Inside business: Inventor basks in total eclipse of the sun

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The Independent Online
A PASSION for astronomy looks like paying dividends for Bill Stillman, managing director of Swan Packaging, the specialist printing and packaging business he set up in London in 1979.

Mr Stillman moved the firm to Corby to take advantage of loans and grants available from the EU when the town's steel industry shut down. He now employs a staff of 40 making specialist items like film and document wallets for such companies as Kodak, Boots and Thomas Cook, and promotional material including 3D glasses for Walls, Nestle and Direct Line.

Five years ago Mr Stillman realised that the first total eclipse of the sun to be seen in Britain for more than 70 years would track across Devon and Cornwall on 11 August this year on its way over Europe and the Middle East. Though the eclipse will only be total in a small part of the country, the sun will be 97 per cent covered in London, 91 per cent in Manchester and 83 per cent in Glasgow, so it will be an event across Britain.

But looking at the sun is dangerous even when it is obscured by the moon and anyone trying to look at the eclipse risks damaging their eyesight. So combining space-age technology developed by Nasa with the techniques he already uses to make novelty viewers for watching 3D films, Mr Stillman set to work to produce a cheap and practical viewer using coated aluminium foil which will allow people to watch the eclipse without damaging their eyes.

He now claims to have the only instrument manufactured in the UK with British Standards Institution CE approval, ready for the eclipse. He hopes to sell them at around pounds 1.25 apiece and is negotiating deals with a dozen big companies - including newspapers, fast-food restaurants and food manufacturers in the UK and Europe - which see the occasion as an opportunity to give the viewers away as promotional aids.

He hopes to market 50 million of the novelties, and Swan is taking on an extra 20 staff in anticipation of a 50 per cent leap in turnover this year and a permanent lift to its profile.