Memoirs Of A Whisky Salesman – Part 1

How It All Began and The Interview With The DCL

Memoirs Of A Whisky Salesman – Part 1

It was 1965 when Roger Mallindine left school at the age of 16 and went straight into his first job in the wines & spirits trade, as a stock taker at Marshall Taplows, a subsidiary of Charrington brewers. Here Roger tells the story of his introduction into the trade and the vivid tale of the prejudice that almost excluded him from a glamorous career in London.

How It All Began

My father, who was already in the Trade, took me to Licensed Victualler’s Association banquets when I was a teenager. A favourite venue was the Connaught Rooms in the West End.

I once asked him, ‘who are those men over there who stand out from the rest of the guests?’ He told me that they were a special breed of elite Scotch whisky men who worked for the The Distillers Company Ltd (DCL). They were former military officers who wore their handkerchiefs up their sleeves.

In those days, there were no women in senior management positions. They were employed as secretaries or in catering. That’s just how things were.

I was introduced to a Johnnie Walker representative called Nick St John-Kingham. He said that when I was old enough I should apply to them, but only when I had gained some experience in The Trade. You had to start in sales at a soft drinks company, then progress to a brewery, and finally, if you were extremely lucky, you were approached by either the DCL or a well-known Champagne house.

The Interview With The DCL

In 1974 I was approached by a regional sales manager of Buchanan Booths Agencies, Roland Llewellyn, who knew my father. He had seen me selling Teacher’s whisky to caterers at Wembley Stadium.

He invited me to sit with him in the bar area and said, ‘I hear from the grapevine, that you would like to join the ranks of the DCL?’ Lew, as he was known, challenged me to sell in High & Dry gin, a DCL brand, which I knew the caterers didn’t stock at the time.

Luckily for me I knew the bar manager. He told me that he couldn’t help, but I appealed to his better nature and explained this was a unique opportunity for me, and that I would never forget him if he gave me an order for a couple of cases. Bar managers had more authority then to try new spirit brands.

I took the signed order back to Llewellyn who told me that I would be contacted by the company about an interview. His off the cuff remark before we departed company was ‘We’ve been trying to get High & Dry into Wembley Stadium for ages. See you at head office.’

I was met by Sandy Lang, sales director of Buchanan Booths Agencies. He had a mane of grey hair and intense steel-blue eyes, with a piercing stare that pinned you to the wall. He was accompanied by George Stevens, office manager. His first words were, ‘You’re rather young, how old are you?’. I told him I was twenty-four.

‘You are aware Mr Mallindine that it is normally company policy not to employ representatives under thirty-five years of age? After all, we don’t want youngsters under the influence of alcohol knocking down old ladies at bus stops’.

I lifted my head, ‘Well sir, you did ask to see me.’

Lang gazed at me sternly, ‘Don’t be impertinent.’

Just at that moment the door opened to reveal George Joseph, the marketing director, a chain smoker, who I later discovered had a direct line to the bookie. Then the managing director appeared and all three stared at me.

Lang opened the batting, ‘Tell me, did you hold a commission in Her Majesty’s forces?’

‘No sir.’

‘What public school did you attend?’ A slight smirk appeared on his face.

‘I didn’t sir, I went to a grammar school.’ Lang winced.

‘Do you play golf?’

‘No sir.’

‘Then Mr Mallindine. What exactly can you do?’

‘I can put more money in your till than I can take out, that’s what I can do!’ and I stormed out of the office.

Lang retorted ‘Where do you think you are going?’

‘Back to the twentieth century, that’s where I’m going!’

I didn’t sleep at all well that night, tossing and turning, thinking about the interview, angry at the DCL’s old guards’ attitude. Lew Llewellyn had told me that I had burnt my bridges. The next morning I looked at myself in the mirror and said ‘you idiot, you’ve blown it!’

Then there was an urgent knock at the door. It was the postman with a telegram; what sort of disaster had happened now? The message read, ‘Please phone me – Lang.’

I called Sandy Lang and all sorts of unpleasant thoughts entered my head. I expected a roasting for walking out on him.

The call went straight to Lang who simply said, ‘If you wish employment with this company Mr Mallindine, be at my office at 09.00. tomorrow morning. By the way, would you collect a pot plant for me at the following garden centre…’ he gave me the details and address ‘…and one other thing.’

‘Yes sir?’

‘Don’t you ever walk out on me again!’

Read the next instalment – Memoirs Of A Whisky Salesman – Part 2 →