Roger Deane – Looking Back Over 40 Years…

This week, we’re saying goodbye to our long-term colleague and friend Roger Deane who is retiring after forty years in the industry. Having led such a fascinating career, we sat down with Roger to discuss his favourite memories over the past four decades, the people he’s worked with and the lessons he’s learnt along the way.

It makes sense for us to start at the beginning and, for Roger, this was in Croydon, South London.  He recalls: “My grandfather used to manage The Tiller Girls, who were a popular dance troupe so I used to watch the shows and spend a lot of time at the theatre as a kid. Another vivid memory I have is of my older brother and his mates adding light bulbs and colour gels to old paint tins to light up their  parties. I was nine or ten at the time and the tins also doubled as drums when turned upside down! I picked up on the idea and progressed it by making a control board from toggle and rocker switches so I could make the lights flash!”.

Roger went on to attend the same school as his brother, Trinity School, Croydon, where he became involved with the theatre productions there and also started taking drum lessons. He comments: “I was around 14/15 when my initial hobby from a few years back had started developing into a serious interest. As usual in the sixth form, I was being made to think about my future and what I was going to do as a career; although the advice was pretty limited in those days. I initially thought I would work in accountancy but, after leaving school, I did some work experience in an accountant’s office over the summer and realised it just wasn’t for me”.

Croydon College where Roger attended.

Roger was then drawn back to his interest in lighting. He comments: “A friend of mine in the same year at school had gone to Croydon College and recommended the course in Lighting Design and Stage and Production Management. He was really enjoying it and my parents were very supportive, so I followed in his footsteps”. Roger would spend three years at the college where he spent a lot of time with Croydon Youth Theatre and working at The Fairfield Halls venue, learning ‘on the job’ as it were. He explains: “The course was very much open and not nearly as rigorous as the many technical courses today. We were taught stage and production management, alongside how to light shows and worked across opera, musicals, straight plays and concert performances. We were also taught practical skills such as how to do a technical drawing – with a rotring pen and stencil!”

During his time at Croydon College, it wasn’t just theatre that was taking up a lot of Roger’s time. He was extremely passionate about music and wanted to be a drummer. His dream was about to be realised when, at the age of 20, the band he played in was booked to do a four month tour of clubs across Canada. He explains: “I remember we turned up at Gatwick Airport with literally piles of equipment. We had no idea about international transit or luggage allowance. The staff of Ward Air (which is no longer operating) took one look at us, obviously felt some pity and gave us a baggage cage and put the equipment on there. They didn’t charge us for excess baggage or anything!”.

It was during those four months in Canada though when Roger realised that the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle wasn’t for him.  He comments: “As someone who likes to be kept on their toes, I really didn’t enjoy the endless repetition of playing the same set night after night. What I really enjoyed though, alongside the travelling, was the technical and production management aspects of the tour, both of which I oversaw. I really felt I came into my own in these two areas and concluded they offered a much more secure career future than drumming!”.

So much so that, when Roger arrived back in the UK, he sold his drums and finished his college course. He then went straight in to his first job at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama as Deputy Electrician responsible for lighting all the drama department productions. He comments: “Similar to college, Guildhall would prove to be another massive learning ground. They had great facilities and equipment and I was able to work on a lot of different shows there with free rein to be very creative. They would often bring in professionals to direct and design sets, meaning I got to work with some brilliant people such as Pete Postlewaite and Ian Judge, while lighting future fledgling student actors like David Thewlis and Adrian Dunbar. It was a great experience and a brilliant 18 months”.

One of the many shows Roger lit at Guildhall as Deputy Electrician.

During his time at Guildhall, Roger was amassing his own personal equipment inventory and would spend his spare time driving around London, lighting concerts for local bands. However, this all became slightly too much: “It came to a point when I realised that I couldn’t fulfil the gigs and carry on with my Guildhall job. I had to make a choice and knew deep down that I was more interested in working with the bands so I left Guildhall and focused on that full time.”

Roger set out on his own and his services were soon in high demand. He recalls: “It was just me on my own and the ‘business’ was run from adverts in the back of the Melody Maker along with the phone box at the end of my street. I was living in digs in London at the time and the number in the ads was my parents’. As such, whenever they received an inquiry, they would immediately page me and I would have to go down to my local phonebox and phone whoever had got in touch. Looking back, it was a slightly crazy way to run a business but it worked!”.

