16.  Charles Meynell: 1889 - 1966

Uncle Charlie joined the Company in 1906 and I knew him from 1948 to 1966.  Obviously I got to know him very well indeed as I saw him each day and talked to him in the time which followed the ritual reading of the orders together each morning. I believe that he had the makings of a clever, if not brilliant, engineer and I was told by Father, and also Lionel, that he had made his own wireless set in 1924 from crystals. I think that his leaning was more towards the sciences and he was more in his element with chemistry and physics.

I saw Uncle Charlie at his worst because he was quite blatant in his refusal to have anything to do with Company affairs. He used to arrive huffing and puffing some time around 09.20 and go to his office to drop his raincoat and anything else and then huff and puff to Father’s office and pick up the orders.  In my early days in the company the orders were taken to his own office and he would sit in the chair which his father, Walter, had used until his death in 1924.  He would then telephone Mr Turpin and Mr Evans on the internal phone.  He would just say “Right, Turpin” or “Right, Evans” and put the telephone down again. He was very brusque on the telephone and I suspect that this was because he was basically a shy man.

The reading of the orders really was a farce from beginning to end.  First of all there was no need to do it.  Secondly, Uncle Charlie was hopelessly lost on some of the products and all of the prices. Thirdly, he wasn’t interested.  The congregation was comprised of Mr. Turpin, who was a scholarly man who would have preferred to be on the stage I think;  and Mr. Evans, who was termed Chief Sales Clerk when I joined. Both had been with the company since the late 1920s and both knew and understood our products, methods and ways.  They were really the chief civil servants running sales, buying and costing.  My Father, Lionel and myself were also present, so there was quite a crowd of the top executives wasting their time and talent.

As the orders were read out the stage was set for comedy and during the reading it was usual for somebody to make a remark which was thought to be so humorous that we all dissolved with laughter for minutes on end.  When the laughter eventually ceased - I can see the picture today quite vividly in my mind - Uncle Charlie would be sitting there with a cigarette in his great, pudgy, nicotine stained fingers and staring straight ahead.  He would say “That reminds me of a story, Cuthbert” and Father would make same stupid remark like: “I hope its better that the one you told about the dog shit, Charles”.  More laughter and Charlie would proceed quite undaunted.  Most of his stories were funny and some were very funny indeed.  The scene which was set was one of unbelievable comedy and none of the conversation seemed to be about work and nobody seemed to be in the slightest bit interested in the fortunes of the Company.

Two fairly awful incidents, for which I was the culprit, stand out in my memory. The first was in the early 1950s when I still kept ferrets at home.  I took one into the morning meeting one day and surreptiously let it out of my pocket and placed it quietly on the table. After a few seconds somebody spotted it and said “Heavens” - or something like that - and Uncle Charlie stood bolt upright and blinked at me through his glasses and, as he never pronounced his aitches, he said “’Ugh, take that fearsome animal out of ‘ere”.  I did - and spent most of the rest of the day terrifying the typists and other females in the offices.

The second incident was in the late 1950s when I was fascinated by fireworks.  I took a really powerful one into the boardroom (where we opened the mail after the offices were changed around) and I lit it and pushed it under the table.  There was a most tremendous noise when it exploded in a confined space and a silence followed broken only by my hysterical laughter.  I can see the picture clearly today, with Father uncertain of what to do, Lionel looking furious and Uncle Charlie white and shaking, saying “’Ugh, don’t you ever do that again”.

I used to take my beautiful Irish Setter, Jealousy, to the order routine at one time and when there was a bad shortfall of orders on Tuesday, I said, at the end of the session, “Not enough to buy the dog biscuits”.

As soon as the orders had been read, the executives left and Cuthbert and Charles started in real earnest about the previous evening’s TV.  “Cuthbert, you should have seen Sari Barrabas singing last night - it was worth a year’s TV licence just to hear her”.  “Charles, I did and I wouldn’t even put her on at a Christmas party”.  And so it went, all in good humour. Conversation continued until about 10.15, when Uncle Charles would stretch and say “Oh my back! Right, I’ll go and have a shit - any ejaculation from the body gives me pleasure ‘Ugh”.  Then he would stamp out.  Then my father would say: “Well I must do some bloody work”, whereupon his ritual was to go back to his office and have a shave and then disappear to the Wages Office with a newspaper and say “Hiya, Piddles! How’s your fanny, Dorothy?  Move your tits over, Mary, and make room for my arse. Did any of you have a bit of dick last night?”.  Then without stopping or taking any notice of their reactions he would go on to say “Where’s my bloody tea?  Let’s see what’s in the f…ing paper this morning”.

Charlie went to his office after the toilet and sent for various people: Tipple about his gardening requirements for the afternoon, Barnham for his car requirements (something always seemed to be squeaking), Miss Green to get him cigarettes, etc and perhaps a few phone calls. He never did any work at all.

