Bill Kerr ~ Mayfair Photographic Suppliers (London) Ltd

 

The following is taken from an interesting e-mail received from a gentleman named Bill Kerr, who was born in 1941 (he was aged 67 at the time of e-mailing me).

Bill Kerr started in the photographic retail trade when he was age 13 (mid-1950s) with a Glasgow company called Charles Frank located at 145 Queen Street, Glasgow

The advertisement alongside is taken from Amateur Photographer, where it appears in several 1960 and 1961 editions with a 67-75 Saltmarket address, situated a quarter of a mile from Queen Street.

 
Frank's Book of The Telescope,
a guide to instruments for the amateur astronomer.

Charles Frank Ltd were originally known as makers and suppliers of binoculars and telescopes (both refracting and reflecting types, including mirrors and lenses for home telescope makers), before expanding into popular photographic equipment.

The 132 page hardback book alongside was printed by The Michael Press, 252 Crown Street, Glasgow, C.5.
1st edition 1958, 2nd edition (revised) March 1959, 3rd Edition, October 1960. It contains a Foreword by Arthur Frank, F.B.O.A who acknowledges assistance by Terence Maloney, F.R.A.S for assisting with the original manuscript and Lionel Levy, M.A and Dr.E.Golombok for their help with the 3rd edition. Bill Kerr has since told me that Arthur Frank, owner of Charles Frank Ltd for the last years of his life, died about nine years ago (2006) at the age of 88.

Charles Strasser (CGS) has told me that Charles Frank was the biggest dealer in Scotland at that time and a good customer of Photopia Ltd. The Charles Frank premises (by this time run by Charles Frank's son, Arthur) specialised in binoculars which he regularly advertised in the Sunday newspapers in what were known as £50 squares. Charles Frank built up a huge personal collection of microscopes, telescopes and other optical equipment which Arthur inherited and continued to grow. When Arthur retired he moved to Jersey and the collection was sold at Sotheby's Auction House on Tuesday 25 March 1986. His son is a doctor and a partner in a group surgery on Jersey where CGS is registered; Charles Strasser says "I have seen him there a few times when my regular doctor was not available. Small world!"

Bill Kerr spent several years working at Charles Frank before joining Mayfair Photographic Suppliers (London) Ltd (abbreviated to Mayfair PS in the following text) in March 1962 for two years. At the time Bill joined Mayfair PS it was owned by Siegfried Weizmann (known in the trade as Freddie Weizmann; Photopia and Mayfair PS were fierce competitors: ref. CGS). Bill became the Scottish Area Representative.

Since Bill left Mayfair PS in early 1964, he wasn't employed there during the take-over by Photopia International Ltd in November 1966.

Bill Kerr wrote the following (with minor editing by myself in places):
I joined Mayfair Photographic Suppliers (London) Ltd about March 1962, having previously spend a few years with Charles Frank of Glasgow who were the première photographic retailers in Glasgow at that time.

When I joined Mayfair PS as Scottish Area Representative, its premises were at 166/168 West End Lane, Hampstead, London NW6, a small 'shop-like' office. The 'boss' at that time was Siegfried (Freddie) Weizmann, an old pal of Stanley Kalms (now Baron Kalms, KBE, born 21st November 1931; life president and former chairman of DSG International plc - formerly Dixons Group. He spent his entire career from 1948 working for Dixons, which was founded by his father Charles Kalms in 1937).

In the early 1960s only Importers got quota import licences (ref: CGS). This meant that the retailer Stanley Kalms, of Dixons, used Mayfair PS as an importer for large quantities of its lower priced (and lower quality!!) cameras and cine equipment. Bill continues: (On joining Mayfair PS) I flew to London, picked up my company car (a second hand mini-minor) a pile of samples and set off back up to Scotland. This was after a very rudimentary interview some weeks before. In those days you had an interview, but if you were then offered the job you still had to work your Notice (of employment termination) before leaving your existing employer.

Despite the absence of any formal training (Sales "reps" were inevitably drawn from the retail trade so they had a good idea of photography without the need for much training) I started selling and made a reasonable living, earning about £9 per week plus 2.5% commission. When I joined Mayfair PS they had agencies for Chelico / Jelco / Komura / Max / Miranda / Petri / Ricoh / Rondo / Soligor / Solitel / Sun / Taron and others I don't recall. Below are a few of the many Mayfair adverts which appeared in Amateur Photographer during the early 1960s, including the famous (infamous) naked lady, meant to be named Miranda, who regularly appeared in these camera adverts at that time.

