Category Archives: Leisure

Balls of fire: Slazenger

Slazenger became the largest manufacturer of tennis balls in the world.

Ralph Slazenger (1844 – 1910) was born in Warrington to a family of Jewish German origin. He attended Manchester Grammar School and Forster’s College in Cheatham before joining the family firm of tailors in Manchester.

The Slazenger & Sons name was introduced in 1876. Athletic clothing was produced from 1877.

Ralph and his brother Albert Slazenger (1857 – 1940) transferred the family firm from Manchester to 56 Cannon Street, London in 1879. The firm began to produce sporting equipment from around this time.

Following the move to London, Ralph Slazenger renounced his Judaism.

Slazenger tennis balls were used at the largest tournaments in England and Scotland by 1888.

British businesses controlled practically all of the European tennis equipment market by 1889.

Ralph Slazenger retired in 1901, leaving sole control of the firm with his brother.

The Slazenger lawn tennis ball became the official ball of the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament from 1902. The association continues to this day, and is one of the longest continually running sports sponsorships in the world.

Archdale Palmer (1865 – 1950), secretary of the All England Club, Wimbledon, was appointed general manager (equivalent to managing director) of Slazenger in 1905.

Ralph Slazenger was an extremely popular and genial man. He was a keen contributor to many charitable organisations. He died in 1910, and his gross estate was valued at £56,137.

Between 1890 and 1910 the Wimbledon tournament was won with Slazenger rackets 16 times.

Slazenger & Sons was registered as a public company, Slazengers Limited, in 1911. It had a capital of £265,000. It was the largest manufacturer of lawn tennis balls in the world.

Fred Perry (1909 – 1995) exclusively used Slazenger rackets from the beginning of his career.

A factory was established in Australia in 1922. A factory was established in Toronto, Canada in 1924.

H Gradidge & Sons, cricket bat manufacturers of Woolwich, was acquired in 1931.

A factory had been established in France by 1935.

The Slazenger factory at Woolwich produced more tennis balls than any other facility in the world by 1936. Slazenger was the leading tennis racket manufacturer in the world by 1937.

Slazenger established a factory at Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex in 1939-40.

Albert Slazenger died in 1940. His estate was valued at £444,263. Archdale Palmer succeeded him as chairman.

During the Second World War almost all production was dedicated towards producing goods for the war effort.

Slazenger acquired William Sykes Ltd, a cricket bat manufacturer with a site at Horbury near Wakefield, and a controlling interest in Ayres Sports Goods Ltd in 1942. These were largely to purchased to increase the Slazenger manufacturing base. A former war factory at Barnsley was also acquired in 1945, to establish a manufacturing centre for tennis balls.

After the war the Horbury site was modernised and extended. Slazenger closed its London factories in 1946 and concentrated production at Horbury, with 700 employees, and Barnsley, with a workforce of 200. As Barnsley had not yet reached full production, it was announced that a further 600 people would be employed. W S Dunning, the managing director of Slazengers, proclaimed that, “Yorkshire will soon be producing the bulk of the world’s sports equipment in the world’s most up-to-date plant”.

Slazenger was acquired by Dunlop Rubber, which was also a large manufacturer of sporting goods, in 1959.

Carlton Sports of Saffron Walden was acquired in the 1960s.

The footballs for the 1966 World Cup finals were made by Slazenger at Horbury. Around 30 sporting goods firms submitted balls for testing, and FIFA found Slazenger’s were of the highest quality.

Horbury was the largest factory of its type in Europe by 1983. However, manufacturing at Horbury ended in the late 1980s.

Dunlop Slazenger was sold to its management for £300 million in 1996. It was the leading producer of tennis balls in the world, and employed 3,000 people.

The Dunlop Slazenger golf division factory at Normanton, near Wakefield, was closed in 2000 with the loss of 69 jobs. Production was relocated to the United States.

