Friday, 21 September 2012

Gerry Saunders MBE

Because it's behind a paywall to the rest of us and because I am indebted to this great and wonderful man, I am posting this Times obituary of Gerry Saunders by Eric Musgrave with a couple of annotations (in italics).

Gerry Saunders, who has died aged 83 years, was annoyed that an operation to remove a troublesome false hip (a hip replacement that had become infected) prevented him from attending on June 12 this year the 125th anniversary party for Drapers magazine, previously known as Drapers Record.

As he wrote in the celebratory issue of the fashion industry “bible”, one of his first major jobs when he joined the magazine as chief reporter in 1958 was to cover its 75th anniversary. He also oversaw the production of the special book produced for its 100th anniversary in 1987.

He joined Drapers Record when he was almost 30 with nearly 15 years’ experience in clothing trade journalism behind him, but his name always will be associated with DR, as the title was affectionately known. He was immensely proud of being made editor in November 1974 of the world-renowned trade title that has been published every week since 6 August 1887.

In its first editorial column, The Drapers’ Record, as it was then styled, promised its readers: “Our method of business is to produce something better than has ever been seen before in the way of trade journalism”. This was the creed that Saunders followed throughout his working life and enthusiastically passed on to the many editorial and commercial staff who worked with him.

Gerald Edmund Saunders was born in Fulham, London in 1929 to working-class parents. Although he was a bright and hard-working student at school, he left aged 15. It wasn’t until aged 40 that he learned that his school had wanted him to stay on and work towards university entrance. His family needed him to go out to work, however, and so in 1945, he started as a junior reporter for Century Press Ltd, working on long-forgotten trade titles like Textile Bulletin, Women’s Wear News, Man and His Clothes, and Fur Weekly News.

He did his National Service in the Royal Air Force from 1947 to 1949, where he learned to repair radios, a skill he later appreciated. 

He was also a skilled toy maker; fashioning wooden bridges and stations equal to the best available for his grandson's train set with only basic tools on his kitchen table. This skill and interest was perhaps a recognition of his father's trade of carpenter's mate. "A mate, not a carpenter" he would note if telling a family story, pointing out his father's unskilled status. Though his father Len provided reliably, the career opportunities he could provide his son were limited to that of a day-labourer and the work available at Olympia Exhibition Hall. His mother cleaned for a magazine publisher and she prevailed on him to give her boy an interview. On meeting him, Gerry once regaled, the man said "boy, I like the cut of your jib" and so mentored him. Gerry was a self-made man but unlike some, he did not adopt the cocky swagger of one, acknowledging often in his counsel it took luck as much as application and personality to rise up the ladder. On hearing his father's admission late in life that he hadn't responded to the school's overtures for Gerry to apply to university because he feared he couldn't afford to send him - not knowing of the assistance he would get - Gerry was uncharacteristically downcast, the colour literally drained from his face with the realisation of what might have been. A credit and a measure of his great strength was he didn't dwell on it for long. His humour left him for ten minutes and then he topped up everyone's glass and carried on with the jolly conversation and never mentioned it again.

Once demobbed, he joined the men’s wear title The Outfitter as senior reporter. In 1958, Saunders moved to Drapers Record as chief reporter. In 1962 DR, Men’s Wear and other titles were acquired by Roy (later Lord) Thomson, the Canadian publishing tycoon. In 1968 they were grouped into a subsidiary of The Thomson Organisation called Textile Trade Publications, based at Knightway House, 20 Soho Square, W1, close to the garment district around Great Portland Street.

Saunders was made editor in 1974 and a director of TTP in 1978. He moved from the editorial to the commercial in 1980 when he was named publisher of DR, Men’s Wear, British Clothing Manufacturer and Pins & Needles (the only consumer title in the group). Saunders became group publisher of the Thomson fashion titles in 1988 and publishing director in 1989.

The epitome of an old-school journalist, Saunders was a stickler for accuracy in reporting and grammar. The editorial team on DR waited with trepidation each Friday for Saunders’ marked-up copy of the latest issue to be circulated. It was covered with his comments, positive and negative, all marked with his unmistakeable GES signature.

He was always immaculately dressed and groomed, his hair slicked back like one of his cricketing idols, Denis Compton. He once admitted that his dream was to walk back from the crease to the pavilion at Lords with G E Saunders 100 Not Out on the scorecard versus Australia. A sociable character, he was renowned for his dry sense of humour and a reporter’s ability to converse easily with anyone he met. Unlike some of his contemporaries in journalism, he displayed no sexual discrimination and most of his senior editorial staff from the late 1970s onwards were women.

His devotion to magazines saw him join the editorial training committee of the Periodicals Training Council from 1982 to 1991, the year in which he joined the PTC board. He was chairman of judges for the PTC Magazine Journalist of the Year Awards in 1987 and again in 1993. In 1995 he was chairman of the working party that rewrote and redesigned the PTC training manual for magazine journalists.

Adept at handling the delicate politics among the factions of the UK fashion industry, Saunders was founder-chairman in 1981 of the Fashion Industry Action Group, which attempted to regulate the confusing schedule of clothing exhibitions in London. Saunders was chairman until FIAG was absorbed in 1985 into the British Fashion Council, which today organises London Fashion Week. He was vice-chairman of the BFC until 1997 and continued as BFC treasurer until 1998.

