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A Right Royal Occasion
Published 2nd September 2019
On the edge of Birmingham there was once a building which was officially the most visited attraction in the country - or
for a fortnight every year it was, anyway. It was not a theme park or a stately home, but a nondescript collection of
interlocking hangars, set beside the railway line and surrounded by farmland.
The railway station which served it (at Castle Bromwich) welcomed a remarkable procession of VIPs, including half a dozen
Kings and Queens of England, and the heads of state of dozens of others. When the Cold War was at its chilliest in 1956,
even Nikita Khrushchev popped in.
They called it the British Industries Fair, or BIF for short.
For 40 years BIF was Britain’s shop window to the world, easily the largest trade fair on the planet, and the place to
showcase the products of the UK and its Commonwealth. Even by the mid-1930s there were stands for more than a
thousand exhibitors including an increasingly impressive presence by McGeoch & Co Ltd.
The impressive McGeoch & Co Ltd Stand at BIF 1956
Strictly speaking, there were two BIFs, one staged in London and one held simultaneously in Birmingham, the latter
concentrating on local strengths in engineering, electricals and heavy industry. Customers and delegates shuttled between
the two on specially reduced rail fares (on non-stop trains) or flew in by air to Castle Bromwich.
The British Industries Fair was ring-fenced in ways that can hardly be imagined in today’s multi-national and globally
integrated world. Only manufacturers from the UK were permitted to exhibit, along with food producers from the Empire
and Dominions. This was decidedly Britain’s show, an annually re-occurring Great Exhibition for the 20th century.
For McGeoch, the annual BIF event was the perfect opportunity to exhibit and secure orders for the company’s fast-
developing range of products including both domestic and marine lighting and ships’ brassfoundry being manufactured at
the Warwick Works in Birmingham.
In 1956, among the impressive list of overseas visitors to the McGeoch stand, two buyers from Yugoslavia came in search of
ships’ brassfoundry for the shipyards there. They were from Belgrade and had got to know about McGeoch through the
small shipyard Yarrow’s once had at Kraljevica. Before leaving the UK, they had placed a series of orders for cabin door
fittings and furniture and general ships’ brassfoundry.
1956 was also the year that the McGeoch stand was honoured with a visit by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, accompanied
by His Royal Highness, The Duke of Edinburgh – a right royal occasion for the company.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is welcomed to the McGeoch Stand at BIF 1956 by Mr W Percy McGeoch, Works
Managing Director and Chairman of the Electrical Exhibitors’ Committee (left). Looking on is Sir Ernest Goodale,
Chairman of BIF Limited.
BIF historical information is reproduced by kind permission of business-live.co.uk
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