The Barnsley factory was closed in 2002 and production was relocated to the Philippines. 134 jobs were lost.

Mike Ashley acquired Dunlop Slazenger in 2004 for £35-40 million.

Sunny prospects: Thomas Cook & Son

Thomas Cook & Son pioneered popular tourism.

Thomas Cook (1808 – 1892) was born in modest circumstances in Melbourne, Derbyshire. Cook was raised in the family’s New Connexion Baptist denomination. His father died when Cook was just four years old.

From the age of ten, Cook went to work as a gardener in Melbourne. There he observed that the heavy drinking habits of his employer were damaging to the business.

From the age of 14 Cook was apprenticed to a wood turner in Market Harborough, Leicestershire. He would sometimes begin work as early as 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, so that he could later indulge his passion of angle fishing in the River Trent.

Cook did not complete his apprenticeship, and instead went to work for a printer and publisher in Loughborough. His employer was a keen Baptist. Cook was engaged as a Baptist preacher from 1828.

Cook entered into business for himself from 1832, as a wood turner and cabinet market in Market Harborough. Cook became closely involved with the temperance movement at this time.

In 1841 Cook organised an excursion from Leicester to Loughborough for 570 temperance supporters. Later that year he moved to Leicester, where he worked as a printer and publisher.

Meanwhile, his travel agency business continued to grow. 300 people were taken to Scotland in 1846.

Statue of Thomas Cook (1808 – 1892) in Leicester

In 1851 Cook organised for 165,000 people to visit London, where the Great Exhibition was taking place. Profits were such that at this stage Cook was able to abandon the printing trade.

Cook’s son, John Mason Cook (1834 – 1899), was appointed head of a new office at Fleet Street, London in 1865. An energetic man, he made an immediate impact, and the subsequent growth of the business was due as much to the son as the father.

In 1871 John Mason Cook entered in full partnership with his father, and the firm became known as Thomas Cook & Son. In 1878 the son took full control of the firm.

Formerly the Thomas Cook head office in Leicester
Formerly the Thomas Cook head office in Leicester

Between 1855 and 1873, his business saw J M Cook travel an average of 50,000 miles a year. By 1891 Cook had 84 offices and 2,962 staff (978 of them in Egypt).

In 1899 Cook died, and the gross value of his estate was assessed at £390,000. Cook was succeeded in business by his three sons; Frank Henry, Ernest Edward and Thomas Albert.

In 1924 Thomas Cook & Son became a private limited company with a capital of £800,000.

In 1926 the head office was relocated to Berkeley Street, London.

In 1927 the firm was sold to the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits of Belgium, operators of the Orient Express, for £3.5 million. The merged company was the largest travel agency in the world.

In 1932 Frank Henry Cook died, with an estate at gross value of £1,054,769.

By 1939 Thomas Cook & Son had operations in 300 locations, and employed over 4,000 people. The head office at Berkeley Street, London, employed 1,500 people at peak periods.

Thomas Cook & Son was acquired by the British Transport Commission in 1948.

Business cycles: a history of Raleigh

Throughout most of its history, Raleigh was the largest manufacturer of bicycles in the world.

Frank Bowden (1848 – 1921) had recently returned from Hong Kong, where he had made his fortune, but wrecked his health. His doctor suggested he take up cycling as a remedy. After six months spent cycling on a Raleigh bike in the South of France, his commercial interest was aroused.

Bowden entered into partnership with the Raleigh manufacturers, who manufactured two to three bikes a week from a small shop in Nottingham. Soon afterwards he took over the whole business.

Raleigh had grown to become the largest bicycle manufacturer in the world by 1896.

During the First World War, the company voluntarily turned over its factories to the government to manufacture munitions.

There were 2,000 workers by 1924, making 400 bicycles every day, and over 100 motorcycles a week.

By 1933 the company had been overtaken by the Hercules Cycle Company of Aston, Birmingham.

