|It’s mid-May. You know the time of year when you expect
wonderful weather. Spring is here
with all it’s delights - non-stop rain with a slight respite for sleet.
are standing in a field in Devon. Well you are standing - however the
is just a moving sea of mud.
at the Devon County Show that morning. In the eighties this was held in
public park in the suburbs of Exeter. The car parking attendant has
your prized motor car into a parking field. You know it is just going
sink into the ground and need tractors to pull it out. But he only
to guide you into this Devonshire Quicksand, and as he has an armband
a radio you don’t argue. Lamely you get out of your car and don your
two sweaters and a quilted jacket.
As your feet
in and out of this mire your trousers develop
a new pattern
a sort of series of brownie splash marks.
make it to the gate of the show ground. The next country bred official
is waiting to tell you that either your ticket is for the wrong day or
you should be at the other entrance three miles away on the other side
of the show ground, The experienced of us have learnt to walk by
showing some outdated
badge and leave him
my late father flashed a badge showing that he was the ninth governor
the main show, the Royal. It was only when I inherited this historic
did I find out that it was a ladies badge.
has been arguing with a legitimate ticket holder fifteen little boys
crept in behind him. A book could be written on these attendants. The
class ones run round in bowler hats just like first world war officers
ordering their troops to their death. They couldn’t arrange a piss-up
in a brewery. They more than likely couldn’t even find the brewery. But
each year they have
their three days of glory. Thick, of course they aren’t.
at the Royal Show some enterprising fellows cut a hole in a hedge and
their own turnstile. They then found a few of the cleverer of the
bowler-hatted brigade to direct the visitors to their turnstile.
Needless to say these fellows
were the only people to make a profit at that year’s show.
So, at last
are past these attendants who by eight o’clock in
managed to bring the whole of Devon and parts of both Cornwall and
to a stand-still. The first thing that strikes you is the devastation
from the night before. At least two trading stands have subsided into
the local stream which overnight
has become a
tributary of the river Exe.
( these are traders who always have a long face and believe nature is
conspiring against them), are just fishing the
stock out of the river. Fresh-faced farming hands
half-way through their day are watching the mere mortals coming to
with the conditions, whilst the little urchins are throwing mud balls
all and sundry.
In the show
tomorrow’s filet and rump stakes are being paraded around with rosettes
to them by some latter-day female matador with a large hat. Other
notables, also wearing those bowler hats long ago the status symbol of
workers, prod and review these oversize animals.
it seems visited Torquay and Plymouth en route you arrive at your own
As a revered and long-standing stalwart of these annual celebrations
company has been afforded a prime piece of moving mud, next to the show
and opposite the listening bank.
listening bank has had a team of workmen building a new Exeter branch
the past week we have brought our antique trailer all the way from
the arts 1966 trailer, is an integral part of every
is also famous to several of the police forces round
the U.K. It
at various times been found stuck under a bridge on the A1` removing
roof of the South Mimms Service Station or just stuck in the mud. This
year railway sleepers have been placed on top of the mud slide and the
trailer placed on the never to be found again sleepers. The real beauty
of this trailer
is that alcoholic beverages may not be served from an edifice on
to jack up the wheels and then open the trailer into a type of wine bar.
is unique in that it is so designed to keep the staff
warm and dry
at the same time make sure that prospective customers are left to the
ravages of the weather. I was always convinced they were drinking more
rain water than wine. But somehow or other this bright red edifice
became a landmark on the show grounds for over a quarter of a century.
ground it took five of us about an hour and a half
to open it out
prepare for the imbibers of Devon. The newest rookie, known as Mr
is sent out to get some coffee. This poor individual has turned up in a
Italian suit and expensive Italian designer shoes. No wellies.He also
a visiting card with Mr Henry followed by the word Tshuuno on it. I
thought it was a title, but soon found
out it meant
who you know".
off to cadge some coffee off the listening bank all the regulars on the
show ground watch in amusement. He earn’t a few choice comments from
the onlooking trio of Harvey Smith, David Broom and Alan Oliver. Mr
Henry returns some twenty
minutes later with five
pair of ruined Italian shoes and a massive cleaning bill for his suit.
members of the sales team, nicknamed the mortuary men because of the
wicker baskets they have been seen to lug around,
are Ron, Ron,
and Eddie. Characters they are.
