Telecoms Services – Contract or Prepaid?

Why the Large Telecom Operators Want you to Sign Up to a Contract. What you Should Know.

Foreword - A Simple Guide to the Telecoms Business

In the old days – 30 years ago plus – there were no Mobile Phone Networks, and for most people, to make a telephone call anywhere,  a “fixed” line was needed. This would be provided by a simple cable which was in most cases connected by engineers to the building concerned or PayPhone installation from the nearest telephone pole or Exchange.

Satellite phones were available but the cost was beyond the pockets of most consumers.


As a result, the owners of the “cable” were in a very strong bargaining position and could basically charge whatever they wanted to charge for (1) connecting the cable (2) providing a maintenance service and (3) for deciding what the call costs should be for national and international calls. The main Cable Network was known as the PSTN (Public Service Telephone Network) and each country had it’s own PSTN which enjoyed a Monopoly on telephone traffic. Two well known examples of these national monopolies at the time are AT&T (American Telephone and Telegraph – formerly BELL) in the USA and British Telecom (BT) in the UK. Both these companies used a Contract to provide services to the customer, and it was a “dream business” – rather like printing their own money.  Armed with millions of contracts, PSTNs could leverage massive sums of money to develop their businesses further.

Fast Forward to Today

The main changes in the last 30-40 years have come about for three main reasons:

Removal of Fixed Line Monopolies. First, for the fixed line or cable services, the Governments of most countries woke up to the fact that a national Telecoms Monopoly was not a good idea, and introduced competition, by forcing the PSTNs to share their cable networks. This was not entirely successful in that the PSTN and the new competition had different ideas about the value of the existing cable networks, but it did result in a gradual and nominal lowering of prices for the consumer. 

And most of the old fixed line call and data traffic is now carried over fibre optic cable.

The Advance of Mobile. Secondly, the new Mobile Networks – which of course do not rely on cable to transmit traffic, but use VHF Radio waves on special frequencies under licence  – have now established their own extensive arrays of Transmitters/Receivers, so their coverage (ability to connect any call to any number) is pretty much on a par with the PSTNs. Whereas a cable customer could be identified by the number allocated to them, Mobile Networks relied on a new technical invention called the SIM card (Subscriber Identification Module)

The Internet  of Things The huge advances in internet technology has had a dramatic effect on the Telecoms business, because  there is a third network now available for telephone call traffic using SIP and VOIP technology. Not only that, but the Internet provides Video Communication and Messaging which is to all intents and purposes free (always remembering that Internet Bandwidth does have to be paid for by somebody!)

Who Supplies and Controls Internet Access?

Access to the Internet is of course controlled by the Telecoms Operators – both Cable and Mobile. This is why so much money has been spent by PSTNs and other fixed line Operator companies and Mobile Operators – the goal is to have faster and faster internet connection (broadband) using fibre optics – fixed line or cable – and 5G from Mobile networks. 

So How Do We Normally Pay for our Internet and Telecoms Services?

Telecom companies – and by this we mean both Landline (cable or fixed line) and Mobile Operators – want you to sign up to a Contract.


Because this business model makes the most profit for them and – more importantly – gives them the ability to raise finance to pay for their future expenditure, be it taking over another company or upgrading their networks. It is important to realise that the cost of any one telephone call over an existing network is in reality as near zero as makes no difference – even for most international calls. The percentage profit on any telephone call is colossal, which is why the Contracts can seem to be so attractive, with “unlimited call minutes” etc. etc.

The same applies to Internet Access – which is now part of most Contracts. Most consumers will never approach the maximum bandwidth or maximum call minutes or maximum SMS messages available on any contract: even if they do, the profit margins are so high that it is immaterial. 

Better still for the Mobile networks are contracts which include the purchase of a new mobile phone (more profit) and which tie consumers in for two years + (with penalties for early termination).

And they have your Bank Account details.

Consumer Inertia

And once a consumer has committed to a Contract, the Networks rely on the inertia of most consumers to prevent them making changes. If you want to experience the best sales pitches from these Networks, and assuming you are able to connect with their “customer service” without waiting for hours on the phone, try to cancel your contract and see the immediate response from their Sales Retention Team. You will be surprised at the improvements that can be made to any Contract you may have, because their absolute priority is to retain their Contracted customers.

So What Prepaid Options are Available?

Pre-Paid Mobile

Most Mobile Networks will offer prepaid call time and SMS messaging, but the packages are not always generous and the call charges normally expensive. There is also an expiry date – which means that the prepaid package you have will terminate after a fixed period whether or not you have used your allocated call minutes or SMS quota.

Pre-Paid Calling Accounts – Local Access Numbers

The Calling Account is the successor to the old phonecard – more information on Calling Accounts can be found at

Calling Accounts are worth checking out if you need to make international calls, which are often a good deal cheaper. However, to use a Calling Account, you will need first to call the allocated local or Freephone access number, which will require a conventional landline or mobile phone, and for this reason they will not be as convenient. On the plus side, many Calling Accounts offer international access for a number of different countries which can be very useful and when used in Internet Mode, offer many different services including VoiceMail and Personal Numbers. 

Pre-Paid Data SIM Card

The Prepaid data SIM card is available from most Mobile Networks and is in our opinion the best way to make economies and avoid a Contract. With Internet access, all the normal messaging and chat options are there and voice calls can be made using FREE browser, mobile or desktop applications from one of the many companies specialising in VOIP and SIP calls – including Calling Accounts. The only downside is that most of these Pay as You Go or Pre-Paid Data SIMs have an expiry date.

So What Do You Recommend?

Obviously, there are many different options and everybody has different priorities. Luckily there are a large number of different Contracts available, and you need to make sure you are not paying more than you need to.

Without careful management, prepaid options for voice SMS and internet could actually end up being more expensive than contracts – which is good news for the Telecoms Operators and not entirely accidental.

Our recommendation is to regularly review any contract you may have and make sure that you are on the best contract which is suited to your particular requirements: if you are nowhere near your allowed quota (Internet Bandwidth, Call Minutes, SMS), ask for a cheaper package. Conversely, make sure you are not being penalised for exceeding your quota.

If they want to keep you as a customer, make them work for it – and don’t be afraid to ask advice, as the salesman will know far better than you do which Contracts may be more suitable.

Our own solution as a small business is to use a combination of contract and prepaid: we have a Data SIM on contract for our internet access, which provides sufficient bandwidth and a fixed number for Caller ID purposes, and we use the free browser mobile and desktop applications for Voice Calls from a prepaid Calling Account service. This combination means that we can operate economically from just about anywhere with any device.

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The Importance of the Right Domain Name


Themes and Branding from an Investor Perspective

Just a thought about Domain Names and Themes and Branding.

If you take the view that your purchaser will normally purchase a Domain Name for a business or business idea, then it seems to me to make sense to have Domain names that are descriptive and lend themselves to a Theme or Brand.

In our case, we are not like Mike Mann in that we cannot afford the massive portfolio that he has accumulated, and it seems to me that there is an element of “pot-luck” involved in his choice of domain names and finding a Buyer. He must have some system  and good luck to him!

It is also my experience that Domain Names can take many years to sell and the key to reducing this time frame is:

(1) to choose the right Domain Names with potential
(2) to make sure that they are heavily promoted and marketed to the greatest possible audience.

We have accumulated a small domain portfolio over the years, and have always tried to choose domain names that fit with our own business experience as having potential for other Business owners.  I like the idea of themes – for example, domains beginning with everyday words like “just” or “easy” – as can be seen on our InternetDomains.ForSale website. Where we need to improve is with raising the profile of our site – Work In Progress!!   I also like the idea from for monetarising or renting domain names without actually selling them. I am working on this concept – it seems to me that I can take this one step further with our WebMaster programme and advertise a “Ready for Business” Domain with a working site attached available for Rent. Any comments welcome.

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Domain Buddy on email Marketing

The Dos and Don'ts of successful email Marketing in 2021


I have been receiving and sending business e-mails for over 20 years and am always surprised by the lack of professionalism shown by most people who use emails as a means of attracting customers, either for services or to sell a product.

