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Exhibitions: vital questions demanding answers

by EN

In his latest column, EN guest editor Phil Soar looks at the industry’s syntax anomalies 

There are critical issues in the Exhibition world which demand immediate and honest answers. Yet we ignore them year in year out, as if they were not key to our industry’s future. Here are just a few of the more worrying ones.

Why Earls’ Court and then Barons Court?

A question which has intrigued millions on the Piccadilly line for nearly a century is why the adjacent stops are called Earl’s Court and Barons Court.

Even more so for exhibition goers, when the exhibition centre weirdly chose to call itself ‘Earls Court’ in 1937 (see picture) and irritate the locals (maybe the decision was made by someone who didn’t speak English).

For those who haven’t picked up the increasingly bitter battle of the possessive apostrophes there is one in Earl’s but not in Barons – which, as they are next door on the tube map, bemuses the observant.

The land around Earl’s Court was once owned by the Earl of Oxford – so the apostrophe is correct. Having said that, some local road signs don’t use it either.

Barons Court was developed by a William Palliser, who part owned the Baronscourt Estate in Tyrone, Northern Ireland. So, the name without an apostrophe is definitely correct, though Palliser is thought to have deliberately split it into two words as a playful comparison with Earl’s next door. Good job Duke’s Avenue in Chiswick is not the next stop.

What does ExCeL mean?

Well, Exhibition Centre London of course. But why the (frankly irritating) changes from upper to lower type?

I was once in Pago Pago in Samoa, which is pronounced Pango Pango. Similarly, Nadi in Fiji is pronounced Nandi. The reason for the discrepancy – weird as it may seem – is that when the first map of these Pacific isles was produced in the early 19th century, the John Bull Printing Set had mislaid its small letter ‘n’s. So, a gap was left to be filled in Pa go and Na di when the small ‘n’s arrived on the next ship. They never did arrive, the words were left as they had been printed – minus the ‘n’ but still pronounced in the correct way. They stay that way today.

I suspect the same thing happened with ExCeL. The first person to type the name didn’t have an upper case ‘X’ on their printing set, and only one upper case ‘E’. So, they used lower case in the expectation that someone would change it later – and they never did.

(Jeremy largely confirms the story – someone in the ad agency came up with the idea).

Why is the NEC in Birmingham?

It was never supposed to be. Strangely to Mancunians, Birmingham was not on the government’s mind.

When they first published plans for a National Exhibition Centre in 1972, it was definitely going to be in Leicester.

We assume some hard lobbying from Birmingham and Warwickshire persuaded Peter Walker, secretary of state for trade at the time. As it happened, his constituency of Worcester was relatively nearby, which may have had an effect.

The cynic might argue that the location is now perfectly placed for the HS2 interchange (and a 42-minute commute to London), showing how forward thinking the Heath government of 1970-74 was.

Still as Leicester has the National Space Centre, Nottingham has the National Ice Centre, London has the National Gallery, Rickmansworth the National Lottery and the Queen has the National Anthem, Birmingham surely deserved a National something.

Why did the UK not build an exhibition centre near Heathrow and the main transport network?

It was going to.

In 1993 the London First Planning Group had identified a site at Iver where the M4/M25 and Great Western Railway out of Paddington all meet and could be easily connected to the site. It is very close to Heathrow and hence had the advantage of all those hotels and excellent road, rail and air connections. Perfect you might think. The proposal was that Earl’s Court would be allowed to close for redevelopment and its shows transferred out to the new London Exhibition Centre.

The plans were drawn up and well advanced. Michael Heseltine was responsible for the rejuvenation of London Docklands, but, at that time, this was not going well. Highly unusually for a government minister (and to his credit) he recognised the value of an Exhibition Centre and Trade Shows as a draw to Docklands. Yes, transport was an enormous headache, but that could be sorted later. Heseltine was the Deputy PM and prevailed on John Major to support his scheme. The government couldn’t back two new exhibition halls in London at the same time and the Iver scheme disintegrated into dust. Thus was lost the only scheme which ever came close to giving London a single, major exhibition site.

Having said that, when HS2 is completed Birmingham Airport will become London’s fifth airport, being a mere 42 minutes from North London and much closer in time than Gatwick or Stansted.

What is Closerstill close to and is it still?

Olympia and yes. Andy Center came back to the embryonic office one day in 2009 to announce (to general bemusement) that he had registered the company name after two albums by something called Joy Division, which was apparently a popular singing group in the late 20th century. No one else had any idea why this was deemed to be a good (or even bad) idea. RX seems a lot more logical (though Hyve is another matter).

Does Nineteen Events have 19 events?


Is Diversified diversified?

With a portfolio which includes Accounting, Casual Dining, Digital Construction, EuroBus, London Design Fair, Natural Products and Ocean Buzz – well, you couldn’t call it tightly focussed. So, the answer is a resounding Yes. Well done Carsten.

What is the difference between EVA, ESSA, THE AEO, EIA, IME, NACE, MPA, ILEA AND IAEE? And which should you join?

Please give your answer on one side of the paper only.

 Is Manchester Central, central?

Well, not really the centre of Manchester. It is on the site of one of the main four Manchester railway stations and arguably the least central of the four. The magnificent railway station which forms its core was built by the Midland Railway and later shared with the Great Central. So there is some logic to the Central name, though the Great Central railway was abandoned the same year as the station – 1968. But it is a fabulous building, so who cares what it is called.

Was Andry Montgomery Field Marshal Montgomery’s Batman at the battle of El Alamein?

No. But the real story is far more interesting.  Molly Montgomery (one of the founders) believed that Montgomery could be at an unfair disadvantage when listed in catalogues and other directories due to the fact that M comes halfway down the alphabet. She felt that by having a company name beginning with A, the business would then be listed first. So why choose Andry? Damion says he has no idea. Maybe there was an Andy in the family and the Vicar just baptised him wrongly (though the current President of Madagascar is named Andry). Reminds me of Arsenal. They were called “The Arsenal” until 1925, when Herbert Chapman dropped the “The” so that Arsenal would come first in the list of League clubs.

If you have any more pressing and vital questions about the industry, please don’t hesitate to email me at Exhibition News.

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