UNCLE JACK OF TESCO’S
The Angel Warehouse supplied tinned and packaged groceries to shops and market stallholders all over North London. SJI also owned three or four grocery shops of his own, which traded under the name of Anthony Jackson’s. These were one of the very first self-service chains of shops in the UK, the first ones I believe being Tesco’s.
Tesco’s was established and built up by John Cohen, who happened to be SJI’s uncle. I knew ‘Uncle Jack’ very well and, in those early days, he often came to my office to do business with his nephew, who supplied him with some of his stock.
Uncle Jack, who in later life became Sir John Cohen, was a tall, slim, imposing man with thinning grey hair. He always wore a belted, camel hair coat, and on his finger was a large, solitaire diamond signet ring. I had never seen a diamond of that size before, and it used to fascinate me as it flashed in the showroom lights.
I learned from SJI that Jack Cohen had started off his grocery chain with one market stall; bought with the money he received when he left the army (demob money). The rest is history.
Meanwhile, back on the ranch, Arthur and I were very happy just to be in each other’s company. We read to each other, played board games, listened to music and, of course Arthur played the piano while I sang. Once a week we went to the local cinema, and we visited our parent quite often.
One day we picked up some entry-forms for an egg decoration competition, sponsored by the Egg Marketing Board and held as part of the Ideal Homes Exhibition of 1956. The point of the competition was to decorate an egg in a topical or humorous way. As we were both keen on a challenge, we decided to go for it.
The eggs had to be blown, washed and dried prior to painting, and it must have taken us a few days to complete them and deliver them to the Egg Marketing Board.
On the day of the competition, we thought it would be fun to watch the judging live, so off we went to Earl’s Court. The exhibition hall was crowded and hot, and we pushed and hustled our way to the front of the egg stand, hoping to get a better view of the entries and be nearer the appraisals.
The competition was to be judged by Bernard Miles, the actor, comedian and, later, founder of the Mermaid Theatre in London. He was dressed as one of his characters, a West Country farmer, standing there in his battered hat, chewing a piece of straw sticking out of his mouth, his wellie-boots looking so ‘ripe’ that you could almost smell the manure!
We’d both decorated and entered eggs. Arthur painting my design idea, ‘The Egotist’, and me painting his idea, which was ‘The Egg and I’. That way, should either of us win a place, we would both win a place. We always shared everything fifty-fifty, straight down the middle; it made us happy and worked very well.
‘The Egotist’ had a snooty face, and was set at an angle, i.e. with its nose in the air. ‘The Egg and I’ was mounted horizontally and I’d painted it as an eyeball, complete with full eye make-up and false eye lashes. Both were mounted on little wooden eggcups.
We stood silently, breath held, our fingers entwined, as Bernard Miles carefully examined all the entries, one by one. The excited babble of the watching crowds caused us to strain our ears to catch every little comment.
There were beautifully worked eggs with traceries of fine delicate brushwork, obviously painted with infinite patience. Some eggshells were encrusted with jewels and sequins, feathers and fur. Some eggs bore a close resemblance to ‘Tweetie-pie’ and Mr Magoo. We laughed at the many ‘Bulganin and Khrushchev’ eggs that had been entered. These two Russian leaders were at that time on a state visit to London, so the eggs were very topical.
After great deliberation, Bernard Miles picked up ‘The Egotist’ and said; ‘This one I like very much and I award it first prize’. I screamed with joy and hugged Arthur: ‘We’ve won, we’ve won!’
The assistant took down details of Arthur’s name and address from his entry form. Then we stared in amazement! Mr Miles had picked up ‘The Egg and I’, which was my entry.
An assistant from the Egg Marketing Board noticed that the entry forms for both the chosen eggs shared the same surname and address. There was a lot of ‘rhubarb, rhubarb’ and snatches of ‘same family…. might not look fair’, after which they slapped a ‘Highly Commended’ on my entry. We didn’t care, we had won first prize, which the entry form said was an electric cooker. We rushed home to tell everyone the news.
As we opened the front door, there on the mat was a bright yellow envelope. I tore it open, and unfolded a telegram.
‘Congratulations’, it read. ‘You have won first prize in the “Decorate and egg” competition. Your prize will be delivered to you shortly.’
Later that evening, we turned on the television to watch the news. Part of it was from ‘The Ideal Homes Exhibition’ at Earl’s Court. And there, for about five glorious seconds, was a close up shot of my entry ‘The Egg and I’! Video recorders had yet to be invented, so it was a’ now you see it, now you don’t’ piece of television history. Never mind, in my box of souvenirs lies the faded yellow envelope from the post office, with the word ‘Telegram’ printed on it. Incidentally, the electric cooker turned out to be an electric frying pan!