Peter Roffey 1932 – 2020

It is with great sadness that we recently learned of Natgraph’s former stencil making ambassador Peter Roffey passing, at the age of 88.

Peter will always be fondly remembered here at Natgraph as a true gentleman, a unique character and a real ‘gentle man’.  We understand he enjoyed his eventual retirement, still tinkering with cars, socialising and enjoying travel.

Our most sincere condolences go out to his wife June and his son Howard.

The tribute we published upon his retirement from Natgraph in 2014 is featured below, with Peter’s reflections on his working life.

Peter Roffey retires (for the second time) July 2014 – Salute by Alan Shaw

We worked closely with Peter for many years before he joined us and were always very impressed by his extensive knowledge of stencil making and screen meshes.  He secured many orders for us over the years and when he informed us that he was to retire, we just could not allow that knowledge to be lost to the industry as well as to Natgraph.

So, I offered him a part time job as our Stencil Guru, visiting customers to troubleshoot and doing valuable telephone technical sales follow-up to our UK customers.  He did an outstanding job in his own unique style.  His RAF training and professional business manner shining through in everything he has done for us over 17 years.

It has been a privilege to work with Peter, our customers and Natgraph have benefitted from his amazing experience and expertise, always delivered with great aplomb and a smile, (his tip is to always smile when talking on the phone, it is then reflected in your voice).

Thank you, Peter, enjoy your well-earned retirement, we wish your wife June and yourself well in the next steps of your adventures.

Peters’ reflections on a lifetime in screenprinting

After my service in the RAF in December 1952, I joined my father as a representative in Pronk, Davis & Rusby Ltd (PDR), on 1 January 1953 selling dyestuffs, dry cleaning detergents, garment re-texturing agents, natural silk sieving, filtration and screen printing meshes.

As time went by, the Screen-Printing Industry became my mainstay. My Father, Sidney Roffey, obtained the Zurich Bolting Cloth Manufacturing Co Ltd UK Agency just after the war in 1946 when I was 14 years old.

Form the early days until the early 1960’s, the dress and furnishing textile screen printing industry was the largest user of screen-printing fabrics, mostly in the North of England and Northern Ireland. Graphic screen printers were few in those days and confined to sign makers and billboard printers.

As the textile printing trade developed, multifilament polyester fabrics were used in place of pure silk because polyester is a plastic product having better wearing properties than silk and absorbs less water enabling improved and finer detail printing on to textile fabrics.

Towards the end of the fifties, an important development took place. Mono filament nylon fabrics were woven and offered several advantages of long life and excellence abrasion resistance, wire like thread, easier to clean and no loose filaments to break off.

However, we soon found out that there were problems – the thread surface was very smooth and stencils did not adhere well and, perhaps worst of all nylon is very elastic and it was almost impossible to stretch a tight screen. Even if a reasonable tight screen was made, it became very slack during printing. So, after initial sales, the trade reverted to silk and multi-filament polyester.

The introduction of mono filament nylon meshes, without full research and development, did much to harm the progress of the industry.  I had a real problem because I knew this was the way forward if only the problems could be overcome.

The President of ZBF, Mr Walter Fischer, an innovative yet shrewd business man, who was the first to take pure silk weaving from the Swiss farmers cottages and develop the Ring Mill system of weaving, took up the high elasticity of nylon with the Swiss nylon extruders.  After some research on the woven nylon printing fabric, the first Heat Setting Process was set up in the ZBF factory at Heiden, Switzerland and the initial stretch was able to be removed from production printing fabrics.  As is often the case, the process was a simple one.  Use was made of a textile stenter machine to pull the woven fabric outwards across the width and passing it through a tunnel under high temperature to remove some 20% stretch from the mesh.  This enabled the screen maker to produce much tighter screens and the printer could hold registration- now we were on the way!

I could see the potential for increased man-made fibre screen mesh sales within the industry.  These developments took place in the late fifties and, at that time, there became the need for screen printing within industrial plants where the process was just one of several or many other processes required to manufacture a product the automotive industry, glass manufacturers, ceramics, electronics, household equipment etc.  In fact, the need for screen printing increased from day to day and this was, perhaps, the most interesting growth time in the industry.