During World War II, the Nottingham factory and it’s 9,000 employees were engaged almost entirely in producing munitions for the war effort.

The 1950s were a difficult period for the company. It took time to rebuild the business after the war, but by 1953 one million bicycles were produced. The company had expected to enjoy the post-war consumer goods boom, but the rise of the car impacted sales.

In 1958 Raleigh pioneered moped production in Britain. It was the only major British producer of mopeds, but abandoned the market to foreign rivals such as Honda in 1969.

Raleigh was subject to a friendly takeover by Tube Investments in 1960. In 1967 Raleigh had a turnover of £21 million when it merged with Moulton, which confirmed its position as the largest bicycle manufacturer in the world. By this time the Nottingham site spanned 64 acres, and 70 percent of production was exported to 140 countries.

By 1971 Raleigh had a turnover of £25 million, and production was mostly exported. In 1972 the company had a 67 percent share of the British cycle market, while foreign imports had a mere 9 percent share.

In the early 1970s cycle sales in America boomed, and Raleigh bikes, with their reputation for high quality, were in high demand. As a result, Raleigh cycle sales rose 55 percent between 1970 and 1971, leaving the company struggling to keep up with demand. By 1975 Raleigh employed 8,800 people.

In 1979 Raleigh had a production capacity of 2 million cycles a year at Nottingham, which occupied 7,500 workers on a single site. Together with other factories both in Britain and overseas it produced a total of 4 million cycles annually. 60 percent of British production was exported and it had a 60 percent share of its domestic market. It remained the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer.

By 1981 foreign rivals had captured a 36 percent share of the British market. Raleigh’s share had declined to 45 percent. The company’s workforce had been reduced to 4.000. Raleigh was no longer vertically integrated, and instead imported all of its components apart from bike frames. Its capacity was 1-2 million cycles a year.

In 1987, following three years of losses and after reducing the workforce to 1,800, Tube Investments sold Raleigh to Derby International for £18 million. Derby’s timing proved fortuitous as mountain bikes began to enjoy strong sales growth. In 1989 Peugeot sold its loss-making bicycle arm to Derby.

By 2003 the Nottingham factory’s lease had expired, and the owner wanted to develop the site. Raleigh could have built a new factory, but instead decided to relocated production to the Far East, which reduced manufacturing costs by 25 percent. The bikes are still designed in Nottingham. In 2011 the company sold 850,000 bikes and employed 430 staff. In 2012 Raleigh was sold to Accell for £62 million.

Jaguar ‘British Villains’ ad

Have you seen the new Jaguar ‘British Villains” ad? I first caught it on YouTube, then they showed it on Top Gear, and more recently I’ve seen it airing in UK cinemas.

I like the ad. It’s distinctive and has a lot of character, which I think has much to do with the actors hired by Jaguar: Ben Kingsley, Mark Strong and Tom Hiddleston. The three actors cover a lots of ground: Kingsley is an Academy Award-winning septuagenarian, Strong is a rising middle aged actor who is known for playing villains, and Hiddleston is a rising star, best known for playing Loki in the Thor superhero films. By covering three generations, Jaguar broadens its potential appeal. The inclusion of Hiddleston encourages individuals in their 20s and 30s to aspire to own a Jaguar, even if they can’t afford one yet.

The high calibre of acting talent associates the Jaguar brand with quality and refinement. It does this while avoiding the pitfall of seeming stuffy. This is because mainstream Hollywood actors give the ad accessibility and a contemporary feel. The ad also utilises humour, which is fairly unusual and thus distinctive for a sports car ad.

The actors and the London setting firmly establish Jaguar’s British provenance. The ad also attempts to associate itself with the kudos of the James Bond movies: a high speed chase involving sports cars, helicopters and planes, the tuxedos, the camp villains. This is Bond association on the sly, as not many viewers will realise that movie Bond has never driven a Jaguar.

The ad is of course very masculine, which makes sense, as most Jaguar drivers are probably men.