Roger would do this for the next few years, in what he describes as “very hard work and long hours”. During this time, he worked with some iconic bands including The Pogues, The Truth, Katrina and the Waves as well as Latin Quarter. Despite his success, Roger would soon find himself questioning whether this lifestyle was sustainable. He recalls: “I was driving between gigs on tour with The Truth late one night. It was around 2am and I was following the p.a. truck when I dozed off at the wheel. I came off the road and thankfully rolled across the outfield of a cricket pitch, but I knew it could have been much more serious. The whole thing was a reality check and I knew that this was unsustainable.”

Roger worked with Tears for Fears in 1985

Following this experience, Roger quickly sold the van and all of his equipment as a job lot before starting to work freelance.  And the first job he received was high profile to say the least: “It was the Tears for Fears tour and what a fantastic experience. Everybody Wants to Rule the World had just got to number one and it was great to see a band on the rise like that. I was on the lighting crew and I remember day one of rehearsals when I was clambering up the truss and thinking how useful it was climbing all of those trees as a kid! That said, it’s important to remember that the industry was still fairly in its infancy back then in regards to professionalism and the health and safety requirements were essentially made up as you went along.”

Roger continued his rock and roll touring work, which included five years on the Roskilde Festival in Denmark where he provided the lighting design and ran the desk for many leading artists including Bryan Adams, Eric Clapton with Phil Collins on drums, Paul Simon with full Graceland tour and Bob Dylan. In 1988, he would also get the chance to work with Squeeze on their year-long Europe and North America tour. Roger explains: “Working with Squeeze was amazing and one of my career highlights was being stood behind the desk at Madison Square Garden thinking – ‘Wow, I’m really doing this’. However, a year is a very long time to spend with one band and, once again, I didn’t enjoy the repetitiveness or estrangement from home and ‘real life’. It started to feel like I was going through the motions, which I was desperate to avoid”.

Following the Squeeze tour, Roger returned to the UK and decided to no longer pursue music touring and instead move into corporate work. This also coincided with some rather large changes in his personal life. He comments: “My first son was born in 1990 and my second came in 1994. I’d started to realise that the touring lifestyle just wasn’t practical whilst trying to raise a family. That’s when I stopped freelancing and got my first ‘proper job’ at Essential Lighting”.

Roger joined Essential Lighting in its very early days with less than a dozen full time staff. He played a central role in managing the business, which quickly grew into a leading corporate supplier. Roger comments: “The reason behind Essential’s success was that everyone on the team used to be a freelancer. We knew exactly what the customer wanted as we used to be them! We knew what their expectations were and how to exceed them which obviously brought us a lot of custom. We also knew all the common mistakes and how to react when problems arise which is just as important”.

Roger worked at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark for five years.

Roger learned a lot during his time at Essential Lighting (mainly about ‘proper business’). Ten years would soon pass  in which the company continued to grow, with Roger becoming both a shareholder and a director while also adopting his daughter in 1998. It was around 2004 though when a lot of change happened in Roger’s personal life. He comments: “To be honest, I’d already become slightly disaffected with my role at Essential. Rather than dealing with people (which I loved), I found myself a victim of our success, sat looking at Excel spreadsheets all day, exactly what put me off accountancy all those years earlier. Then both my parents became seriously ill and passed away within a few months of each another and, partly through the fall-out from that, my marriage ended so it was a lot to go through at once. However, it made me realise that I needed a change and so I left Essential.”

Roger took a couple of years out to undertake a music business degree. It was an aspect of the industry he was always interested in and this was the ideal time to pursue it. It also gave him the opportunity to get back into playing the drums. It was just after he’d graduated that Roger would find himself being drawn back into the industry once more. He comments: “I finished my degree in 2006 and attended the PLASA Show shortly after. Before I’d even entered the main hall, I bumped into Mark Beaver of Event Concept. He used to have an old corner office at Essential and so we reminisced about old times.  He was telling me about his plans at Event Concept, how he wanted to expand and whether I’d like to join him. It sounded like a new challenge and so I agreed.”

Roger would spend the next couple of years at Event Concept, during which time he found a new partner and resettled. Although this would prove to have a big impact on his working life, he recalls: “I loved my new home but it was making the commute to Event Concept unbearable. We’d relocated the growing business and got it well established in its new home but I knew in my heart I needed to make (another!) change.”

