Onwards and upwards

1960: then came my first day out as a fully fledged, professional, industrial salesman, the start of that long, long road. Joan had made sure of my sartorial appearance. She straightened my collar, kissed me goodbye and wished me (us) good luck. Being a Yorkshire lass there were no tears, just a real, well concealed confidence in the young man who had little of his own. We both knew the importance to us of this new beginning.

Armed with a classified telephone book, a briefcase full of samples and price lists and a heart full of fear and hope (in that order) I caught the early train from Cambridge to Bury St Edmunds. There had been some kind of enquiry from a brewery called Greene King, so at least I knew for whom to ask. In those days breweries often handled the catering arrangements at outside events: point to points, fetes, folk or jazz festivals, etc. I had rehearsed and rehearsed my opening gambit. No problems. So why did I walk right past that brewery office door - and then back again and then back again? Eventually I took the necessary deep breath and went in. The receptionist looked at my card with weary scepticism and picked up her phone, but instead of inviting me into his office, the source of the enquiry walked down to see me right there in reception. Trouble was, he couldn't remember anything about why he'd responded to our advertisement. It was clear he had no interest anyway. 'Sorry about that', he said, 'But thanks for coming by.'

'Never let your crest fall', Tommy Salisbury had advised, but mine damn near did at that point. I turned to leave but just in time remembered another of Tommy's dictums;. 'It's the bloody sample, Bryan,' he'd told me. 'Get it into his hand. Bugger won't want it and won't know what to do with it or with you but that thing could be a damn sight more interesting to him than you are.' I thrust my sample at the buyer, a waxed paper cup made and printed by our principals in the U.S.A. with a rather great design featuring ears of barley. Bear in mind that in 1960 a disposable drinking cup of any kind was still a virtual unknown. The buyer looked at my sample in silence, turning it this way and that, then, 'Fancy a cup of tea?' he asked. 'Let's go up to the office'. I was in! We sat there chatting for a little while, mostly about the minutae of life and sometimes about business and, right at the end, about my products, my company and the sample. A year later I got my first order - a large one - from that man at Greene King.

All these years later, now that the gates are open the memories come flooding back. As I recall, whilst orders didn't ever come easily, steady sales were being made as my confidence grew. Such progress was made in spite of my having to use only public transport to get around that enormous territory (a territory known throughout commercial UK, by the way, as the salesman's graveyard.) But having been runner-up in a new accounts sales competition (I went into every dentist in Norwich, selling little pleated water cups) I was clearly being noticed at Head Office.One day, 'How would you like a Morris Minor?' asked my boss, and before I could tell him I'd like it as much as would a fish without water like to swim he added; 'The company has an unused one. We'll rent it you if you like.' At that moment I was phoning in a new order, standing in a be-puddled phone box with rain and wind-lashed cracked window panes on Clacton-on-sea's sea front. My macintosh was soaked through and through. I tried to be not overly excited; 'Yes, sounds good to me, Mr Williams,' I mumbled; 'How much a month will it cost me?'

Our flat of course had no telephone so I had to wait til I got home to give Joan the news. As I burst in she was feeding two years old Julie. My Joan Margaret was never easily or overtly excitable. 'Will we be able to use the car for other than business then, Bryan?' she asked. I nodded. 'Of course, we just have to find the petrol money.' She put down toddler Julie, gave me a great big hug and a laughing, promisary kiss. Five years old Karen Jane, sensing the good news, skipped around and around that gas-fire heated, meter fed, tiny little living room. 'Take off those wet things and sit yourself down,' said my wife. 'Dinner's not started yet. I'm off to get fish and chips to celebrate.'

''Let's push out the boat,' I said. 'Get mushy peas as well, and a large Vimto, OK?' Karen squealed with delight.

'All right, I will. Karen, you coming with me?' said Joan. 'We'll be able to go and see your nan and grandad in York, soon as daddy get's time off.'

