the sixties part one

A chance to return to London  - 1960

Brenda was never entirely happy with living “Up North” she missed her mum and frequently remarked how nice it would be to get back down south again. As luck would have it, Bert Neale, who was a heavy smoker, developed lung cancer and had an operation to remove one lung. He made a good recovery but decided that he should start thinking about retiring. He wanted someone to train as his successor and lo and behold decided I was just the right person. Firstly a replacement for me in Liverpool had to be found and a younger guy called Peter Mahoney who had taken over my London duties when I came up North was a natural choice. He was recently married and looked upon the transfer as a promotion, which it was I suppose. Peter was sent to Liverpool in due course for me to train. I was reckoned that I should return as soon as possible and spend at least a full year “under Bert Neale’s wing” to really get the hang of what he was about. He was certainly one of the most knowledgeable and respected men in the plywood industry. All the arrangements were in place, we had our house up for sale, we had found a bungalow in Pinner, 18, Norman Crescent to be precise, and guess what...Bert Neale had a relapse and died suddenly. What a dilemma, there was no way that I could take over his job without the required apprenticeship period that had been planned. I did not have the necessary knowledge or experience. Peter Mahoney had made all his arrangements and it didn’t seem fair to cancel everything. Charles Tross said that he thought that they could use me in London anyway but that they would have to find a replacement for Bert Neale. I couldn’t argue with this decision and in fact a fellow who had worked with Bert at Bech Neale joined the Plywood department of C & S. and I and my family returned to the South in 1961.
 
18 Norman Crescent - 1961

18 Norman Crescen - Pinner, Middlesex

From Google Street view - circa 2012 - Looks just as it did in the sixties

It was a fairly modern bungalow built around 1950. It had just two bedrooms, but since at this stage we only had Jenny, this wasn’t a problem. Its great redeeming feature was the lounge or living room which was about 24 by 12 feet. The entire bungalow had beech parquet block floors with the exception of the kitchen which was quarry tile.

Norman Crescent - Back Garden 1

Norman Crescent Back Garden 2

A decent sized back garden, initially not very interesting but I later added a patio, a rockery and some paths. I also bought a modern garden shed which was originally intended to house the N.E.R. but ended up as just a garden shed.

 

The N.E.R was consigned to the loft. I was able to build a large room up there complete with an insulated ceiling, exhaust fan and T & G pine board flooring. The whole scheme was really rather too ambitious and large to maintain properly. Also it was unbelievably hot in the summer, despite the insulation, and equally unbearably cold in the winter.

NER - 18 Norman Crescent

N.E.R. In loft at 18 Norman Crescent - Pinner (Yes! that is me!)

There was small garage and a rather narrow driveway up to it. So narrow that the Jaguar I eventually acquired, about which more later, could not get up to it. When we first moved there Norman Crescent was an unmade road and the crescent wasn’t complete.; it ended just past our house. Eventually a builder finished building all the houses right round the crescent and the road was made up at his expense. It is probably interesting to note that we paid £2,750 for this house in 1961. My boss, Charles Tross, was horrified, he pointed out that this was more than he had paid for his home. Of course standards were very different in those days. I believe we eventually sold it for around £7,500 so we didn’t do too badly.
 
Wot no job - 1961

As I’ve already explained I was brought back from Liverpool somewhat under false pretences. I was given an office which I shared with Angus MacInnes and generally assigned the job of chief claims inspector. I believe I did have a few customers in the Greater London area and also made occasional trips up to Liverpool to support my successor Peter Mahoney. Apart from these activities I really didn’t have much to do. I spent a large part of my time wandering around the shops at lunch time which extended from noon to about 3:30 eventually leaving the office around 4:30. This sounds idyllic to those of you who are worked to death, but believe me it soon palls and you get very bored. I did have a company car and so was able to commute by car daily. C & S paid all my expenses and I was making quite a good salary. We lived well, we had an account at the local Off License and always had a good selection of booze in the house. In addition to my “window shopping” I also spent far too much time in the local pub followed by the local club after the pub had closed. I had learnt to drink whilst in Liverpool and I dread to think how much I consumed almost every day. I drove home well over the legal limit several nights a week. I was crazy when I look back but I was VERY bored! The fact of the matter was that I really didn’t have a job even though I was getting paid etc. When I confronted the Chairman of C & S with this later he said, “Well you’re a useful chap to have around and I’m sure we’ll find you something in the near future”

Life in Pinner 1962 -

Jenny 1964Brenda & CarolIn many ways life in Pinner was almost perfect. Jenny was  growing up and going to Woodridings school in Hatch End. My job at W.F. Schlesinger Ltd was going well and financially we were moderately well off. The above photos were taken in the back garden of 18 Norman Cresent around July 1964.

