By Paul Richardson
After my training period as a receptionist at Western Avenue, A.G. “Jock” Brown, the Sales and Service Manager of Standard Triumph London, decided I was fit to be transferred to the company showrooms at 15/17 Berkeley Square W1.
There were about six sales representatives in the showroom at any one time, and working in Berkeley Square carried with it a certain ambience. The Rolls Royce distributor Jack Barclays was next door on one side and Berkeley Square Garages, the well-known Standard Triumph distributor, was on the other.
It’s necessary for a bit of job description here to avoid confusion. We at the manufacturer’s showroom were only concerned with selling to the export market; we could not sell to customers in the UK. As company representatives, we advised home market customers on the product range and then pointed them in the direction of the nearest distributor or dealer in their home area. We also dealt with sales to the Diplomatic Corps.
Jock Brown, our boss, was a true gentleman of high moral fiber, and he knew the motor trade inside out. One of his bete noirs was a complete disdain of what he called back handers in the form of “tips” from customers or “commissions” from home market dealers for sales introductions. If Jock found out any of his staff had taken a bung, instant dismissal resulted.
I hadn’t been at Berkeley Square long when I noticed, from the large glass windows spanning the front of the showroom, some of my working colleagues and those from the next door showrooms appeared to be having clandestine, lunchtime meetings with people in the large grassed area of the square just over the road.
They would walk nonchalantly into the square and make for one of the large trees from behind which doubtful characters in trilby hats, loud ties, and dark sunglasses could be seen trying to look inconspicuous. The inevitable meetings took place behind the trees. It wasn’t long before I realized brown envelopes were changing hands, and Berkeley Square was the West End bung delivery point for the retail motor industry. Did I get in on the act, I hear readers ask? Let’s put it this way: I explored all the avenues of remuneration connected with my job very thoroughly.
Jock Brown made several surprise inspection trips from his base at Western Avenue. He was a stickler for tidiness and no matter if the showroom was full of customers who’d covered cars in fingerprints, Jock would pick a well-fingered example, call the nearest member of staff over and retort, “This car’s a bloody disgrace to the company, laddie, get these finger marks off.” He would also open the bonnets (hoods) on any Herald, Vitesse, Spitfire or GT6 to make sure the wheel arch sealing rubbers weren’t crimped. There was also no excuse for personal untidiness like scuffmarks on shoes, odd socks, lipstick on collars or dirty shirt cuffs.
In those halcyon days in ’60s London, we seemed to sail through life and work was as much fun as the social attractions. I will always remember an American customer who’d come to collect a TR4 with his wife. He was a retired lawyer from Chicago. When I’d finished all the paperwork he asked me, “Where can we have some fun in London, son?” I naturally avoided mentioning the dubious delights of Soho and named several top restaurants and the major sights of London. He replied, “Listen son, we’ve got a night club in Chicago called The Bucket of Blood, and if you go in there without a gun, they give you one.”
Time to Pass the Buck
During our general duties, besides selling to the export market on the personal export scheme, we were trusted with dealing with the Diplomatic Corps, which involved meeting ambassadors and other high-ranking officials from embassies. There were many aspects of selling to embassy staff that were quite complicated and warranted diplomatic procedures and special specifications. But, now and again, things went wrong and cock-ups were made—especially with orders emanating from overseas.
I was sitting at my desk in the showroom one day when an extremely important diplomat called His Eminence, the Metropolitan of Tiatra, arrived with two henchmen carrying briefcases. His Eminence was dressed in a long colorful robe, wore a highly decorative fez and was armed with a cane-handled horsetail fly swat. To all intents and purposes he resembled a psychedelic version of the Pope. His Eminence was a most unassuming, polite and charming man. After seating the entourage at my desk, His Eminence announced that he’d come to collect a new, white Triumph 2000 saloon to a very particular continental spec. After offering the usual comforts, I excused myself and went upstairs to the admin office to collect the document folder and paperwork.
When I arrived back at my desk and opened the folder marked VIP (very important person), I noticed that the car waiting for him at the Western Avenue delivery section was a white Triumph HERALD!
Without ringing Western Avenue (to keep the cock-up under wraps so it could be passed on undetected to someone else), I thought for a millisecond and said to His Eminence, “I feel our Sales Manager would doubtless enjoy the opportunity to meet His Eminence and deal with the delivery of his new car personally.” (Diplomacy.)
