James Cundall’s York Ice Factor closed yesterday. His friends think that’s all he does, but James is also one of the world’s leading stage producers and, as MATT CLARK discovers, he runs his extraordinary business from a North Yorkshire barn.

POSTERS in a barn-cum-office in Welburn bear testament to an extraordinary career. It’s an A-Z of West End hits, from Phantom Of The Opera and We Will Rock You, to Cats and Chicago. Then, in the corner, another bill reveals James Cundall to be the man behind York’s Ice Factor open-air Christmas rink.

It’s quite a diverse portfolio, but James fell into producing shows by accident. He was head of Rothschild Asset Management’s Asia division in the early 1990s and the Far East was very different back then. There had been no economic boom, no designer labels and no companies ever toured.

So, as if the day job didn’t put enough on his plate, James decided to spend his lunch hours producing stage shows in Hong Kong. He formed the appropriately named Lunchbox Theatrical Productions with a group of like-minded businessmen in 1992, but James and his partners didn’t put on just any old shows. The first two were Barnum and South Pacific. Not bad for a bunch of amateurs.

“It was frontier stuff, there was no market then and we were creating one,” says James. “When we put Barnum on we had no idea what we were doing, there was no instruction manual. But we brought over a funfair from Yorkshire and a 1906 organ. It was really spectacular.”

The group may have lost a shed-load of money, but those shows proved their mettle and paved way to greater things, such as getting the London cast of Les Miserables.

“I’d approached Cameron Mackintosh, but they said come back when you’ve done something. So I flew to London not expecting much.”

However, it turned out the director’s father-in-law was a butcher James knew in Malton. That’s what gave him a lucky break.

The lunchtime business began to flourish, but when James got the sack from Rothschild it was the best thing to happen to him.

First he landed a showbiz job in Australia, then he came back to Yorkshire in 2004, resurrected Lunchbox and began to run one of the world’s largest producers of live entertainment – from a shed.

“You can be more creative here; you don’t need to be in London. You need to go to London, but this is a global business and one I could run from anywhere. We are blessed to run it from Yorkshire.”

So what’s his secret? A simple philosophy, he says, that give punters the best possible night out.

“Producing live shows is a minefield, you get to the other end without blowing yourself up and it’s hallelujah,” says James. “Then six months later you put another show on and half way in you blow yourself up.

“How did that happen, you say, it wasn’t there last time?”

A commodities background has certainly stood James in good stead for his show-biz business, but while you might think having big shows on the books would make for gilt-edged certainty, that is not always the case.

“These are the holy grails of the industry and they come with high expectations. So when I go to see a show I’m watching the audience not the stage. That’s what a producer should be concerned with.”

James’s love of live shows goes back to childhood days when his father took him to the open-air theatre in Scarborough.

“They had these big productions in the sixties, Cecil B DeMille sized really with boats and horses on the set. They really got me excited.”

So he took up amateur dramatics and even gained an equity card, although he says that was the only way he could get to see his actress girlfriend. But those bit parts paid dividends and aside from running Lunchbox, James says the highlight of his extraordinary career was being asked to produce the outdoor opening ceremony of Expo 2010 in Shanghai.

“I’m the only westerner ever to be asked to stage a Chinese state occasion,” he says. “That’s not bad for a Yorkshire lad, is it?”