NEWS of a special non-woven material, invented by Blackburn manufacturer Brian Mercer, was revealed by the Telegraph, back in 1958.

This new plastic net was being made by a unique process on a secret machine, in the experimental section at Pioneer Mill, where the textile looms were manufacturing dress fabrics.

The product, yet without a name, was just known then as Mercer mesh and the machine which produced it had been built by the progressive managing director of Blackburn Pioneer Mill Co, in his workshop, to his own design.

The world of plastic gave him immediate credit for showing it something different and was quick to acknowledge that his net 'would appear to have immensely wide applications.'

By the end of February, 60 years ago, it was already pouring out of the machine at 20 yards a minute, thus producing more than 600,000 packs a week for the fruit and vegetable trade.

Indeed, the netting was already being used for pre-packaged oranges in the East Lancashire branches of a big chain of stores.

Brian, however, called it 'a mere trickle.'

He planned to have 20 machines, turning out millions of the packs, by the end of the year - though he reckoned that rate of production would still be little more than a dribble, to meet the potential of pre-packaging.

The new product, he revealed, had many other uses, too. It could be made flexible or rigid and its mesh could be fine enough for curtains or large enough for goal nets.

Many firms across the globe, including America and 25 other countries, were already clamouring to make it under licence from a Pioneer allied company, Plastic Textile Accessories, which was being developed to market both the material and the machine. The company held world patent rights.

Brian explained his product was made by pouring a bag of powder in one end of the machine and the product emerged rapidly as a mesh tube at the other, after being turned into a liquid - and he revealed: "I puzzled and experimented for three years, to evolve this process.

"For a time I was stuck, then I realised it would not work unless the yarn were in a molten state."

The back room boys who worked with him in developing the machine were Bill Talbot, Pioneer Mill engineer and his assistant George Murray.

Frank Brian Mercer - he was always known by his middle name, was born in Blackburn in 1927; his mother was a cotton spinner and his father also in the textile trade, rose to become a mill owner.

Brian went to Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School and he took over Pioneer Mill, on the banks of the canal at Mill Hill, at the age of 25, when his father died.

He founded Netlon in 1959 and five years, when weaving ended, Brian adapted the factory to manufacture his new product.