Malcolm Bridges, 70, co-founder, publisher and manager of British Dairying, sadly died after a brief illness just before Christmas.
Malcolm phoned me early in 1993. We had been colleagues on Big Farm Weekly (BFW) in the early 1980s, where I worked as a freelance journalist and he sold advertising space. Malcolm worked on BFW and Big Farm Management from the mid-1970s. The late 1970s were a boom time. It was Malcolm’s idea for the launch of BFW supplements which boosted the paper size from 36 to 84 pages which got us all pay rises and an end-of-year dinner in a private room at the Savoy. This proved that Malcolm was a good operator.
I had launched Dairy Industry Newsletter (DIN) in 1989 and Malcolm phoned to ask if I could find out if the Milk Marketing Board (of England and Wales) were going to sell their Milk Producer monthly magazine, continue it or fold it. At that time Malcolm was selling space on Milk Producer. I did my researches and found out that the MMB—or Milk Marque as it was to become—were to fold Milk Producer.
Well that gives us an opportunity, Malcolm told me. Let’s launch a new monthly against what was then the soar-away market leader Dairy Farmer.
We raised £50,000 between us, mainly to buy desktop publishing computers and to purchase the mailing lists of all five milk marketing boards (supply of which to outsiders was an obligation of the monopoly milk boards). At the time we launched British Dairying there was more than 50,000 registered UK dairy farmers, so it was expensive to reach them all.
The target date for the end of the MMBs was set for April 1994 but legal arguments delayed this until late in 1994. The delay was a godsend for us because it gave us more time for Malcolm to drum up support for what we had by then called British Dairying. It was a tough sell—despite Malcolm’s skill and determination. The management of Dairy Farmer scoffed: we weren’t a proper business, good heavens we all worked from home!
Malcolm told me at the time that as a “controlled circulation” publication, distributed free and paid for entirely by advertising, we would never make any money until we sold more than 50% of the pages for advertising. It would be many years before we achieved anything like that.
But gradually we got the publication off the ground. I gave up as editor after three years and Northamptonshire dairy farmer Judie Allen took over. She gained the tenancy to her farm and decided to concentrate on managing her dairy herd. Under Judie’s recommendation we took on Mike Green from Farmers Guardian as editor 15 years ago.
All that time it was really Malcolm’s show. In his quiet, undemonstrative, highly efficient and well organised way, he guided us to growth and profitability—leaving everyone to do their own thing in their own way, with just the occasional gentle nudges from the skipper.
Malcolm became very well-known and liked within the dairy industry. People liked doing business with him and he was very good at what he did—testimony to being a genuine good guy, who wanted the best for his clients in the long term. He wasn’t just a sales rep in it for the short-term buck.
The early years were very difficult for dairying, with first BSE (mad cow disease) and then foot-and-mouth in 2010. We didn’t make any serious money but we survived. Gradually we beat off all opposition and flourished over the past ten years. I believe an important part of this was down to our determination to keep the editorial hard-hitting and independent. It has worked.
Five years ago Malcolm said he was ready for retirement and we agreed to put the magazine up for sale. We nearly sold out to giant German agricultural publisher Top Agrar but they unaccountably pulled out three years ago. Then we started negotiations with Blackness Lane Limited operated by Alan Whibley, a well known UK publisher and for a long time a good friend of British Dairying. The sale was agreed two years ago. Sadly Malcolm did not live long enough to enjoy the fruits of his long labours.
Alan Whibley adds: “All the team at British Dairying were shocked by Malcolm’s illness and the speed it took him. He was dearly loved and admired by the whole team and it will be very difficult to cover his input and the generous and diligent way he operated. The team will continue to make every effort to publish the magazine in a way which would make Malcolm proud.”
Malcolm is survived by his wife Mary, his daughters Roberta and Claire and his brother Ray.