A marketing email should not be a “phishing expedition” where the sender has no idea whether what is being offered has any relevance to the Recipent.

In 2021, Consumers have multiple choices, and a wealth of product service and sales information available to them on the Internet. So email marketing is no longer the simple solution to increase sales of a service or a product. 

However, it can be effective, BUT some simple rules need to be observed.

The first 10 minutes of my business day is spent clearing my spam folders and checking – and invariably deleting – any other emails which have managed to evade my GMail “filters”.

Like most people in business, I value my time and do not want to be the recipient of unwanted emails – unless they arouse my interest in the first 5 or 10 seconds. This is the ONLY time available to make a good impression.

If I do check an email whose sending address I do not recognise, before deleting it, there are some simple rules that automatically apply which persuade me whether or not to “read on”.

Domain Buddy Rules for email Marketing

Relevancy to the Recipient

The email must be relevant to the business, and this should be immediately demonstrated by using a well constructed short email “Subject” or  “Title”. It should also demonstrate that you have made the effort to understand the business carried on by the recipient – which can normally be done by visiting their Business Web Sites. Best of all, and if at all possible, you should suggest how your product or service can specifically benefit the recipient.  The fact that you have demonstrated that you have taken the time to do the research will often impress the recipient enough to avoid your email ending up in the Spam folder. Even if the ideas you have suggested are impractical, this approach will improve your chances dramatically.

email Format

Do not use “highlighting” and bold text or other weird fonts, colours and tables. Keep the format simple and keep it professional. It is preferable to have a name – as in “Dear Mr Smith” for example – but remember that people change their jobs regularly, so make sure it is valid and accurate. It is probably safer to use “Dear Sir/Madam” if there is no verified name.

Politeness and Honesty

The email must be positive and polite. One of the big mistakes made is to tell the recipient of an email that his existing product or service is inferior in some way. For example, our business has a number of websites and we have many unsolicited emails telling us why our sites could be improved – either by re-design, or by making unrealistic SEO performance promises. Most businesses are well aware of where they could improve, but a negative comment or untruthful promise does not win a sale.

Well Written

By this I mean the email should be in good English. English is the commercial language used in the internet. If the email contains poor grammar or incorrect spelling, this reflects directly on the sender. Apart from this, the email should be brief and to the point, and offer a way to take action without unreasonable commitment from the recipient. Examples of the service or product offered, with a favourable review, are always a good idea providing that they are genuine.

Recognisable Sender

Don’t use email lists, or people who populate website forms. There is nothing more annoying to a website owner than to see one of his customer contact forms being used to try and sell him something. Send any marketing emails from a personal or business email address that is genuine. There are many excellent sales people from India, but they seem to think that if they admit they are from India, this will reduce their chances: some even use fictitious Western names. Do not do this.

Contact Requests

Do not expect that a prospective purchaser of your service or product will want to follow up with a phonecall or messenger chat. If the marketing email passes the initial tests, and the recipient actually reads the email, make it easy for the recipient to find more information without commitment – possibly by providing a link to a website and/or a Video with that additional information. By all means provide genuine contact details, but for the simple reason that you have not yet earnt the trust of the recipient, it is highly unlikely that he or she will want to contact you at this stage.

Be Patient

email marketing is a lot like fishing but not phishing! Just make sure that the email sent out meets the above guidelines, and makes it easy for the recipient to obtain more information without having to commit to anything. This may seem to be against all the familiar rules of CALL TO ACTION and BUY NOW which you will find on commercial sites, but the first step is to reassure the potential customer that the email you have sent should not go the spam folder or be deleted. After this, with carefully worded and polite follow ups, without pressure, and designed to create trust, you may eventually make a sale!

How We Respond to Marketing emails that do not get Spammed

“Why Your Marketing email is flawed”
“Yours is one of the very few emails that I am responding to.
However, as with many other organisations looking for business, you make what I consider to be the fundamental error of explaining what you do rather than how you can specifically help our particular business.
It is fairly obvious that you have not checked our websites and have no concept of our requirements our products and services or what may be of interest to us.
You are relying on us to analyse your product and inform you of what we may need rather than providing some ideas or strategies for us to consider. 
This in my opinion is counter-productive as we do not have the time.or the inclination to do so – however good your product or service may be.
Kind regards”

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My Son Russell Warren

Russell James Alexis Noble Warren

My son Russ was born on November 11th 1980: the name James was the name Rosie and I had chosen for his older brother, who unfortunately did not survive. It was also the name of my Grandfather on my mother’s side, and my second name. Russell and Alexis were names we both liked, although there was no-one in the family called Russell or Alexis. Noble was my father’s family name. There was no Proctor family name!

I was with Russ in my house in Ealing until he was 5 years old, and was very involved as a parent, doing many of the things that modern day parenting encourages – such as nappy changing etc.! As a boy, he was a quiet character, and could be difficult. And he loved Star Wars – I remember many toys based on characters in that film.

As explained previously, it was 2002 before we met up again as father and son, as he had spent most of his life in Yorkshire with Rosie’s family. The meeting in 2002 at his University, Royal Holloway, was thanks to Jenny – his girlfriend at the time – who persuaded Russ that he should “reach out” to his father.

Once we had re-united, I took both Russ and Jenny to meet my parents in Wiltshire, and we started seeing each other on a regular basis. I remember one family holiday in Crete together, where Michele and I took Russ and Jenny to stay in our favourite hotel, the Dolphin Bay.

Over the next seven years, post University, Russ first moved to Derbyshire with Jenny’s parents, until their relationship ended, and then returned to the London area in 2004 to work in sales with the HSBC as part of their Graduate scheme.

Russ was single at the time, and living in a small “bedsit” in Chiswick: unfortunately our Thames Village apartment was just not big enough, otherwise I would have suggested he come and live with us until he was “on his feet”

In 2009 I was able to offer him a job with my Telecoms Business, and  we started to spend more “father and son” time together with games of tennis at my local club in Richmond and a few beers at local pubs in Chiswick. Unfortunately I was not a Golf enthusiast which was a sport at which Russ excelled! It was very fulfilling for me to be able to discuss business matters with my son, and advise him where I could on “everyday” problems – such as repaying a large student loan.

In 2013, I had a few personal problems and had no choice but to “downsize” the company, which meant that Russ had to consider another career. I very much regretted the decision I had to make, but it was a choice between him and Liam Leckie, a loyal consultant with me for more than 15 years, and with a family to support.

However, I am proud to say that Russ rose to the challenge, and after several Account Manager posts with Technology companies, he is now an Indirect Sales Leader working at BMC

Since 2013, he has also met and married the lovely Jo, and they have three wonderful children, Noah, Mason and very recently Sofia-Rose. I know that they are very happy together  – and the large family includes Jo’s son Tyrell from a previous marriage.

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Beginning Again in Telecoms

How I started a New Telecoms Business


While in Bankruptcy, I had penty of time to consider my next move.

It seemed to me that the UK telecommunications industry continued to offer a good business opportunity, despite the failure of NPC. I still had the names and private contact details of the original Shareholders. I reasoned that since they knew the history of NPC, and that I had been proved correct in forecasting the demise of that company if I did not have Shareholder support, then some of them may have been prepared to give me a second chance.

Phonecard Services Ltd. (from 2002 easy-dial Ltd)

In April 1995 I formed a new UK Company – Phonecard Services Ltd – with my wife Michele and Gideon Goldschmidt ex NPC as the two initial directors: obviously I could not be a director as I was still “serving out” my time in bankruptcy.

However, I did not want to make the same mistake of relying on an independent software consultant to control the Telecoms Exchange we would be using: time had moved on and more reliable systems were available with 24/7 service contracts. There would be no need to use Telehouse or the equivalent, as the providers of the Exchange (or Switch) we would be using had their own “server facilities” and so there was no role for Gideon Goldschmidt who resigned as a director in September 1995.

