the sixties part two

New York, New York - 1966 (February)

I flew on a British Overseas Airways ( B.O.A.C.) VC 10, straight into New York Kennedy Airport arriving in bitter February cold early in the evening. I took the airport bus into Manhattan and thence a cab to my hotel, the Wentworth on 46th street. I had some small difficulty with the cab driver over my pronunciation of the word “Wentworth” he had no idea what I was saying until I gave him the street address at which he exclaimed “ oh you mean the Wentwoith” .

Wentworth Hotel Manhatten circa 1950

The Wentwoith wasn’t the poshist hotel in Manhattan but it was clean and reasonable especially as it was very central being just off 5th avenue and within easy walking distance of Times Square etc. It was used by several airlines for their crews so I guess it wasn’t that bad. Next door was a very good Steak House, coincidentally called “Mr Richard’s”. I became a regular patron of this restaurant, usually partaking of several large scotches in the bar followed by a “monkey gland” steak with half an iceberg lettuce and French dressing. At that time iceberg lettuces were unknown in the UK. I got to know the manager quite well, he was Swiss by origin and amazingly enough many months later when I was back in London meeting someone at Heathrow, who should walk through the exit but the self same guy on his way back home to Switzerland on holiday. We exchanged pleasantries and of course made the usual remarks about “what a small world it was”
 
Sundry New York Experiences

Let it be said right away that I just loved New York City. It wasn’t at all what I had expected and in particular I really enjoyed the spaciousness of the city. For example 5th Avenue was 5 or 6 lanes wide and all one way, similarly, 6th Avenue (Avenue of the Americas) was the same. With this width of roadway the buildings were not at all overpowering. It was a busy city but there seemed to be plenty of room for everyone.
 
One thing that really struck me forcibly was the level of service that one got there. Two examples stick out forcibly.
 
I was given a car that had been left behind by one of the Kramer family and it was in what can best be described a “filthy state” and had obviously never been serviced in its comparatively short life. It was a GM (General Motors) product in fact it was a 1965 Plymouth Barracuda. Quite a potent beastie. I had to collect it from the airport parking lot and then drive it into Manhattan. I chose to do this on a Sunday since it was the first time I had ever driven on the wrong side (right hand) of the road, plus I wasn’t too sure of how exactly to get back into the city centre from the airport. Needless to say I turned the wrong way on the expressway and found myself heading out towards the end of Long Island. Eventually I was able to exit the freeway and head back into town. However I digress. Monday morning I looked up the main GM service people in Manhattan. I phoned and asked for the service manager. I was put through to a Mr. Anthony (pronounced Ant thony NOT Antony). I explained my requirements and asked if I could make an appointment to have the car serviced and generally cleaned up. He didn’t seem to understand! “What’s with this appointment business?” he enquired . I explained again, “you see I have this Plymouth Barracuda and it needs servicing so I wondered whether I could make an appointment to bring it in to have it serviced” “Look, buddy” he answered “you’ve gotta car, we service cars, you bring it in, we service it, OK?” “Yes but when? I enquired. ‘Whaddya mean when?” “Just bring it in and we’ll do the job” This entire concept was completely foreign to me since in England one had to more or less plead with the service manager for an appointment at some distant future date. Such requests were usually accompanied by a sharp intake of breath and a sigh as they were always “very busy at the moment sir” I took the car in to Mr. Ant-thony, they did a magnificent job on it in just a couple of days for about $100.00 if I remember correctly. Uncle Kramer was at a loss to understand why it was necessary to spend such a large sum on a car that was almost new, but then he was a bit of a weird old fellow. Very kind, but decidedly weird.
 
My second example of good old fashioned American service was with the laundry that was right opposite the hotel. After about a week I’d completely run out of shirts and underwear and needed some laundry doing urgently. The hotel didn’t offer a laundry service but recommended to place opposite. I took my bag of “dirties” in one evening. “When d’ya want it by?” said the cigar butt chewing fellow behind the counter. “Er…could you mange it by tomorrow?” I enquired diffidently, feeling quite sure that it would take at least a week. “You want it tomorrow, you’ll get it tomorrow” was all I got in reply. Sure enough it was beautifully laundered, folded and packed ready the following evening.
 
Part of my job in New York was to set up the necessary infra structure for Churchill & Sim’s new subsidiary “International Board Sales Inc” I needed to find office space, set up telephone service, buy furniture, order notepaper, typewriters etc. Everything in fact that you need to start up a new company. One of the contacts given to me was the local manager of the Westminster Bank in New York. C & S were substantial customers of this bank in London and their name carried considerable clout. I phoned said gentleman, I’m afraid his name escapes me, and we arranged to have lunch together in the Banker’s Club of New York. He gave me lots of help about finding office space, furniture equipment etc and also introduced met to a real Estate agent who specialised in “prestigious” office space. I’d never heard the word “prestigious” before but of course today its in common usage.
 
