Published on 2nd December 2020
Guild member Anthony Collier, founder of Farm Contractor magazine and agricultural PR agency Four Seasons Publicity, has died aged 83.
He was a leading and well-respected agricultural machinery and buildings journalist in the mid-1960s and went on to create the successful publishing and PR ventures that helped start the careers of many of today's agricultural journalists and publicity practioners.
Tony Collier was a Methodist Minister's son, brought up in Yorkshire on his mother's family farm while his father was away at war, and that is where he found his love of agriculture.
He was a pupil at Kingswood School in Bath, attended the Berkshire College of Agriculture and worked on farms in various capacities, including shepherd to the late John Cherrington, a popular and well-known presenter of BBC television's Sunday farming programme, which is where his interest in journalism may have arisen.
After working as a machinery salesman with T H White in Wiltshire, Tony began his writing career on IPC’s London-based Power Farmer magazine, being promoted to technical editor and retaining that position when it became Power Farming after a merger with Farm Mechanisation.
After Tony took the two-day National Power Farming Conference under his wing, it grew from small beginnings to an annual event attracting 300-plus delegates.
In the early 1970s, he left IPC to start his own ventures with fellow journalist Alec Paris and former Guild member David Hill, forming Anthony Collier Publications (later ACP Publishers) to launch Farm Contractor as a bi-monthly, then monthly magazine dedicated to coverage of agricultural contracting topics and information.
Four Seasons Publicity followed and picked up significant machinery company and other clients as an agricultural PR and advertising agency.
David recalls: “As founding partners, Tony and I had some memorable times together and he was always very helpful, supportive and great company.”
These ventures started out with an office in Henley-on-Thames, where The Row Barge pub, conveniently just a few steps away, became a regular lunch-time haunt, before the expanding business moved to a former vicarage in the centre of Wallingford in south Oxfordshire and added Livestock International to the portfolio, with ex-Farmer & Stockbreeder journalist Peter Johnson as editor.
Operations subsequently moved to a converted cowshed at Deddington near Banbury when Tony realised an ambition to own a farm and he and his wife Stephanie worked to build up a sheep flock alongside arable crops, and latterly kept Gloucester Old Spot pigs, selling the meat through the on-farm butchery and at farmers’ markets.
The publishing and PR ventures are very much part of Tony’s legacy as both continue to thrive: With its broader scope, Farm Contractor & Large Scale Farmer was published by advertising manager and former Guild member Malcolm Benjamin for many years until being acquired in 2020 by Lewis Business Media.
Meanwhile, having worked for leading agricultural machinery suppliers such as Amazone, Bonhill, Claas, Farmhand, Fiatagri, Leyland Tractors and Marshall Tractors during Tony’s tenure, Four Seasons Publicity remains a leading agricultural agency now owned by former employee Richard Whiskard and still counting Claas among its clients.
Richard said: “Tony was one of the great characters of our industry and his legacy will be the large number of people he brought into agricultural PR and journalism and cut their teeth at Four Seasons or Farm Contractor.
“I obviously have a lot to owe him because of the faith he had in me all those years ago; time in Tony’s company was never dull and it was good to see him in great form back in February when we enjoyed a good, lengthy pub lunch over a few pints. Tony - thank you.”
Graham Fuller, a contemporary of Tony Collier when on the Farmers Weekly machinery desk, adds: “Greatly saddened to hear of Tony’s death, a legendary figure in the farm machinery writing world and in my eyes always the ‘adult in the room’ when whippersnappers like me were learning the ropes of our new-found craft in the early ‘70s.
“I also envied his astute business acumen in developing the magazine and PR enterprises and, on a personal note, recall that he ‘poached’ his wonderful wife Steph from our machinery desk at Farmers Weekly to enjoy an enviable and long-lasting partnership.”
Another contemporary, Guild member Stephen Howe, recalls Tony Collier as “a true professional in all that he did”
“Key to his success throughout was his strong personality, his ability to get the best out of those he interviewed and the fact that he had a keen eye for innovative ideas, understood how they worked and, more importantly given his chosen profession, could describe them in detail, in an interesting way that could be understood by readers who might not be familiar with the rapidly changing face of farm mechanisation.”
