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  • 29 Nov 2018

L&L turns 40: The man behind the magazine

To many in the industry, the founder of Labels & Labeling, Mike Fairley, has become widely known as the ‘Label Guru’. This moniker has been gained from 40 years of visiting converters and industry suppliers, and his accumulated knowledge from writing and speaking on most things to do with labeling and, more recently, writing technical books for the Label Academy.

There are very few readers however, that know his extensive knowledge and expertise related to printing, paper, packaging and labels had its beginnings some 10 years before the magazine was launched in 1979. Indeed, for much of that time he was regarded as one of the world’s leading international specialists in health and safety in the printing industry, and on materials handling.

This rather unusual beginning to him becoming a dedicated label industry writer and speaker started back in 1967 when he was undertaking post-graduate study in further and higher education at Garnett College of Education, prior to becoming a higher education college lecturer. Part of this study involved the writing of an extensive research thesis, which it was decided should be on health and safety at work.

Following discussions with Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Factories, Fairley was handed some 80,000 accident return documents for analysis, which he undertook by gender, age, type of accident and injury, time of day, day of the week, etc. This was followed by research at St John’s Hospital for Diseases of the Skin in London, specifically looking at printing inks, chemicals and solvents that caused skin infections and skin diseases.

The end result was a thesis that was subsequently recommended for publication as a reference source for industry. His first book, Safety, Health and Welfare in the Printing Industry, was published by Pergamon Press in 1968, followed by a second title, Materials Handling in the Printing Industry in 1971.

Publication of these two books led to requests to write articles for various print magazines and for the National Graphical Association’s newspaper, Print. He was subsequently asked by the International Labor Office in Geneva to be the contributing author on everything to do with health and safety in print in its latest Encyclopedia of Occupational Health and Safety, a global reference source on the subject.

By the early 1970s, he had been asked to join PIRA (the Paper, Printing and Packaging Industry Research Association) as deputy head of training. This involved putting together, finding speakers ‒ and often chairing and speaking on ‒ some 35 or more seminars, conferences and teach-ins a year on topics across the whole spectrum of paper and board making, printing technology and processes, packaging materials and applications, including labels. During five years at PIRA he organized almost 200 such events, and was also writing self-instruction manuals, visual aid kits, teaching machine programs on subjects that included offset printing, paper and board making, moisture measurement of paper and board, and the very first training aid on self-adhesive labels. He was also involved in the training of operators of web offset newspaper presses, and in the introduction of computerized typesetting into the newspaper industry.

Fairley left PIRA in 1976 with an extensive knowledge base and with industry contacts all over the world. Something that would prove invaluable in the early years of Labels & Labelling, as the magazine was then known.

From PIRA, he joined a Government body responsible for industrial training in the Paper and Paper Products Industry Training Board (PPPITB), where he was a senior training adviser and head of information services. The paper and board, corrugated, carton and self-adhesive label industries all came within the encompass of this Government sponsored body. While at the PPPITB, he developed training material and courses for the corrugated industry and ran safety courses in paper mills.

It was during this period that the label industry approached PPPITB to ask if they could help with producing a newsletter or training material on label printing. As head of information services, the proposal was passed to Fairley to see what, if anything, could be done. Although the board decided that they couldn’t finance such material, he was encouraged to look at other possibilities.

In conjunction with Ron Spring, at that time managing director of Gerhard UK, the two of them formed Labels and Labelling Publishers in September 1978 and Fairley published the first issue of the magazine in January 1979. The rest, as they say, is history

Apart from labels, Fairley also spent some 20 years running his own sailing association. A qualified Royal Yachting Association instructor and radio operator, he would race his 11m yacht, Mifair Lady, with a crew of 4-6 throughout the winter weekends, whatever the weather, and in the summer would run weekend courses around the east coast and also up to St Katherine’s Dock in London, or longer trips across the North Sea to Amsterdam, Ostend, Dieppe, Fecamp or the Channel Islands.

Read Labels & Labeling issue 6, 2018 for more special content marking the magazine's 40th aniversary

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Mike Fairley is Labels & Labeling's strategic consultant.

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David Pittman


David Pittman is former deputy editor of Labels & Labeling.

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