 During the summer of 1961 Brenda became pregnant and on March 15th in the early hours she gave birth to Carol Jane. BUT this was a home birth and the doctor in attendance called me into the bedroom after Carol was born and said " it is twins!" Imagine my surprise, there had been no suggestion during the preceding 9 months that Brenda was carrying twins. The second baby was a boy but he was very distressed and the doctor called for an ambulance and oxygen. Unfortunately they arrived too late and the little fellow died after only 45 minutes on this earth. Since neither Brenda nor I were expecting twins we were not extremely upset, just grateful for the safe arrival of another beautiful little girl called Carol. Arrangements were made to have Baby Myers cremated by Ellements the local undertakers and we did not attend the cremation. This whole event was largely put out of both Brenda's and my mind and never mentioned. Not until Carol found out, largely by accident, that she was a twin. She found this out at age 9 from a friend who was in the same position and mentioned this in front of Brenda at a tea party, Brenda then told Carol the sad news.  I am writing this section in 2014 because there has been a significant developement in this story.
I received an email from Carol telling me that she had been giving a great deal of thought to her late twin brother and felt that she was "missing something" in her life. She asked me for as much detail as I could emember, not that here was much to tell. However she pressed on and obtained both a birth and death certificate for "Baby Myers" now named as Benjamin Julius Myers. (Phyl's father's name and my father's second name)

 BJM Birth Certificate

BJM Death Certificate

 Having obtained details of his cremation which took place at Breakspeare Crematorium in Ruislip, Carol arranged for a local vicar to perform a simple ceremony to bless his ashes and to name him as above. This took place on 18th May 2014, said date being his mothers birthday, she would have 80. How very appropriate!

A change of job - 1962

My office phone rang one afternoon. It was Charlie Craig, the brother of Ronnie with whom I’d worked in the Liverpool office. He said “Tell me Dick, are you so happy where you are that you wouldn’t even consider a job offer” What timing! Naturally I expressed interest and he told me to ring James Latham the boss of Latham’s the large timber merchants. This I duly did and was given the information that one of his close friends (and as it turned out relatives) Bill Schlesinger was looking for a plywood salesman. I phoned Bill and made and appointment to meet with him the next day. In the words of the old cliché “He made me an offer I couldn't refuse. In effect he offered to double my salary, provide me with a better company car ( I was running a Morris 1100 at the time) Naturally I accepted.
 
Working for Bill Schlesinger. - 1962-1964

My career with W.F.Schlesinger & Co. Ltd. was to the say the least very interesting. He was virtually a “one man band” and certainly very much the entrepreneur. He was of Austrian origin and had something of a German accent, however his knowledge of the English language was nigh on perfect. He was married to James Latham’s cousin, Mary Wilkinson-Latham, who shortly after I joined him became an overnight millionairess thanks to Wilkinson Sword going public. Most of our suppliers were of European origin and again because of Bill’s roots they nearly all spoke German. Not only did they speak German but they also corresponded in German, both by letter and Telex. This made life somewhat difficult for me when Bill wasn’t around to translate for me. For this reason I purchased the Linguaphone German language tutorial on 45 rpm disks. I also bought a small battery operated record player which went with me wherever I travelled. I managed to get a reasonable grasp of the basics of the German language and because of the method of learning I also acquired a “hoch deutsch” accent, very “Deutche’s Rundfunk”.

I was able to considerably expand WFS’s plywood sales and in particular to extend the boundaries of sales across the UK. Initially I was driving what had been Mary Schlesinger’s car, which was a green and white shooting brake (station wagon) The exact model escapes me but it was certainly a very nice car and a great improvement over my previous one. Then Bill decided to get rid of his Jaguar...

New Cars

After about 12 months with Bill, during which time I was driving the Shooting Brake Bill suddenly decided he wanted a Jensen CV8, this was a monster sports saloon with a Chrysler V8 4.2 litre engine and a fibreglass body. He wanted to trade in his Mark 9 Jaguar but no one wanted to give him a decent price for it. It was still a magnificent car and had been well maintained. It was pearl grey with red leather upholstery. He decided to “keep it in the family” and passed it on to me. Wow! A Jaguar.

Mark IX Jaguar

I just loved it and especially when driving on the motorways it was fun to watch how other cars pulled over to let me pass when they spotted me in their rear view mirrors! I enjoyed it for something over a year but it was starting to get expensive to run and needed a serious engine overhaul.
 
Bill’s generosity

Bill was a strange man in many ways, not the least of his more endearing qualities was his occasional generosity.