Bill continues: After a few weeks I received a memo from the London office of Mayfair PS asking me to offer a special deal to retail customers who were capable of taking 500 Jelco cine cameras and 500 Rondo cine projectors in a single transaction. These were offered at a good price, but delivery had to be in a single 'drop' and total payment needed to be made within one month. Also, I had to provide London with a list of dealers to whom I had offered this deal. Well.....this was a HUGE amount of product for ANY dealer, and my chances of selling the deal to a Scottish retailer seemed pretty well zero ! Or so I thought.........

One of my ex-colleagues from Charles Frank had recently moved to Gratispool as Sales Manager (Gratispool at St Margaret's Place was only 0.5miles SE of Charles Frank in Queen Street) and so I went in to see him. While I was there I casually mentioned this deal of 500 cine cameras & projectors at a special price and he promptly said "Yes !". So I filled in the order form in my duplicate book and sent it off to Mayfair PS at West End Lane, London. Then .....the muck hit the fan !

I had not been told or realised myself that these bulk deal offers were purely to satisfy the UK Board of Trade i.e. as no one else wanted this amount of product, Mayfair could sell it ALL to ........Dixons. (CGS comments: Freddie Weizmann was a sharp operator and clearly wanted to cover himself against accusations of doing a special deal exclusively with Dixons. He could say he had made the offer to many other dealers but only Dixons had taken him up on it - I don't think the Board of Trade came into it.) Bill continues "So a humble and very junior member of the Sales team had really caused quite an upset as the Goods had, apparently, already been paid for by Dixons. Here was I, a young 'twerp' from Scotland (where's that again) selling the same consignment to a company called Gratispool (that nobody had even heard of in London - though that changed after the April 1966 Monopolies Commission report on the UK manufacture, processing and retailing of colour film found that Gratispool had 7% of the ENTIRE European colour film processing market. This information lead to Gratispool no longer being looked down upon as offering cheap but low quality film and processing. Immediately a number of photographic dealers set up their own labs - a very expensive business - and began offering "free film".)
Note: this is meant to be a humorous account; please take no offence if you hold allegiance to Scotland or Gratispool !

Anyway.... the story had a happy outcome in as much as Bill's income, company car size and personal status all increased dramatically. And this was really the start of Gratispool getting involved with heavy selling in bulk cine deal packages.


Siegfried Weizmann (the boss of Mayfair PS), who was a very well known London wedding photographer, sold the business soon after (between January & April 1964) to Oxley Industries whose registered offices were 35 Bruton Street, London, W1. The accounts for the sale made interesting reading. In 1963/64 the Turnover of Mayfair PS was £620,000 and the profit ..wait for it .. was £320,000. I wonder how many businesses today could manage to achieve that !

It was a good deal when Mayfair PS was sold, but the fortunes of Mayfair PS deteriorated under Oxley Industries.

When Mayfair PS joined Oxley Industries it moved its activities from West End Lane to Eastcote and Bill left shortly after to rejoin a major photographic dealer in Scotland.

Looking through Amateur Photographer, adverts from Mayfair PS stopped in the summer of 1964 and resumed in early 1965, but strangely using the previous 166/168 West End Lane address (maybe a typo' error by someone at Mayfair PS or at Amateur Photographer's type setters.) Thereafter, until taken over by Photopia International Ltd in late 1966, the address of Mayfair PS is given as Kildare Close, Ruislip, Middlesex. This must be the Eastcote address referred to by Bill, about 16miles (26km) NW of central London.

Bill concludes: They were interesting times; the photographic trade was full of characters. One character in Mayfair PS, after Oxley took over, was Jack Duffell who had been the boss of Rank Photographic (a MAJOR player in the trade) and another was Dick Luff. Both these chaps were well known in the London photographic trade. Jack left after a short time when he had a disagreement with Oxley and rejoined Rank as their International Coordinator. Dick Luff finished his career as the General Manager of Minolta UK after serving time with Hanimex (who were quite a bunch !). Practical Photography magazine for December 1992 reports comment from Dick Luff on the 10-12% price increase of Minolta cameras following a decline in value of the UK£ against the Deutschmark (-15%) and the Yen (-18%).