The principal product and market for the new company was the same as before – a “prepaid phonecard” service, serving the tourist industry, students, and anyone else who wanted to reduce the cost of their international telephone calling. Although the Mobile phone networks had made rapid progress in 2/3 years, prices were still high and network coverage not always reliable. And the Internet was only just beginning to be a factor – it was not until 2000 or so that I had to change course and move away from the Phonecard concept. What happened to the phonecard market and how it evolved to the 21st Century Calling Account is explained in the Power Comms website at

Structure and Funding – Initial Capital of £25000

During the next six months I canvassed my previous NPC Shareholders and obtained support immediately from 10 former Shareholders including, of course, Charles Sayer. 

Several meetings were held at the private homes of two of the Shareholders – Peter Bolt and Raymond Bridges – and the company structure and Board appointments were agreed.

The list of Initial Shareholders in the new company were:
Peter Bolt: Experienced Company Director and Chairman elect
Raymond Bridges: Entrepeneur and Finance Director elect
Charles Sayer: Director elect
John Chapman: Friend and business partner of Ray Bridges
Colin Morley
Veronica Goldberg-Steuart
Peter Doye
Chris Sykes
Stuart Foulser
Christopher Hill

In late September 1995, the structure of the new company was in place with £25000 of startup capital provided by the above Shareholders, and trading commenced.

Board Meetings were held on a regular basis to monitor progress and sales, and I reported to the Board of Directors. Our Accountants were Handley Roberts, a local London firm introduced by Charles Sayer.

Because I was the only “salesman” as such, and at the time solely responsible for all marketing and technical issues, I asked Jackie Peat to join the company as administrator and Customer Service Manager. At the time we were both based at home, so enquiries and customer support were dealt with by diverting calls to landlines or mobiles as required.

Company Progress – The First 5 years 1995 – 2000

After one year of trading, the company had acquired a nnumer of customers including the London Tourist Board and a number of Universties and Colleges, and had done enough in sales terms to prove it’s viability. I recommended to the Board that all previous NPC shareholders should be awarded gratis an equal number of Founder Shares in the Company as a goodwill gesture and to establish our credibility. The cost of issuing these Founder Shares was minimal, and met by the Company, but it was appreciated by many of the original NPC investors.

As a direct result of this forward thinking, over the next five years to 2001, Phonecard Services Ltd – later easy-dial Ltd – raised approximately £250,000 in additional working capital from its own shareholders by staging regular Share Issues.

Company Progress – 2000 and beyond

Danger Signals.

By 2000, the UK telecommunications market had undergone a drastic change, caused by two things: firstly the rise and rise of Mobile Networks – driven by the ever-decreasing size, cost and capability of the handsets – and secondly, the Internet, with the hugely important impact it was beginning to have on sales and marketing. There was also a third factor at work, and that was that increased competition from the new Mobile Networks – Vodafone, Orange, O2, T-Mobile to name but four – also meant that national and international call prices were falling.

The “phonecard” was no longer such a necessary product – most customers could now afford mobile phones, national call prices were reasonable, national network coverage had drastically improved and the new handsets could do a lot more than the standard phonecard.

Steps Taken To Remain in Business.

The first thing I did  was to change the name of the company from Phonecard Services Ltd – which by now was giving the wrong message to new and potential customers. From 2002, the company name was changed to easy-dial Ltd, which better represented our product: I also obtained a  number of domain names to establish our Brand on the Internet, which included, and

The second step was to re-brand our lead product from a “phonecard” to a “Calling Account”. In reality, our old phonecard product used exactly the same technology, which was a VOIP based telecoms switch, and so apart from adding further access numbers to the service which were Local numbers (not Freephone numbers) we had a 21st Century product.

The third step was to set up a number of commercial websites so that we could take advantage of the Internet Revolution and tailor our  new business to these websites, which would mean that from 2005 there was no real requirement for an office location where customers would actually visit. The  Registered Office is now at 85 Great Portland Street London W1W 7LT.

Our new “internet presence” in turn led directly to another source of business, which was international reselling, where our customers were telecom resellers, either selling directly to their own customers or using callshop technology. We provided services to resellers in countries including the UAE, Zambia, Libya and Angola. 

Today, the company remains very much in business  and has a number of working sites which explain in detail the current products and services available – including and

The company also has its own You Tube Video Channel – primarily provided for its customers to explain how the Calling Accounts can be best used and the features available.

I also recently built an independent website – – which explains how the calling account became the successor to the phonecard.

Rosedale House Serviced Office 2001 to 2005

Rosedale House Richmond
Serviced Office Rosedale House Richmond

In approximately 2001, after successfully rasing business capital, I decided that the company needed an office presence as both a Registered Office address, and a centre for Board Meetings, office administration and sales.

I chose a small but comfortable business centre in Richmond, close to the train station and with good access from the main roads leading to the M25 and Central London. This was at 2A Rosedale House, Rosedale Road – see photo.

It remained the Office for easy-dial Ltd for some years until the advance in available technology caused a re-think. Since easy-dial was by then primarily an Internet based business, with business conducted “on-line”, and this coupled with the advances in home computer capability with printing and fax facilities, meant that by 2005 there was no further justification for a physical office presence – apart from as a meeting room, and meetings could easily be organised at other venues.

The DTI Experience - A Tricky Moment

In 2002, easy-dial’s Board of Directors – which by then included myself, Charles Sayer, Garo Molozian and Susan Ward – decided to organise another round of fund raising to finance further company expansion.

This time, the list of potential investors would not be limited to our existing shareholders, but we would use the same procedure to find new investors – as had been done before in 1993/1994 with NPC and using Matrix Securities Ltd. I consulted with Charles and the legal firm that he introduced to me, who were allegedly specialists in this particular area of the Law, and to make sure that the Matrix Securities route was still “legal”. Having obtained the “green light” from both lawyer and Matrix Securities Ltd, I developed a new prospectus for easy-dial Ltd, and the mailing went out to prospective investors in late September 2002.

At first, all seemed well, and we began to receive application forms and cheques from new investors at our Richmond office. One morning in October 2002, I received a home visit from a gentleman who said he was from the DTI, and he had some enquiries about easy-dial Ltd: I refused him entry to my home, which he seemed to expect, and asked him to meet me at the Richmond Offices later – to which he agreed.

Expecting potential problems arising from our new Share Issue, I called our Directors together to an office meeting and explained the situation: shortly after this, the nice man from the DTI turned up at the offices, and started by requesting access to all our confidential information. 

I called the lawyers recommended by Charles ( I forget the name of the Firm) and requested advice as to how easy-dial should deal with this request. To my surprise, I was given direct advice by the senior partner to invite the DTI man to leave the premises! I double-checked this advice on the phone, but the advice stood, and I assumed that the lawyer concerned had some knowledge of our legal rights under these circumstances. And so I explained to the nice DTI man that our lawyers had recommended that we ask him to leave!

This turned out to be a big mistake, and only incensed the DTI, which at the time was the principal regulator for UK Companies. We paid dearly for the “advice” and had to endure additional inspections and the threat of company closure in the weeks that followed. There was a fairly acrimonious “hearing”  a month or so later – without our “legal advisors” – where an eventual compromise was reached whereby easy-dial had to notify all of the new Shareholders that the procedure we had used to contact them had breached certain requirements, and to offer to return any new investments in full. 

Interestingly enough, only half the new investors opted for the return of their money, and Martin Sharp – one of the new Shareholders from that Issue – in 2004 became Chairman of our Board of Directors. However the experience was not a pleasant one. I assume that there had been some initial complaint from one of the “names” on the Matrix Securities list, and this led to the DTI’s involvement. Some time later, in 2012, I notice that Matrix Securities Ltd was placed into administration.

easy-dial Principal Colleagues and Personalities

Over the first 20 years, I have reason to be grateful for the support and contributions from a number of individuals, some of whom were friends and close colleagues and all of whom contributed to a greater or lesser extent to easy-dial.

Peter Bolt (Dec’d) 
Chairman and Director 1995 to 1999 and Initial Shareholder. Living in Kent,  Peter was “old school” with huge charm and a good deal of experience with UK companies. He remained Chairman until he felt that the company no longer needed his services, which I much appreciated.

