My parents came to the rescue and re-mortgaged their home in Hove for, I believe, £2,000 (some £30,000 today). I paid it back in instalments of £28 (£420) a month over the next seven years and then continued the payments for an extra ten years, in thanks to them. By bringing in bright, young, stylish clothing and selling off the drab work wear I soon doubled the turnover, but suffered financially as I was too optimistic by far and bought excessively.
In 1959 I opened a little glassware shop, but it failed in its first year. 'Stick to what you are good' at I thought and, in 1961, I opened another 'Michael Martin' shop in Colindale, NW9. Everyone agreed that it was probably the smartest shop in London, but its takings were a disaster and finally, after suffering a complete clear-out burglary, I decided I'd had enough and closed it down.
One day in 1963 a tall, slim man came into the shop. He didn't want to buy anything, but just called in for a chat. He was an amazing-looking man, with the brightest ginger hair, who looked like a character from a Victorian story book. His name was Colin Wild and he told me he was a window dresser for a large local store. I was still struggling to pay off the debts from my Colindale disaster, but I realised that Colin could well be the partner I so needed . . . . .
The winter of 1963 saw me working at Watford Market. To my shame, my heavily pregnant wife worked in the shop with Colin. We needed the money. During the week I worked hard on what I enjoyed most - my mail order. I feel I should explain that, in those days, to make a 30% profit was good. Today, shops take over 200%. We had to work much harder.
I sold any item that I could as cheaply as possible, anything from playing cards to paint brushes. Our clothing mail order needed a 'W1' address and, with this in mind, we visited Camaby Street to look for a small office but ended up falling in love with a little dress shop in Ganton Street. The landlords wanted £3,000 (£40,000 today) but we could only scrape together £1,000.
I went to the landlords and, by showing them my mail order catalogue, I won them over but we had just one year to repay the balance. So there we were, in an empty dress shop that needed shop-fitting. It was already Tuesday, and somehow we had to open by the Saturday.
The shop became very famous in the 60's, lasting through until the late 70's. We made stage-wear for all the following groups and celebrities: Bob Hoskins, Benny Hill, Shirley Bassey, Alexei Sayle, Mud, The Bay City Rollers, Long John Baldry, Edwin Starr, The Four Tops, Desmond Dekker, Hot Chocolate, The Equals, Love Affair, AIvin Stardust, Jeremy Irons, The Harlem Globetrotters, Wayne Sleep, The Sweet, Alan Price, Barry Gibb, Marc Bolan, The Kinks, The Foundations, Status Quo, Miss World .......... Do you remember the TV show 'Hi-de-Hi ? We had to make the jackets 'badly' … so I got the tailors drunk! The time we fell foul of the New York mafia … The union jack jackets for The Jam ... It all happened at the 'Cavern'…….
We were given the name and address of an out-of-work tailor called Michael, but we were warned that he was a bit of a drunkard. So, along to the address I went… In those days (possibly still!) tailors couldn't afford an entire room, so they hired a work area - a space six feet long with a workbench, in a large room, with sometimes up to seven people sharing. At first we could not see 'Michael', but on closer inspection of the shelf beneath the bench (which was for fabrics and work in hand) we found him - asleep in a drunken stupor! About five feet tall, age possibly around sixty, he looked a bit like an Irish leprechaun… I still recall in horror the dirty plates covered with mildew. I pulled him to his feet, and then noticed that he limped.
So now we had an alteration service, by installing Michael in a windowless basement room, buying him the machinery he needed and putting up some lights. I have never seen a man look so very proud. To him it was his wildest dream come true. He was, true to his word, a good tailor and, for the next four years, was a great asset to us. During those years I never remember him drunk - although occasionally 'happy'! As for personal hygiene - well, one out of two ain't bad!! Our alteration service was an immediate success for, in just months, we had five tailors, all working with Michael.
|Soon we opened up the three floors above with another five tailors to cope with the theatrical business coming our way. Our greatest tailor was Otis - a genius who could make anything. Remember those fabulous leather cat suits he made for Alvin Stardust? And his suits were absolutely wonderful!|