Tony was also a long-serving trustee and practical supporter of the Guild’s Charitable Trust objectives and fund raising, particularly when it came to revitalising the annual raffle as one of the main sources of revenue in its earlier years.
Trust treasurer, Diane Montague, said: “I was so sorry to hear the very sad news about Tony. He fought such a brave battle against cancer that I hoped he would go on for a long time to come.
“He was quite simply a lovely man, widely respected professionally, courteous and kind, and with a great sense of humour. I am so glad that I got to know him better through the Charitable Trust and am very grateful for all the help he gave us.”
Fellow trustee Rosie Carne noted that Tony was a constant figure in communication in the British farming industry for many years, while trustee Wendy Ryder added: “Apart from being a good journalist he was good fun to be with and I shall miss him.”
Stephen Howe adds: “Tony will be sadly missed by all of us who came to know him well during his long professional career and also socially on many happy occasions. We will always cherish those but for the moment our attention turns to his wife Stephanie and his family as they come to terms with their great loss in these particularly difficult times.”
Friends and former colleagues of Tony Collier are welcome to send personal tributes, recollections and anecdotes to Peter Hill.
Denis Chamberlain: “Tony was a dear friend and colleague and hugely professional in everything he did. He was a great inspiration and hard-working supporter to his fellow trustees on the BGAJ Trust. But it was his sense of humour, genuine concern for others and his huge commitment to everything he did that marked him out – whether it was editing a magazine, running a PR campaign or organising everyone to take part in so many memorable dinners at the Paris and Smithfield Shows. We have lost a true friend. The consolation is that he certainly left the world a happier and richer place than he found.”
Paul Bassett, Bonhill: “After I joined Bonhill Engineering as sales manager in 1982, I knew I needed some marketing and although Tony was not impressed with £10,500 budget agreed with my managing director he did his best in making it his job to promote Bonhill and, of course, got the budget increased a bit every year right up to his near retirement – and what a professional job he did!
“We had bashing great times in restaurants and at shows, and great fun on ‘Farm Trek East’ trips when we took dealers to the Fortschritt factories in East Germany – but he did have the habit of emptying and cleaning his pipe on to the floor wherever he was and on one occasion after copious amounts of wine at the Bonhill Christmas party, he did so on to my front room carpet – without even knowing it! Bless him.”
Howard Walsh: Ah yes, 'back in the day' some of the most enjoyable press trips would certainly have been those with Tony along, in one capacity or another. Always a great combination of getting the job in hand done and some laughs; I also distinctly remember him introducing me to Strega, an Italian herbal liqueur!”
Simon Brown, Amazone: “I am sorry to hear the news, a great guy and fun to work with. My overriding memories of Tony were with Four Seasons as much as Farm Contractor as we worked very closely on all things media and had many a good time out and about on product launches, press days and leaflet filming over those years.”
Peter Hill: Having worked alongside Tony on Farm Contractor for 13 years through the 1970s, I have many memories that have been rekindled by his passing.
“But two images come to mind; one of a machinery and mechanisation enthusiast who could sit down with a typewriter and notepad, rattle out a feature article with seemingly little effort and leave at the end of the day with a clear desk – in complete contrast to mine.
“The second is of a natural raconteur, someone never happier than standing at the bar, pint in one hand, smouldering pipe in the other while recalling a lengthy anecdote punctuated after the punchline with a roar of infectious laughter.
“How we ever produced any sensible article ideas in editorial planning meetings I don’t know because they invariably descended into suggestions such as “Let’s have a gossip column, we could call it Farmyard Droppings” and for the forestry edition’s safety clothing feature “Latest catwalk trends for the fashion-conscious forester”.
“Like many others who followed on either the magazine or in Four Seasons Publicity, I’m immensely grateful to Tony Collier for taking a punt on the possibility that I might learn how to string a few coherent words together, for being a generous employer and for providing the fun and laughter that helped make it all so entertaining.”