The old pro
Eddie. He knows no customer’s name, just what they
buy. He can
them entering the show ground. Reminiscent of Rumpole of the Bailey he
the embodiment of a professional drinker even though he hardly ever
the stuff. He has never been known to place his hand in his pocket to
money and he has never passed
He waits on the stand like a predator stalking his
He also was
adverse to trick or two if he could earn more commission. One new boy
a show in Scotland managed to obtain a substantial order. He asked Eddy
to fill in the order form. The first thing Eddie told him to put EG in
the salesman’s corner. It was only months
had put his earnings into a fruit machine did we learn that it was not
Mr Pearson story is typical of him. One day at the Newark & Notts
which is held on a wind-swept former airfield outside of Newark, a
hatted character complete with neck brace arrived at the stand. He was
served by the aforementioned Mr Henry.
became apparent that he was ordering a substantial amount of wine.
or other, as was his wont, Eddie had taken over the sale from Mr Henry.
thousands of £s were involved. The gentleman gave his name as Mr
and stated that he was the son of Lord Cowdrey. As the family business
includes the Financial Times, Penguin Books and Madame Tussauds amongst
others even Eddie was getting excited.
large order was completed - it was big enough to fill a lorry for
to Grantham. Somewhat unsteadily the “bogus Mr Pearson” staggered off.
shortly before the show was going
to close he
re-appeared and asked if anyone could give him a lift to Grantham after
the show. Eddie volunteered, drove him to Grantham and actually bought
him some drinks in
the Crown & Anchor in Grantham.
were not going to deliver the wines totalling thousands of £s
payment or proper references. Phone calls from London soon showed this
to be a former horse groom and the address
given that of
grandfather. Eddie would never serve another customer with a neck-brace
And, of course the blame went on Mr Henry, however the order had the
EG on it !
Chicky is a
from London. His suit is held together by a watch and chain in his
waistcoat. His hand luggage always chinks to the sound of bottles. His
rhyming slang captivates customers - the
Kurfurstenstuck he calls the Gor- Blimey.
One day at
NEC in Birmingham where the unions are very strong
the team were
up the stand on a Sunday. Firstly they shouldn’t have been there on a
Sunday and secondly they were doing work which should have been done by
a Union member.
Very soon a
gaggle of shop stewards arrived and the whole place came to a
standstill. We rather convincingly made out that we could not
understand a word and they gave up
as none of them could speak a word of French.
they were walking away Chicky came down a ladder, stepped back from
he had been putting up and in a pure cockney accent said ” It’s bloomin
ain’t it ?”
- yes one is big and large and the other is short
with glasses -
up this motley mob. Small Ron believes that he
was an ace
during a world war and thereafter was a racing driver.
to prove the former and has never been known to drive the company’s
faster than 30mph to prove the latter. On days off a chopper picks him
to fly to Formula 1 Grand Prix meetings as he is invaluable in the
Ron Dennis the boss of the Maclaren
without him. No one else has ever been able to
find the Earls
formula 1 track yet!
at the Bath & West Show virtually a squadron of Second World War
arrived at the stand. Small Ron served them and very
soon he was
of the “few” and regaling them with his days as a
placed a substantial order with Small Ron and off they went. We offered
get him a war ace’s outfit .
year the squadron returned, and one of their number said ” Ron we tried
find out about you in the records and you don’t seem to be listed”.
to see how he was going to wriggle out of this one.
He said ” Room
They all looked at each other bewildered. Eventually one of them said
“what is Room 43 ?”. Ron replied ” This was the code for those of them
that had taken part in the Berlin Airlift and in case of trouble their
records had been removed. !”
for England. After a days work on the stand he cadges
his meals off
stands. Saxby’s, the pie makers, must have had the emptiest waste bins
Britain each evening. He can make plastic
spark as he eats with them. At one lodging house
him a slice of cake - he took the remainder of
the cake and
the lady with the slice. He would shout out from
waste of time”. If a passer by actually reacted
” A nice taste of wine ?, sir/madam ”.
He has a
of gold and one day at the Southport Flower Show he is on the stand and
is pouring with rain. He sees an old lady in a wheelchair stuck out in
rain and runs to assist her. He rapidly starts pushing her down the
path to wards the stand. However in front of the stand is a grass
As Ron and the little old lady hit the grass the wheelchair comes to an
abrupt stop and the little old lady doesn’t.
part of the folk-lore on British show grounds. They must have sold more
to the great British public than any other foursome. They became
throughout the show grounds and the bed and breakfasts of the UK. For
days a year they sold wines
by the case
Wadebridge in Cornwall to Aberdeen in Scotland. Not only at County
but also at Horse Trials, Golf Tournaments, Game Fairs, Flower Shows,
Shows, Caravan Shows, Ideal Homes Exhibitions, etc,etc. Indoors and
and then served at wine tastings held in either leading hotels or
are a creed of their own. Like truckers they assist
Bedouins they pitch their tents and set up for trade.
largest companies emanate from building up a clientele
There are the grafters who do a demo to an audience.
