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   Tailor Trouble

We were always on the lookout for good tailors. I found that the best were Greek - they insisted on top wages but were worth every penny. At one time, in desperation, we actually attempted to bring two over from Greece. They wanted to come, I was happy to pay their fares and employ them, but the 'powers that be' wanted to be sure that they were not taking Englishmen's jobs.

"There are no English tailors" I screamed, but in their great wisdom they insisted on canvassing the opinion of a third party. The third party? - the Clothing Union! Some days later an official arrived from the union.
"I will be happy to employ English tailors" I offered brightly - "send them along"!
Telling me what I already knew, he replied that there were none (this was proving easy!).
"So you have no objection to my bringing tailors over from Greece"? "None whatsoever" was his reply… "but we will expect your work rooms to employ only union employees".
Stalemate had been reached - all my staff already earned double the union rates! None of us wanted union involvement so the search continued…


Soon after this, Gerald came onto the scene. Here, at last, was a trained English tailor. He brought with him an impressive array of diplomas and joined us on a two-week trial basis. For the first week he helped out the tailors I already had, who reported back to me that he was absolutely useless! Possibly there was some colour prejudice (Gerald was from Africa), but I was still impressed by those diplomas, so I gave him another chance and set him up in a small room to see what he could really do. I gave him an order from a customer who wanted a simple jacket.


This would have taken my other tailors, possibly, a day to make . . .
What I hadn't taken into account is that, at a college, one is never taught about viability and, more importantly, the essential ingredient of speed. If a student takes a term to make a jacket, that's fine, but in the real world that's twelve weeks! A West End tailor needed to earn at least £500 per week. Multiply that by twelve and it's easy to see that Gerald just didn't fit the bill. The customer returned some ten days later and the jacket wasn't even cut! Gerald was sent on his way, upset and of the opinion that he'd been badly treated. One thing he had learned at college though, was the power of the factory inspector…. a simple phone call and revenge was his!

A week later I spotted a tall, slim man, (no doubt feeling quite uncomfortable), standing in the doorway. His navy suit and briefcase told us that he was from either the Inland Revenue or Customs and Excise. Wrong - he was the 'factory inspector'! I was proud of my work rooms - every tailor had the latest 'Brother Flat' machine and I had dear old 'Eva' cleaning up the mess that they always made. I even had 'Ajax' cleaning the yard and toilets on a daily basis. 'Eva' and 'Ajax' were, I guess, street beggars who were happy to have the employment. All was well until we reached the second floor. I had been trying to set up a 'jean' factory and save a few pennies and I had a great deal of machinery there that was, how shall I put it, 'past its sell-by date'. I recall a 'Reece' buttonhole machine that had many millions of buttons on its clock but was still superb. 'Bar Tack', 'Twin Needle, but the oldest by far was an ancient 'Adamson' button sew. It was at least forty years old, unbelievably noisy, and was giving trouble. The tailors had cross-wired the power switch and it now had to be turned off at the plug.

This was like a red rag to a bull and our previously tame factory inspector leapt forward, grabbed hold of the offending wires and pulled them out. I was amazed - I had no idea that he had the right to destroy machinery! Condemn it, yes - destroy it? No way! I was furious! There was a phone on the wall near us, but when he insisted on using it urgently, I refused point blank, telling him that there was a public phone on the ground floor that he could use. I was having gloomy thoughts awaiting his return, then I noticed that his 'case book' was still lying by the offending machine and in a moment of madness grabbed it, ran to the stock room on the floor above, unlocked the door and hid it under the largest bale of cloth I could find, then rushed back to await his return. This happened in a matter of minutes. He started packing his briefcase then noticed that his 'case book' was missing. Had I seen it? Yes, of course I had - he had been writing in it! "Maybe you left it downstairs?" I offered…. We searched hard and long, with unsurprisingly little success! I even called in 'Roy' - a trainee - to lend a hand.

Gone was the book, and gone was the factory inspector's arrogance. "There's two weeks' hard work in that book" he wailed. I, of course, commiserated with him suitably and even made him a cup of tea, assuring him that we would continue the search and telling him that I was sure we would find it (I never said I was nice!). Although I ran factories and work rooms for more than twenty years this was my one and only ever encounter with a 'factory inspector'. We heard no more about 'dangerous machines,' had the 'Adamson' mechanic fit a new switch and, in a few days, all was well again!

    

Danny Benjamin 2007