My friend David – David Bellis by Joyce Todd
In the first of a two-part biography of the career of David Bellis MBE, Joyce Todd focuses on the early years of his incredible career.
R. David Bellis MBE was born in Rochdale, Greater Manchester (or Lancashire as it was previously known) his parents lived in Thornham area of Royton, Greater Manchester where his father Pierce held the position of Mill Manager at the now defunct Thornham Cotton Mill, David’s mother Elsie also worked in mill’s in Royton area in the cardroom.
As he became of school age he attended schools in the local area of Royton the first one was St Paul’s Mission as an infant, as a junior he attended St Paul’s Junior and his senior school days were spent a Royton Central as it was known in those days, today it is known as Royton and Crompton school. In later years he became a school governor here for 5 years and to this day he still gets invited back annually for speech day and he was invited to open the new science block at this school.
David had always been fascinated with engineering and on leaving school he took up an apprenticeship with a local company S. Dodd and Sons, his apprenticeship was building textile machinery, mainly on carding engines,
At the age of 17 the company sent him to Scotland to build machines in Scotland for 2 years working at J & P Coats and Clarks of Paisley, he also attended Paisley Technical College in his own time to gain further knowledge.
National Service was compulsory and when David got called up he was posted to the Radio School, then he was posted to Germany where he served in signals on transmitters – this stood him in good stead for the future addition of electronics to his mechanical training.
After his demob he then found employment with Gap Units based in Batley, Yorkshire a small company that made a product to make boilers more efficient, in the summer David was on sales, in the winter he was on maintenance of the boilers. Still having a passion for engineering he had by this time installed a milling machine in his home garage and he worked here in what spare time he had. A friend came to tea and saw his milling machines and when his boss wanted some coin payouts converting from Italian 50 lira to a UK penny he remembered David and contacted him, he then went onto to redesign this payout that was a very poor design in it’s present form.
This was 1964 and he was still working at Batley but making parts for amusement machines in his spare time and having some experience now of the amusement industry then designed brackets for multi play gaming for the New Brighton Tower Group. The design of his solenoid payout unit was successful and in later years when Coin Controls was founded this product became part of their lifeblood.
Again in 1964 when the UK gaming business had just started to move in Britain he took half a stand, which was just in fact a table at the Blackpool exhibition and took along his product. Jim Crompton was one of his first customers and he ordered 14 units then along came Donald Deakin and Harry Case who also ordered units off him, and he ended up with orders from the show for 40+ units, this was big time to David in those days.
Following Blackpool, Donald Deakin obviously realised the potential of David’s product and invited him along to exhibit on their stand at the London exhibition. Once more this turned out to be successful for David and as more and more orders rolled in he realised he needed to go into business full time, so he left the job in Batley and in his early twenties he formed his own company P.A.D. Automation and worked out of his own garage concentrating on his own products. As the success of his products continued to grow he realised he needed help, it was then he took on his very first employee.
David recalls trying to sell product to Maurice Collings of Ace Coin, one of the leading machine companies in those days, and Maurice and one of his manager’s Mr McCarthy driving up to see him, and when they saw his garage, Maurice’s immediate remark when he wound down the window of his Bentley was ‘You can’t make my products here’ and about turned and left without even setting one foot outside his Bentley. Mind you it was as well he didn’t, as it was raining that day, and if he’d gone into the garage he could have experienced more than he bargained for from the leaky garage roof!!
David then met his future partners Norman Holden and Stuart Kitson and in 1968 they formed Coin Controls and moved into ‘proper premises’ in Royton where business escalated through the coin changes and decimalisation.
Always one to feel that luck has been on his side and a firm believer in the right time at the right place, and when extra finance was needed for the company neither David, Norman or Stuart could fund this and it was then they met Jimmy Horrocks a local showman and operator. Jimmy a man with a shrewd eye for business asked how much they needed and the trio all looked at each other and then blurted out £2000, Jimmy was happy to invest this amount for a 25% share of the company, with the rest of the equity being split between the 3 partners, so the deal was agreed and Jimmy came on board.
They could possibly have managed without the £2000 if the truth known, but this gave them the added security and a comfort factor, which was all important to them. David was at the helm of the partnership, and apart from giving advice Jimmy never interfered with the running of the company, and as time passed the £2000 investment was probably the best £2000 he ever spent, it certainly reaped rich rewards for him.
The solenoid payout was a typical Coin Controls product and David was totally surprised years later this payout he had designed had lasted so long in the market, but then again he was also surprised by lots of things that happened in the company, as he states ‘I’m only a mechanical engineer by trade.’
In 1976 he designed a coin door for pinball machines but had no buyers, that is until the onslaught of video games then it found it’s own success in numerous markets, including pinball machines, and Atari were one of the main buyers of these doors for their pinball machines and video games and they were also buying coin mechanisms from Coin Controls and considering it was 2 to each door well the mind boggles. This was massive business as Atari had 42 factories alone in the USA at that time and Coin Controls were turning out on average 27,000 coin mechanisms each week, for Atari and other customers they had on their order books.