Ray Bridges
– Director 1995 to 1998 and Initial Shareholder. From West Sussex, Ray is a successful entrepeneur and businessman and brought a good deal of practical experience to the company. As with Peter Bolt, he remained on the Board until he felt that the company no longer needed his services, which again I much appreciated.

Charles Sayer
– Director 1995 to 2013 and Initial Shareholder. As explained before, Charles is a good friend and easy-dial’s longest serving director. He introduced me to Matrix Securities Ltd, which is where the investors were identified first for NPC and then for Phonecard Services Ltd. He recommended the Handley Roberts firm as our company Accountants. And he was also directly responsible for bringing Liam Leckie to my attention. Unfortunately, he was also responsible for recommending the firm of lawyers who put our company at risk by giving me shockingly bad advice!

Martin Sharp
– Director and Chairman 2004 to 2010. Martin was one of the newer shareholders, and brought with him huge enthusiasm and a great deal of experience, useful for a small business like easy-dial Ltd. He was an entrepeneur based in Kent, and ran an import/export business W.G.Sharp & Son which I see is still very much active. I was very grateful for his faith in easy-dial Ltd and the contributions he made in the Boardroom.

Eric Hill
– Director from 2004 to 2010, Eric was one of our original Shareholders from 1996, and he joined the Board in 2004. He brought his experience and professionalism to the Company, and I am very grateful for his contribution.

Jackie Peat
– Customer Service and Administration 1995 to 2005 (approx). Jackie was with me at NPC and I was very glad that she agreed to join Phonecard Services Ltd. For many years, she was the friendly voice at the end of our phonelines for Customer Support, a job she did brilliantly, along with the routine company administration etc. I was very sad to see her go in approx 2005, but a better job offer had materialized for her and I urged her to take it!

Liam Leckie
– Internet Consultant and Key Company Member 1997 to 2013. Liam was undoubtedly for me our most important technical consultant and company member for many years. He not only designed and built our initial websites, and maintained the business computers, but also took over customer service duties when Jackie Peat left. He was first introduced to me in 1997 by Charles Sayer as somebody who had the requisite technical skills and knowledge we would need to be a business with a strong internet “presence”. Married to a Polish lady, and with one daughter, Liam was based at his home in Croydon, London. I would describe him as a taciturn Scot, and our business relationship had it’s “ups and downs”, but I owe him a great deal!

Russell Warren
– Sales and Technical Consultant 2009 to 2013 My son Russ was in between jobs in 2009 and I was happy to be able to help him out! Technically very proficient, he learnt the Telecoms business quickly and was a great asset in company Sales and Marketing. I was sorry to lose him in 2013 to Ingenium IDS

Other Personalities

Over the course of 25 years in the telecoms business, I have met a large number of people, many of whom have helped me, and some of whom I have helped. Below are some of the other colleagues who were involved to some extent with easy-dial Ltd.

Garo Molozian
– Director 2002 to 2003. Garo is a very genial guy, but for me he was a good example of when not to mix business with friendship. Garo is married to Ana, who was Michele’s business partner in the early ’80s, and her best friend, and they have three really nice boys  – who are triplets. We socialised together and were good friends – I am Godfather to one of the boys, Chris Molozian, and although as I have admitted previously I am the world’s worst godfather, I am proud to see via LinkedIn how well Chris has done in business via the technology sector.

In January 2002, Garo’s world collapsed when his employer, Tiny Computers, a UK maufacturer of personal computers, went into administration. He is a qualified Chartered Accountant, and his role at Tiny was as Chief Financial Officer: we had heard privately for years previously how he loved his job there and how proud he was of his achievements and the team he controlled, and his status symbol car, a 5 Series BMW.

As Tiny’s CFO, he was of course a person of great interest to the Administrators – his bosses had covered their tracks pretty well – and so Garo was a target. As a friend, and being somewhat familiar with the unwanted attention of Regulators, I spent many hours with him reviewing statements and accompanied him as support to various meetings at the Offices of the Administrator/Liquidator Grant Thornton

Because he had no income while he was clearing his name and reputation, in May 2002 I offered him the post of Finance Director at easy-dial Ltd with a generous consultancy package. In truth, this was offered to Garo because we were friends – easy-dial Ltd did not really need a Finance Director, he had no experience in Telecoms, and in his time with easy-dial the only lasting contribution I recall is the proper preparation of our Company Accounts. He was not used to the small business environment, and once he had got over the shock from the fallout at Tiny Computers, Garo had an air of being somehow smarter than everybody else and I did not feel he appreciated what I had done for him. He was in my opinion better suited to a “proper job” in a larger organisation with a safe PAYE salary.

In June 2003 he resigned as a Director after making sure that I personally paid out on the 600,000 + Shares that I had gifted to him previously and for which he had paid nothing! Good friend? Or just opportunistic? I see from his LinkedIn profile that he is now working for his son Chris, and is involved with teaching and lecturing in Accountancy Practice – a more suitable role for Garo “I know More Than You” Molozian!  

Susan Ward (Retired)
– Director 2002 to 2003. Susan was an extremely nice individual, and when I was looking for someone to head our Sales “department”, she was highly recommended by my wife Michele, who had known her previously. Somewhat against my better judgement, because Susan had no experience in Telecoms or small entrepeneurial companies, I appointed her as Sales Director in May 2002. Although she did her best, Susan was not the right person for the job, and the company’s experience with the DTI the same year I am sure did not help her confidence. She resigned as a Director in March 2003 by mutual consent.

Handley Roberts
Company Accountants 1995 to 2002. Handley Roberts were introduced by Charles Sayer, and consisted of two partners William John Handley and Robert James Roberts. They finalised our Company accounts for many years at a very reasonable cost, and they were both awarded Founder Shares as a token of my appreication. 

Mike Miles (Retired)
– Mike was a very affable character and ran a small UK telecoms business in Hertfordshire and we had some mutual business interests. I believe he retired to live in Spain. He also received a number of Founder shares in easy-dial Ltd 

Boon Teck Tan
Boon Teck was a previous customer from NWI and is a Chartered Accountant. He provided help in the early years as and when needed to help prepare our financial statements. He also received a number of Founder shares in easy-dial Ltd 

Telecoms Partners

Any Telecom Service Provider – as distinct from a Network Operator – needs to have working partnerships with other businesses to provide call termination i.e. connect customers with whatever phone number or service they wish to connect with.

The primary requirement for easy-dial was to be able to connect national and international calls, and this meant working partnerships with many different “call minute” providers i.e businesses operating call routes to one or multiple destinations. For reasons of competition and profitability, it was not feasible to consider the main PSTNs  who would invariably charge prices for call termination that would be uncompetitive. For example, during the period when easy-dial had a large international Reseller operation, there was a need to forge relationships with a number of international providers who could offer economic calling to destinations such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and a number of African destinations.

For national traffic, and the local UK access numbers we required so that our customers could connect with our independent Softswitch, during the first 10 years or so from 2000, easy-dial used Citrus Telecommunications Ltd, based in Bournemouth and very ably run by Matt Langley and (at the time) Tony Franklin May.  Their Telecom switch was built by DigiTalk and their technical director was the experienced Chris Spicer. We formed a good partnership, and there were a number of memorable trips to Bournemouth to discuss our early strategy, followed by the necessary relaxation offered by Bournemouth’s nightlife! As can be seen from their website link, I am happy to note that they have continued to grow and expand their operations.

Beginning Again in Telecoms Read More »

Personal Bankruptcy 1995 and Consequences

Personal Bankruptcy 1995 and Consequences

They do say that all successful entrepeneurs go through bankruptcy at least once in their careers, and that it is part of the learning process!

In my view, I would rather not have had the experience. It was a tiresome procedure, and of course one is not treated particularly well by the “authorities”: perhaps the most painful part of the process in the UK is that all one’s financial assets are frozen, or acquired, and the Official Receiver is also entitled to take over personal pensions.  Bank accounts are not allowed, nor company directorships: any existing positions have to be vacated and shareholding assets surrendered. One is not allowed to become a Director again until discharged from Bankruptcy, which is normally a minimum of 12 months. 