The tagline “It’s good to be bad” is fairly clever as well, as it acknowledges that a sport car is a kind of guilty pleasure, a frivolous, un-necessary purchase.

All in all, a decent ad from a brand that has suffered from a lack of a strong brand image.

BBC set to axe one of its TV channels

I’m an avid BBC Four viewer. It’s probably my favourite television channel. But there are maybe a few new programmes on it each month, and they could just as easily be shown on BBC Two. Plus, with people increasingly recording television programmes onto their personal video recorders (such as Sky+) or catching up on iPlayer, there is less need for people to catch a programme during its original run. There is also less need for a channel like BBC Four that consists mostly of repeats.

But at least BBC Four fills a niche that the free market doesn’t (and won’t) cater for. High quality content is expensive, and the channel has relatively low viewing figures. Stand up, BBC Three. There is nothing on the BBC’s “youth” orientated channel that can not and is not supplied by the free market. E4, ITV2 as well as more general entertainment channels such as Five. Nor can BBC Three be said to provide a public service.

BBC Four sends out the right message to the public. That the BBC will continue to invest in high quality, high-brow entertainment. That TV will not be relegated to the status of the “idiot box”. That TV can stimulate thought, debate, discussion. That TV can be a respectable medium for intellectual conversation. BBC, please keep BBC Four, and axe BBC Three.

Source for original story:

The saga of SegaWorld London

Operating in central London between 1996 and 1999, SegaWorld was the largest indoor theme park in the world.

Nick Leslau and Nigel Wray paid £96 million to acquire the Trocadero on Piccadilly Circus in 1994. It housed a Planet Hollywood restaurant, a cinema, retailers such as HMV and the Guinness World Records experience, but 110,000 square feet across seven floors remained unused.

The partners struck a deal with the video game manufacturer Sega to open an indoor theme park. Sega would operate the park rent-free, with the landlords receiving half of the profits. At the time Sega, along with Nintendo, dominated the world gaming scene, and Sonic the Hedgehog was at the peak of his popularity.

SegaWorld had already had a “light launch” in Bournemouth, with a £3 million video game arcade that opened in July 1993. After the London SegaWorld opened, the Bournemouth park’s name was changed to “Sega Park” to avoid confusion.

The London site was modelled on Sega’s Joypolis theme park in Tokyo. Although Joypolis was smaller, it contained many of the same rides as the London park. When it had opened in 1994, it too had been the largest indoor theme park in the world.

SegaWorld London logo

SegaWorld London was the result of a £50 million investment and was the largest indoor theme park in the world. Sega boasted that over $1 billion in research and development had helped produce the park. SegaWorld had six rides which combined traditional and virtual reality elements. The concentration on virtual reality was partly due to the fact that space was constrained in the Trocadero. Each ride cost around £2 million to build. Alongside the rides were 400 coin-operated arcade machines.

SegaWorld also contained the longest above-ground escalator in Europe. Customers embarked upon it at the park entrance, and it took them up all seven floors in a single run. It was so large that during installation it had to be lowered in through the Trocadero roof in five sections.

SeagWorld London had massive marketing hype. Head of marketing for Sega Europe, James Bidwell, called SegaWorld, “the most sensational new tourist attraction in the world”. Buzz words like “futuractive” were used to describe the park by its marketing agency.

SeagWorld London opened in September 1996, with a launch party featuring Robbie Williams. Broadsheet reviewers at the park’s opening annihilated the venture. The Daily Telegraph described the park as “little short of a disgrace” and a “joyless tourist trap”. Cosmo Landesman of the Sunday Times described the park as “prosaic and tacky”. Meanwhile, Tom Whitewell of The Guardian said “it’s not all that different from your local shopping centre” and described the ride technology as “nearly always obvious and unsubtle”. Several reviewers pointed out that one of the rides was a dressed-up dodgems.