Bill Kerr never saw the transfer of Mayfair PS into Photopia International Ltd ownership, two years later in November 1966. Bill had left Mayfair PS in early 1964.

A sad P.S. to Bill's reminiscences.
Dick Luff's daughter, Sally, tells me her father passed away on the 13th July 2009. She says "Dad was an incredible man who loved the business and worked with many wonderful colourful characters..."

A futher sad Footnote:
Jack Duffell's daughter, Anne Brown
, was first in touch in June 2011 to say she was proud to report her father was then alive and well and 91 years old. She told me "I have printed off Bill's story (above) and will give it to him; I know he will be tickled pink".
But now, September 2014:
Anne tells me that her father died on 21 August. "He was the very grand age of 94. He loved the camera trade and his address book is full of contacts and friends from all over the world. The passports that he kept are jam packed with stamps from his extensive travels. He had the most exciting time."

     

Jack Duffell's photo' appeared in Amateur Photographer's 'News of the Week', 10th June 1964. The accompaanying text reads:
Mr Jack Duffell has been appointed a director of Oxley Industries Ltd, and deputy chairman and managing director of the com[pany's subsidiary, Mayfair Photographic Suppliers.
Mr Duffell was formerly in charge of product development in the Audio Visual Division of the Rank Organisation.

Bill Kerr recounts an anecdote: "Jack Duffell was a great guy in the trade and I must relate the first time I met him and Dick Luff.
Mayfair Photographic Suppliers had just been bought by Oxley Industries and we were called to a meeting in (I think) the very posh Cumberland Hotel in central London, to meet the new team, being Jack Duffell, Dick Luff and a chap called Noel Fletcher. Martyn Joyson was the only one who arrived late, despite only living in Watford!! Jack was not amused and told him in no uncertain terms that if he was late again he needn't bother turning up at all. Wow! That set the tone for Jack's short spell as MD for Mayfair Photographic. He later told me that both he and Dick would be coming North, as he wanted to meet an old pal of his who was the boss of Turners of Newcastle. I duly met them in Newcastle, best 'bib and tucker', only to be subjected to a real drinking session of a disgusting brew called Newcastle Brown Ale. I stayed long enough to be sociable but then had to leave to head back to Glasgow.

Next morning, well afternoon actually, I had to 'phone to find out where the heck both Jack and Dick were, only to be told that Jack was still recovering from his historic boozing session with Turners MD !

Jack Duffell was a Lieutenant Commander in the Fleet Air Arm based in Fife, at a station called Donibristol and had a "good war".
In ones journey through life you cross many paths but some folk stick out in you mind; both Jack Duffell and Dick Luff are two such personalities I will always fondly remember.

Bill has recently (Nov. 2014) informed me of the deaths of further ex-colleagues; John Hamilton, a long time rep for Gnome Photographic; Hugh (shug) Birt, Konica rep. in Scotland and formerly the buyer for Gratispool; Bob Loxley, a worthy ex-Kodak lab owner; and Martin Joyson.
Bill says "Martin Joyson and I were collegues in the original Mayfair Photographic Suppliers. He covered the London Central area whilst I was the North, and he eventually became Sales Manger and made me Assistant Sales Manager working from the new building in Kildare Close (I had previously forgotten about this address, as we were not long in Eastcote before Oxley Industries took over - they made a lousy job, I might add !). Martyn Joyson finished up as Sales Director for Sanyo and then Crown Electronics.

In a further update, December 2015, Bill has added the name of Mike Anastio to his list of deceased colleagues. Mike worked for Canon and Nikon before eventually running his own business in Falkirk and Edinburgh. He is the standing figure, fourth in from the right (next to a chap with a beard), in the photograph below. Shortly after the photograph was taken Mike passed on, a big shock as nobody knew he was even ill. Other deceased in 2015 are Iain Tait of Hamilton Tait - one of Scotlands premier photographic laboratories, and Mike Dickson, a giant in the Scottish photographic retail trade, at one stage he was the largest independent dealer in Scotland.

The picture below is from early 2015. Bill writes "I attach a photograph which shows some of the old codgers from (and in one or two cases, still in) the trade. We meet for a lunch in Edinburgh each year.

     


This page last modified: 21st August 2016