Reasons for my Bankruptcy.
The principal cause was that Land Securities Ltd – the landlord at 63 Duke Street – presented a Bankruptcy petition for non-payment of rent due under the Lease Agreement which I had personally committed to in 1991. Although they were within their rights to take this step, they were I think a little unreasonable, and were not prepared to negotiate with me.

There were rental arrears, and the reasons that I could not pay the sums due were twofold. Firstly, the economic climate at the time (early to mid ’90s) was dire, with high interest rates, and I could not attract reliable sub tenants to the building. Secondly, the demise of Nationwide Power Communications Ltd meant that I had effectively lost both the most important sub tenant and my consultancy income.

Of course, the forced closure of my successful Financial Services businesses 4 years earlier had not helped either.

Fallout from My Bankruptcy.
There was another “knock on” effect which I regretted even more and this was that my parents were also badly affected through my bankruptcy. Some years earlier, I had purchased a large country house for £180,000 inappropriately named Bruces Cottage, which was in some acres of land and was off the main road between Pewsey and Easton Royal in Wiltshire. My purpose in buying the property was two-fold: (1) as a joint investment and (2) to give my parents – especially my mother – a home that they would be happy to live in. My parents invested £40,000 from their life savings which was used as the deposit and I raised the balance of £140,000 as a second mortgage through my own insurance brokerage connections. I would be responsible for any mortgage interest payments.

When the bankruptcy occurred, Bruces Cottage had to be sold, and my parents were forced to downsize and move to a small but modern property in Netheravon, Wiltshire – where they spent the remainder of their lives. I do not think that I was ever truly forgiven.

NWZ Properties Ltd (NWZ)
In March 1987, I formed a property company called NWZ Properties Ltd in partnership with a customer of my Insurance Brokerage. This customer was a certain Michael Louis Zeffertt who ran a family clothing business called Robert Mack Ltd, trading in Portsmouth.

The purpose of NWZ was to purchase a particular commercial property in Portsmouth which we both hoped would in time provide a good return. Zeffertt was on the Portsmouth Local Council, and so had some knowledge of the plans to redevelop the area: my assistance was required to arrange the finance, in the form of a commercial mortgage. which I did through NEL Pensions, one of the companies with which my brokerage had an agency. Ownership of NWZ was split 50:50 by means of equal shareholdings.

When I informed Zeffertt in July 1995 about my bankruptcy, and therefore my inability to continue as a director of NWZ, his response was to arrange a boardroom takeover, and nullify my shareholding. In other words, he took advantage of my predicament and shafted me. Good business? Or another little shit from Portsmouth?

How Bankruptcy Affected Me

I was angry that it had happened, bitter about the previous experience with “Regulators” for closing my financial businesses for no good reason and shocked that  “colleagues” in NPC and NWZ should behave as they had done: I did not blame Land Securities Ltd for their action, which was a result of my previous “misfortunes” and lack of personal judgement.

Obviously I had to work from my home in Chiswick, which I had had the good sense to put in my wife’s name some years previously. From this base, I could regroup, and make plans to rebuild my businesses. Money was tight, and I remember that I worked for a time selling tourist phonecards and souvenire items for a small business based in London called Crowns and Regalia: this was made more interesting as they supplied places such as Windsor Castle and the Tower of London.

One good thing happened to restore my faith in human nature. As I mentioned previously, Michele had an Austrian Godmother, Vroni, who was married to Gunter: they were also entrepeneurs, with a business trading in gold coins, and with homes in Lech in Austria and in Italy, and we were invited to stay with them for a week or so in Austria. Not only that, but they made a gift to us of £9000 which helped us survive before I got back “into the saddle”. I was very grateful.

Within a few months I was back in entrepeneurial “mode”, with a plan for a new telecoms company.

Personal Bankruptcy 1995 and Consequences Read More »

Music, Performances, Open Mics, Jazz Workshops, Record Producer

Weekend Warriors - How to form a live Band in Six Weeks

I had always fantasised about playing in a “live” band, and in 2001, I signed up for the Weekend Warrior course with ICMP London – The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance

The ICMP was originally known as the Guitar Institute and has modern offices with professional studio facilities and classrooms for music students, and is situated in Dyne Road London NW6

One of the courses they ran was known at the time as “Weekend Warriors”, and my fellow group of applicants included amateur singers, guitarists, bass guitarists, drummers and some keyboard players. The organisers then formed a number of complete “bands” from amongst the applicants by matching instruments and talent.

Once you had your fellow band-members. it was then up to each band to decide on four or five “numbers”, and then perform those songs in The Luminaire, a “live” venue, which was a well known music club close to the studios. Each band had six weeks to rehearse and practice, and could use the studio facilities at Dyne Road and get professional advice at any time from the resident musicians. I was on rhythm guitar and vocals

It was another very interesting experience for me, and highlighted some of the problems which can arise in music when there is a “team” situation, and differing levels of skill, but we got through to perform the numbers together at the venue, and I have a Video evidencing the performance. Let me just say that I have not played the Video for many years, and I think I could probably do a better job now! But I had crossed another “to do” item off my list, and it had been very educational!

Open Mics and Why they are Important

In my opinion, open mics are the “life blood” of amateur music, and the definition given by Wikipedia is pretty accurate in my experience.

In the SW London area, there were a number of open mics available to attend and perform at, and the venue was usually a pub. Most of the audience are either fellow musicians or friends, and generally very forgiving, and very generous – however bad the rendition – and they understand that open mic performers are not professionals!

The plus point for the performers is that it gives one the chance to perform new or old songs, with their own unique arrangement and style, and it provides the experience of, and adrenalin rush involved in, a “live performance”.

Because I had previously invested in my own audio equipment – speakers, amplifiers microphones etc. – so that I could practice at home, I was in a position to set up an independent “open mic”, and so I did, and it ran for a year or so – starting at the The Coach and Horses Pub in Barnes.

This was a very friendly pub, and had a separate private room large enough to be used for events like the open mic. Just down the road in Barnes were other popular pubs, some of whom also provided “live music” – the Bull’s Head being one example.

So I became the “roadie” and organiser for the “open mic” and invited friends from both BCP and Andy Walpole’s RACC workshop to attend. It was held once a month and great fun to organise and perform at.

A little later, I moved the venue to the Richmond Lawn Tennis Club, which was also more convenient for the guys and gals from RACC. After a year or so, I had other priorities: with no-one available to take over the organisation of the open mic, I closed it down.

One long established open mic is the Teddington Acoustic Music Club, extremely well run by Jeff Porter, and I attended and performed there on a number of occasions.

My chum David Day had his own favourite “watering holes” which encouraged live music, where he would perform Jazz songs with a group of jazz musicians in the Open Mic style, and these pubs included the Brewery Tap in Brentford. I did participate very occasionally!

Shireen Francis - Singing Classes and Workshops

Shireen Francis is an accomplished professional jazz singer who has performed regularly at London venues – quoting from her own website: “London based jazz vocalist Shireen Francis has developed her own unique blend of jazz with flavours of gospel, blues calypso and reggae.  Performing with some of the country’s top jazz musicians, the combination of Shireen’s stunning expressive voice coupled with her natural musicianship has delighted audience all around the world”.

I can confirm that she is not only a talented singer, but also a very nice person and a very good teacher. After teaching jazz singing via workshops at the RACC – I did not attend at that time but I had heard about her workshops – she started her own singing courses and workshops in 2008 using the idyllic Barnes Green Centre in Barnes as the Venue, and Michele and I started classes with her in about 2009/2010.

By this time I was a little more confident about my own singing abilities: her class consisted of mostly women who had much more experience than I did! Shireen made her courses extremely interesting: apart from the songs chosen for us to perform (mostly jazz based) – there was always a professional musician in support, sometimes a pianist, sometimes a double bass player and sometimes a drummer. At the end of the course, we had all three – a full professional trio to back our songs – just like one’s own band! 