Daddy neither wanted nor needed time off although he did in time, albeit grudgingly take some . I guess I was well and truly hooked on this business thing. To my own surprise I proved to be intensely competitive. The more orders I won and the more plaudits I attracted, the more I wanted. Some of my early, East Anglian landmark successes included, Campbell's soups - a million small sampling cups, Seaman's Dairy double waxed cups for cream (the buyer was that rarity in my experience, a really rude person) and Wicksteed Village theme park - half a million specially printed hot and cold drink cups. It was that last order that won me a sales competition and probably secured my promotion. But my favourite order off that first territory was for fifty thousand hot cups at Jack's Hill Cafe, the most well-known transport cafe on the A1, a pull-over always busy with trunk drivers and commercials like me. The owner was a classic harridan of a loud blonde, well-build lady, as famous from south to north as were her all day / all night breakfasts. I went in for my lunch and afterwards sought her out to pitch my case for paper hot and cold drinking cups. She turned me down out of hand but not without kindness. 'Our lorry drivers don't want those things, son,' she said. ''Pint china mugs is what they're used to for their tea.'

Sitting outside in my Morris Minor I used the crayon set and writing paper that I always carried to create a design based on the Jack's Hill Cafe sign above its door. I cut out my sketch, stuck it on a cup and went back in. I think she had taken something of a shine to this persistent young man, or felt sorry for him - I hope the former. I explained that it wasn't the long distance drivers but the holiday motorists to whom the advertising might work for her - plus no washing up of course.  She ordered fifty thousand hot and twenty thousand cold cups, specially printed. It was my first real understanding of the power - and the potential for me and my company - of design and print.

Every year Lily Cups held a sales conference culminating in a grand dinner at Liverpool's Adelphi Hotel. To my utter astonishment and not without some raised eyebrows from my fellow sales guys I was seated on the top table between DRG Group MD Lloyd Robinson and my own Lily Cups MD Bob Taylor. I well remember two things about that dinner. First, Lloyd Robinson's speech. He stood up. Silence fell, then, 'This is the only time in my life,' he uttered, 'When I have turned my back on a naked lady.' More silence, this time of the stunned variety, before the penny dropped - behind him stood a marble statue of Venus. The second thing was Bob Taylor's habit of picking out individuals in his speeches, for better, best or worse. During his own speech he turned to look down on me, quoting  from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar; 'And I think yon Cassius hath that mean and hungry look', he said. I probably did, at barely eleven stones in weight and over six feet in height.

The next day I was offered the company's Midlands territory based in Birmingham. It was the territory with the largest sales revenue, the incumbent Bill Davies having decided to retire to head office. The company would use its influence with the Bristol & West Building Society to ensure I got a hundred percent mortgage on a house in the city. Within a month I had bought the semi-detached 121 Yarningale Road, Kings Heath, Birmingham and moved in. We possessed no furniture but found a local used furniture shop. Looking back, stark is the word for a place when you sleep on someone's old mattress on the floor and hand what clothes you have on bamboo sticks on pictures rails across the corner of the rooms, but the word coming first to mind about Yarningale Raod is 'happy' . We had each other, we were all fit and healthy, we had a bank account with the Midland (more on that later) and we had the real prospect of prosperity. Father even sent me a congratulatory card.

My first day out on that new territory I drove through the UK's second city - the city of Birmingham - up to the top of Dudley Hill. where I parked outside the zoo. I got out and breathed in air that may have been smoke laden but for me it was all the wine of a promised land. My land. Spread out before me for miles and miles and miles lay the the heavily industrialised black country. I remember so well the feeling that morning. This was my new territory, my new Kingdom. Mine to conquer not just for myself or ourselves but for Lily Cups and Containers (England) Limited and for the father who had seemed to have forgotten - or not wanted to know about - our existence and for my mother and two sisters who I had not seen or heard of for seventeen long years and for my sister Shirley, now far off in Hong Kong.

But at that moment none of it mattered as much as this, for this was my Kingdom. 









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