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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Perry Picture Post part 17

Within two weeks, Purnell Books had moved lock, stock and drawing board to Paulton in Somerset, and for the following three months or so – from Monday to Friday – I had been allocated a room at the Crown Hotel in Wells’ Market Square. There I lived alongside two other Purnell colleagues, both of whom had been members of the in-house Sales Force.

When Bernie Wroe deserted the sinking ship by joining World Distributors Ltd. in Manchester, Les Wallace had initially stepped into his shoes and had moved with the rest of us over to Paulton. Presumably he, too, was not happy with the situation, as he’d secretly found himself alternative employment elsewhere and was gone by late October or early November.

I’ve said that Les Wallace hadn’t let on to anyone else of his plans, but he must have been in cahoots with the other in-house salesperson staying with us at the Crown Hotel as almost as soon as Les  departed for pastures new, so Melvyn Somebody-or-other (whose name I have totally forgotten) was gone, too. I have to say that the situation at Paulton wasn’t a recipe for being a Happy Ship. So why hadn’t it been?

Firstly, there was Mike Gabb who’d calmly walked in and had taken over Purnell Books – this was when Charles Harvey was ousted by directors of the parent company (as mentioned in Part Fifteen.). The company suddenly seemed to be in financial dire straits, which, prior to 1980, hadn’t been apparent; and it had lost the licence to produce the Scouting annuals. The licences to produce many of the annuals the company had once enjoyed publishing – the likes of Sooty, Parsley and Pony Club – had been lost also, and, reading between the lines, it’s more than likely that the inside knowledge Michael Thomas and Bernie Wroe had taken with them to World Distributors Ltd. allowed WDL to obtain those licences.

Even more serious was the loss of the Walt Disney license and one cannot dismiss the thought that such a heavy loss contributed to why Charles Harvey began drinking neat vodka out of a coffee mug on a regular basis.

Chief Accountant David Bailey (from Paulton) – who perhaps had seen the light over Mike Gabb’s manic activities following Charles Harvey’s departure – had been given strict instructions by Robert Maxwell to take the reins from Gabb despite Bailey (at that time) having been a good hundred miles away from Maidenhead. Another irony was that after the move to Paulton, Gabb had wooed David Bailey’s personal secretary, and eventually – having divorced his first wife and abandoned his son – Gabb had married her.

And now we come to the unhappy plight of David Bailey.

He was a humorless man who, in the five or six years that I worked with him, I’d never caught  laughing or even cracking a smile. At the end of our first week in Paulton, Bailey had persuaded his wife to lay on a welcoming party at his house for the twenty-odd members of staff who had transferred from Maidenhead; only three of us had turned up – Ruth Hall, Martin Lewis and myself, such was Bailey’s magnetic personality. Bailey had said that his wife had been bitterly disappointed (as indeed he had been) and, in a rare moment of letting the barriers down, he told me that his wife – a retired State Registered Nurse – had been diagnosed as having cancer and that her life expectancy was not much more than six months. It was probably April or May of 1982 that I attended St John, the Baptist Church for what ultimately turned out to be the first of three inter-related funerals.

Bailey lived in Keynsham – a satellite town half-a-dozen miles to the south of Bristol. It is infamous for Horace Batchelor’s “Infra-Draw Method” where he regularly advertised over Radio Luxemburg’s airwaves during the Fifties and Sixties; for the Cadbury / Fry Somerville factory that allegedly had broken its promise to the Keynsham townspeople; and for the perennial flooding of the area as the River Avon burst its banks on a fairly regular basis.

It was Martin Lewis – who haled from that area – who divulged the fact that Bailey and his wife had once had two children – both of whom had been killed. While travelling around Canada by Greyhound, the elder boy had been shot and killed as he stepped off the overland bus (I seem to remember that this had been in Toronto or in Ottawa), and then their daughter (who had been around 6, 7 or 8) had been riding her bicycle in the cul-de-sac where they lived and had been knocked over and killed by the Corona drinks delivery truck.

Some six to nine months after his first wife had died, Bailey married his wife’s best friend . . . but on their wedding night – possibly due to the exhilaration of it all (for up to that point, she had been a spinster) – she’d died of a heart attack and so for the second time that year, I had visited the Keynsham church in order to pay my respects.

On or around 1st April each year, the city of Bologna (Italy) stages a Children’s Book Fair, and in his wisdom, David Bailey had decided to take up the challenge of trying to sell the rights of books created by Purnell Books while at the same time taking his third wife with him as a sort of semi-paid-for honeymoon. On the rebound of having lost two wives in fairly quick succession – and thinking perhaps “third time lucky,” he’d married once again . . . although how this latest one had come into the picture, I can no longer recall. On the day Bailey and Wife No. 3 were due to travel, he came into the office telling Senior Editor Sue Hook that she would now have to drop everything and go to Bologna in his place. While getting things together in readiness for their trip, Wife No. 3 had taken a tumble down the stairs and within days of them getting married she, too, had died of a heart attack. A week or so later, I went to funeral No. 3.