When a new one
performs the old hands stand at the back and then hold
9.6 or similar.
pinches his electricity off any source he can find.
Ask him how
are going and he gets out his calculator and says
business is up
gets it wrong - he will be selling ice creams in the
hot drinks in the heat. Then there is the umbrella
man who asked
all to look after his stand while he answered the
We soon found out that the call of nature was an hour’s
session at the
in to Mike Winters (of Mike and Bernie Winters fame)
in the Drum
Monkey Restaurant in Harrogate. “Hello”, he said, ”
what are you
here ? ”. I told him I had come up for the Great
His response ” Whose in it ? ”
our greatest irregular - Ian . An old time Thespian who was rather hard
hearing and terribly well spoken. He used to do half days at the Ideal
Exhibition - it took him the other
half of the
to say goodbye to us all. An old customer came up
to the stand
informed young Ian ( All of 76) that unfortunately
another one of
old customers had passed away. Not understanding a word ,Ian said ”
mind tell him to come round for a drink tomorrow.”
where the conveniences were got the answer ” It’s by the case sir”.
who used help out was Harry. I think his main part was standing in
for days on end in one of the films about the sinking of the
was his eyesight. Opposite our stand at the Ideal Home Exhibition one
was the AA stand. On it they had full size pictures of AA men. Harry
regularly calling them in for a drink.
week on the stand he informed us that ” when the fat lady sings ” he
going out to get a new pair of glasses. The following Monday he came
resplendent in a new pair of glasses and promptly removed them
he looked at a label or order form.
to stand on optics upside down. Above each bottle was a copy of the
the right way up. Harry had to try and read the upside down label on
we had arranged a wine tasting in Cirencester in Gloucestershire. Harry
up on a pair of crutches with a broken leg. This would not be of much
as at a wine tasting as we used to take trays of the drinks to each
For some reason we took him with. On
the way we
passing Bibury, one of the most beautiful villages
When we got there we got out for a stroll near the river and Harry
fell in. I’m not sure what the customers thought about this bedraggled
character on crutches at the wine tasting.
came to work at the Ideal Home Exhibition which
whole of March. This character asked to leave the
days to answer the call of nature. He was taken
ill and did
return for two and a half weeks. My father reckoned
the record for answering the call of nature.
the piece de resistance was my father Alec. Twenty volumes wouldn’t
his antics. He was the wine merchant supreme. The first man on the show
in the morning and the last to go home at night.
the exhibitionist , the man the customers would come to see
and for that
they bought his wines. His stories were legend,
he never got a
right yet the audience laughed hilariously. He
or hated - there was no middle way.
to be meticulous. Everything had it’s position and heaven help anyone
to be served in a specific order so that the tasters
taste of each of the nectars he was selling. Dry
then the sweeter ones, followed by rose and then the heavier red wines.
Sherries and ports were only served after orders
for the wines
taken. Biscuits had to be consumed in between so as to clear the
If you were caught serving out of order he would take the bottles and
glasses away from both you and the potential customer.
encroached a half an inch over into his plot he would have it
and rebuilt in the right position. On the stand was a large sign which
“Free Wine Tasting To-day”. Just under this sign in the smallest
were the words “by invitation”. He selected his customers. Originally
you were well dressed with a collar and tie he would serve you - people
in jeans were ignored. As for someone wearing a deerstalker hat he was
to win the lottery than get a drink.
day at the Royal Windsor Horse Show a rather noisy lady in full riding
gear decided to take up his free wine tasting notice.
if she had an invitation. Of course she didn’t. He went on serving a valued
and she kept butting in demanding a drink. Eventually he informed her
if she continued he would empty the contents of the spittoon over her,
continued and as good as his word he deposited the contents of the
she stood there with this gooey ,purplish mixture mixed
and make up. She was far from pleased and set off for aid. A few
later she returned with the secretary of the show and the police. I
know what he said but the secretary and the police joined him for
and bought some wines. The purple lady was ignored. He told Welshmen we
couldn’t ship wines to Wales
that his sparkling rose was an aphrodisiac.
