A New Career

The company I joined was a large and well-established concern called Boswell & Johnson. They were a hire company that were used by famous people, government departments and others, they also supplied guides for touring, and they paid a fair wage according to the type of job. I joined them as an independent driver. I was lucky to meet, drive and get to know many people who were famous from many professions as well as good ordinary folk.

When I had only one passenger, I usually got into conversation with them. I learned so much, in which I found a great deal of pleasure. One of my first passengers was the Principal of a ladies college at Oxford University. I was fortunate to drive her from her home in London, a few times. She was the most knowledgeable person I had ever met. I call her a walking encyclopaedia. It didn't matter what place or what topic was mentioned she had something interesting to say about it. One of the stories she told me was very interesting because it was a great disappointment to her even though she had so much experience having worked in government in the Intelligence Dept during the war and met world leaders. The story involved her college.

There was a shortage of domestic staff at the college. She had advertised in all the local papers, and had no response. The secretary and teachers were helping her do all the chores. The Principal was always helping the local community as well as others, by giving talks and lectures. One day she went to a home for aged women, where they were having a tea party, to give a jovial talk to cheer them up.

When she was about to leave she casually mentioned to one of the staff at the home that she was short of domestic staff. The conversation was overheard by an inmate who was one of the younger ladies. She approached the Principal and asked what it involved. The Principal explained and the lady asked if she could help. The Principal was delighted and made some arrangements for her to start. On Monday a car came for the lady and took her to the College. She was to work for two hours. She made tea for the staff and did some dusting and swept the floors in the offices. A car came for her to take her back to the home. She was picked up on Wednesday and the same things happened. She was so happy she told everyone and when she had got over her excitement two other women wanted to come. They would be paid by the hour at the same wage as the going wage for domestics. She told the ladies that she would speak to the Principal. The Principal was delighted and they were picked up together and given various little jobs. For those involved it might have been years since they were so happy. They had been accustomed to just sitting around. It made the principal very happy also. She was going to have a word with the other Principals who had difficulty obtaining permanent staff.

Four weeks latter, a man came into the office and asked to see the Principal. He was asked if he had an appointment. He said that he didn't need any appointment. He was told to sit down by the clerk, who would find out if the Principal would see him. As she knocked on the door this gentleman pushed past her. The principle was a little startled and said, "Who you are and what do you want?" He blurted out, "I am a Trade Union organiser and you are deliberately exploiting old ladies and preventing fit ladies from getting work and paying proper wages." She replied, "Listen to me young man. I have been connected with Trade Unions since before you were born. I believe in the principles of Trade Unionism and I make sure everyone here, is treated fairly and with respect. And if you want to continue with this discussion you had better be more polite or I'll have you thrown out." She explained that she had advertised in every paper and no one had applied. He said that she could not have tried hard enough as there were lots of women unemployed. She said, “If that's the case then find me a some but meanwhile I will keep my old ladies who are paid the same rates and, more importantly, they are extremely happy and are enjoying themselves. He was indignant and said she couldn't and wouldn't be allowed to do this as she was denying employment to proper trained people. She could not argue with him with him any longer, to the letter of the law he was right but he made three ladies very unhappy. She was sure that many worse breaches of Union rules were committed every day. Perhaps a little common sense would have helped.

Amongst all the different types of people we drivers encounter there are bound to be some unusual occurrences. I drove an Italian Princess and her consort one day. It was very cold and she was wearing a very old fur coat, a bit worse for wear. She took it off in the car. I took them to the building where they were living in a flat on the top floor. It was a credit job so there was no need to pay me. They got out of the car and ran to the entrance hall before I could even get out to open the door for them. As I was about to return to my seat I looked inside the cab and saw the fur coat on the seat. I grabbed it, got into lift and went to the top floor and knocked on the door. I had to wait a while. The man opened the door a few inches and I said, “The lady left her fur coat.” He snatched the coat and slammed the door in my face without saying a word. It seemed to me that they were hoping that they would not see the fur coat again and hoping to make an insurance claim for the loss. I had no proof, but sometimes, actions speak louder than words. They did look the sort of people who would try something like that.