The need for tighter screens was pressing and the fibre extruders managed to develop mono filament polyester threads strong enough to weave printing fabrics without premature breakdown.  In the past only spun multifilament polyester yarn was strong enough to meet the requirements of the industry.  Once mono filament polyester arrived, the trade took off.

Self-adhesive plastics came on the market and department stores and chain stores took on the indoor advertising we all take for granted today. Many graphic screen printers started up to supply the ever-growing market.  At last we had the right mesh, now it was time for stencil development.

My father was very used to the dress and furnishing flat-bed screen printing trade, he and ZBF did very well in the late forties, fifties, and early sixties until his retirement in 1968.  By this time, the textile trade was well into rotary screen printing and the need for flat-bed mesh was falling in this industry. It was time for me to develop into the more highly technical industrial and graphic printing of the trade. 

I needed a thorough technical base and here I recognised the ability and ingenuity of my mentor and great friend, the late Cyril Cliffe, who in the early sixties was the Screen Printing Manager at E. J. Hellawell & Son Ltd, Manchester.  In the early days, I was introduced to Cyril by Ralph Downing, Principal of the Regional College of Art, Didsbury, Manchester.  Cyril was the evening lecturer on the Screen-Printing Course.  I was selling screen printing products to the College and able to advise Cyril on developments in the trade.

Cyril invited me to go to Hellawell’s on Friday mornings at 7.00am and stay with him until 10.00am when the owner would arrive at the front door and I would disappear through the rear works exit!  Cyril taught me all he knew about screen-making, make ready and screen printing.  I owe my basic technical knowledge and trouble-shooting abilities to that man.

This was during the time of carbon tissue stencil materials where gelatine was coated upon paper by the manufacturers.  To make a stencil, a piece of this material was cut from the roll, immersed in a bath of ammonium bichromate sensitizing solution and squeegeed flat on to a pre-waxed transparent sheet of polyester or cellulose acetate film.  The sensitized stencil was wiped dry on the plastic film side, the positive attached and exposed wet in the print down frame.  Then the stencil was carefully developed out as the paper came away and it was adhered to a prepared screen – what a performance!

Later a ready coated, unsensitized gelatine, indirect stencil film on a transparent base came on to the market.  The transparent base did away with the paper backing and made life a lot easier.  Cyril Cliffe and I managed to find a wide, very soft, camel hairbrush. We carefully brushed the ammonium bichromate sensitizing solution on to the gelatine, dried it and, whoopee, we could expose it dry.  This saved the need to clean the print down frame glass after every exposure to remove the wet ammonium bichromate solution from the previous stencil to avoid fogging the next stencil. In this way we were able to increase production. Soon after that, the ready sensitized indirect stencil came along and stencil making became so much easier. 

Hellawell’s were using cellulose inks because they could be re-wetted on the screen, but the smell was awful.  In the early sixties, Cyril turned to a re-solubilising white spirit ink – a revolution in those days.  However, it was difficult to remove from the mesh. I pondered over this problem and remembered in the dry cleaning trade we produced a detergent that would emulsify water and allow it to enter into the dry cleaning solvent to remove food stains from garments whilst in the dry cleaning machine. It did not take long to modify the product and an emulsifying screen was made for the screen-printing industry.  My father thought up a catchy name “X ­ IT”.  It sold like hot cakes and we dyed it pink to kid everybody.

Over the years direct stencils have been improved made from PVA emulsions.  The sensitizers are the more environmentally safe diazo type we know today.  There are dual cure direct stencils and capillary films, SBQ sensitized capillary films and direct emulsions with very long sensitized life and no pin holes or brown stains when removed from the mesh.

When I look back over the old times and reflect upon the present, I feel very honoured to have been part of these developments.

After my 31 years career at Pronk, Davis & Rusby Ltd, I joined Graphic & Display Products in 1984.  Later in 1989 I joined Coates Screen and from late 1992 ran the Screen Equipment side of their business.  In 1997 I joined Natgraph having retired from Coates Screen at the end of June that year.  I have therefore worked for 63 years, including my time in the RAF.

Things have changed over all these years and are still changing.  Remember a great deal of change took place before I started what with the caveman, the caveman’s stencil of his hand on the wall and Japanese hair stencils.

I am pleased to have been part of the development over the years and have enjoyed my time at Natgraph especially, so, I wish you all a very sincere ‘Goodbye’.

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