Apart from learning more about the particular instruments and their role in a jazz trio, Shireen also explained how to “count in” the band and how important it was to discuss beforehand – as examples – the key, the tempo and the style you wanted as the singer, and how to maintain the “connection” with the musicians.

I learnt a great deal from Shireen’s workshops, and appreciated her professionalism, which undoubtedly helped me to better understand what was required in order to become a more competent musician.

How I Became a Record Producer

Some time in the early ’80s. I was on holiday in Ibiza with my first wife Rosie and my son Russ. We met another family at the time, Len and Carol Hawkes with their three children – Chesney, Jodie and Keely. Len “Chip” Hawkes was both vocalist and the bass player from 1965 for the well known Pop Band The Tremeloes, who probably achieved most fame for their UK Hit Single “Silence is Golden”

We got on well – Carol was very attractive, and I think Rosie had a crush on Len, who was most charming. After we returned to the UK, we were invited to their home in Sunningdale, Ascot, which was a very expensive house that Len afforded through the Band’s earlier success. At this time in his life, Len was out of work – in other words, not in a working Band – as we would say today “asset rich, cashflow poor”. 

Amongst his many talents, Len had a gift for songwriting, and he had recorded a few new songs in his home studio that he wanted me to hear. Amongst these new songs was a number called “Seventeen” and to cut a long story short, I agreed to finance him and try to get the new song “into the charts” as an independent label. The record was to go out with the singer as stage name or  pseudonym “Maxwell Silver“.

We formed a company called Broomfield Music Ltd, with the record label also as Broomfield Music, cut the Master Tape for the song and went into limited production with several thousand record “singles” for distribution and marketing to local radio stations etc. The printing process, where the records were pressed and labelled, was a new and interesting experience for me.

The key to the success for any new song at the time lay in “plugging” -i.e. persuading radio show presenters and other music outlets to play the “indie” record “on air” – and this area of marketing was very much down to Len’s own contacts built up through his years in the music industry.

Unfortunately, the song did not make the charts – although I did think that it had a chance: but without a very large budget for enough plugging/marketing it is rare for any song to succeed.

After this, our friendship and relationship fizzled out, although I have watched with some interest the progress of each of the talented Hawkes children, and Len’s own recent “comeback” tours.

Making Music in a Private Recording Studio

One of the things on my “to do” list was to record some songs with the help of a professional musician. After I had been in Crete for one or two years, I met up with Phil Harrison, who was exactly that – a professional musician. Not only was he living locally, but he owned a 160 Track Recording Studio, and his fees were very reasonable.

I gave Phil a list of songs that I had always wanted to record – most of them “Golden Oldies” where the instrumentation was pretty basic – and we set about recording the songs, with Phil providing the arrangement and the vast majority of the playing (he is proficient on most things including Guitar and Keyboards). After each session he would mix the tracks and add harmony and whatever else he thought necessary: if he thought I should re-record a vocal, I would do so until it sounded reasonable.

I should say again that I do not think I have any great talent as a singer, and for these particular recordings, my aim was to sound like the original artist rather than try to impose my own style.

Many many thanks to Phil Harrison for such a professional job.

Song List (also on SoundCloud under domain buddy)

Music, Performances, Open Mics, Jazz Workshops, Record Producer Read More »

Amateur Theatre and Experiences

Barnes Charity Players

While involved with the Singing Course at the RACC, Michele and I discovered that Deirdre was also very involved with a local Theatre Group in Barnes called the Barnes Charity Players (BCP), now called the Barnes Community Players who were very active and put on two or three shows a year and a Christmas Pantomime.

Shorly after we had joined Deirdre’s class, BCP was holding auditions for their next production, and I persuaded Michele to attend and audition for a part in the play. I remember that Darrol Blake was the Director, and I went with her as “support crew” and observer, with no intention whatsoever of taking part. As it turned out, there was no role available for Michele but I was offered a minor role in the production! Although I did not accept the role – because of work commitments – the “stage was set” and Michele and I enrolled into BCP and were both involved in many of the productions over the next 10 years. 

How BCP works

In 2000, BCP was a very friendly group of players who mostly lived locally to Barnes in London’s SW13 district. The aim is to raise money for local charities through ticket sales for the various productions that BCP produce. There is a Committee who decide on the Production schedule and which Charities receive donations, and they report to the BCP members. The productions are performed in a number of local venues, including Kitson Hall and the OSO Arts Theatre – see photo – and the Barnes Methodist Church. The OSO Centre is also used for smaller productions, various meetings and parties. The favourite local “Watering Hole” in my day was the Sun Inn 

Principal Players at BCP

I cannot remember all the Players, and so my apologies for any omissions, but these BCP members were particularly important and/or memorable to me and I enjoyed their company as directors, fellow actors and socially. Some have moved on from BCP, but where possible I have included a link to their social media profile.

Fergus and Phyllis O’Kelly
– I was very sorry to hear that Fergus had died very recently. Fergus and his wife Phyllis were the beating heart of BCP in my time there, and made me feel very welcome. I shall miss his professionalism, wonderful singing and engaging acting. Sadly missed.

Deirdre O’Kelly
Deirdre is supremely talented as both singer and actress, and also as a Musical and Stage Director. Always patient, she knew how to get the best out of her less talented colleagues.

Amanda Harker
– Amanda is absolutely essential to the success of BCP, and I am so glad to see that she is now on the Committee. A professional dance instructor, trainer, costume designer, in my view she held many of our joint productions together with immense skill and patience. Her efforts at turning a rabble into a group of passable dancers for any particular routine required in any one BCP show defy rational explanation!  

Darrol Blake
– When Darrol retired as one of the BBC’s leading Designers and Directors, BCP was fortunate enough to attract his attention and his services as Director to many of the shows. In my time, I remember him as a charming individual, although sometimes in the habit of forgetting that he was directing amateurs and not professionals.

Keith Perry
– Keith is a wonderful actor and fine Director. Quietly spoken and modest he was a teacher at the time, and no doubt used to dealing with motley crews of children, which required supreme patience. He brought this talent to BCP and I greatly enjoyed working with him.

Susan Conte
– Susan is absolutely passionate about anything involving arts, theatre, film and productions and a very nice and talented individual. Extremely encouraging, I worked with her as the Director in my last appearance at BCP as an actor. She is linked with BCP, Hampton Hill Theatre and the Richmond Shakespeare Society, and is currently the Artistic Director and Founder of her own Wild Duck Theatre.

David Day
I have said a lot more about David elsewhere and he is one of my closest friends to this “day”! Always modest, he brought humour into every production and made the long hours of rehearsal in cramped conditions infinitely more bearable!

Marc Pearce
– When I first met Marc, he was only 24, but you could tell from his work ethic that he was determined to succeed! Highly gifted, he was interested in all forms of theatrical work, from acting and singing to stage production and directing. He had the “lead” in several shows, and we resumed our friendship at St Michael’s Players in Chiswick.

Fleur de Henrie
– Fleur is another very talented actress and singer, and at the time was very attached to Marc Pearce. It seems that they are now married – belated congratulations! Fleur also joined St Michaels Players and I remember that we were co-actors in one or two shows, where she had the starring role.

Martin Wright
– Martin is a very nice bloke, but I always had the impression that we were in some form of competition for roles in the various BCP shows! We did perform in various shows together – notably My Fair Lady as two of the four Costermongers – and he was extremely good.

Andrew Lawston
– Andrew was another “youngster” at the time I was involved with BCP and I remember him as a very talented co-actor and a bit of a “cheekie chappy”!

Patrick Van den Bergh
– Patrick I remember as a more serious individual. Another fine actor, he had a slight accent, which meant that he had an unfair advantage for some roles!

John and Chris Mounsey
– The only father and son pairing at BCP, both Mounseys were great characters. John was educated at Eton, but despite that (!) he was great fun, with a mischievous sense of humour. I was in several plays with John, and one with Chris: both are fine actors and good company.