And so into the story arrives White Light: “I’d known WL for years and came in to see Managing Director Bryan Raven. We had a really good chat and he offered me the position of Hire Project Manager. It was ideal as I knew WL was a great company and it was a much more manageable commute. And once I’d started, I just hit the ground running. All of my contacts from the old days started getting in touch and were phoning me (rather than me chasing them). It felt like a very natural move and the start of something special”.

Roger with lighting designer Quentin Jarman.

Roger’s role at WL grew from Hire Project Manager to Head of Corporate Hire as this arm of the business expanded. He also developed strong working relationships with a number of independent lighting designers. He comments: “I was fortunate enough to work with some great designers who each had their own unique styles and approaches. When I first started at WL, they were all looking for a company to provide them with the equipment and level of service they needed on a variety of jobs. I knew we could do just that and, from that point on, we supported them on hundreds of gigs, such as Toyota car launches, the Novomatic stand at ExCeL, the annual SJP Conference at the O2, the NME Awards at Brixton Academy, unique fashion shows and corporate experiential events as well as the annual Microscope Charity Ball. It’s been great seeing these relationships flourish and supporting them wherever we can – no matter how large or small the event.”

Alongside this, Roger’s role also expanded into the Broadcast side of the business, with WL now working regularly with ITV Sport, BT Sport, Discovery Eurosport and Sky Sports. He comments: “When I took over the broadcast element, it was very much still in its infancy at WL – although the first job I worked on was the Six Nations! It was really interesting as I’d never been involved in this world before, and it was certainly new to the company. I’m proud that I was able to marry our delivery of service and skillsets with the demands of the broadcast industry and it’s a market in which we’re now a leading supplier.”

Fast forward to 2019 and Roger has decided that, after such a flourishing career which spanned more than 40 years, it is time to retire. He comments: “I just knew that it was the right time for me to leave. I’ve had a very busy life and, whilst most industries can be stressful, I feel this one is in particular. In its simplest form, I’ve spent forty years delivering on time. That’s a lot of pressure and I definitely think you have to be an adrenaline junkie to thrive in this world.”

As Roger’s career draws to a close, the obvious question would be to ask what his highlights are. Safe to say, he has a few: “In 1988, I worked at the open-air La Nit Festival in Barcelona which marked the Olympic flag arriving from Seoul as the games closed prior to Spain hosting in 1992. The show finished with Freddie Mercury (in his last live performance) and opera singer Montserrat Caballé singing Barcelona. It was one of those ‘hairs stood on the back of your neck’ moments. I also worked on Wham’s The Final gig at Wembley and watched from the wings as Elton John and George Michael duetted on Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me. I was also asked to be the lighting designer for someone called Madonna (who I share a birthday with) but my first child was due so I politely turned her down.”

Roger saw Freddy Mercury’s last ever live performance.

“Among my personal highlights at WL has been the Covent Garden Christmas lights which we supply annually. Technically, it’s a very simple job but, logistically it’s very challenging and I’m pleased with how we dealt with it year after year. Similarly, I’m pleased with my client retention and how we’re able to deliver big projects year on year and that the same customers continually draw on our services. But above all else I’ve made some great friends along the way and have received some lovely messages from people when they heard I was retiring.”

This is an industry of highs and lows though and there are some projects that Roger would prefer to forget about. He recalls: “My lowlight would be when I was working in the Channel Tunnel for 36 hours trying to produce an event environment for a launch lunch between British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and French President Francois Mitterrand. A pretty  miserable 36 hours.”

Although he’s retiring, Roger is not completely cutting himself off from the industry. In fact, he’s already thinking about what his next role might be. He comments: “My nephew is entering the industry and it’s been great to offer him advice and support. It’s actually made me realise I want to support the next generation and those coming through. Also I’ve not had much time in my professional career to do any volunteer/charity work and I’m hoping this will be it.”

Now Roger has left WL, he is planning to relocate once again with his wife Jan before going travelling. He’s also looking forward to spending more time with his three children: Luke, who is a musical composer, Milo who is a design engineer and Jenney-Lu who is training to be a fashion designer. We want to take this opportunity to thank him for his brilliant work over the past ten years and wish him all the very best for the future.