If I remember correctly I found an office suite at the corner of 42nd and 5th close by Grand Central station. I purchased some basic desks and chairs and a filing cabinet and had the telephone hooked up.
 
I.B.S. had the agency for Russian Plywood on the East coast of the U.S.A. and was promised the agency for ALL Polish goods in the near future. My initial remit was to investigate the potential market for Russian Birch plywood and to find out competitor’s prices etc. In 1966 the Russians were not very popular in the U.S. and I seem to remember that the movie “The Russians are coming the Russians are coming” was in vogue at that time.
During the month that I spent in New York I regularly phoned home and spoke to Brenda. She was very off hand and cool. She was totally disinterested in coming over to the U.S. and started talking about our marriage being “on the rocks”
Finally I pleaded with my U.K. boss, Charles Tross, to allow me to come back to the U.K. immediately to try and sort things out. At first he was adamant that I should stay for the 3 months that were originally planned. Eventually they agreed to let me come back for a week.
 
Back to UK - 1966 (March)

I arrived back early in the morning to a very cool reception. I had no sooner dumped my bags in the bedroom than Brenda announced that she wanted a divorce. She had been having an affair with Harry Barrett, a second hand car dealer from whom we had bought her car and who had helped her to learn to drive. What I didn’t know at this time was that on one occasion when I phoned from New York she was actually in the throws of a passionate embrace with said H.B. ( if you know what I mean – certainly my call put him off his stroke!) I suppose, in retrospect, she was just having some revenge for my earlier misdemeanours and H.B. was obviously very flattered. He was 50 something and his marriage wasn’t a great success. His poor little wife knew of their affair and kept phoning me begging me to try and put an end to the affair, she was desperate. I don’t know what the outcome of their marriage was but I don’t think Brenda kept up the affair once we sorted things out.
I begged, pleaded, broke down and cried for hours, but she was adamant, our marriage was over and she wanted out.
The next day I took a train to Liverpool to see my solicitor, Trevor. He had agreed to see me at short notice to see what could be done. Of course I had to tell him all about the MR affair (details withheld for sensitivity reasons) and he was highly amused and for that matter surprised having believed her to be very “straight laced”. He pointed out the many pitfalls of divorce and the cost of same and agreed to talk to Brenda and see what could be done.
Eventually Brenda withdrew her divorce request for the sake of the children, I had to agree that the whole business of New York would be forgotten and that I would tell C & S that I could not take the job.
 
New York, New York (2) - 1966 (August)

C & S made me one final offer re the New York Deal, namely that they would send the whole family over for six months, all expenses paid, we could live at any level we wanted and they would look after 18, Norman Crescent and bank my UK salary for me. All this so that I could set up the company and then hand it over to someone else. I thought this was a great idea but Brenda saw it only as a form of blackmail. She was probably right when she said “ Oh yes, and after 6 months, then what? We’ll all be so enamoured of New York that we’ll want to stay. No thank you!” So that was that. C & S were justifiably very upset but eventually found someone else, namely Bob and his new wife Pearl from the Glasgow office. They were a young newly married couple and anxious to leave Scotland for the attractions of the USA.
It was agreed that I would go over with them for about a month to get them settled in and then return to the UK and C & S for my “non-job”.

Bob, Pearl and I eventually flew to New York and I spen a month introducing them to my various new contacts. We also rented a car and drove to Montreal to visit Husky Plywood. Unfortunately my memories of this period are pretty scanty, I guess I was more preoccupied with saving my marriage to Brenda which was in tatters. I returned to Pinner and we put 18 Norman Crescent on the market for something over £7,500. After an abortive offer we eventually sold it and purchased 59 On the Hill, Carpenders Park. This was a modern, fairly small teraced house that had 3 bedrooms and a very well kept garden. Suprisingly it was remarkably spacious and had forced air central heating, a comparitive rarity in England at that time. Below is a picture of the outside taken from Google Street View and dated 2012. As far as I can see it has changed very little since we lived there nearly 50 years ago. also there are some pictures of the garden as it was in 1966/67.


 
 
59 On the Hill - Carpenders Park - as at 2012 ex Google



59 On the Hill - Back Garden circa 1968/69

For more about the exact circumstances of my finally leaving 59 On the Hill you will have to go to the PRIVATE area of this web site. This area is password protected and you can apply to me for the password and I will decide whether or not to send it to you. This Private areas contains much personal and sensitive material and is not suitable for all people to see.