Personal Performances and Recollections

I think that the best BCP production that I was involved with was “My Fair Lady”, starring Basil – a professional actor – as “Henry Higgins” – and Deirdre O’Kelly as “Eliza Doolittle”. The Director was Darrol Blake, and the Choreographer was of course Amanda Harker. I think most of BCP were involved one way or another, with Fergus O’Kelly as Alfred  Doolittle and Marc Pearce as Freddy and in my view it was a great success.

Some years after My Fair Lady, and with a little more acting experience “under my belt” I was very fortunate to be asked by Deirdre to be the lead in the next BCP production which she was directing. The Play was “Blithe Spirit”, based on the Noel Coward novel. The producer was Susan Conte, Marc Pearce our set designer and I had a great supporting cast which included John Mounsey as the Doctor, and professional actress Jane Sherwin as Madam Arcati. To watch our version of this story, please select Blithe Spirit by Barnes Charity Players

Private Video Recordings and Personal Problems Resulting
OR “No Good Deed goes Unpunished”

Over the years that I was with BCP, I had always thought that it was a shame that all the effort and energy that went into putting on one production which lasted only for one week would be consigned to history and not remembered. Not only that, but the actors  in the play would be the only people unable to judge and view their own performances. And so – out of my own pocket – I arranged for some of the shows to be captured on Video. The list of previous BCP shows recorded includes Peace in Our Time, Top Girls, Salad Days, A Midsummer  Night’s Dream and – finally – Blithe Spirit.

As a small personal gift to those most closely involved with Blithe Spirit, I arranged for extra copies to be printed. However, a rather unseemly squabble arose as to who actually received the Videos, and why others did not, and I was held to blame. Apparently, by not distributing the Video to the entire supporting crew, I was devaluing or not appreciating their contribution.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. At BCP we all contributed to each show in our different roles. I did not have an acting role in many of the shows – and only in one of the 5 shows that were videoed – and I often contributed off-stage in a “support” role but did not expect to receive a gift: and I had the opportunity to watch both the rehearsals and the “live” show. The gifts were meant for my fellow actors in Blithe Spirit who did not otherwise have an opportunity to judge and remember their own performances.

It seemed to me to be a totally unnecessary reaction to what was meant in the nicest possible way, and led directly to my joining St Michael’s Players, which was in any event much closer to my home in Chiswick.

St Michael's Players Chiswick

St Michael's Players
St Michael's Players

I read recently that St Michael’s Players in Chiswick have been going for 70 years, which must be some sort of record. The building shown in the photo was used as the Theatre, with a small room off to the right as the “dressing room” for the actors when a show was in progress. Next door to St Michael’s Church in Elmswood Road and within easy walking distance of the Copper Cow pub, it really is a very friendly group.

The Players had the same format as BCP – namely putting on 3 or 4 amateur productions a year – but differed in that the aim was not to raise money for Charity, but to “break even” financially and maybe have enough surplus to afford the occasional party for the members. I thought that this was an excellent ambition, and did my best to assist!  

Principal Players at St Michael’s

I cannot remember all the Players, and so my apologies for any omissions, but these  members were particularly important and/or memorable to me and I genuinely enjoyed their company as directors, fellow actors and socially. Some have moved on, but where possible I have included a link to their social media profile.

Jane Atkinson
– Jane was the Player’s Chairman when I first joined, and was not only a fine actress, she was also a most generous hostess, with parties at her home a regular feature. An extremely attractive and interesting lady!

Chris Hulatt
– I believe that Chris has been a Player longer than anyone – 30 years and counting! Another talented actor, ready to assist with whatever production task that was necessary and in charge of PR and membership, he is essential to the Players and a thoroughly nice individual.

Bryony Wilman
– I shall always remember Bryony as the very patient and long suffering director of many of the plays I was involved with at St Michael’s! She is of course also a gifted actress, but I remember her more for her generosity when she was directing, much of the rehearsal time being spent at her home. 

Paul Ritchie Tomkinson
– What can one say about this man? Supremely talented, ex-professional ballet dancer, choreographer, champion gymnast, writer, raconteur, actor and producer. And extremely nice into the bargain! It was great fun working with him in Amateur Theatre…

Elizabeth Ollier
– In my opinion, Elizabeth was one of the most talented actors I had the pleasure of working with, and has what it takes to be a professional. She was always modest and was great company with a sense of humour (often required in Am Dram!)

Alastair Dewar
– I see that Alastair has now succeeded Jane as Chairman: unlike most of us, he had a “proper job” in the Human Resources sector, but we never held that against him! I acted with him in a number of plays, and he was also great fun to be with.

Hampton Hill Theatre - Calendar Girls

In 2012, Susan Conte suggested that I might like to audition for an upcoming play to be performed at the Hampton Hill Theatre in Teddington: Susan was linked to the Theatre, and – if I remember correctly – had some influence over this new production which was to be a stage version of “Calendar Girls”, originally a novel, and then made famous by the 2003 film starring Helen Mirram, Julie Walters and a hugely talented support cast of other top English actors.

The role I auditioned for was the husband of one of the two female leading characters, and required a “Northern” accent: to my surprise, I was awarded the role, and rehearsals started shortly afterwards with an entirely new group of actors whom I had never met before. Michele and Susan Conte also had roles.

The Hampton Hill Theatre is a professional venue, and therefore completely different to the “am-dram” facilities I had been used to at BCP and St Michael’s. We had proper dressing rooms – not a crowded “free-for-all” changing area – and there was an auditorium with comfortable seats for the audience of 200 people: in other words, a proper theatre!

The play ran for a week, and involved a certain amount of nudity for the ladies concerned. This was the point of the story – in order to raise money for Leukaemia Research, and in memory of the “other” husband who dies from cancer, the ladies of the local Woman’s Institute decided on a daring scheme to produce and sell a nude calendar.

This of course made the Play more interesting! And in order to show support for the ladies in the cast, I wrote a short “Pete and Dud” type script, and persuaded the guys involved including Dave Dadswell (the other husband) – to put on a private performance for the girls, which involved a certain amount of male nudity!

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and it was probably my first and last time as an actor in a professional theatre: I think the show was well received, and I was particularly pleased when one of the audience complimented me one night after the show on my Northern accent! Thank you, Susan Conte, for giving me this opportunity! 

Amateur Theatre and Experiences Read More »

How I started in Music

How I started in Music - Guitars and the RACC

My parents were not what you would call a “musical” family: there were no musical instruments in any of our homes. My mother was brought up with dance as her main artistic interest, later followed by painting (watercolours) There was music in the house, and, when he was allowed to, my father played his fairly large record collection, consisting of popular music from the ’20s ’30s and ’40s – Glen Miller, Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Joe Fingers and other classics of the era. With the exception of Ballet Music, there was no classical music at all – no Beethoven, no Mozart, no Strauss for example.

So music for me was something which really started in the ’60s at school, with the musical revolution featuring Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel to name but a few, and like many other kids I rushed out to buy the latest LP from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. To be honest, the main attraction was not so much the music, but the allure of being a top artist or being in a famous band, with all the money and gorgeous girls that fame brought to them.

I never considered myself as having artistic talent, and had no aspirations of becoming a musician or an actor. For 30 years – the ’70s to the ’90s – my focus was on other things – like study and sport – and  business. So I was very much a latecomer to publicly Playing the Guitar, Singing and Acting, Performing and Theatre.

And, being honest, actual performing was a personal challenge: I wanted to experience it and see how and if I could handle the stress and the nerves. It was another way of testing myself, and avoiding the “if only…” 

Guitars and Music

How I started – Guitars Owned

The first guitar I ever owned was dreadful: it was a seven string Russian style guitar, with steel strings and was (I know now) extremely dfficult to play. However, it did not cost me anything and I came by it when I was living in my cottage in Norfolk and still serving at RAF Marham. 

At this point in my life, I had time on my hands, and no-one living nearby to complain, so I decided first to educate myself musically and buy a number of classical LPs featuring the works of the top composers (Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Berlioz etc ) but to be honest, apart from some of the better known symphonies and musical arias, I was not terribly enthuiastic.