It was overpriced (£12 entry for adults), rides broke down, the queues were lengthy, and it failed to live up to the marketing hype. The coin-op machines cost £1 a time, and were already available elsewhere without an entrance fee. Laslau reported his disappointment:

Sega could not deliver what they said they’d deliver… It looked amazing, but their rides were not capable of delivering the number of people they needed to deliver to support the operation. People were queuing for ages … It was a question of over-anticipation and under-delivery.

Reviews following the launch event did not improve. In December 1996, John Tribe reported the experience to be a “glitzy con-trick” in The Times. That month, the entrance fee was reduced to £2 but fees for the rides of between 50p and £3 were introduced in an attempt to reduced the hour-plus queues that developed during busy periods.

In February 1997, it was revealed that SegaWorld visitor numbers, at 1.1 million, as well as average customer spend, were about half those anticipated. The park lacked basic facilities such as a bar, chairs or cloakrooms.

After a £1 million loss in 1997, admission fees were removed entirely in December that year and an IMAX cinema was installed. John Conlan, the Trocadero’s new chairman admitted:

We have realised that this is not an indoor theme park. It is an amusement arcade and you would not normally pay to go to an amusement arcade.

In March 1998, a new £2 million 125 ft free fall ride was opened, sponsored by Pepsi. But this new investment failed to stem continued losses of £2 million a year, and Sega was evicted by Trocadero management in September 1999.

The interactivity, optimism for the future, over-expectation and consequent media cynicism would later characterise the Millennium Dome, which was a kind of theme park/interactive museum.

The queues and the ride breakdowns, and the rip-off price reflected poorly on Sega. A Sega World operated in Sydney, Australia between 1997 and 2000, but closed down under similar circumstances.

Bouncing back: Dunlop Slazenger

The Dunlop and Slazenger brands remain prominent in sporting goods, especially in racket sports such as tennis, squash, golf, badminton, hockey and cricket. It remains the largest British-owned sporting business.

Dunlop was established as a rubber goods company in 1889. In 1909, it moved into sporting goods when it began to manufacture twelve dozen golf balls a day at Manor Mill in Birmingham. In their first year, Dunlop balls won five of the major British golf tournaments.

From 1924 the company branched out into tennis balls, and from 1925, tennis rackets. The decade saw Dunlop established as a leading sporting goods supplier due to a mechanised production line, which reduced costs, as well as a strong commitment to research and development. It was considered the foremost manufacturer of golf balls.

Production of the golf balls was temporarily discontinued in 1941 due to war work and a lack of rubber supply. After the war, Dunlop transferred production to Speke, Liverpool, where it had leased a former aircraft factory.

Dunlop’s Fort Maxply tennis rackets were used by more than half of the competitors at Wimbledon in 1952.

In 1959, Slazenger, a major English sporting goods rival, was acquired. In 1960, exports by Dunlop Sport totalled £1.6 million.

In 1971, astronaut Alan Shepard used a Dunlop 65 ball when he played golf on the moon.

Production of rackets at Waltham Abbey in Essex fell prey to cheaper imports produced overseas, and the factory was closed in 1979, with production concentrated on the Slazenger site at Horbury in West Yorkshire.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, the company was slow to see that wooden rackets were going the way of the dinosaur. Eventually, it started manufacturing the new lightweight graphite rackets, and wooden racket production ended in 1984.

From 1981 to 1988, Dunlop Sports sponsored John McEnroe in the most expensive tennis sponsorship deal in the world, worth $500,000 annually, plus commissions on McEnroe branded rackets.

More tennis Grand Slams have been won with Dunlop rackets than any other brand.

By 1982 Dunlop Slazenger had annual sales of £100 million, but it was struggling to remain profitable. In 1983 the company lost £6 million. Alan Finden-Crofts was appointed chief executive, and identified the company weaknesses as a local (as opposed to international) outlook, weak marketing and a lack of a global strategy. By 1986 he had turned around the company to make an annual profit of £16 million.