We were having lunch together one day when he said “You know Mr. Myers” he was still very formal, “I think its time you had a new car”. Naturally I didn’t disagree. We finished our lunch, jumped into a taxi and zoomed up to the west end to Rootes in Mayfair to look at the then new Rover 2000.

Rover 2000

They had just one display model, in white. It was beautiful! Bill had read about it and was determined that I should have it. The salesman pointed out that it was the floor model and that delivery was 6-8 weeks. Bill wasn’t interested, “I want this car delivered to my office for Mr. Myers by Thursday (this was Monday lunchtime). As a past very good customer of Rootes, he got his way and it was duly delivered to 62 old Broad Street around lunchtime. The Rover 2000 was sufficiently new and different to turn a few heads wherever it went. I loved that car too, although I must admit that as an early model it did have a number of minor flaws.
 
On another occasion, again over lunch, I happened to ask him if he knew anything about Spin Dryers. Brenda had expressed a desire for one and I wondered if he knew what sort of price they went for. He asked me how I could afford such a thing, to which I replied, I can’t so I’ll buy it on the “never never” He was horrified and said you don’t want to get involved with those people, I’ll lend you the money. Then after a few moments though he said, “no better yet” I’ll buy it for you, its about time I gave you a bonus. He was as good as his word and we went out and bought one straight after lunch.
 
Trips to Europe

I made several trips to Europe whilst with Bill Schlesinger. The most notable was with Bill Holland of Thompson, Eyres and Clunie, a director of one of my Newcastle on Tyne customers and a good friend. He had never been abroad so I took him on an extended trip to Belgium and Germany. We traveled by ferry to Amsterdam and thence by train to Brussels. We visited Usines Marien, our veneer supplier and spent some time at his plant and also at his beautiful house. We then took the train across into Germany and visited Gebr. Kusser, manufacturers of blockboard and plywood. Joe thoroughly enjoyed the trip and probably dined out on it for years afterwards.
 Joe Holland with Ms. MarienJoe at Marien's plant
Mons. Marien's HouseVeneer Logs waiting to be peeled.

 Clockwise - Monsieur Marien & Joe Holland(with pipe) outside Marien's house in Belgium Joe (on left), at Marien Veneer Plant, Marien's House, Veneer Logs waiting to be peeled into veneer


One of the factories that we represented was a small blockboard mill situated in Ingelmunster in Belgium. Firma Devriendt was its name. It was run by two young Belgians, Jacques Debal and Raphael Devriendt. Their quality left quite a lot to be desired and Bill Schlesinger was all for firing them. However their prices were good and we sold most of their production for them to the UK. I persuaded Bill to let me visit them on a 4/6 week basis and inspect the production. This could be done in a day since it was only one hour’s flight to Brussels. We had a lot of fun and I barely remember any of the trips back. We used to do the inspections in the morning, have lunch and then “pub-crawl” back to the airport where they would “pour me” into the plane back to Heathrow.
 
To Finland - 1964

One of the pressing requirements of all Plywood Agents is to acquire a Finnish Plywood Agency. Finland was and possibly still is one of the world’s largest producers of Birch plywood and as a material it provides the mainstay of many UK industries especially the furniture makers.
Through the “trade grapevine” I had heard that a Finnish plywood mill, namely Saastamoinen O/Y was not very happy with their UK agents. Whilst they were not one of the very best mills, to represent them would be a great asset to W.F.S. I contacted them by Telex and Telephone and they agreed to a meeting in Finland to discuss the possibility of changing their UK representation.
I flew to Helsinki by Finnair and thence to Kuopio by train a distance of 400 kms (approx 250 miles). I arrived off the overnight sleeper train and booked into my hotel, ordered breakfast (with some difficulty – my Finnish is non-existent) I met with the local Export Sales Manager whose name totally eludes me. However he was a great guy, spoke perfect English and we got on like a house fire. We toured the factory and then went to the local business man’s club for lunch. What a lunch, it lasted from noon until well after 8 o’clock the same evening. We found we had a great deal in common, particularly in our personal lives.
Despite the wonderful rapport we achieved I did not manage to persuade them to give us their agency.
Doing a search on the web tells me that they are no longer in business and the factory is now derelict.
 
The Big W.F.S. Denouement - 1965

Bill Schlesinger was very much a law unto himself. Naturally enough since it was his company and he had built it up over many years virtually single handed. He was an excellent business man even if he was sometime a bit too sharp for his own good. One of his less desirable practices was to draw up imaginary purchase contracts with our major suppliers, get them to sign them and then try to sell the contents of the contract to UK buyers. At the same time he would take the contract to the bank and ask for a loan against the material even though it frequently wasn’t actually sold as yet. On other occasions he would issue a Bill of Exchange for the value of the contract and then discount it through one of his friends. He did this in the hope that he could redeem the bill when it fell due since by then he would have sold the goods. He frequently had to go “ cap in hand” to his good friend and relative James Latham to bail him out and buy the material that was the subject of these “kite flying” contracts.
 
