Memoirs Of A Whisky Salesman – Part 2

John Walker & Sons Head Office 63 St James Street SW1, Show Business and No Demand For Single Malts

Memoirs Of A Whisky Salesman – Part 2

By the age of 19, Roger Mallindine had become shipping clerk at Bass Charrington Vintners. He soon left the shipping business and joined Showerings as a Rep for Babysham and Britvic juices which he sold out of army surplus ammunition boxes.

In 1972 Roger joined J C McLaughlin in London as a rep. McLaughlin’s had the agency for Teacher’s, The Glendronach Single Malt, Beefeater Gin and Appleton Rum.

He joined Buchanan Booth Agencies in 1974… and then in 1981 Pimm’s Ltd – both part of The Distillers Company (read Part 1) but each with individual offices and staff. Roger says ‘It was a pretty good time but it didn’t last because they separated the companies into Tanqueray Gordon and Distillers Company Home Trade to look after whiskies. They called us “the boys from the brown stuff” which wasn’t very nice of them…

John Walker & Sons Head Office 63 St James Street SW1

In the 1970s three of our most treasured Scotch brands, Johnnie Walker Red Label, Black & White and Haig Dimple were withdrawn from the UK due to pricing issues with the EEC.

The substitute for Black & White was The Buchanan Blend, in my mind a far superior blend to Black & White. Johnnie Walker Red Label was replaced by John Barr, which didn’t do so well [it was a spectacular failure  – Ed.].

During this period the on-trade had a far greater share of the market than the off-trade and the supermarket trade was still in its infancy.

Sir Hugh Ripley, war hero, DSO, DFC was in charge of Walker’s UK business. He had just returned from a lunch meeting with a new supermarket buyer accompanied by his right hand man who was soon, unbeknown to me, to be my mentor. Sir Hugh was asked, ‘Well Sir, what did you think about the meeting? It was a substantial order for three pallets of John Barr!’

Sir Hugh was stern as he looked out of his office window with his hands held behind his back. ‘No I don’t think we can trade with grocers Jeremy, did you see the way the man held his fish knife?’

This was the way the old guard reigned in DCL in their day and my, how times have changed today.

Show Business

West End theatres were an important place for your brand to be seen, and it was great fun working there with so much going on. It was a people business. When you walked through the door you had to press the flesh. They didn’t want somebody who only saw them once or twice a year. You had to prove your integrity to gain trust and loyalty from customers. I made many friends in theatreland and enjoyed their hospitality seeing musicals, the ballet and operas.

The main picture shows Roger presenting Meg Johnson, catering buyer of Wyndham’s Theatre, with a Buchanan’s Silk Scarf.

No Demand For Single Malts

Cary Young-Husband, war hero and managing director of James Buchanan, was well respected in the business in the late 1970s. He always had time for people at the sharp end of the Trade.

Although short in stature, Cary had an enormous presence with an air of command. I suppose that was commensurate with his previous military career.

At a Buchanan Booths Agency sales meeting, the Young-Husband invited me to attend a London Heathrow lunch. As I looked after the duty paid outlets of London Airport, he thought it would be beneficial if I met his export team. He told me to tell my sales director that I was his guest to which I replied, ‘You tell him sir, and I’ll ask him.’

The Buchanan’s lunch at The Excelsior Hotel Heathrow was rather grand with no expense spared as the celebrations began. Everyone put a pound in the kitty which meant you had to guess the name of the port that was served as a digestive. I really felt valued and part of the team even though officially I was solely employed as a duty paid man.

For some reason, the Young-Husband and I clicked. He was very approachable and invited me to call in at Buchanan’s head office any time I was passing. An invitation from the MD meant ‘a gargle’, as he referred to it, or ‘a jar’.

I took him up on his offer pre-lunch and called at Buchanan House at St James’s Square SW1. I was initially rebuffed by a friendly but business-like receptionist, but Cary’s secretary escorted me up to his rather grandiose office where he greeted me as though I were a long-lost friend and beckoned me to sit down.

‘Like a gargle, Roger?’

As we were vis-à-vis I asked what he was going to do when he retired. He told me that painting had become his hobby and he was looking forward to spending more time with his pursuits. I looked at the sideboard and noticed a bottle of Dalwhinnie single malt, closely associated with the Black & White blend. Cary Young-Husband followed my gaze, so I asked him when the company was going to focus on its single malts.

Much to my amazement, he said that there was absolutely no merit at all in the DCL producing single malts as brands as they were just for use in blends, and there was no demand for them.

His passing remark as I wished him well in his retirement, ‘Don’t forget, Roger, nothing lasts forever’, puzzled me but eventually I realised what he meant.

The rest as they say, is history. Cary Young-Husband, and the other senior people at the DCL were wrong about single malts, the course of whisky history really changed when malt whisky came into its own not many years later.

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