In May 2003 the Bongo Fury club and website was officially launched. We figured out how to get the club to the top of the internet search engines and waited to see what would happen. At the time Marianne and myself were working full time at the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and hating every minute of it. We were looking for a route out, but never ever imagined that running Bongo Fury would be be our reason for departure.
Within a few weeks 23 poeople had signed up to be (non-paying) members. Indeed Peter Hyde (member no. 7) and Colin Woods (8) are still with us today! We decided to send everyone a newsletter, pictured above. In this rare collectors item we informed everyone that we were getting English language owners manuals imported, and that if people were interested we were going camping in Wiltshire in late September and all were welcome to attend. We called it the “Sad Anoraks Day Out”. By the way the newsletter was designed and printed by our good friend Pat Moran who also prints our membership cards and has been a key part of Bongo Fury for the last 20 years.
I don’t know what it’s like now but the Postern Hill campsite in the Savernake Forest, near Marlborough was not a good place to hold a meeting. Although the toilets were open the shower block was closed and it was a long way to the pub and the newsagent. We would not make that mistake again!
By this time we had about 110 members and had started charging a nominal admin fee to cover our costs. So it was quite remarkable that 22 Bongos and their occupants tuned up from as far away as Morecambe, Cornwall and Sunderland. There was a report back in edition 2 of the newsletter.
My memory of this event is a bit vague, but I certainly remember Mike and Pam Longhurst (member number 37) and Jan and John Barlow (97) being there. Indeed, they are still regulars at the Bongo Bash 20 years later. Also present at the meeting was Kit Palmer (RIP) who suggested that we should hold future meetings in a more central location. He nominated Lickhill Manor in Stourport, Worcestershire and we have been going ever since.
The main subject that came up at Postern Hill was where everyone could obtain parts on a regular basis. We promised to look in to it.
In May 2004 we held the first Bongo Bash at Stourport. 60 Bongos turned up. We had managed to source some parts and set up a table which did brisk business. More meetings were arranged in different sites around the UK. A dedicated members area of the website with a number of fact sheets was established. We also introduced a more structured membership package and were considering whether it was possible to actually make a living from the club so we could leave DWP! We had launched a database of Bongo friendly garages and the Bongo Fury Forum went live. A number of dedicated Bongo dealerships had been established including Wellhouse Leisure, Imperial Cars and 321 Away. Things were on the move. And so were we.
We made a decision. We figured if we could run the club side of things on a cost-neutral basis by charging a low membership fee, then we could run the parts and accessories side of things as a commercial business and maybe, just maybe, pay ourselves a salary, make a small profit and leave our jobs. So in June 2004, with membership at about 500, but a whole untapped “non-member” market out there we took the plunge. We bravely handed in our notices, put our Sheffield house up for sale and moved to a rented property near Kelso in the Scottish Borders (Mellerstain Mill, pictured above) where we established an online/mail order business called the Bongo Shop. Very few firms were selling Bongo parts and we had a captive audience. Club membership climbed to over 1,000.
But living 6 miles from the nearest Post Office (and pub) wasn’t really for us, so in April 2004 we moved back to Sheffield where at least we could understand the indigenous population, and we have been here ever since.
By the way membership peaked at 3,650 in April 2009 and now stands at 1,600.
It’s been a fun journey but change is coming once again, more of which later.