Martini jumbo-stackers and gathering-stitching-trimming equipment in action. Identical equipment is to be installed at the Sun for the sectional production of TVTimes and Sunday Times. On the tarmac at Oslo are, l-r: Brian Smith, Mike Batchelor, John Swan, Jack Swaffer, Ken Gravestock, Brian Reynolds, Ed Joyce, Wally Reynolds, Bill Ford, John Humphries, Bill Prentice, Don Griffin, Alan McCarthy (Muller Martini), Norman Beach, Mick Tyler, George Greenham (Muller Martini), and Captain Eddie Asquith.

  The Sun leaves traditional typesetting behind and moves to photocomposition. The Composing Chapel of the 1960s boasted nearly 400 members. The compositors, including readers, now number around 60.
  Using borrowed money, media tycoon Robert Maxwell buys a 29.5% stake in BPC.
1981

The Sun’s Ink Factory and Research department are closed, and most of the employees move to other jobs within the Sun. The ink factory's land will eventually be sold and the building demolished.

Robert Maxwell gains control of BPC in April and renames it the British Printing and Communications Corporation (BPCC).

“Prosperity is around the corner. It is not here yet, but it will come. And you can be proud of what you have done so far.” So says chairman Maxwell as, with great fanfare before a raft of visitors, journalists, and VIPs, and with popular TV hero Telly Savalas (Kojak) in tow as star guest, he announces the opening of the Sun’s new press hall and the launch not only of the new Cerutti press but of its product: the much-enlarged TVTimes. The editor of Sunews waxes eloquent about ‘the day the Sun rose in glory,’ but his lack of confidence is palpable.

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Posing by the start button are Bob Phillis (once the Sun's managing director and now managing director of TVTimes), Robert Maxwell, and Telly Savalas. The start-up coincides with a power failure across much of West Watford, but the machine soon roars into action and copies of TVTimes begin to stream from the press.

1982 The Sun loses the Sunday Times Magazine contract. The two giant (18-unit) Goss presses are decommissioned and removed from the Sun.
  Maxwell acquires Odhams in November and merges it with the Sun to create Odhams-Sun Printers Ltd. He announces that almost all typesetting will cease at the Odhams-Sun works.

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Maxwell enters into an expensive joint pilot project with Crosfield Electronics to find a way of engraving cylinders by laser beam. Unfortunately, the plastic surface fails to stand up to the wear and tear of the presses. Considerable progress is made, but the results continue to be unreliable. After five years of trials, the project will be cancelled. Here, Brian Reynolds, director of printing and engineering, and pre-press director Ray Cox examine a laser-engraved cylinder.

1983 In September, Maxwell closes the Odhams factory and moves the remaining Odhams personnel and selected equipment, including a 13-unit Albert gravure press, to the Sun site. Some Odhams work comes over as well.
  Maxwell announces that the Sun will adopt web-offset technology at along last. The Sun’s first web-offset press, a Baker Perkins ‘G16,’ is installed in two bays of the under-utilised paper warehouse on Ascot Road, and training begins.
1984 A second Baker Perkins ‘G16’ is installed and a web-offset department is created.
While the Sun continues to lose bids for contracts, Maxwell, Sun management, and the unions settle into months of wrangling over cost-cutting and wage increases.
1985 The cost-cutting talks do not go well. Compulsory staff reductions now take place in the Process, Litho, and Gravure departments to meet Maxwell’s target of a 50 per cent staff cut. Woman’s Own, once the Sun’s biggest contract and a mainstay of the company for half a century, is lost to an experienced web-offset printer.
1987 Etchers, engravers, camera operators, and retouchers are all gradually let go. The Sunday Times colour supplement is lost to a competitor, ending its 25-year life at the Sun. The 13-unit Goss on which it had run stands idle. Only part of the TVTimes contract is retained. Maxwell, who has recently bought Mirror Group Newspapers, announces that the Daily Mirror will be printed at the old Odhams works, which are being refurbished for this purpose.

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The end of an era. This cylinder, marked “August 30, 1987”, records the last printing of the Sunday Times magazine at the Sun after a quarter of a century.

  BPCC is renamed Maxwell Communications Corporation (MCC – though it seems Maxwell never ‘played the game’).
1988 Maxwell announces that the Sun’s gravure departments are to be closed, that he requires printers for his new Mirror works across town, and that he will be offering jobs there to Sun employees willing to move. One of the Cerutti presses is dismantled and shipped to Purnell. Odhams-Sun’s workforce now stands at 760.
Warehouse #3 (originally part of the gravure paper warehouse on Ascot Road) is cleared for the arrival of a new MAN litho press from Germany.

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The MAN press under construction.

1989 John Holloran leads a buyout of the BPCC group of companies from Maxwell Communications Corp. Odhams-Sun is renamed BPCC Sun Ltd. The paper warehouse on Ascot Road is overhauled to become the home of the new, smaller printing company, which plans to offer web-offset and gravure printing. Negotiations begin with the union representatives of the gravure process planning department, but fall through.
Gravure operations are closed down in September. The two Albert gravure presses are sold to VNU Netherlands. The second Cerutti press is dismantled and shipped to Purnell. BPCC Sun Ltd. becomes a web-offset-only operation in the former Ascot Road paper warehouse. The MAN press is commissioned in December. The workforce now numbers 240.
1990 All Sun staff are now located in the refurbished warehouse. BPCC Sun Ltd is renamed BPCC Consumer Magazines (Watford) Ltd., expunging ‘Sun’ from the name after 79 years.
First allegations surface of misappropriation of pension funds within the Maxwell group of companies.
1991 On November 5, Robert Maxwell drowns in mysterious circumstances while boating off the Canary Islands.
In early December, upwards of £400 million are discovered missing from the Maxwell Communications Corporation pension fund.
1992Pensioners’ action groups are formed across the UK to try to recover the missing pension funds.

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A meeting of the Maxwell Pensioners Action Group (Dunstable). (Photo courtesy of Jack Clarke.)

1994 The Sun factory on Whippendell Road now lies derelict, awaiting the wrecker’s ball.

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1995The ‘Maxwell pensioners’ succeed in their battle to have their pension funds restored.
1996 A merger between Watmoughs (Holdings) plc and BPC results in the formation of Polestar Group. The printing works on Ascot Road are renamed Polestar (Watford) Ltd., while the rest of the Sun site awaits a purchaser and the vandalized, derelict buildings await demolition.
2002 At a community planning meeting, Watford residents are told that while the abandoned Sun buildings will be razed, the old Sun Engraving plaque will be retained, as will the clock tower building on Ascot Road. The latter is slated for refurbishment as part of the redevelopment plan.

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2003 The Sun buildings are demolished and the site is cleared for redevelopment.

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2004 Following Polestar’s decision to close the Watford works, two presses are dismantled and transferred to Polestar Direct Leeds. New homes are found for some of the binding lines, and the rest of the equipment on Ascot Road is scrapped. The closure brings to an end a century of printing on the site. On Whippendell Road, construction begins on a hotel and shopping complex where the Sun once so proudly shone.
2006 In July, the Sunset Club holds yet another well-attended reunion for former Sun employees. At the time of writing, in 2012, the reunion is still an annual event.

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Peter Pridmore, formerly a Goss chargehand, cuts the 'Goss' cake at the Sun reunion. Beside him is Shirley House, wife of former Sun chargehand Ernie House.

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Les Johnson cuts the 'Sun logo' cake.


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