Beatrix Potter and Whitby
The creator of Peter Rabbit will forever be associated with the Lake District. A little-known connection to the Yorkshire seaside town and photographer Frank Sutcliffe has recently been discovered.
England’s first supermarket opened at Streatham, South London, in 1951. Seven years later, as one of 15 students with the highest marks in the Institute of Grocers exams, I enjoyed a week at a hotel in Russell Square visiting different food manufacturers as they opened their new self-service stores. By 1960 I was at the Premier Supermarket, Harrow-on-the-hill, as a relief manager and it was a privilege to witness the emergence of other London supermarkets as the decade unfolded, including Pricerite, Fine Fare, Victor Value, Tesco and Mac Fisheries.
The contemporary crime fiction television series, Dial 999, starred Robert Beatty and opened with: “London, city of adventure.” For me, it was just like that. The experience brought fun but on rare occasions, trauma as well. My closest shave came at Pricerite in Catford when the door of my office burst open at 8pm. We were finalising the cash from the tills when a thug wearing white overalls aimed an ancient shillelagh at my head but only succeeded in lodging it in the sloping roof. Another thug then appeared screaming “Let’s have the money!” I tried to push him out but was beaten to the floor and my ankles tied to my wrists. I lay face down while my clerk was tied to her chair but I thought if I turned my head I might see something — and I did. His mask slipped and I saw his face. His accomplice yelled “Pull your mask up” — but it was too late!
There was an eerie silence, then the thug standing above me yelled “Blow his head off if he moves once more.” A sawn-off shotgun was clicked loudly, with the barrel left resting on my forehead. My assistant manager had already been grabbed as he went to lock the door and was also tied up. The phone was ripped out, the office searched, the safe opened and all the money taken. They left, warning us to “be still”, but I found a knife to cut us free and after speaking to CID got home around 10.30pm. We were still back at the store at 6.30am as usual the following morning, though. No counselling in those days!
At Scotland Yard I was shown photographs of London criminals and was able to identify one of a notorious gang who was well-known to the police. The case eventually went to the Old Bailey where the thieves received prison sentences. Once out, the lead villain reformed his gang and in 1971 robbed a jeweller in Blackpool. The police, however, had received a silent alarm call and challenged them outside. Sadly, they shot and killed Chief Supt. Gerry Richardson — later awarded the George Cross for bravery — and only failed to kill another policeman because their revolver jammed. It took six weeks to capture all the gang who received further long sentences.
There were many lighter moments, though. When I alighted from the bus early one morning to do a week’s relief management at Premier’s supermarket in Grove Park, I was surprised to find a crowd of people staring through the window. Although I had the keys to open the front door, I nonetheless decided to look through the window myself where the scene was one I’d never seen before or since. Perched on top of a stack of granulated sugar packets about five feet high was a mouse. Directly in front of it on the floor was a cat. The crowd’s fascination was simple — here was a real live Tom and Jerry situation. However, as soon as I opened the door there was a chorus of disappointed “oohs” as the cat and the mouse smartly disappeared. It turned out that the shop had a problem with rodents and whilst awaiting experts