Matters came to a head in the summer of ’65. Bill was down at his Cornwall Estate , “Trehunsey Vean” near Falmouth. One afternoon I got a call from James Latham telling me that he was finding it increasingly difficult to keep “bailing” Bill out and that as a director of the company I must try and stop him issuing these phoney contracts. He, James Latham, reckoned that we were committed to something like one third of our annual turnover on non existent orders and that sooner or later the bank would get suspicious and foreclose. I promised to do my best.
 
I phoned Bill at his Cornish retreat and pointed out how worried I was about the situation. He replied “Mr Myers, will you resign?” I was totally taken aback but answered “ I would rather come down to Cornwall and talk it over but if you insist I will resign” He accepted my resignation there and then and said he would make the necessary arrangements with Irene the company secretary to pay me out. I hung up and feeling somewhat shattered I went into Irene’s office (she was a good friend and totally on my side, by the way) “I’ve just resigned” I said, “Oh Really” she answered and at that moment the phone rang “Oh hello Mr. Schlesinger, yes he’s right here” She handed me the phone and Bill said “Mr. Myers, I’ve been thinking it over and perhaps we had better meet and talk things over. Come down tomorrow and we’ll meet first thing.”
 
I drove down at the crack of dawn the next day and arrived middle morning. There followed a series of discussions with Bill and his wife Mary (also a director) and it became perfectly clear that although I was a director of the company it meant absolutely nothing and my opinion was neither asked for nor respected. I resigned, again!! This time it stuck!
 
“Well, I think you are making a terrible mistake and what’s more, you can damn well leave the car here and go back on the train” was his final shot.
 
Two things arose out of this series of events.
 
One, he had to pay someone to drive the Rover back to London, whoever it was, collided with the stone entrance gate post on the way out of the estate and did several hundreds of pounds worth of damage!
 
Secondly, I had foreseen this situation arising and had already had an exploratory meeting with Charles Tross, my previous boss from Churchill & Sim to ascertain how the land lay vis a vis a possible job back with them . He said he was sure they could find a spot for me if the crunch came, which it did
 
Back to C & S - 1965

Within 48 hours of resigning from W.F.S. I was back in the Plywood department of C & S. Admittedly I had to take a small cut in salary and went from a nice shiny Rover 2000 to a clapped out Morris 1100 that had been used as the “Pool car” In other words any and every one had driven it. Still at least I was employed and we could still pay the mortgage and other bills.

Still no Job!!

Generous as they were, C & S really didn’t have anything for me to do. I was given a few deadbeat customers and told that they had plans for me in the future.
  
Go West Young man - 1965 (Fall - Autumn)

One afternoon in November my boss Charles Tross said “ The Chairman wants to see us in his office right now” (the Chairman of Churchill & Sim was Mr. John Sim. He was an imposing but very fair and likeable man)
 
We were duly ushered into Mr. John’s inner sanctum by his secretary, Sidney J. Mann. Yes he had a male secretary who arranged everything for him including looking after “his brains” as he called his brief case.
 
“Look here young Myers” said Mr. John is his usual plummy voice, rich from a surfeit of good brandy and cigars no doubt. “ We’ve been wondering what to the hell to do with you” “Now we have this ancient Jewish uncle of Joe Kremermann’s” ( Joe was a director of the Israeli plywood factory, Etz Lavud, that we represented in the UK) “He’s living in New York City and we’ve decided to start up a branch office over there with him as our contact and with you running it for us!” “ How about it?”
 
 I was astounded. me!  Start an office in New York? Well why not? I was 35 years old, knew my way around and with Uncle Kramer’s help (he’s shortened his name for clarity reasons) it was the opportunity of a lifetime. “We’ll pay you $15,000 a year (translated to 2002 purchasing power from 1966, this represents something in the region of at least CAN$112,000 a year or if you prefer £60.000. Plus a company car and a house as well as a lavish expense account. I accepted on the spot little dreaming of the reaction I would get when I got home with the news.
 
“Well you needn’t think that I’m coming to America with you” said Brenda when I told her the great news. “I’m certainly not leaving my mother in Pinner and I don’t want our children brought up as yanks” I argued, pleaded, cajoled, explained, rationalized etc all to no avail. She wasn’t going and that was that. Oh well I thought the initial plan was for me to go on my own for a few months and for Brenda and the children to join me later. Time would soon make her see the error of her ways and rush out and enjoy the great life style that we would have.
 

 
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