The Slazenger factory at Horbury, Yorkshire was closed in the late 1980s.

During the breakup of the Dunlop empire between 1996 and 1998, Dunlop Slazenger was sold to its management, backed by the private equity firm Cinven, for £330 million. Cinven sold Dunlop’s rights to the Puma sports brand in the UK back to its German parent. Cinven invested heavily into the business to make it profitable.

In 2002 a large tennis ball manufacturing plant in Barnsley, Yorkshire was closed, and the machinery was shipped to a facility outside Manila in the Philippines. Token production in Germany and South Africa also ended, and the Philippine plant became the sole supplier of Dunlop Slazenger tennis balls. Due to Dunlop Slazenger’s high market share, the company estimated that 60 percent of the world’s tennis balls and 90 percent of squash balls were manufactured at the site.

By 2003 Dunlop was producing around 250,000 golf balls every day.

In 2004 Cinven sold the company to Sports Direct International for £40 million.

A history of Donnay Sports

Donnay is best known today as a cheap clothing brand available from Sports Direct stores.


Founded in Belgium in 1913, Donnay became involved in sporting goods in 1934 when they began to manufacture wooden tennis rackets. Throughout the 1970s, Donnay was the world’s largest producer of tennis rackets.

From 1979 to 1983 Donnay was buoyed by its sponsorship of Bjorn Borg, the superstar tennis player of the era. As the company did not have a marketing manager until 1987, the company image during that era was very closely tied to Borg.

Donnay first ran into trouble in 1973 when Wilson Sporting Goods dropped the company as its contract tennis racket manufacturer in favour of cheaper production in Taiwan. The Wilson contract had accounted for 1.3 million rackets out of a total production figure of 2 million.

Donnay was also slow to make the switch from the increasingly obsolete wooden rackets to the lightweight graphite models. The company manufactured just 3,000 graphite rackets in 1980, against 1.8 million wooden rackets.

When Bjorn Borg retired from tennis in 1983, it was the final nail in the coffin for Donnay. The company had tied its fortunes too closely to a single figure, and had maintained production in Belgium whilst competitors moved production to the Far East. Its production line was ten times longer than rival manufacturers.

The company lost money every year after Borg’s retirement, until it declared bankruptcy in 1988. It was purchased by Bernard Tapie, a French singer turned businessman, who later acquired Adidas.

Tapie had a major success when he signed an 18 year old Andre Agassi between 1989 and 1992. Despite this, the company struggled to maintain profitability. The local government in Belgium acquired it to save it from bankruptcy in 1993. The factory in Belgium was closed down, and a company that had employed 600 people now employed 25 at a distribution centre. In 1996, Mike Ashley, the owner of Sports Direct, acquired the global rights to the brand for $3.9 million.

Ashley originally supported the brand as a leading tennis company. However in 2004, he acquired Dunlop Slazenger. Dunlop-Slazenger became the prestige tennis brand, and Donnay became the marque for cheap rackets and clothing.

Note: if it seems as if I just mined this from Wikipedia, I was myself largely responsible for writing the Wikipedia page as of 2014. (

The symbolism of the cigar

The cigar represents confidence, even defiance. From Churchill, to Guevara, to Castro. For Churchill and Castro, the cigar represented confidence and defiance during a time of immense national crisis. Despite giving up cigars in the 1980s, the association is so powerful that Castro is still firmly associated with the product.

The cigar is a symbol of success. Partly this is down to the product’s generally pricey nature. No rendition of a “fat cat” businessman is complete without a large cigar.

The cigar commands respect, but can also be ridiculous: see Groucho Marx.

But a cigar also represents relaxation. A good cigar takes at least 30 minutes to smoke. If you light a cigar, you generally need to sit down. The product instructs observers that “this is me time”. Jay-Z has spoken about cigars being a kind of self-reward.

As with most premium products, the heritage, provenance and craftsmanship elements also all come into play.