How it all began…
It was 40 years ago this year…
Once upon a time (1974) there were no specialist EFL bookshops in the UK, and, if you wanted a book which needed ordering, you had to wait for up to 6 weeks. If you lived in Europe, added to the long wait was a marked-up price of between 150 and 200%. It had to be possible for a bookshop to obtain books faster and get them into Europe cheaper. And so BEBC was born.
With the backing of L.G. Alexander (the best-selling EFL author of the 60’s and early 70’s) and Ronald Ridout (still in The Guinness Book of Records as the biggest-selling textbook writer of all time), Managing Director John Walsh finished almost 6 years with Longman (now Pearson) in December 1973 and headed for Bournemouth. The town was the largest centre for EFL students outside of London and, despite a national four-day week, a long miners’ strike, and power cuts of 3 hours every day, a former lingerie shop riddled with both dry and wet rot was somehow converted into a bookshop. On April 2nd 1974, BEBC opened its doors at 126 Charminster Road, Bournemouth.
Our first customer was a short-sighted senior citizen who slowly advanced towards the counter and demanded a yard of pink knicker elastic! Unmoved by the response that she was now in a bookshop, she swung unsteadily on her heels and made for the door. Things could only get better.
And so it went on….
BEBC’s growth was due to a simple idea of identifying the limited number of EFL publishers and going to collect our books once a week from their warehouses. A Sunday afternoon trip to parental home was followed by a full Monday driving from Harlow (Pearson) to Neasden (Oxford University Press) into London and the trade counters of Cambridge University Press, Heinemann, BBC English, etc. From Central London, it was off to Penguin at London Airport, round to Thomas Nelson at the top of the M3, pop into Macmillan’s at Basingstoke, and then back to base. We were able to collect books which we had ordered on the previous Thursday – and on some occasions, books we chose there and then for customers. Back in Bournemouth, the books were unpacked on Monday night, ready for shop customers or despatch on Tuesday morning. So while the customers of our competitors waited weeks, our delay was days and the size of our van (beginning with a Mini, WEL 104J) grew as the BEBC grew.
As BEBC grew so did the need for space and to Charminster Road was added a warehouse in Southbourne, office and warehouse in Hankinson Road and finally to Units 14,9 and 15 Newtown Business Park in Poole. During these years of growth, our logo had always been an open book while the corporate colours have travelled through the brown on cream, yellow on red through to the present dark blue, and two shades of green. The BEBC Critical Guide to ELT Materials is now in its 32nd year and has now been revolutionised into an online flip book version. BEBC are certainly rolling with the times. Other landmarks in our history were opening in 1977 (the best stocked, smallest EFL bookshop in the world, probably) opening our one and only real bookshop in Ferndown (1988) and acquiring a computer system in 1984. We owed a lot to Modern Books who complained about us opening up, watched us acquire many of their customers, gave us their best staff and then perished. BEBC’s first entry into publisher distribution was Newbury House (an American linguistics publisher) in 1984 and this side of the business provided a whole range of publishers from the weird to the wonderful. The arrival of BBC English triggered the move to our last warehouse and our major clients since then have been Oxfam and Book Clubs. Amazon are now the major competition.
To be continued….
Included are BEBC’s logos throughout the years.