Thomas Cook staff watched a stage demonstration of the company’s 175-year history at its annual retail conference.

Company archivist Paul Smith played the role of Thomas Cook, opening the production and narrating the story in front of a near 700-strong audience of delegates.

It followed Cook’s humble beginnings as a cabinet maker in Market Harborough in 1841 and how the former Baptist preacher developed the leisure travel business.

Cook’s early ventures includes tours around towns in the Midlands and then gradually more further afield and across the UK.

He first took guests to Europe in 1855 when an international exhibition was held in Paris, and expanded to run tours in Switzerland and Italy and introduced hotel coupons.

The story continued to explain how steamers took passengers beyond Europe and how Cook benefited from the post-war boom, on to the rise of aviation and its sale to German owners.

And it concluded with how Thomas Cook has evolved into what it is today, with more than 20 million customers and 27,000 employees.

Director of retail and customer experience Kathryn Darbandi said: “It was really inspiring and brought the Thomas Cook story to life.

“People said it was funny, informative and inspirational. There were people in the room with 30 or 40 years’ experience – who have heard the story before – and still loved it and it is a brilliant introduction for those people who are new to the business.”