Sunday, 21 February 2016

Roaring into the Sunset - Farewell to the Honorary Chief in Perpetuity of the Bedlam Motorcycle Club

This blog from a few months back is being reposted today as Robert's nearest and dearest asked us to coordinate with Bonhams auction house. Here then is the impressive programme for the sale on Monday September 19th that will benefit the cancer units at Dorset County & Poole Hospitals:

And these features were run by The Daily Mail and BBC yesterday:

Jay Leno, TV host and fellow petrol head - - with Robert
We hope some of you may help make a difference, even attend the sale and put in a bid.  Jay leno has made a short tribute film to his pal:

Below then is our original posting. It was with nervous anxiety that we sent it for approval to Liz and Chris for you could count on one hand the number of times we met Robert after all. It was a great relief when Liz wrote: "a lovely tribute to Robert... You have captured him completely and brought tears to my eyes – Thank you."

We continue the theme of remembrance from the last post with our small tribute to someone who made a huge, positive impact on our lives in a short space of time. Robert White is most likely unknown to you, although in his niche he was greatly respected as a connoisseur-collector and his name was over the door of a world renowned camera business that he founded in Poole, Dorset.

All is a question of scale in life, as well as tailoring. We may not hope to inspire impromptu shrines and murals when we go, but to have standing room only at the crematorium is testament to having done something right.

Robert first got in touch with us because we had "helped his friend in a jam" - by which he meant, providing Gregory Porter with a dinner jacket the day of his Royal Albert Hall performance for the BBC Proms. Gregory's manager was an old friend of Robert's from Poole. He said he was considering a "Mr Toad" suit for wearing when driving his open topped vintage Bentley. Then he said, more practically, having been diagnosed with NET cancer, we should just probably just make him a shroud. I said we didn't do those.

We began to get the measure of each other via lengthy telephone conversations. Unsurprisingly he was variously scared and angry at what was befalling him, having worked hard all his life, building a fortune and a world class collection of boys' toys - vintage and high performance cars and motorbikes - only to be stricken with cancer just as he was about to properly enjoy them. He was curious about the Bedlam MC, the motif on our t-shirts, and sent us beautiful prints of some of his favourite bikes.

Eventually he scheduled to visit us, with his companion Liz. Despite his considerable means and frail health, he chose to travel to London on the National Express coach - one of the more Howard Hughes-style acts at which we puzzled as he complained about the awful people coughing and sneezing their germs about him during the journey.

Robert was most attached to his cuddly toys, and, in particular, his little mascot, Roland the Wonder Dog (nickname, Flops). It was Flops that he asked us to print onto silk for the jacket lining and the waistcoat back. We then made miniature waistcoats for some of Robert's bears. We call every job a "collaboration" rather than a commission because people have to come to us with their ideas and wishes, and then we have the honour of trying to realise them.

Robert's jacket and waistcoat lined with his mascot "Flops"
The muse himself on his silk
Then we made a matching iddy biddy waistcoat...
for Robert's Little Brown Ted

We printed more "Flops" lining in a different colour way, to line a cosy robe for Robert, as he was spending  time in hospital and not going out so much when at home. But Robert being Robert, he wanted the very best and so we had the opportunity to use the rarest, most costly, natural (i.e. not scattered with diamond dust) fabric on earth - Guanaco. This is combed from the belly of but two qualifying beasts up one particular mountain in Peru but only on a night of the full moon when there's an R in the month. I exaggerate only slightly for effect. For your education, here is a guanaco and her baby, cousins of the lama as you might deduce:

From a lovely Irish lady with an attic crammed with dusty boxes of a haberdasher's dreams (she married into an esteemed trimmings family in France) we sourced a 16 ct. gold fringe, made in Lyons in the 1900s, to trim the belt:

When we were ready to do a fitting for the suit we offered to go this time to Robert. To our astonishment, he invited us to stay at his house. When we called the day before to check he was still up to our visit, he confirmed he was looking forward to it, albeit a little puffed out from having been cleaning to make it ready for us. "Does he not, " I asked Liz, incredulous, "have a 'lady who does'?!"
"Oh no," she replied, "he doesn't like letting people in the house."
So it was not lost on us, the trust he extended, not least when he took us to see his magnificent collection of chrome and canvas, pumps and pedals.

