Former PLASA chairman Tony Kingsley passes
Tuesday, 12 May 2020
tony-kingsleyWyatt Enever of DHA (left) collects an award from Tony Kingsley
UK - Tony Kingsley, a former PLASA chairman, industry maverick and disco lighting pioneer, passed away on Friday 8 May 2020 after a long illness.
If the early 90s marked the period when Tony Kingsley was in the chair of PLASA, it was a decade earlier, when the trade association was still known as BADEM, that he achieved his finest moments, writes Jerry Gilbert.
Tony ran the UK operation of Cologne-based Avitec Electronics GmbH, arguably the pioneers of the ‘superdisco’, who ran operations in four countries.
A former Roger Squire’s store manager, Tony set up Avitec Electronics UK in Hitchin at the end of 1979, and became distributor for the vanguard of popular lighting helicopters, scanners, ‘flowers’ and other effects - mainly from Spain and Italy - that would quickly populate nightclub ceilings and redefine the new disco genre. These included Kremesa (formerly Cremesa), Nisel and Clay Paky.
It was in 1981 that German parent company, Avitec GmbH, booked a staggering 6,000sq.ft of space on two floors at the DIFA Show in Münster. The ‘Discorama’, as it was termed, was designed as a showcase to present their own products and those from UK companies for whom they acted as distribution agents, namely Pulsar, Optikinetics, ICElectrics and Mode.
This did the rounds of mainland Europe, and such was the impact of these awesome displays of technology, that its arrival in London was not long coming. At the BADEM 82 Light & Sound Show in London’s Novotel, Tony Kingsley oversaw an incredible installation of a blue 1000sq.ft pyramid structure, constructed from 4000 pieces of Meroform space frame, edged with decor tube. Inside, the £80,000 of lighting (including a laser) was under the control of Paul Dodd and featured the above companies and others. It was a miraculous feat of engineering (not to mention compliance).
However, it was not this iconic pyramid that led the then predominant Mecca Leisure into the brave new world of German postmodernism—firstly at the Powerhouse in Birmingham, followed by The Studio in Bristol and Confetti’s in Derby. This set a new paradigm in the vast industrial brutalist architecture of these repurposed venues.
Instead, it was the result of an initiative set up by Avitec GmbH boss Ernst Weimer and Tony Kingsley that same July to invite the Mecca hierarchy to attend German chancellor, Helmut Schmidt’s Bundeskustlerfest garden party at his Palais Schaumberg residence in Bonn, with 20 equipment companies participating.
At the garden party, the men from Mecca were seduced by the genius or architect Udo Fischer. Mecca immediately committed the conversion of the Birmingham Locarno to Fischer and Avitec UK, showing immeasurable boldness for a venue well past its sell-by date, that might otherwise have ended up on the disposals list, with most of the budget committed to technology the like of which had never been witnessed previously.
And thus the era of the lightshow (and the new breed of light jockeys) was born. The Powerhouse was a veritable shop window for the second generation of rolling and tumbling effects that became icons of the era.
Thereafter, trade customers beat a path to Avitec’s door, and the operation became the breeding ground for many other fledgling industry practitioners who would go on to achieve prominence, while Avitec themselves were responsible for cutting-edge installations the length and breadth of the UK (many of the designs bearing the inspiration of Avitec co-director Peter Danne).
From the early to late 80s Avitec were unquestionably the most influential distribution/design company in the industry, with Tony Kingsley sitting atop that pyramid.
Alas, the Avitec corporation failed to move with the times, and by 1994 both the German and UK operations had folded.
In recent years, Tony suffered from an Alzheimer’s related illness. Peter Barnard, a former colleague and friend of Tony, says: “It’s been almost five years since Tony shared an office with me, I eventually convinced him that it was time to hang up his spurs.
“It was becoming more evident daily that his capacity to remember yesterday was harder than 30 years before. He was truly loyal to his suppliers and continued to attempt to sell to a market that did not want quality but cheaper bangs for a buck. He loved going to the odd exhibition and meeting up with colleagues from the past and remembering the times when he was at the top of his game, sadly technology was passing him by.
“He loved his cars. There was the cherished Peugeot 605 V6 which cost more to keep going than it warranted. Tony did not like spending money! Though on the odd occasion that I was in the car with him he would reminisce about the Rover Sterling Vitesse which Hans Freytag later purchased off him.
“Time had passed Tony by, but his love for music and his cats Pixie and Dixie I guess kept him going. He was frustrating but also friendly, RIP Tony. I hope there are some Cerwin Vega subs up there for you to play with.”
Tony leaves an older sister Bebe, who lives in France.
The funeral will take place on 1 June at 10.30am at Peterborough Crematorium. "Due to the present COVID-19 crisis the service has a limit of 10 in attendance, please observe social distancing if you wish to attend,” Peter Barnard writes. Sadly, due to the current situation, the funeral will not be followed by a wake. Those wishing to donate in Tony's memory can do so here
(Jim Evans)

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