So I decided to teach myself how to play the Guitar. I bought a number of books on the subject – “Bert Weedon” for example – and a number of magazines showing “chord” finger positions. I purchased song books which contained the lyrics and guitar chords from some of the artists, bands and songs I was familiar with – which I still have to this day. I also handwrote a lot of the songs with chord changes and breaks, and set up a very basic recording system (one hand-held tape recorder) so I could hear just how bad my singing and playing actually was! 

The second Guitar I bought for £25 was a Kimbara acoustic guitar, with nylon strings, which I still have. This was so much easier to play than the first guitar, although now I know that the “neck” is a little too wide, but with this guitar I started to make some progress – with folk music and Simon and Garfunkel songs suited to the acoustic guitar style.

Once I started working in London – first with Merchant Investors in 1975 – the time for music was more limited, although I did purchase my third guitar – a classic Fender Telecaster electric guitar – for £200 from a colleague Bob Patmore, who was a professional musician. I did not really take advantage of the opportunity to play it – leisure time was more limited and my first wife was not that supportive – and so I sold it after some months, something I now regret very much!

As many amateur musicians are aware, learning to play an instrument and the hours of practice involved to reach any reasonable standard does require both time and – if you are married or with a family – support. Unfortunately, my first and second wives were not that patient or supportive of my musical endeavours: my first wife Rosie had no musical talent and my second wife Michele had the talent, but was a bit of a musical “snob”. To be fair, I was not that good, and since I had other business and sporting interests, it was not until the late ’90s when I was working from home that I began to revisit “music”.

Sometime earlier this century – does that sound weird? – I took the decisive step into the arena of Performing Arts and Music by joining the RACC . One of the courses I enrolled in was a Guitar course Acoustic Guitar Blues and Beyond Workshop run by Andy Walpole  and as a direct result of that course, I added three more guitars to my collection.

My fourth guitar was a  Takamine which is a hybrid guitar, meaning it can be played accoustically or “plugged in” as an electric guitar, and as a steel stringed guitar, was better suited to the different types and styles of music played in Andy’s workshop. If I was performing at an open mic for example, this is my guitar of choice.

The fifth guitar was an inexpensive and basic electrical guitar which was rarely used but I had it in mind to practice with the special effects accessories and foot pedals that made such a difference to the basic sound of an electric guitar.

The sixth guitar was the most expensive at £500, and was an acoustic steel string Martin which I actually found quite difficult to play, and so it spent most of its time in the case! If nothing else, it is an investment…..

The Richmond Adult Community College (RACC) - Courses and Workshops

I became a member of the RACC in approx 2000, and as explained previously, the main reason that I joined was actually to encourage my second wife Michele to resume her interests in singing and acting, and there were a good number of courses available for “mature students” in the College .

The College is situated in Richmond, close to the Town Centre and not far from my favourite tennis club in Old Deer Park, with easy access and with a very large car park.

At the time it was the hub of a huge amount of artistic talent, talent which was provided by both the teachers and some of the “students”, many of whom were very experienced in their particular art. The first course Michele and I joined was an evening Singing Class, and our teacher was the wonderful Deirdre O’Kelly. 

The class included learning the correct techniques for singing, the breathing required, and enunciation. The songbook was classical, and designed to be with piano accompaniment, normally provided by one of the professionals at the College. We were given songs to learn which we then had to sing in front of our fellow class members – a great learning experience and possibly more challenging than the Public Speaking course I had done some years previously.

Deirdre was also running a Musical Theatre course, which combined both acting, singing and some dance, and so I bravely joined that for one season. Our production was “Cabaret”. I remember that my character as the show’s Impressario had one particular number “Money, Money, Money” We all did our best but in my opinion Deirdre deserved a much more talented cast!

There were other Singing Courses and opportunities at the College, notably the Jazz section, which had very able teachers (including Shireen Francis) and students, amongst them my good friend David Day

But the most important Course for me was the Acoustic Guitar Blues and Beyond Workshop run by Andy Walpole.

The 2 hour evening course was held weekly starting at 8 p.m. which helped those of us in the class who were working in “proper jobs”. Andy was a great teacher, very knowledgeable and very patient, and the “Class” had approximately 15 regular attendees, some of whom were themselves immensely talented and professional guitarists and songwriters (for example the very modest and talented songwriter/musician John Carter and also the artist Catherine Paver) – which was a little off-putting for the less accomplished, like myself.

Andy covered just about every style of play, and usually had a particular song to demonstrate the theme or technique which we then tried to emulate – with varying degrees of success. We were also strongly encouraged to perform our own songs, or versions of other established songs in front of the class. Since there was such a good rapport between everybody whatever the level of experience or talent, this was not as terrifying as it could have been, and this was down to Andy’s unique style and character.

I remained a member of workshop for 10 years or so, and genuinely miss the guys and girls and the social life that was part of that scene.

Justin Sandercoe

Another very important influence on my guitar playing was Justin Sandercoe 
Justin is a professional guitarist and teacher, and at the time (2003 +) was living in Chiswick close to my home. Much as I appreciated the Andy Walpole RACC course, I felt that I needed more “one on one” teaching to improve my basic skills.

Justin is a great teacher – very friendly and encouraging – with written courses and songs prepared for learning and practice. I first saw his advertisement through the Internet, and see now he has a very strong “on-line presence” with his own You Tube channel  I wish him all the very best – he certainly helped me – and recommend any aspiring guitarist to “check out” his website 

How I started in Music Read More »

Domain Buddy on Public Speaking and Performing

Domain Buddy on Public Speaking and Performing

As an entrepeneur, there will be occasions where public speaking is necessary. In my case, this happened first in the RAF and then later on when I had to address sales teams.

Without doubt the most difficult public speaking experience for me was in 1994 when I talked to a room full of potential investors at Telehouse, first with the aim of persuading them to invest in my new telecoms business, and then again six months later with the different aim of supporting me in a Boardroom battle. 

Public speaking is not easy: firstly, there is no-one else on the stage or at the lectern or microphone, and one is aware that all the attention is directed towards you, and what you have to say, and how you say it. For the most part, audiences are friendly and want you to succeed, but this can be difficult to appreciate if you are new to Public Speaking. 

Some time in the ’70s or ’80s I had enrolled in a course designed to teach the basics of Public Speaking, and within the course, given by a professional speaker, I learnt several valuable lessons which were important later on in life. And naturally, during the course, one was expected to give a number of speeches on different subjects to other “students”.

Acting is most closely related to Public Speaking where a monologue is delivered – or put simply, there is only you to take the attention of the audience. When you are part of a group of actors involved in a scene together, or part of a musical band or group, it is a little easier on the nerves. Some people thrive on the attention of being the focus for an audience, but most, including myself, are more comfortable within a team and with colleagues close at hand!

Solo musical performances are also a challenge, particularly when – as in my case – it involved both singing and playing the guitar at one of the “open mics”. This leads to two possible disaster scenarios, which are either forgetting the lyrics, or forgetting the chord sequences and the musical score.  In my case, I have trouble remembering the lryics in just about any song, but as any musician will tell you, you just have to cover your mistake and carry on – which can be easier said than done!

Is there a Solution to Performance Nerves?

I think that performance nerves are natural and to be expected. As a performer, you should possibly be more worried if you do not have them!

To reduce performance nerves when acting, I always tried to make sure that I was as confident as possible before “taking to the stage”. This involved preparation – for example, with acting, I would make sure that I knew the entire play and would memorise the “lines” and go through the scenes in my head every night before sleeping. Only when I was confident that I knew the script “inside out ” could I then concentrate on other important facets of any Play, which would include “stage positioning” and the Director’s specific requirements for my role.

For any music performance, my experience is that there was nothing better than practice, even when that practice takes place shortly before any performance.

Alcohol And one final piece of advice I am happy to pass on – do not take refuge in alcohol in the mistaken belief that this will “help”. In my experience, it never did! Save the celebratory drink for after the performance!

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