But when he
the staff off people came from miles to watch it. The mortuary men were
daily, sometimes hourly. In fact in the early years before he found the
mortuary men he had experienced a bigger turnover of staff than ICI.
family used to come to the wine tasting at the Grosvenor House in Park
It was an annual ritual and they believed the entertainment was far
than the lights of Regent Street and the pantomime at the London
When he had
appreciative audience he was at his best. The champagne flowed ,the
got more incomprehensible and the customers bought more.
a regular came to his stand at the East of England Show. The customer
a dentist with a pleasant sister, who according to the custom of the
had a large beehive hairstyle. As they were good customers the champers
opened and the cork flew. My father remarked that it was lucky he
hit them. However what he failed
to notice, and
the rest of the staff did notice was that the
a hole through the middle of her bee-hive hairstyle.
joined him he left me in the office to amongst other
salespeople. Although we had four or five regulars there were times
we needed extras. This usually happened for
the Ideal Home
Exhibition in London and the Royal Show at Kenilworth.
As many of
who were interviewed for the Ideal Home Exhibition never turned up he
to over recruit. Many a year about thirty characters used to turn up on
first day. On a forty foot stand this made things rather cramped. If
man raised his left hand the one next to him had to raise his right
Rapidly these numbers used to diminish over the first week.
One year he
off to run the Royal Show and left me to recruit. All he said was “If
can walk send them up”.
years later our roles reversed and he was doing the interviewing.
his interview was like a monologue, and as long as he had an audience
took them on.
year he had interviewed a man who he told me had experience in the wine
and I should take him up to the Royal Norfolk Show for training. It did
not take me long to realise that the poor man was physically
each step his foot did a full circle and landed unevenly propelling him
The trailer was up several steps. we had to hoist him up. Every time he
a glass of wine he ejected it forward as he walked.
from the show I told my father that it was impossible to keep the man.
Regardless my father took him and several other new
recruits up to
Royal Show at Kenilworth on the Saturday morning to prepare our stands.
arrived on Sunday evening. It transpires that my father had got our
friend together with another recruit to move a large hardboard back
onto the stand. As soon as our lame friend moved
the back board, which duly landed on the foot of the other participant.
arrived on the Sunday evening the sight of my father coming towards me
to stop every few yards because of his heart condition was one thing.
was flanked on one side by the lame recruit walking in his circular
and on the other side was the other recruit with his foot in plaster.
least when I took them on they could walk. After he had experienced our
lame friend for the four days of the Royal Show my father dismissed him
as he had
failed to inform my father about his affliction.
and the mortuary men taught me was that wines are to be drunk. Everyone
their own taste and that you should buy and drink what you like. He
sure that customers only bought what they enjoyed and had tasted. He
made sure that there was continuity
of those wines
he kept every order ever made so that he knew the customer’s taste.
a service and his wines were bought by Peers, Ministers ( both
and Episcopal), thespians, farmers, equestrians, golfers, dustmen, and
anyone who wanted to hear a bad joke. This even
Minister and an heir to the throne.
customer was known as the grocer ( not the aforementioned Prime
He was one of the largest car salesmen in the Midlands, both in wealth
stature. He always wore a large diamond tie-pin and said ” I’ll have a
of these and a gross of those etc”
listening to those he called ” brown boots and no
people would come up and discuss wines from the premier vineyards and
lucky buy the smallest quantity of the cheapest. They would talk
nonsense. We all preferred to match the tastes of the genuine customer.
customers on our books we didn’t recognise them all. But most of them
recognised us. Some customers had placed in excess of 100 orders. They
trusted us and our wines. We served most tastes and at most
I travelled to France, Germany, Italy and Spain to select the best
for our clientele. We quickly realised that over 15% of all cultivated
was covered by vineyards. They were run by vineyard ” farmers” and we
sold much of the wine to other farmers.
, after he suffered repeated heart attacks I rationalised the business
came to a startling discovery. Because of the continued
within two years we were buying much of the wine
at the price
had sold it for eighteen months before. Further over that period we had
considerable expense travelling the country, standing in muddy fields,
in hotels, and delivering the wines throughout Britain.
been far more profitable and less stressful to lock the cellars for two
and then make the profit on one sale at a fraction of the expense.
Unfortunately my father passed away in 1987. The reason was he had lost
audience. Eddie was last heard of as a Punch and Judy man in Covent
The two Ronnies I believe still work for the new proprietors. Young Ian
last heard of as an inmate at the
Twickenham . Chicky got himself some wheels and has never been heard of
Mr Henry didn’t last very long like many others.
In 1988 I
part of the team at Drummond & Co where we decided to let the
profit in the same way we had done by holding on to stock. Since then
have seen to the investing of more than £50 million into the
wines on behalf of customers.
I state I learnt about the trade at the grass roots I’m
sure you will
understand that the understanding of fine wines and
of them is open to everybody.
is intended to give you a basis on which to learn a little about wines and maybe a bit
wine exhibitionists. THE
WINE INVESTMENT plan gives you the basis through which to participate.