David also designed years ago what must have been one of the first coin handling products which dealt with all accounting functions, this then dispensed with need for an on-site collector, but in those days operators just didn’t want to know, whereas today it is quite a different story and most operators use systems like this. David’s problem with this product was that it was just too advanced and too early for the marketplace in those days, but just goes to show this man was always thinking ahead.
During the late seventies the largest boom market that they experienced was Spain and were producing 2,000 hoppers each day for the Spanish market.
Even though other manufacturers and by now a few had emerged onto the market with some of these manufacturers feeling that Coin Controls had an aged product range. This was not necessarily the case as Coin Controls were constantly launching new products, and new products that stayed at the top for many years to come, this was mainly due to David and his ideas of building products to cover the whole spectrum of coin handling, and he felt what they lost one hand they gained on another.
Business changed over the years and from being somewhat amateurish and having practical people around and no accountants, it went to professionalism which meant having people with degrees and fully qualified electronic people around, and you also had had to have your business set-up for quality and proper systems, without these there was no way could your business be on a professional basis with the rest of the world.
1983 saw Coin Controls floated on the stock market and David took the company to a full Stock Exchange Listing, this was a massive leap for them and David’s reasoning behind this was that they had done everything else including winning two Queens Award’s to Industry for Exports, So this small engineering business that had first started had grown tremendously not only in size but in success. Going public had been talked over for quite a while and one of the reasons they had not done it before 1983 was that if one of the shareholders was to die there would be a market in the shares to pay the taxes.
Sadly Jimmy Horrocks did die but the decision had been made for them to go public before is death, and in fact this way it did in the end protect Jimmy’s assets and his wife was able to sell his shares to pay the tax. When the company did go public Jimmy’s initial £2000 had grown into a huge £2 million sum, as stated before a shrewd businessman was Jimmy Horrocks.
Unfortunately for Coin Controls just after they had gone public the video industry experienced a massive down turn, which dented profits and confidence in the City when profit projections were not met. This was a trying and unhappy time for both David and the company and saw their shares plummet from £1 to 37p overnight, he felt responsible for the loss to the shareholders many of them small local people and friends that had invested in shares, and who could not afford to lose out, in fact it was at this point he wondered if they had done the right thing in going public.
Still not one to give up, Coin Controls carried on backing developments and David even went to the City and explained the situation to institutions, and they then sent in a new chairman whose role would be to hold everything together whilst helping profits recover to a realistic level, this was Bill Houston and a high flier Dr John White of BBA was already on the board. David liked and admired Bill Houston he felt he was a logical chap who did an excellent job for them, and he admitted if ever he were going public again he would try and find a chairman from within the City, as you have to spend a good few years in it to even try to understand it. Rationalisation took place in this time and business areas were targeted back to coin handling products.
David has an ability to attract high powered people as he had done so with Dr John White who was attracted not only to David as a person but who also admired his accomplished product skills, and through Dr John White, David met Bob Morton of Burgess Group and following this meeting a takeover bid was offered and a deal soon struck. One of the reasons for agreement to this takeover was that it was felt it would give tightly held Coin Controls shares more marketability under the Burgess Group banner.
David also felt total comfort and security with Burgess Group and as most of us know talented designers and inventors need to feel they have both of these qualities to carry on with their work. Once the deal had been signed, sealed and delivered Bill Houston left and was genuinely sad to go but his job had been superseded with the takeover, Bill had entered Coin Controls on a purely professional basis but when he left he went as a friend, quite different from the hardnosed City man that had entered the company.
Despite the fact that two of David’s partners took their money once the takeover had been completed, he felt an emotional attachment and this was far too strong for David to even consider taking his money, so he stayed and took a seat on the Burgess Group board, and he didn’t sell any of his shares and this made him one of the largest individual shareholders in the Burgess Group, and since the takeover Coin Controls had raced ahead and so had the shares!!
The development and design of their S10 mechanism had achieved great success for them, and a huge order from the Post Office justified the costs of tooling up for this mechanism these costs over the years were repaid over and over again. Such was the success of the S10 coin mechanism, coin hoppers and coin doors followed by another of their great success stories; the Sentinel.
Over the years Coin Controls had created numerous subsidiary companies many of which were now owned by their managers, still keeping a few for themselves, and many independent companies in the north of England in the same field owe their existence to the original industry of David Bellis. Operating was originally tackled by Jimmy Horrocks’s connection both with Sheffield Automatics and Salford Automatics and these ran side by side for many years despite the fact that Jimmy was in semi retirement. Semi retirement or not he was always available to the company and gave them general support and also had a great knowledge of the world, Jimmy was the dealmaker and if a deal had to be struck it was always Jimmy that David called for.
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