profiles - a light-hearted look at industry personalities

No. 51 in a continuing series

Caricatures by

David Lewis

Jack Exell

General Manager, Cerebrum

Although Jack Exell has been involved in entertainment lighting for most of his working life, this choice of career cannot be attributed, as is often the case, to a youthful love affair with the stage. In fact, he has no recollection of any involvement whatsoever with the world of live entertainment during his formative years. The movie house was as close as it got, and this is understandable considering that growing up in Bermuda presented little opportunity to tread the boards - other than those on the deck of a boat!

In fact, it was comic books that were starting to have an influence on his future. Any comic book would do: Beano, The Eagle, Bunty and the rest all contributed to Jack's adolescent make-believe world that unfortunately also manifested itself in his school reports. 'Lacks concentration' and 'what colour is the sky in Jack's world?' are just two of the comments he vaguely remembers. From the age of about three drawing was pretty much all that Jack really wanted to do and when, in his teens, his parents moved back to Canada, paradise lost became paradise regained by his being somewhere that had an art school. Toronto had the reputation of being the sort of city that rolled up its sidewalks at 10 pm but it was here that Jack discovered that he was really a city boy at heart.
It was the early 60's, the age of Aquarius, and certain pillars of academia were exhorting the entire student body of North America to "Tune in, turn on and drop out". This bizarre and dubious advice seemed quite reasonable at the time and soon had our hero on the road with his maple-leafed knapsack, and after the usual series of misadventures, Jack eventually arrived in Europe just in time to miss the end of the Swinging London era.

However, London was 'The Big City' and it offered all the opportunities necessary for anyone wanting to try and learn the trade of cartooning. Then as now, the great British tabloids had an insatiable appetite for illustrated gags featuring women drivers, errant husbands and vicars. So, skulking over a drawing board by night, by day he was the dynamic bright-eyed warehouseman of the up-and-coming Valiant Lamps of Fulham.

It was there that fate and/or luck stepped in when Jack was offered the job as Valiant's theatre sales rep ("we only sold light bulbs in those days"). The situation appealed to him immediately and it seemed the sort of work that he would have to be daft not to have a go at - especially when they mentioned the words 'expense account'. So began a steep learning curve on technical theatre phraseology like, 'what are you having?' and 'who's round is it?'

Things got a bit more serious in 1980 when Action Lighting was formed and Jack became its first full time employee, still selling lamps but expanding the product range into equipment and consumables and almost any product that they were asked for. Action grew quite quickly with several major acquisitions, Valiant Lamps being one of them, and in due course this led to the formation of the Lighting Technology Group.

When Cerebrum Lighting in New Malden joined LTG, Jack was appointed their general manager to be the bridge between them and the various members of the group. LTG had branches from Newcastle to Paris and it was very important to keep everyone informed on who did what and who understood which product best. Cerebrum was one of the longest established lighting supply companies in the UK and with its own unique mix of staff, products, services and customers, it made an invaluable contribution to the group. Cerebrum also benefited greatly by having access to the enormous variety of "stuff" that LTG was noted for.
Cerebrum thankfully managed to fully survive the recent demise of LTG. "We were," Jack explained, "fortunate in being bought by Decibel, who own AJS Theatre Lighting in Ringwood, Hampshire, a company that understands our business and Cerebrum's roll in it. We are expected to get on and do what we have always done best and that is to continue to supply that wide range of products and consumables the lighting industry needs day to day. It is our aim to carry on that important continuity - being able to supply equipment from the major manufacturers as well all the odd and unusual ‘stuff'.

So that glittering career as a cartoonist is still on hold.

Look out for the next subject in our Profile series...

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