Yesterday’s fine rain did the garden a power of good, and today the clouds have cleared once more tempting me out on my bike.
In my youth, The co-op was where almost every stitch of clothing on our backs and where the food for almost every meal came from. However when we went into ‘the toon’, mum would visit Lipton’s grocery store at the bottom of the high street, a different world from the Co-op. In Lipton’s, hams hang from the ceiling, and there would be all sorts of exotic cooked meat and cheeses behind the big glass counter. The smells were intoxicating. This is where mum would pick a little treat for herself.
If you ever read Lipton’s life story, you will find him a larger than life character, and for a long time all we knew of Sir Thomas Lipton, grocery millionaire and yachtsman was from his autobiography published shortly after his death in 1931.
The autobiography was in fact nothing more than a work of fiction, Lipton had created a new more exotic life for himself a persona. In the book “The man that invented himself” by James Mackay
There we find that the worlds most eligible bachelor (his name linked romantically with Rose Fitzgerald, the future mother of John F. Kennedy) had a few skeletons in his cupboard. A youthful indiscretion that led to forced marriage and a homosexual relationship that lasted for thirty years. Lipton was a genius of self-publicity.
Lipton was a showman, who combined that flair with one of genius for organisation, and in the process created a nationwide, second to none, grocery chain.
Anyone interested in marketing might find his story worthy of their interest. Do you want to sell cheese – Lipton ordered five-ton cheeses stuffed with gold sovereigns. It was to be made in Holland. Each week you would enter his shops and find out how the cheese was progressing. How many Dutch cows it had taken to produce the gallons of milk required to make the cheese. The number of horses that would put the cheese-laden cart to the docks. And the progress of its voyage to the UK. By the time it had reached our shores every morsel of the cheese had been pre-sold.
The newspapers of the day loved his showmanship and quick witty lines, all free publicity. He is reputed to have said about advertising.
“Chicken, when they lay eggs, make a lot of noise”. “Ducks”, he said “lay their eggs in silence, how many people buy Ducks eggs?” he asked.
Between 1898 and 1930 he pursued his dream of winning America’s Cup with the same intense passion he had put into building his business. He built a succession of yachts, all named Shamrock, but the rules of the race were heavily weighted in favour of the American defenders.
Lipton’s challenges are now the stuff of legend, the disappointments and the near trumps, was a fitting end for this, the most colourful and flamboyant of tycoons.
For me, Lipton was the flawed hero, worthy of the pen from any great adventure writer. When the legend is bigger than the man – print the legend.