Mark Sanderson: “So very sorry to hear the news of Tony. He was a truly inspirational and formative character to me and, some 30 years on from being at Four Seasons, I recall him being incredibly supportive and, through his actions and deeds, he absolutely set the course for pretty much everything I’ve done and achieved workwise since.
“I’ve never taken to a pipe or lunchtime beers but in so many other ways Tony was an all important role model; a genuinely good person in thought and deed.
Paul Crisford: “One of the best secretaries helping to run the Farmers Weekly machinery team was a straight-off-the-farm young lady from Nottinghamshire, who Tony Collier managed to poach with the connivance of his Livestock International editor, Peter Johnson, something that Tony only admitted to me recently with a grin.
“I was pretty miffed at the time because she was very good at her job. But Steph and Tony were obviously a good match because after organising his professional life, she fixed his private life and having been together for some time they were happily married for a further 35 years.”
Steve Mitchell: "When I decided to hop over the fence from agricultural journalism into PR in the late 1980s, there were a handful of PR practitioners whose example I was inspired to follow in the belief that if I could do the job anywhere near as well as them, then I’d be more than OK.
Tony Collier was indubitably one of that very exclusive group – if you got a press release from Four Seasons Publicity (or Agripress or John Briscoe at Massey Ferguson), you knew that a) it had news value, b) it didn’t need editing or (as far too many did) rewriting, and most importantly c) there would be no bullshit.
The last time we met was at the beer tent at the Cropredy Festival in Oxfordshire, and that’s how I’ll remember him – beer in hand, relaxed and chatty, and with a smile that could light up a room.
Chris McCullough: Very sad to read the news about Tony. Even though I haven't seen him ina few years I do recall spending an eventful week with him in the United States on a John Deere press trip. As you can imagine there were quite a few laughs with Tony around. I think he even got quite an intimate search at the airport! What a lovely guy! RIP Tony.
Sandy Cox: I was very saddened to hear of Tony's death; he was always fun to be around and coincidentally moved to Iron Down Farm at the same time as I moved to the neighbouring village. I spent many pleasant evenings and weekend afternoons with him and Steph at the farm and have to admit I egged on Steph in her wish to keep pigs until Tony eventually relented and bought her a Gloucester Old Spot sow as a present.
Although Tony was a machinery writer and his Four Seasons Publicity clients were predominantly involved with farm machinery, on the farm his passions were his sheep flock and his lively and often errant sheep dogs.
He always enjoyed a practical joke and when I returned home one day to find an estate agent's board on my front lawn, I knew it could only be him who had put it there. I kept it for a few years and eventually erected it at his farm gate when I was in the area again.
As a friend of my future wife, Julia, her first opportunity to drive a tractor was on Tony's grey Fergie, which he refueled twice in one day for her to drive around his fields. She also got her first opportunity to hold new-born lambs in the byre at Iron Down Farm and we still laugh about the Terry's Chocolate Orange he gave her for her birthday; when she opened it a couple of months later we discovered he had carefully substituted the chocolate with a real orange, which by that time, of course, had gone mouldy!
Julia and I were delighted when, despite the fact that Steph was about to give birth to their daughter at any minute, Tony drove 200 miles to make a brief appearance at our wedding in County Durham before heading the 200 miles back to Steph.
He was one of the characters of agricultural journalism and his passing will leave a space that can't be filled.
Mick Roberts: I was saddened to hear about Tony’s death – the loss of a true legend in our industry. Tony was already established in ACP Publishers and Four Seasons by the time I joined Power Farming and I admit, at first, I was a little intimidated by this boisterous colleague with such a huge personality.
I wondered how I would ever fit into this group of very confident journalists who were obviously also close friends. But Tony soon made me feel part of the gang and I just loved his company, preferably in a pub or hotel bar, listening and laughing along. And boy could he laugh! I have so many great memories of being with him on press trips and also being hosted by Four Seasons - and Tony was the most genial host!
On many of those trips I had my recurring thought: ‘I’m getting paid to do this!’