As I have already said, I never ever saw Bailey laugh . . . and with the loss of a son, a daughter and now three wives in fairly quick succession, was it any wonder?

While being housed at the Crown Hotel, I was  joined by my son Marcus. Now aged 16, he had been offered two places for a graphics course near to where we had originally been living. But, due to the move to Somerset, plus the helpful string-pulling of Mervyn Sage (Purnell & Son’s unofficial Education Officer), he’d been able to enrol at Brunel College under the same conditions he’d been offered at High Wycombe.

1982


Another book that interested me greatly had been the Purnell World of Fighter Planes. As Wendy Hobson had remained in the Maidenhead area and taken up employment at Foulsham Publishing (where they published Raphael’s Nautical Almanac), I had teamed up for this book with Sub-Editor Debbie Brammer. I had put my all into the design and, about halfway through, the repro house that was putting the films together for Purnell & Sons complained that I was creating so much extra work for them that they were in fear of losing money! I’m afraid I turned a deaf ear and carried on regardless.

It was during April 1982 that “Wil” Wilson sent me “Out of My Depth”—a five-page photo-story that almost got me arrested.

The story appeared on pages 18 to 22 in an August 1982 edition of Jackie magazine. Of the 40-frames, 14 of them needed to be shot at the local outdoor swimming pool, and it just so happened that a pool at Wells, Somerset had opened its doors to the public for the summer season on Saturday, the 1st of May.

I was new to the area; I didn’t really known anyone (the house I had bought was a little over three miles to the west of Wells); and as I hadn’t used him for a story in Jackie before, I opted to employ my son Marcus in the lead role with his girlfriend playing the part of the leading lady. With Marcus and Sally on board, friends of theirs, whom I had never met, seemed keen to play some of the other leading roles.

Having all met up at the pool, I shot the 14 frames needed, using up two rolls of film as I shot every scene shown in the script at least three times to give the designer a choice of shots.

On a roll of unexposed film, the manufacturer pre-exposes a series of numbers that ran from 1 to 36. These numbers could be found between the sprocket-holes that assisted in the advancement of unexposed film into the ‘gate’ in readiness for the next frame and the film’s outer edge. In the majority of cases, these pre-exposed numbers on the film line up with the camera’s own counting system and so, having captured three, four or five shots of a particular scene, I carefully made a note (such as Roll No. 2 – Frames 13, 14 and 15) so that not only did I know where I was in the script, but so too did everyone else who was involved in the assembling of the project.

After an hour or two, we all broke up for lunch with the promise that we would all meet up again that same afternoon outside a certain shop in the High Street so that I might capture onto film the next part of the story.

On the Sunday – the second day of the shoot – we’d all met up after lunch at the Recreational Ground, which was not much more than a stone’s throw from the Bishop’s Palace. The models and I met at 2:00pm and were relaxing on one of the park benches in the early May sunshine. It was while I was outlining what shots we needed to do there, that, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a police Panda car pull up. Bordering the southern boundary to the park was an entrance from Silver Street where the historic Bishop’s Barn had been situated. It was a 15th Century tithe barn inside which Supertramp, Status Quo and Slade had played during the 1970s. (Nowadays it is used for less exotic occasions such as wedding banquets and gatherings of that ilk.)

Two “Boys-in-Blue” got out, donned their flat hats, and made an unhurried bee-line for where I and my chums were sitting. When they arrived, they had come straight to the point.

“Good afternoon, sir, may we enquire as to what you are doing?”

“Yes, of course,” and I proceeded to outline how I was trying to shoot a script for D C Thomson. The bobbies hadn’t been expecting that, and there was a pause as the information sank in. And then:

“Now sir, were you at the swimming pool yesterday morning?”

“Yes. Why?” I tentatively asked.

“Well sir, yesterday, the station received no less than three separate telephone calls informing us that there was a man at the pool taking photographs of young girls.”

“That was certainly me officer, but as you can see by the script, I was actually photographing these two – one of whom happens to be a fellah. He also happens to be my son.” There was yet another pregnant pause while they pondered over what they should do next. While they did so, it seemed to be just the right moment for me to turn the tables onto the two constables.

“As it happens,” I’d said with mounting boldness, “you've arrived at a most opportune moment. May I ask that you turn to the last page of my script and read for yourself what it says for Frame Numbers 39 and 40.”

They did as requested . . . then:

“Ah, erm yes . . . er, would you like me to switch on the blue lamp?”

Towards the end of the story, the leading lad (as played by Marcus) goes on the rampage by throwing stones at street lamps with the aim of smashing them. In the final two frames, the police come along, arrest him, and place him in their police car before driving off. The two cops who’d been sent out to make enquiries about a potential child molester (or even perhaps a child murderer) had suddenly found themselves starring in a D C Thomson Jackie magazine! It was no wonder that ex-Eagle designer Ron Morley always used to call me “Violets Perry!”

Roger Perry
The Philippines

Coming Soon: In Part Eighteen, I come to loggerheads with Chief Accountant David Bailey.

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