The Metropolitan smiled approvingly and I politely excused myself from his gentle stare and slowly walked upstairs and put the document folder back in the filing cabinet in the admin office. I then proceeded to Tony Jones-Lloyd’s office. Tony, a delightful guy, was our Export Controller at the time. I made no mention of the problem I’d spotted on the spec sheet, but announced that His Eminence the Metropolitan of Tiatra had arrived. I suggested that, as this gentleman was an extremely important diplomat, perhaps it might be politically correct if Tony, as our manager, dealt with the delivery personally. (More diplomacy.)
“Quite right,” Tony retorted—as he fell for it. I duly collected the document file, presented him with it, and we walked downstairs to the showroom where I introduced him to His Eminence. I then politely excused myself and went for an early lunch.
When I got back, Tony rose from a desk in the showroom, walked over to me and said, “We’re in deep s**t right up to our necks, I’ve dropped on a bugger’s muddle here. We’ve built the wrong bloody car and everyone I’ve phoned at Western Avenue is trying to pass the buck.”
“Whatever next,” I said in a comforting and sympathetic tone. The usual reply from anyone on the other end of the phone at Western Avenue when cock-ups like this came to light was, “Good God! Well, we’re all in this together, lads, and we’ll put it right somehow—ring so and so at Coventry—and don’t give anyone else my phone number.”
The problem was resolved when a white Triumph 2000 was found at Coventry, converted to the correct spec overnight and delivered to London the next day.
One day, Terry Clarke, from the admin office upstairs, decided to buy a dog from the Battersea Dog’s Home. He obtained a greyhound which, after a couple of days, seemed somewhat off-color, so he brought it back to the showroom one morning pending a lunchtime visit to the vet. He settled it down in his office with a reassuring pat, and left the showroom for an hour or two on business.
Later on, a high-pitched female scream resounded through the upper offices. Terry’s dog had got up for a stroll, walked over behind his secretary, stretched itself and collapsed dead against the back of her legs. Brian O’Riley, the export controller at the time, investigated the scream and the demise of the poor dog. Brian decided to remove the corpse to a temporary chapel of rest by placing it across the seat of number two trap in the gents toilet until he could arrange for a final resting place for the poor animal.
Meanwhile, my old colleague John Macartney was down in the showroom trying to sell a lady a Triumph 2000 Estate. Her small son began to fidget whilst pressing his hand to his bum in a manner of extreme urgency. John took the young boy upstairs and through the outer door of the men’s room whilst mum waited outside. Pointing to the two loo doors, he said, “You can use cither of the two toilets you wish, young man.”
Just as John put his hand on the outer door to join the boy’s mother, a scream of terror rang from number two trap. The boy’s mother burst through the outer door, which hit John square on the nose and knocked him into a daze. The lady burst into number two trap, and seeing the dead greyhound draped over the toilet seat with eyes glazed and its tongue hanging out, screamed blue murder herself, snatched her son and disappeared into the ladies room next door.
Brian O’Riley heard the second volley of screams and rushed out of his office to be confronted by a semi-conscious John Macartney, struggling to remain upright whilst swooning about outside the men’s toilet and holding a bloody handkerchief to his nose.
“What the bloody hell’s going on, Macartney, have you been fighting again?” bellowed Brian.
“Snot—snis—snime—Bwian,” John answered, his articulation somewhat impaired by the two fingers he had stuck up his nose through his handkerchief to stem the flow of blood. John, still unaware of the dead greyhound in the loo, began mumbling the reason for being at the loo door. Brian interjected, “Oh dear—oh dear, oh dear,” whilst escorting John into number two trap to show him the corpse. “I couldn’t put the poor dog anywhere else, you see,” continued Brian, whilst explaining the dog’s demise.
After showing due concern for John’s swollen and painful hooter, Brian concluded by asking, “By the way Macartney, did you sell the lady a car?
In summer we were always extremely busy delivering cars to overseas visitors who’d ordered their cars abroad for delivery in London. One of the most regular requests we had from customers was to point out the famed nightingales that sing in Berkeley Square. Now, anyone working in Berkeley Square will tell you that a nightingale in the square is as rare as a budgerigar with a glass eye.
But, bristling with cameras, overseas visitors would show such enthusiasm to take photos of the nightingales that we could not resist helping them. The bird that looks most similar to a nightingale perched atop the tall trees in the square is the song thrush. I would therefore apologize, on behalf of my colleagues and myself, for the many photos in albums all over the world labeled “A nightingale in Berkeley Square,” because they were actually what we called “nightingthrushes.”