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Lord got into printing by "cheating and robbing"

Some enter the print industry by apprenticeships, through a family firm or from a college course. For others it’s a happy accident of finding a job that they hadn’t expected to do, but find they are naturals. For Lord John Bird MBE it was by "cheating, stealing and robbing."

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Lord John Bird MBE, founder of the Big Issue

In an interview with Print Monthly, the cross-bencher member of the House of Lords and founder of the Big Issue explained how through his involvement in crime he became a printer.

He says: “When I was a child in Fulham there was a printer who used to give away scraps of paper to the local school and I visited the printer and I was fascinated by the machinery. Later as a teenager I was in an institution for "naughty boys" and they let us experiment using old printing presses.”

The institution for “naughty boys” was of course better known as Her Majesty's Young Offender Institutions (or HMYOIs), and are prisons for offenders aged between 18 and 20. Bird was in trouble from an early age having been made homeless as a child, taken into care and had been excluded from school for his behaviour, and like many in his position due to a lack of family support and poverty ended up in a HMYOI. However, his time in prison did expose him to the craft of printing, which he admits was his route to turning his life around.

It wasn’t like work, it was like what I wanted to do. I would go home reluctantly because I enjoyed the work and I got so good at it that I did work for the Tate, the Royal Academy and Pan American Airways

He comments: “I did some printing and then later in my 20s I started to visit print shops because I wanted to become a publisher, but then I thought I wanted to become a printer. So I bought print machines. The first one was a Rotaprint R95 printer which meant it was a chained delivery, then I got a Kord 64 Printing Machine and a plate maker.”

He moved onto buying a flatbed printer which he described as “a beautiful press” and from then on, made a living as a jobbing printer in London. He also worked for a number of print shops learning the trade and discovering that he loved the business.

“I associate my relationship with print with sorting my life out,” he notes, “I had many jobs at print shops that have since disappeared. It wasn’t like work, it was like what I wanted to do. I would go home reluctantly because I enjoyed the work and I got so good at it that I did work for the Tate, the Royal Academy and Pan American Airways. I only gave it up to start the Big Issue because I knew how to print magazines.”

Lord Bird, as he is now, was speaking to Print Monthly at the Saxoprint sponsored Great British Postcard Competition awards in London this month. He was generous in his thanks to Saxoprint for “stumping up the cash” for the event, which was in partnership with the Big Issue magazine.In an interview with Print Monthly, the cross-bencher member of the House of Lords and founder of the Big Issue explained how through his involvement in crime he became a printer.



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