A tattoo was more of a military extravaganza than a permanent flesh imprint when Entaco, a descendant of from the English Needle & Fishing Tackle Company, put down its roots 300 years ago.

But now Entaco, the only remaining company in a once-thriving British sewing needle industry, makes a million tattooing needles every week. Along with acupuncture needles, fishing hooks and surgical suture needles, they represent the modern face of a company which also continues to produce a weekly total of 11 million hand-sewing needles.

This harmonious blend of the old and new is also found in the boardroom and in the company ethos.

Chairman Victor Barley, 53, started work on the shop floor at 18, in the footsteps of both his parents, having tried and failed to become a professional cricketer, while Martin Ellis, managing director, and Andrew Stringer, finance director, are both graduates in their early 30s.

At the same time as Entaco has had to adapt its methods and margins to modern global conditions, it has made an old-fashioned philanthropic pledge to its 250 workforce.

This is to remain in the Warwickshire village of Studley, where it has been the biggest employer for generations. If it fails to do so, it pays financial penalties.

This year, on completion of a drawn-out management buy-out, the company has won its first Queen's Award for Export Achievement for selling 75 per cent of its output overseas. Turnover, which was pounds 2.3 million when Entaco took over Needle Industries in 1991, is now over pounds 8 million.

One plank of the export base is fishing and Entaco's foresight in predicting a finite life for the net-fishing which has plundered fish stocks.

From a non-existent market six years ago, Entaco has developed a long- line system using stainless steel hooks and swivels to prevent twisting. It is now distributed worldwide by two Norwegian strategic partners and is a pounds 2 million annual market.

Another is the craft revival, especially in the United States. Barley says: "Hand sewing is declining, but we have benefited from craft activities. We sell a lot of tapestry needles as well as those for quilting - particularly to the States - and upholstery. Then there's tattoo needles and acupuncture needles and other specialist needles, such as glovers' needles.

"We saw a change coming. As hand dewing diminished, we needed to find alternatives. We may yet find a significant market in body piercing.''

Entaco is the last of the of 100 companies which were making sewing needles in and around Redditch at the turn of the century.

Its past mergers and acquisitions have included probably the best-known name in sewing needles, Milwards.

Its name has been changed from Amalgamated Needles and Fish Hooks to Needle Industries (the English Needle & Fishing Tackle Company was a manufacturing subsidiary of Amalgamated Needles).

And it has been owned by thread manufacturers J.&.P. Coats, amalgamated with Abel Morralls, of Aero knitting needle repute, and finally sold to the management by Coats Viyella.

Coats remains Entaco's biggest customer, but the needle-maker is turning its attention now to making an impact in the medical industry, currently dominated by three major players and worth pounds 600 million.

Barley pays tribute to the young blood that has helped Entaco to its dramatically increased turnover.

Ellis joined the company in charge of sales and marketing in 1993 and pushed it towards a rise in turnover of pounds 5 million over the next four years.