There was a fiery red Ferrari next to an any-colour-as-long-as-its-black Model T-Ford in-between a steam powered 1913 White; a 1930s Bentley in  British Racing Green parked a coté un French blue Bugatti side by side with a couple of burnished ACEs. And more. And more. And more.

We visited Robert just over a year ago, on Valentine's Day, but at the time were wracked with nerves at accidentally disclosing the location of his garage, and wanting to respect Robert's privacy, so limited ourselves to sharing one photo of Mr Wesley, like a child in Santa's Grotto, atop his own favourite bike - an Indian. Now all the Brough bikes are gone to Robert's friend, Jay Leno, in the rust resistant climate of California, the rest are ready for auction. The warehouses stand empty.

The bikes - in two further garages - represented the greatest collection of Brough Superiors (the "Lawrence of Arabia" bike) and a host of other "only remaining example in the world"s. Robert was already committed to selling them to fund a new cancer unit at Poole Hospital. He was realising, too, that a collection horded for a few eyes is a collection largely unappreciated, and was open to us bringing some more people to see them. The obvious candidate was Dr Eccles, another of our clients with a penchant for a vintage Bentley - he had recently acquired the late Ron Moody's, complete with 8-track cartridge player in the glove compartment! Robert chose the tweed for his driving suit largely because he saw Dr Eccles at the wheel wearing it in a photograph. When the Good Doctor offered to drive us there and back IN THE BENTLEY in exchange for seeing Robert's cars, he was a shoe-in. But who else could properly appreciate these mechanical wonders?

Someone else had taken Mark Knopfler to see Robert and his treasures. Robert congratulated him on his album "Tubular Bells", told him he had enjoyed that one. So when I tentatively suggested inviting Simon le Bon I was primed for non-plussedness. Robert's face lit up. "He had a most beautiful boat,   [reels of the technical spec of said boat] called Drum!'
"Indeed, he did."
"And he has a MOST beautiful wife!"
"Indeed he does, Robert, a beautiful wife who knows almost as much about cars as you do!"
For Yasmin Le Bon is so knowledgeable about automobiles that she was the motoring correspondent on GQ for a while.
I cannot tell you that Robert broke into the chorus of "Rio", for he did not, but he was absolutely delighted to welcome this trio to share his passion.

Dr. Eccles arrived in the morning sunshine to take us on our trip to the sea side in his magnificent open topped car. 
Yasmin snaps Simon on a Brough Superior while Dr Eccles looks on
Caractacus Potts & Truly Scrumptious 
Oh you pretty Chitty Bang Bang

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang we love you.

And in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang what we'll do.

Near, far, in our motor car Oh! What a happy time we'll spend.

Bang Bang Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, our fine four fendered friend.
Bang Bang Chitty Chitty Bang Bang our fine four fendered friend.

You're sleek as a thoroughbred, your seats are a feather bed,

You'll turn everybody's head today.

We'll glide on our motor trip with pride in our ownership

The envy of all we survey.

That evening, when we had been safely driven home in stately style by Dr Eccles, Robert texted:
"We enjoyed the day immensely. The guess were great. I am happy & smiling. Thank you so much for brightening my day. Life can be hard and days like today really help xx"

Just a few weeks later he wrote, "Tired just so tired... I sleep and sleep."
By August he was outliving his prognosis and would boast, "Not dead yet. A scan yesterday showed the tumours are progressing, time ticks away. Dreams of my smart suit fade away also..."
He rang in tears to say he had realised he would never get to wear the suit again so Liz had modelled it so he might inspect the details. "It is a work of art," he said, and we both cried down the phone, but not for the suit. 

He wondered why we weren't awash with money - he was a much better business man than us, I think we can state with confidence. "How do you promote yourselves?" he wanted to know. Word of mouth, recommendation, I replied, happenstance, as had brought him to us. Trying to sound like someone with a marketing strategy, I mentioned that should we ever have two spare shillings, I would like to do a poster campaign on the tube as that had been something of a coup when I did that at my old indie record label. But no money in the world could make him better. He had tried two rounds of progressive pellet treatment, developed in California. Cruelly, his second set of "No improvement" results arrived the day an article ran exposing the process as unproven and unreliable.

In September he wrote: "My skeletal form is weak now. Life has not quite gone as it should. I hope you are doing OK and love to you all. Wuf."
The text made my heart lurch, it sounded like a farewell. But then the phone rang and Robert's frail voice asked me to find out how much the posters on the Underground would be, for he should like to bring more business to our door and keep the wolf from it.