He then settled down to read the Birmingham Post which had been delivered by Smiths and, after reading it, did as much of the crossword as he could until about 12.00, when Uncle Charlie opened the one cupboard in his office  - it only contained booze.  He then left the works, at about 12.20 most days, with a great fuss: “My God, look at the bloody time.  I’ll have to go and collect Emmy or the bugger will tell me off for being late again”.  Then huffing and puffing down the stairs: but he didn’t always find it necessary to spit.

His spitting achieved fame and notoriety at one time because it was a great lump of horrid looking phlegm, which was always spat out when he was about half-way up the stairs.  I should explain that by the 1950s we had acquired a further house down Montrose Street which was knocked down and rebuilt as a garage where Uncle Charlie had his car.  Above it was a little Assembly and Test Shop where Jack Martin and his girls worked for a time and then later it became the Stores. Anyway, hence his route up the front stairs. One day in the late 1950s we had employed a man called Perkins as an executive to run the Rayon Patent Valve Department.  He saw this regular dollop of phlegm (Uncle Charlie’s best) each day and soon complained to my father.  Father no doubt said that he would something about it and never did.  But the saga went on until finally it was ascertained that the culprit was Uncle Charlie and the whole matter was turned into great hilarity and the subject was dropped.

Uncle Charlie spent the afternoon at the Golf Club or in his garden at home. 

They were happy and carefree days but I don’t know how we stayed in business. Uncle Charlie, who was reputed to have ability, also had a lifetime of experience of our trade and our Company.  So what went wrong?  I can think of two answers and both probably carried the total reason but the split of percentage I shall never know. The first answer is that he never wanted to come into the business but was persuaded into it against his will by his Father. The second answer is that my Father, Cuthbert, had various assets of kindness, humour and generosity but also suffered debits of being quick tempered, vicious and malicious and I’m told that he made it quite clear to Uncle Charlie that he did not want him interfering in the business and to keep his nose right out of it. 

Apparently, Uncle Charlie made one brave venture out as a salesman when he was young but, whatever his business colleagues thought, it was his wife, Aunt Emmy, who told him never to do it again.  At the beginning of the century, about 1900, an iron foundry was purchased at the top of Wadhams Hill, in Charles Street, just below Stafford Street, but this folded up after a few years.  During its lifetime, Uncle Charlie was its chief executive.

He was a good watcher and when I joined in 1948 the new 37 Shop was being built and the roof joists being erected.  Charlie would stand and watch the builders for hours. It was the only time I ever saw him in the works.  Later on, when we were having some machines put into the Blue Room (which was another building we had purchased) he went into the shop to watch operations. One of our foremen was Walter Lampitt, who hadn’t a clue who he was and couldn’t stand somebody just hanging about and watching.  So, after a time he went up to Charlie and said “I don’t know who you are but bugger off.  I don’t want you here”.  Uncle Charles meekly buggered off. 

It is, of course, a humorous story but in a more serious vein, what an awful reflection of a company director in his own company and compounded and made worse by being the story of a family business.  He really didn’t care and wasn’t concerned about the works at all. 

Uncle Charlie had a good life and was a complete parasite when I joined in September 1948.  There were literally only three jobs he did for the Company in all of the 18 years I knew him. One was the useless ceremony of reading the orders.  The second was to sign the cheques, sometimes, at the end of the month.  Thirdly, there was an annual event known as stocktaking at which my Father used to try and persuade him to extend a few columns of figures to assess the money value of the work in progress or finished stock which someone else had listed.  The exchange was brief.   Father:  “Charles, here are some stock books which have got to be done”.  Charles: “I’ll do one of the, Cuthbert, and no more”.  Father used to bring stock books home on this annual occasion and Mother, my sister Rachel and I were duly impressed.  We never knew how little he did until I joined the Company and I never told them. 

Uncle Charlie was a Director of the Wolverhampton Building Society until his death in 1966. I don’t know why he was chosen but he used to go and sign the cheques for them at the end of each month.

I’m told that Uncle Charles didn’t join up in the First War and in the Second War his great achievement was to help the Shifnal Golf Club keep going.  He went there most days, so I am told, and was the single handed Jack of all Trades, cutting the greens, paying the barmen, etc. At the end of the War he was appointed Captain of the Club for one year.

What a shame his energy and ability were scorned by our family business.  If only he had been helped and encouraged he could have taken our business to the top of the league in Wolverhampton.  As it was he was idle and a parasite in all the years I knew him.  However, it would not be fair to end my pen portrait of him without mentioning that he always treated me with relative kindness and fairness and he never stood in my way or impeded my progress in the company and for this I am grateful. 

In the early 1960s his health began to deteriorate.  He became even shorter of breath and had bronchitis even worse.  Eventually he got dropsy and died at home with Lionel at his bedside.  He had been happily married and a good family man and he never stood in my way;  but it must be fair to say that his life was wasted and his brains and talents never used, so that he was an expensive encumbrance to the company.

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