Following his passing in December, members of the industry pay tribute to Peter Osborne, the ‘father’ and founder of Haymarket Exhibitions and
a pioneering showman who changed the face of consumer shows.
Chris Hughes, Brand Events:
“If the consumer show industry was discussed with the same interest and scrutiny as more high profile creative sectors such as film, television, advertising or music I’ve always been convinced that the British industry would be written of as the best in the world.
And if anyone ever chose to write the history of the UK consumer show industry they would be busy right now mourning the loss of, and celebrating the story of one of its greatest pioneers.
Peter Osborne pioneered what many now regard as the typical model for consumer shows. He not only built the UK’s market leading consumer business in the nineties, Haymarket Exhibitions; he also created the blueprint for the way we all work today.
Peter pioneered a new kind of blockbuster consumer show. Championing higher degrees of showmanship, and event content than our industry had never seen before. He developed more sophisticated ticketing and invested far higher than his predecessors in an event’s features and editorial.
Bizarrely for someone who was the most total salesman, Peter was the first champion in our industry of live consumer experience. At one point in the nineties he was running the world’s largest food show, public fashion show and largest ever motor sport exhibition. He pioneered massive theatres, celebrity chefs, indoor car arenas and much besides. You could say he was the first to run shows and not just exhibitions. He used to say he’d been given the job of developing Haymarket Exhibitions because they couldn’t think what else to do with him. He had been MD of some of Haymarket’s publishing empire but he needed a new challenge.
Having positioned Haymarket as an appropriate financier, backer and overseer of Gavin Brown and Richard Hease’s innovative Clothes Show, Peter was suddenly very popular at the BBC. In year two of the massive hit launch - Peter created a legend by persuading the NEC, the models, the exhibitors, the BBC and the authorities that the freak snow conditions shouldn’t be allowed to close the only show in Britain with the courage to stand up to the blizzard.
The result was a huge amount of publicity, and one of Britain’s largest ever indoor sleep overs. So impressed were BBC worldwide that a deal was done to create BBC Haymarket Exhibitions and with his powerful new partner, Peter set about a frenzy of deal making and launches all with the same model of large scale event, large scale marketing and large scale visitor content.
Hits such as the Good Food shows , The Clothes Show, and Gardeners world Live were followed by shows such as CBBC’s Big Bash, Tomorrow’s World Live, Match of The Day Live and the first attempt at Top Gear Live. But perhaps his greatest work was always Autosport International. A strange hybrid between engineering trade show and another consumer blockbuster, he added slice after slice to reflect all of Britain’s obsessive tribal love for motor racing and its world beating manufacturing sector.
Not all of Peter’s launches were hits, but all of them conformed to his model of high content blockbuster.
Working with Peter was a strange experience. At his desk by 7am every morning he seemed to combine almost Dickensian office practices with many laughs and even more lessons.
But it was on site where you really saw his genius. Like a ringmaster or fair operator, he truly ran every show. He knew the cleaners, the security guards, and the carpet guys as well as the exhibitors and sponsors. But the people he knew best were the visitors. Their needs, their frustrations and their passions. He hated a queue but he loved a crowd, he hated litter and always wanted more room to sit down. He chatted to everyone and they loved him. A cross between a sixties media mogul, a circus owner and Walt Disney.
He was the first visitor experience genius. If ever I’m on site and there is a visitor problem, my first thought is always “what would Peter do?”
He was a frustrating man to cross, but weirdly nearly everyone who encountered him, friend or business foe, had an overwhelming affection and enthusiasm for him. Even those who said they disliked him secretly liked him and hugely respected him.
Peter’s very talented nephew, Rob Nathan sent a note round announcing Peter’s death just after Christmas and said that the queue for the pearly gates would now be better managed than ever before. Once inside Peter will also no doubt ensure that the attractions get bigger, the facilities more luxurious and the crowd round the bar at the end of a busy day even larger and happier.
To me he is one of the most amazing guys I’ve worked for and learnt from. Lots of people will miss him."
Rob Nathan, Media 10:
“This has been devastating news for our family and his passing is a tremendous loss for the events industry. I am sure that all will agree that the industry has lost a unique, charismatic, loveable figure. No one that crossed his path will ever forget his inimitable style and the exhibition industry is now a distinctly poorer place.
He was also my uncle and the reason I got into exhibitions. He was an incredible character - terrifying, energetic, creative and was a visionary in this game.”
Rupert Heseltine, Haymarket:
“Peter was the most extraordinary character. He was a unique individual and changed the face of exhibitions forever. Live action will always be one of his greatest legacies. He was my first real boss at Haymarket and I look back at him with the fondest of memories, and to this day when thinking about our exhibitions, I always ask myself what would Peter do?”
Kevin Murphy, ExCeL London:
“He was such a fabulous character, I’ll always have great memories of him. I remember calling him to try and convince him to join the AEO, and eventually succeeded, but he was a tough sell! And then he just got right behind it and was such a strong ambassador for it, and the industry. He’s a great loss to us all, and especially his family. Elaine kept an old tin helmet in the downstairs loo which she used in the office when he was in a bad mood (!), like I said great memories of a great man.”
Image L-R: Lord Heseltine, Anthony Tobias being presented with the first Peter Osborne Award for ’outstanding’ service to the company, and Peter Osborne
Simon Taylor, Haymarket:
“In 1971 I was Haymarket’s most junior publisher, so I was given all the rubbish titles to look after. Similarly Peter, as a young salesman, was given the rubbish titles to sell space on. So we had to work closely together, desperately trying to make some very marginal titles stop losing money.
Amazingly, he managed to get enough revenue in to keep them afloat. He did this by sheer force of character, by an ability to confront the worst problems with a gung-ho determination to succeed, and a personality, which meant he led from the front, motivating anybody who was within shouting range. In fact, he was a brilliant motivator, making others believe that they could climb the same mountains. He was also a brilliant salesman, using a wicked mix of charm and chutzpah to knock over the clients.
For both of us it meant a lot of work, a lot of laughs, a lot of cutting corners and breaking rules, and frequently such long hours that Peter would catch the last train home, fall sound asleep on it, and wake up at the end of the line many miles from home.
What was remarkable about Peter was that, through sheer force of character, he was able to develop staff in his own image, so that he put his stamp on a whole generation of sales staff at Haymarket. People loved working for him, respected him, and would get stuck into all his projects because he was always leading from the front.
I feel very lucky to have worked with him in those early, piratical days. He really was the father of Haymarket Exhibitions, and the entrepreneurial nature of the business suited him perfectly.”
Chris Skeith, AEO:
“I vividly remember my first meeting with Peter, he scared the life out of me initially, but we went onto some frank and honest conversations, and then I walked away with one of the biggest audit sales I ever did.”
Paul Michael, Quartz Business Media:
“I knew Peter when he was on the AEO council and he once offered me a job which I turned down. We both jointly harangued the local Council to get better signage for ExCeL on the roads but to no avail. I told Peter that it was because he turned up at the Council Offices in his Aston. I always enjoyed his company and he always said he didn’t understand trade shows and I said I didn’t understand consumer; it became a standing joke between us. I liked his no nonsense straight to the point approach.”
Keith Harris, Quartz Business Media
“A great character. I remember him coming to my offices when he had just taken on the fledgling exhibition division - turned up in a flash white Jag sports car - we were all impressed! And how quickly he built that division up into being a real force in consumer shows. He will be greatly missed.”