That is how, before Christmas, we amazed those who know us by appearing to have an organised and efficient campaign budget sufficient to adorn the walls of Waterloo, London Bridge, Lambeth North (our nearest station), Kennington, Vauxhall and Stockwell - the jewels of the South London network in other words - with these:
You can see Flops is on there too, and the logos of our great allies Huddersfield Fine Worsted. They gave us the cloth to make the cashmere camel coat and the black flannel suit that Mr Wesley his very self models in the poster. The subtext of the story is #madegood - a geezer with a beautiful motor, in some pukka threads, comes to visit his old mum on a Sunday. Bedlam's in-house photographer (when he's not wearing that hat at Ronnie Scott's jazz club) Benjamin Amure took the picture on the China Walk estate across from our studio, and the redoubtable Dr Eccles leant us one of his other Bentley's - a 1968 T1- and held the flash gun. My daddy leant us his 1963 Lock & Co. trilby and spectacles.

No one was more amazed than us to find them in situ:

"Robert, don't you dare die before they go up!" I told him. We texted him the photos you see above. Liz showed them to him and they made him proud she told us. A week into the campaign the spare posters arrived, one for us, one for Huddersfield Fine Worsteds and one for Robert. As we were addressing the postal tube, the phone rang. I saw it was Liz, and knew. Robert had passed away, at home, the afternoon before. 

A few weeks before Christmas we took the train this time, down to the coast, and a taxi to the crematorium. As I wrote at the top here, it was standing room only. The eulogy had people laughing and crying, as Robert had had time to "coach" the gentleman conducting the service - they were essentially his words delivered in absentia. His first choice of music was Louis Armstrong singing "We Have All the Time in the World" - because we don't.

I didn't post any photos of Robert above because there were photographs of him displayed that day as he would want to be remembered, healthy and happy. We were asked to take a photograph of the service sheet if we didn't get one (there weren't enough for the number of people in attendance) and to post it if we were posting sort of people, which we are. is the link should you wish to contribute to the building of the exceptionally well equipped state-of-the-art cancer centre that will bear Robert's name. We made him a promise that we would do our bit to ensure that neither he nor Flops should be forgot. 

After the service we gathered at the lovely hotel that looks across Poole Harbour at Brownsea Island, where we had enjoyed lunch together with Dr Eccles and Mr & Mrs Le Bon. We got talking to a couple of jovial chaps, one of whom turned out to be the Ken,  who had come from the Isle of Man, the very gentleman who created a scale model of Brunel's locomotive for Robert exact in every detail. So exact that when I asked if Robert if it ran, along a track, he told me it would be necessary to shrink water and air for that to happen, as the pipes are so accurately scaled down that one would have to shrink molecules, too. I made the mistake of referring to it as a train. This elicited a response worthy of Lady Bracknell, "A TRAIN?!?!?!" A train is what hangs off the back of a bride's dress, apparently. 12,000 hours of work went into it and it will also be sold to benefit Robert's Trust. 

In his own words, Ken was "a prodigy of Louis Raper of Failsworth, dubbed 'the master locomotive builder',but I sought to raise the bar and in doing so made my work so time consuming that I built only two locomotives in ten years, one for Bill McAlpine and one for Walter Harper. The next project was three Broad Gauge models the first of which was sold to Robert." And here she is:

Dragon is the first of three 10 ¼ gauge locomotives (scale 8.22:1) of the 1880 batch of Broad Gauge GWR express locomotives built at Swindon and known as the Rover class (photograph by Adrian Knowles).

For our part, we are grateful to have had the short, intense, emotional blast of knowing him  - a 150 mph dash down the track. For all his exalted tastes, the memory I hold dear will be his trying to resist the craving for a McFlurry, saying it was not good for him, he mustn't. He was not going to get better at this point. "Robert," I said, "what is the worst thing that could happen? If you want a McFlurry, let's go get one," and we sat in the McDonald's car park, Robert, Liz, Mr Wesley and me eating things that are very bad for you but taste really good. Fast cars and motorbikes can also do you in. Life is short.

So we rev our engines in salute to The Honorary Chief in Perpetuity of the Bedlam Motorcycle Club. 

An enamel Motor Cycle Club badge of Robert's

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