UK: My Other Side - Behind the scenes at the museums.

UK: My Other Side - Behind the scenes at the museums. - Bryan Ellis, deputy general manager of toy giant Hasbro Europe, loves soccer, architecture and things past.

by Rhymer Rigby.
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Bryan Ellis, deputy general manager of toy giant Hasbro Europe, loves soccer, architecture and things past.

'How about I just tell you what I'm really interested in?' asks Bryan Ellis, opting to leave the usual movies, books and CDs on the shelf.

Fine by me because Ellis, as it turns out, is a real fan of one of the few engineers ever accorded pop-star status - Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

'For me, he was one of the most wonderful, inventive men who ever lived - you know what he did don't you?' He goes on to reel off a few of Brunel's numerous accomplishments such as the Great Western Railway, the SS Great Britain (the first transatlantic steamer) and the Clifton Suspension Bridge, all of which have long outlived their creator.

What is more, he elaborates, 'he did all this out of a small office in the East End of London with a relatively small staff - he built the Great Western off the back of a horse without computer-aided design or a mobile phone or any of that sort of stuff.' Nowadays, says Ellis, with the aid of all our modern accoutrements, we struggle over projects that Brunel would have dismissed as mere warm-up exercises. The lessons here are clear: 'It comes back to this idea of people being process-obsessed rather than driven by ideas and vision and passion. Back then, man had an enormous passion for doing things, creating things and solving problems - I think we've lost a bit of that in the 20th century.'

It is unsurprising then that another of his interests is industrial archaeology: he is a director of Benchmark at the British Schools, Hertfordshire, 'though they don't get as much of my time as they should'. This particular institution is housed in the one surviving Lancastrian classroom in the world: 'That was an educational system - a monitorial one, which a chap called Joseph Lancaster set up in Islington in 1830. It was visited by people like the Tsar of Russia; and the system went all over Europe.' In a similar vein, he is also a trustee of the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood in London, where 'they've got some wonderful stuff from the 19th and 20th centuries.

It's a great example of the glass-house method pioneered by Sir Joseph Paxton - the chap responsible for Crystal Palace.' Interestingly enough, it was also the first home of the V&A, or rather, parts of it were - when the V&A (then the South Kensington Museum) decided to set up in more solid premises, the old structure of iron girders and walls of corrugated iron was dismantled and part of it consigned to the Bethnal Green site.

Ellis' other great enthusiasm is the modest home counties football club which, for a few glorious (and almost unbelievable) weeks this season found itself at the centre of British football. 'I'm an avid supporter of Stevenage, season ticket holder, name on seat and get to go to exciting places like Farnborough to watch them win, sometimes lose. I was there at Newcastle with the rest of them.'

On a more serious note, the club has put together a scheme where local kids can train for the club and study for a leisure qualification at the same time. And this, he explains, typifies what is good about the club.

'It's a really great atmosphere,' he adds. 'It's good to go down there on Saturdays and shout yourself hoarse. It's a bit like football clubs used to be - not at all corporate. You don't feel like you're going into an armed camp like you do in some league clubs.

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