In memoriam: John Simpson
Monday, 13 June 2022
john-simpson-4-768x511Simpson co-founded White Light and served as chairman of charity Backup
UK - LSi is sad to report that John Simpson, co-founder of White Light and chairman of technical entertainment charity Backup, passed away on the morning of 11 June after a short battle with cancer. He was 79 years old and is survived by his partner, Sue, and three children.
In a tribute to its founder, White Light has published the following statement: “We are heartbroken to bring you the news that our founder and former chairman John Simpson passed away (…). Those of you who were lucky enough to know John, or work with him, will know what a brilliant person he was and how this is not only a huge loss to White Light but also the wider industry. John had a lifelong passion for theatre lighting and his co-founding of WL was both a pioneering and revolutionary move; forever changing the way the industry would operate. Not only did he have incredible foresight but, most importantly, he was warm, caring, approachable and had complete respect for all of those who worked with him; never believing in hierarchies. His attitude was embodied in how WL operates as a business, with its core values of being dependable, friendly, knowledgeable, adaptable, and customer-focused at the heart of the organisation.
“John was born in 1942 in Chipstead, Surrey and throughout a somewhat impoverished childhood found solace in the local amateur dramatics group where he developed a quick obsession with the technical aspects of the theatre - in particular the lighting side. Although, back then, John never thought a career in the industry could be remotely viable and so actually went to work in the city, commuting in a bowler hat (something he openly admitted he hated).
“After a brief stint working on building sites, he would go on to become a specialist teacher in the 1960s, teaching English, Drama, Sociology and Mathematics in the Wolverhampton and Walsall area. During this time, the education authority decided to issue every single teacher with a tawse - a leather strap used to ‘discipline’ students - and part of their contract was that they had to enforce this. John being John refused to do anything of the sort and soon found himself leaving the profession.
“Shortly after, he joined the Arts Council as a trainee administrator before being appointed to general manager at a range of different theatre venues, include Watford Palace Theatre, Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre and the Royal Court Theatre in London - which is where WL’s journey starts.
“It was at the Royal Court where John would meet chief electrician Andy Phillips and Rory Dempster and the three soon saw a gap in the market for theatre shows that required additional lighting. As such, alongside Angela Fox and David Henderson, they formed White Light - a name based on Andy’s preferred lighting style (although there were rumours it was also linked to John being colourblind). Following this, John would then go out and max his credit card (much to his mother’s annoyance) in order to purchase the company’s first set of fixtures. (…) Today, whilst theatre lighting still lies at the heart of the company, it is now an industry leader in many other fields - yet has maintained the passion and integrity that John ensured was part of the company’s DNA.
“Outside of WL, John was known for his charity work, acting as chair of Backup, which provides financial support to industry technical professionals in times of hardship. Over the last two years of the pandemic, he has been tireless in the support of the people in our industry who needed help - right up until a week before his untimely death.
“As we were writing this, we were trying to think of a way in which we could truly sum up the type of person John was. And that’s when we remembered his interview from our 50th birthday celebrations last year in which he was asked ‘what is your favourite memory of WL?’. You might (quite rightly) expect John to have picked a specific show or the first time WL worked internationally or even when we moved to SW19 as part of our continued expansion. But it was none of these. Instead, John’s response was: “My best memories are working with our colleagues and the collaboration, the effort, the passion, the fun… For me, it’s always been about people, rather than the technology”. And we honestly believe that perfectly sums up the type of person that John Simpson was. Thank you for the memories, John. And for being a great boss, a great leader and a great human being. You’ll be sadly missed by us all.”
Reacting to the news, PLASA has said in a statement: "An incredibly sad time, John’s ability to touch anyone he met and leave them feeling better was a true gift and one of many we’ll miss from him. Rest in peace John, your legacy will carry on. PLASA passes on our condolences to your family and friends."
For more on White Light's storied history and its 50th anniversary, see LSi December 2021.

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