Lloyd Duncan Ltd. - 1967- 1970

Building a new Plywood Department
Once again my friend Charlie Craig had phoned me when I had finally settled back in the UK after my U.S. adventures. He was by now joint chairman of Lloyd Duncan Ltd (L.D.L.) and they desperately needed to expand their coverage for plywood sales. They made me a very good offer and although
C & S were reluctant to let me go and in fact offered to match or better the L.D.L. offer I pointed out that I needed more of a challenge and was very bored doing virtually nothing at C & S. Again the Chairman (John Sim) said “you’re a useful fellow to have around and I’m sure we will find something for you in due course” My immediate boss, Charles Tross, was very upset and considered that I was making a terrible mistake. But the offer was too tempting and I joined L.D.L. and became the proud possessor of a new Ford Cortina (better than a Morris 1100)
 
To Israel
 
During my time with Churchill & Sim I had got to know Joe Kremerman, a director and one of the family owners of Etz Lavud one of the then 5 Israeli plywood manufacturers. In 1967 the plywood industry association in Israel was looking to change its agency arrangements in the U.K. They were represented by 3 or 4 agents and wanted to rationalise this by having a single U.K. agent. I phoned Joe in Tel Aviv and pointed out that a small and well known agency like Lloyd Duncan would be an ideal candidate. He seemed to understand and suggested that I flew over to Israel and met with the association. Peter Lloyd, the chairman of Lloyd Duncan was prepared to gamble the cost of my trip on the chance that we might be able to get the agency.
I arrived in Tel-Aviv on a Saturday which was Jewish New Year. The first thing I did was to ask the barman in the Tel-Aviv Hilton what was the Hebrew for “Happy New Year” , Shona Tova is as near as I can get. This little phrase proved extremely useful during my various meetings.
I had a series of meetings in Israel as well as doing some sightseeing. The Israeli Plywood Association listened patiently to my arguments as to why they should entrust their sales agency to Lloyd Duncan and I know that Joe Kremerman and his co-directors were very supportive. As it turned out the Israelis had already more or less made the decision to set up their own selling agency in London and not to use agents at all. It was a brave try and I was not criticized for making the effort.
 
Pirelli Laminates
 
Selling plywood for L.D.L. was not the easiest of jobs, but I was able to expand sales and in particular to use my provincial connections to make sales outside the London area.
 
Charlie Craig came into my office one day and asked “Dick, what do you know about the Formica business?”. “Not a lot” I replied, “I know what it is and I know there are a number of similar products on the market, Perstorp, Warerite, Arborite etc” Charlie had heard through the trade grapevine that Pirelli in Italy were looking to change their selling agency arrangements in the U.K. and he had been given the option of making a bid for the agency. Pirelli were considered to have the “largest single high pressure melamine laminate factory in the world”. They had four productions lines that ran 24 hours a day 6 days a week.
Charlie Craig asked me to do some market research and find out what the prospects were for launching Pirelli’s laminate on the UK market. My research proved that there was a market but that in order to break into it and to have a share against the major competitors we would have to spend a small fortune on advertising. We put together a proposal based on Pirelli increasing their prices and using the extra profit to finance a substantial advertising campaign. Since all the other companies that were vying for the Pirelli agency we telling them that the only way to break into the UK market was to cut prices, Pirelli just loved our approach. Charlie and I flew out to Turin where Pirelli agreed to appoint us their sole UK agents. Furthermore they gave us £100,000 ($225,000) for an initial launch advertising campaign. They also gave us access to their UK advertising agents, Omnific Ltd, later to become The Derek Forsyth Partnership. Pirelli’s London Public relations department was put at our disposal. We put together an extensive marketing plan which was approved and Lloyd Duncan formed a new subsidiary to be known as Lloyd Duncan Laminates Ltd. I was appointed Managing Director and off we went!
 
The next couple of years were very exciting and enjoyable. We got Pirelli laminate “off the ground”. I made many visits to Turin and became very friendly with Fulvio Ognibene , Pirelli’s Export sales manager. Fulvio had a wonderful command of the English language and at time used to correct my grammar. He also had a wonderful way of pronouncing English names. One I remember particularly was that of a pub in the city called The George and Vulture. Fulvio’s rendition of it (as near as I can get phonetically was ‘Tay Gayorggy und Vullturree’. He also always referred to Raspberries as Rapesberries. He was a lovely guy and I often wonder what happened to him. (2007 - He's now heavily involved in the Italian Tourist/Travel industry)
 
We modernised an old office on City Road and made it very Avante Garde I had a staff of four, two girls and two salesmen. My office had very posh furniture including the obligatory cocktail cabinet with suitable bottles in it. All this persisted until the middle of 1970, but to find out more about that decade you have to read the next section.

Click here for: Next section - The Seventies Part 1
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