chap8-imageBy the middle of 1972, July 7th to be precise, Bonnie & I became parents for the first time. We’d been married for six years & up to this point we’d pretty much done as we pleased. I was made an “area manager” & basically I travelled around the salons making sure the systems were in place that would eventually enable the company to sell out, using the enormous profit that was being made on the back of the wig sales.

We had salons across London, run on a daily basis by myself in Central & South London & by my fellow area manager who ran Central & North; but the really profitable side of the business was the amazing trade in wigs.

Around this time, all the company talk was about Robert Fielding going “public”. Apparently it was going to happen at the beginning of 1973 & we were going to do a share reverse swap with a stock-market quoted company called Talbex, later known in the financial press as “Talbex, troubled toiletries to hairdressing”. They used to do the aerosol packaging for some major brands, but in the six or seven years we were associated with them they never made any money except for the profit we made for them.

Anyway, I need to tell you how I got involved with my first venture into owning shares. Mr. Fielding approached the three senior members of the management team, myself, my fellow area manager & the accountant. By now Leon, who used to be my manager & the most senior of us, became a director of Robert Fielding & therefore we now had a complete management structure in place. He basically told us we were going to be rich provided we followed his lead. We were encouraged to buy shares in what was to become the parent company, & were introduced to our Barclays Bank manager who arranged overdraft facilities for us. My investment was, if I remember correctly, £3,000-00. How did I expect to pay the overdraft off? No one explained that part to me. I think the idea was that the shares would increase in value very quickly & then we’d sell them at a profit. Some hope!

After a few months of worrying about the overdraft I made the decision to sell. I didn’t tell anybody because we’d been advised not to sell until Mr Fielding was removed from the main board & was then replaced by our senior manager, Leon. The upshot was that Mr.& Mrs. Fielding left the business to become tax exiles in Monaco & we were literally left holding the baby. I was relatively ok because I’d sold my shares & re-paid the bank, but the others believed that by holding their shares they’d become extremely wealthy. No way! The share price dropped like a stone.

The more successful we were, the more money the main board spent. The company changed hands three times during the next seven years until we, the four original Robert Fielding “partners” tried to buy the business from the public company. More of that to come.

Meanwhile we had other things to worry about. There was a miners’ strike in 1973 leading to difficult trading times which I’ll talk about later, as well as my own personal struggle with depression. At the time, if you went to your GP & asked for pills for slimming, bad breath or anything else, you got them. I’ll explain how I suddenly became depressed & how it affected me & the family.

One morning I just couldn’t get out of bed. Very unusual as I’ve never been much of a sleeper & when I was younger, I was still under thirty, I was usually hyper! I normally wouldn’t sit still & I had the concentration span of a gnat. Anyway, I went to the GP & he prescribed me something called Ativan, a small, blue pill to be taken as & when I felt really down. I was on the road every day visiting our salons & most of the time I was driving from early morning to late evening. To make matters worse I didn’t eat or drink all day, so there I was in this lovely haze somehow going through these pills rather quickly, resulting in me being stoned all day & every day. Bonnie, my wife, wasn’t working at the time so at my behest she’d turn up at the doctor’s surgery, ask for a repeat prescription for me, & off we’d go again.

This went on for some months. I must have been feeling better because Bonnie became pregnant with our second child. At around the turn of 1974, she went to the GP for my umpteenth repeat prescription when the new receptionist at the surgery queried how many of these pills I was taking. Meanwhile, unbeknown to us, the GP was having a breakdown, was found to be an alcoholic, tried to set fire to the surgery & was prescribing drugs like they were Smarties to people like me.

I, of course, didn’t have any idea of just how reliant I was on these Ativan pills. So one day I’m sitting in my car outside our Sloane Street salon, smoking a Wills Whiff (a small cigar) & I was listening to a radio phone-in on LBC with a guy called Brian Hayes. Guess what they were talking about? That’s it, prescription drug dependency. I sat in the car, terrified. I listened to this poor woman describing her dependency on her little blue pills. At some point in their conversation the presenter asked her what they were, & you know what they were, don’t you. Ativan!

Ok, that’s it. No more pills. The weekend was approaching & I did what every petrified, pill-popping person would do. On the Sunday I did my own version of cold-turkey. Bonnie took the kids out, the house was empty & I just sat in the bath for hours listening to the birds twittering until the family came home to help this pruney wreck of a man back to the land of the living.

Nowadays depression is handled so differently, but then you just took pills & got on with it. Since that time I try not to take any medication except for the odd Paracetomol when I get a headache.

Now let’s talk about the miner’s strike. During the early to mid 70’s the miners were extremely militant. Along with the motor industry, the strikes were becoming more & more nasty & violent; the country seemed to be split between “them & us”. The politics of envy started around this time & as we’ve seen & heard recently, left leaning politicians still wheel out the same junk about working people. In my opinion, for what it’s worth, we’re all working people aren’t we?

We had to try to continue trading with electricity rationed to odd hours, sometimes mornings sometimes afternoons, so the obvious thing to do was to make your own. We managed to hire small generators & hooked up temporary wiring to allow us to use a few blow-driers & power a few light bulbs. This kind of worked, but obviously trade was badly affected. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the bin-men went on strike. Leicester Square was used as a rubbish tip, a sight I’ll never forget. Vermin (rats & mice to you & me) were running rife making it the most horrible place to be near. Then the burial workers went on strike. For those of you who are too young to remember any of this, you were lucky. Talk about living in the third world! Nevertheless, eventually Mrs.Thatcher sorted everybody out & normality returned. For us the best part of that time was having our second child, Katy, towards the end of 1974.

As we were part of a public company, an awful lot of our time was taken up with management systems that had to be implemented to satisfy the bean counters. Actually, some of those original checks & balances are still in place today. We traded fairly well, but our profit was eaten up by the other side of the business. As the four directors of Robert Fielding, we were getting more & more irritated by this & as a consequence we started making plans to raise funds to take the business back to private ownership. By now I was driving a Rover, but the engine size was limited because I was only a director of the subsidiary company; The MD of the parent company had the same car, but he had the one with all the bells & whistles. Very frustrating as we were making the money but it seemed we were never really appreciated.

Around this time, 1978-’79, there was a huge fashion swing towards the “shaggy perm” look. What a money spinner! We did a photo shoot that was absolutely on trend, & one of the shots really set us up for this amazingly profitable period. By early 1980 we were so busy that we even installed an extra two basins in one of our Croydon salons. On Saturdays, the clients used to queue up to be neutralised & the infra-red lights would be on from early morning to late in the evening.

By late ’79 we’d grown to around sixteen salons & the school, but by this time other salon groups were making their mark, in particular Toni & Guy. We still thought we were worth more than being the cash-cow for the public company, so we set about looking at ways of raising money to take Robert Fielding back into the private sector. I was still running the Southern part of the group & one of my co-directors ran the Northern side. The salons were within twenty miles of the centre making it fairly easy to control, so all we had to do next was to raise money to buy ourselves our freedom!

The next stage of my journey started around late 1980. Keep reading!