The manager of the car hire company called me into his office. He said that he would like me to become a travel guide. I told him that I had thought of it but I thought I was too old. He said, “That’s ridiculous!” I explained that I had applied to the British Tourist Office to become a badge guide but they told me that they only train young people especially university students. He said he would arrange for me to take a course with a private company for training guides. I was very happy to go. I became an effective tour guide and I have lots of letters and autographed books praising me and saying how much they enjoyed their trips and tours. Many returned time after time and insisted I be their guide. In most cases the tours were arranged for them especially with all the hotels booked in advance.

Besides going on tours, I was also driving celebrities. Among my favourites were the world famous ballerina, Dame Margot Fonteyn and her invalid husband whose father and uncle were Presidents of Panama. Her husband, called Tito Arias had been shot in an attempted coup and was paralysed. I often pushed him around in his wheelchair when he came to London without his minder. Every year, he had to be taken to hospital for a check up. On one trip to the hospital I was waiting for him while he was being examined and I met one of England's greatest entertainers who was doing wonderful work for this hospital and another in Leeds. He not only raised many millions of pounds. But he visited all the patents to cheer them up. His name was Jimmy Savile. When he saw me, he asked who I was with, when I told him, he said, “We will have a bit of fun with them.” Meanwhile I went round all the wards with him and acted the stooge and he had the patients young and old in fits of laughter. When Dame Margot appeared with her husband, he found that he couldn't have fun with such a celebrity. Only the night before she had given a classic ballet concert that had been televised. He spent the time praising her. But she thanked me for the introduction, as she had never met him before.

Dame Margot introduced me to her mother and I saw her often. Her name was Mrs Hookham and she told me that Margot’s childhood name was Peggy. She used to tell me that there were other dancers in the family but little Peggy seemed to have been born with ballet shoes on. It seemed obvious to all her coaches and trainers that she would be a star and so it turned out. She reached the pinnacle of her profession, prima ballerina assoluta. Through her I met many ballet stars of the stage past and present, even Rudolf Nureyev and his boy friend.

She was friendly with many stars of the stage and film and was invited to a birthday party at the Dorchester Hotel. It was a very special event. It was the birthday of Richard Burton and also the celebration of the reunion of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor and their second marriage together. The Burtons kept a suite of rooms at the Dorchester permanently. I drove Margot and her husband to the hotel where Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton greeted them. I was introduced, but because there were so many stars there I couldn't go into the dining room. Outside was a buffet and seating area and as I was sitting there Elizabeth Taylor came by. She said something to me, which I could not catch because there was so much noise with music and singing but it was a thrill to see her up close. Obviously she had had lots of beauty treatment, by that time but she was considered one of the world's greatest beauties. Her violet eyes and perfect features all helped. The money she donated and raised for the treatment of Aids was astronomical. There was a reason for this of course. 

I was sitting near one of the buffet tables eating a sandwich and drinking some tea when a group of six tall, stocky men came to the buffet and ordered some champagne and caviar. They were deep in conversation. I tried to catch some of what they were saying and I heard the words ‘kidnapping attempt’. I got the feeling they were bodyguards for Elizabeth Taylor or Richard Burton. I made sure my back support was firmly on and I felt like offering my support, telling them that I might be some use because of my combat training but I just waited on alert. As all expenses were paid for by the Burtons everyone present could eat and drink until they collapsed and as the evening went by the six detectives seemed to have got livelier but there were no signs of kidnappers. Somehow it was all a false alarm.

I took Margot and her husband home and got him ready for bed. He seemed to like me, but I am afraid I didn't care much for him, although he made me laugh. As a fire engine went by ringing the bell, he said it must four o' clock, in the little village where he lived in Panama. There they had only one engine and all the firemen would regularly go home for tea at four o'clock ringing their bell to let everyone know. But for all his faults, which Margot knew, she still loved him and went on working to pay for all his expenses and care. He didn't deserve it. And it shortened her life.