Saunders was an enthusiastic supporter of the fashion industry’s leading charity, The Cottage Homes (now known as Retail Trust). Under his chairmanship, the January 1987 Cottages Homes Ball, billed as the Drapers Record Centenary Ball, raised a then-record £135,000. In 1987/88, as national president of appeal, he raised £831,000, the third highest-ever total at the time. In 1993/94, he raised £839,000, knocking his previous effort into fourth place. He served a three-year term as chairman of the charity’s trustees from September 1997.

When the Thomson business magazines were acquired by Emap in February 1993, Saunders became publishing development director for the new owners and is remembered by many from the Emap team for the generous way he shared his decades of experience.

Saunders retired from full-time publishing aged 65 at the end of May 1994, but such was his knowledge and stature in the industry that he was retained by Emap as a paid consultant until 2001, by which time he had clocked up 43 years’ service to Drapers Record and 56 years in all to the fashion sector. He was elected a Fellow of the Clothing and Footwear Institute (FCI) in 1985 and made MBE in the New Year’s Honours List 1989 for services to journalism.

Gerry was exceedingly generous of his skill and time to his community, acting as press officer for the Muswell Hill Festival and editing and compositing and delivering the newsletter of the Muswell Hill and Fortis Green Association six times a year, its deadlines a priority in his social calender. In this modest title many a local reporter found a through appraisal of what was really going on in Hornsey Town Hall or got wind of another attempt to diminish the architecture and ambiance of Alexandra Palace and Muswell Hill Broadway, where he was a well known face.

His first marriage to Barbara Violet ended in divorce in 1958. There were two sons, David and Martin, from that marriage. Martin predeceased him. In 1960 he married Anne New and they had two daughters Kitty and Helen. The family has been comforted by the many tributes sent since Gerry Saunders died on July 3 due to complications following his hip operation.

Gerry Saunders MBE, fashion industry magazine journalist and publisher, was born on May 18, 1929. He died on July 3, 2012, aged 83.

It was about mid-February I recall that Drapers rang Gerry and asked if they could interview him about the time he was their editor and publisher for its 125th anniversary edition. They were also keen to locate and interview Jean Guest, the fashion editor, who had had an illustrious career there spanning a golden age of British fashion from 1936-1960.

Gerry let the journalist down gently with a chuckle; of course he had known her but "Jean Guest" was pseudonym. Back then reporters didn't have bylines in the trade press, the star personality was always the collective magazine. It also made economic sense to publishers to have 'stars' of anyone capable of the task
they could employ at the lowest possible price.

Gerry urged Drapers to conduct his interview as soon as possible as he was going into hospital in a few days to have his infected artificial hip removed and anticipated a long period of recuperation with a course of powerful antibiotics that had almost bowled him out before. At the time he was in great pain but being his usual stoic self about it. Of course we, the family, had worries about him having another major operation but he assured us he had discussed it with his surgeon and felt it was perfectly safe. What some probably felt and didn't say was that Gerry had likely decided already: it was take a risk and keep an active social life with his family, neighbours and the few "Old Devils" still going from his working life or become an invalid, walking with a zimmer frame and dependent on powerful pain killers and social care (no matter that it was willingly offered), and so that was that.

On first arriving at his home for a visit on a Friday, Gerry asked if I could take a photo of him for Drapers. He'd given the interview but they had then asked for a recent photo and a camera phone one he had didn't suit. With one thing and another, we didn't get round to it on Saturday morning and the light that afternoon was poor and then there were too many guests. It was after a generously lubricated Sunday lunch which had put him in good cheer, though he was dismayed he could not get up and bustle afterwards to clear up the kitchen - his non-negotiable condition if others did the cooking - and just we had packed the children and our bags in the car to go home, we remembered the need for his photograph and so I snatched a moment of intermittent sunlight to sit him by the garden window to take his head-shot. 

He was uncharacteristically uncomfortable at being photographed, ever fastidious, he realised he hadn't shaved that morning and was concerned about his stubble but there wasn't time to get him upstairs so I joked it didn't matter, with my luck as a photographer it was only going to be used a column wide. I took a few trial frames, trying to get him to smile but the movement to the chair had set off a spasm of pain and he was wincing and uncomfortable when I tried to adjust his posture. He gamely put on an air of bonhomie for the camera, I am sure it meant something to him to fulfil his promise to the editor waiting for the pictures. We then quickly selected a few choices and emailed them from his Mac - he always kept up to date - to meet the morning deadline. It was unsaid but I am sure it crossed his mind as much as mine that with him going into hospital the next morning, these might be the last photos taken of him "in all my pomp".

Gerry recovered as expected from his operation and so several more photos were taken of him at the Royal Free with well wishers and his family but a few hours before his discharge he was struck by the first of several catastrophic heart attacks.

Hearing that his obituary was in the Times online edition but not the print edition (though he was a faithful subscriber) Anne commented that he would have thought the editor's decision was right; he had risen high in the world but not so high to deserve that accolade. Many of the trade press have run obits and a few more remain to come. In giving his eulogies (it was impossible for just one speaker to deliver all the praise he he deserved) his friends shared a common theme; if you seek his monument; look around you. For Gerry it is not the bricks and mortar such as Wren left behind, nor his ink and paper which spurred on British trade during Gerry's time at the helm for London to became a fashion capital alongside Paris, New York and Milan, but the legacy of love and a life well lived that inspires all who knew him and so perpetuates the truth that nice guys do finish first.

1 comment:

  1. I think that's a lovely picture. And you've made the Times' obituary your own with your additions. Thank you.