Wednesday, 14 September 2011

EVERYTHING STARTS WITH AN 'E', 1990

Well 'ERF' certainly does and so does 'Ecstasy', although,  after twenty-seven years working for the company, I never made the connection.
I've mentioned before that the 'Middlewich Diary' is a 'snapper-up of unconsidered trifles' but this is probably the most esoteric bit of ephemera we've featured so far.
There are two parts to this story - firstly the story which the cartoon  is illustrating and, secondly, the story of how the cartoon itself was rescued for posterity.
For a short time in the late 80s/early 90s ERF Middlewich, on part of the old I.C.I. site off  Brooks Lane, was more than just a truck repair and Parts Distribution Centre - it was an actual  factory assembling cabs for ERF's ES6 model. Production moved to Middlewich because of the cramped conditions at Sandbach and a production line was set up in what had been the old repair shop.
(The 'S' in ES6 stood for 'Steyr', an Austrian cab manufacturer on whose cabs the design for the ES6 was based.. The first prototype Steyr cabs were sent over to England in 1987 and my job, the day after passing my fork-lift truck driving test, was to unload two of them in the driving rain of a cold winter evening that year, under the instruction of the truck driver, who couldn't speak English. This is known in the trade as a 'baptism of fire').
This  production facility was capable of turning out 30 cabs per day on a two shift system. Once the cabs were completed they were taken by low-loader to Sandbach to be fitted to the ES6 tractor units.
The operation was short lived and, by the Summer of 1990, it was all over and all the production workers were back where they came from, down the road in Sandbach.
Before they went some unknown but highly talented worker produced the cartoon reproduced here. Although it looks as though it might have been sketched on a piece of paper, the original was, in fact, very large. It was executed in felt tip pen on the lid of a packing case which someone had, obligingly and invitingly, painted white for some reason. The only clue to the artist are the legend BAD TASTE CARTOONS LTD and what looks like the initials RD or RB on the drawing.
This cartoon had obviously been produced by this anonymous artist simply for the amusement of himself and his mates and then forgotten.
Which it would have been, had I not found the packing case lid in a skip the following May and, after noticing the cartoon, put it on one side.
In 1990 Acid House Parties were all the rage among the younger element. Huge parties were set up in remote country areas and in abandoned (and not-so-abandoned) warehouses all over Britain. Word was spread by pirate radio stations and crowds of youngsters descended on these locations to party through the night fuelled by drink and, much to the dismay of the older generation, such drugs as Ecstasy.
Our unknown artist picked up on this latest youth craze and surmised that the old ES6 line building might have some use after all.
In the end the Government, for once, saw sense and took steps to legalise the Acid House Party scene (though not, of course, the drugs) and legitimate clubs were set up to cater for the party-goers.
The ERF Acid House Cartoon could easily have been lost, but one day I happened to have a camera with me at work and asked Mark Nevitt, a photographer friend of mine, to photograph it for me.
The resulting colour print was run through a photocopier to turn it into what now looks like a simple pen sketch. And that is how the work of an unknown artist was saved, and with it a record of the end of a short-lived era for ERF and a cultural phase for Britain's youth.

Note: This wasn't the end for the Brooks Lane site as a manufacturing centre. Several years later it was used again as space at the Sandbach site once more became a problem

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