Am I Right or Wrong?
By ROBER T HANCOCK IN Britain this is the age of the modest millionaires. Not for them are the £50,000 one- night parties thrown by the oil oligarchs of Texas or the carousals of the merchant princes of Greece and Armenia when the fountains run with vintage wines.
Our men, and women, of millions are a little mealy-mouthed about their money. You could almost hear their sigh of relief when the Managerial Revolution deprived Lady Norah of the gold-plated Daimler and put more conven- tional upholstery on the 1957 models. , But I must issue a solemn warning to all those with a million who feel that members of this almost closed shop should shut up about their money in case HMG discovers that latest accountant's dodge. You have a traitor in your ranks, a Mr. Raymond Way, a self-made, sweet old-fashioned millionaire who is not interested in modesty. He believes in the splendid, if out- dated, slogan 'Everything in Excess.'
Mr. Way made his million in buying and selling second-hand cars and when the business was big by selling part-control in the company for around £200,000. He is still in the second-hand car trade, mainly at Kilburn, London, NW, but also sells new models and new motor-cycles. He is a Lloyds underwriter and has a photographer's business in Hull.
'Mind you, if I died tonight I expect I would leave about £700,000. Got too many of those bloody Burmahs; they've cost me a packet—am I right or wrong, Mr. Warrell?'
'Right, Guv'nor,' said Mr. Warrell. Mr. David Warrell, a pale-faced man with a pointed chin, is Mr. Way's thirty-six-year-old personal assistant and Grey Eminence. He once 'held a very important position in a bank' but joined Mr. Way after the latter had been impressed by the way Mr. Warrell handled some business they were doing together.
Out of respect for Big Business and his late employers, Mr. Warrell dresses in striped trousers and black jacket. He is essential for the successful impletion of his employer's 'everything in excess' Weltanschauung.
How does Mr. Way find petrol rationing affects his business? 'Well, at first it was terrible, but now they've cut the HP deposit to a fifth it's better than ever. At Kilburn I have 300 cars under one roof and at Willesden I've 700 motor- bikes on three floors. Why, at Kilburn I'm doing 200 cars a week and seventy-five motor-bikes.'
As part of the millionaire manner each customer served by Mr. Way gets a cigar. These are Jamaican: 'Set me back 4s. 6d. each; am I right or wrong, Mr. Warrell?"Right, Guv'nor.' Last year Mr. Way gave away 10,000 boxes of cigars. Each cigar is in a metal container on which is printed in red 'Jolly Good Luck ! Raymond Way of Kilburn.'
'Sure they are good cigars, I smoke them myself.'
Mr. Way likes the sight and sound of his own name. He spends £150,000 a year on press, poster and TV advertising and he is the motoring reporter for Radio Luxembourg. 'My poster at Cricklewood-1 think it just says, "Two miles to Raymond Way"—takes some beating for length. It's 160 feet long.'
Just as Madame Tussaud buys the clothes of the infamous and the famous, Mr. Way buys their motor-cars. He has the black Buick in which the Duke of Windsor did some of his courting with Mrs. Simpson. He owns the bullet-proof Mercedes that protected the late Field-Marshal Goering. He has, or has had, cars belonging to George Bernard Shaw, Sir Winston Churchill, Earl Mountbatten, Miss Marilyn Monroe and Mr. Donald Maclean.
'I have got Maclean's Humber. MI5 gave it a pretty good going over. All I found were copies of The Times. Must have been a very clever chap.'
Not only do these cars make the name of Way well known around the country when they are shown, but they also raise money for charity. 'We got £10,000 for charities last year by charg- ing a bob a nob to see 'em. Am I right or wrong, Mr. Warrell?"Right, Guv'nor.'
The Guv'nor himself is a great car collector. 'Just now I have seven and they range from Rolls-Royces to a Land-Rover.' Mr. Way's most spectacular motor is a 23-ft.-long, all-white Cadillac, known to all at Kilburn as 'The Creep.' He makes it earn its basic ration by hiring it to British film companies.
'Don't really know why I bought it, don't really like it, I prefer my Continental Bentley. I once got 122 m.p.h. out of her on a Belgian road. Mind you, anyone driving over thirty on British roads is barmy.'
All the motors used regularly by Mr. Way have built-in tape recorders. This enables him to dictate letters and memoranda between jobs and on the way to work. 'You ask me can I write? Listen, son, I can sign cheques and that's good enough for me.'
It is part of Mr. Warrell's duty to turn these terse, taped messages into the banalities of busi- ness. Mr. Way's command, 'Tell this bastard to take a jump,' emerges on notepaper headed 'From the Desk of the Managing Director' something like 'Mr. Way thanks you for your kind letter but he regrets . .
The secret of Mr. Way's success is: 'Hard graft, up at 5 a.m. I still do it to keep the staff on the hop down at Oxford. I'm there before we open in the morning, see, and never talking to motor dealers outside business hours. These geezers would take anyone's confidence away.'
Some of Mr. Way's rough exterior—he is a compact man with a face like a hand-chiselled goblin—comes from his early life as a showman on Britain's fairgrounds.
Raymond Way was born in 1907 at Sutton, Surrey. 'I don't remember at what age I left school.' Soon he was running a Wall-of-Death show. 'Nobody ever got killed—there wasn't far to fall and they don't go fast really, you know.' He dealt in second-hand cars as a sideline.
'Before the war I sold cars for around ten quid a time. They were as safe as the price allowed. I had my first "showroom" in a mews. The stock was four cars. To make it look better we garaged cars by the day and stuck "sold" notices on the windscreens. If the owners ever complained when they collected them at night I'd explain, "Well, it's such a smashing bus, Guy, that I just had to stick that label on to stop being pestered all day by buyers."' Today Mr. Way conducts his business on 'money back if not satisfied' principles. 'Why, I pay the return fare of any dissatisfied customers and I give them a cigar.'
'I know there are some dealers winding back the speedos and putting new rubbers on the control pedals to hide the wear and that sort of caper, but not for me. Am I right or wrong, Mr. Warrell?"Right, Guy'rior.'
With nostalgia Mr. Way recalled some of the car-buyers of prewar. 'First Lord Flapdoodle would come in with a bird and buy her a big car. Next day she would be round to flog it again for £300 less than the old cock gave. Then you could sell it again to her when she brought a new punter in. I've sold a motor three times in one day without taking it out of the showroom.'
But times are not what they were in the car trade. 'The men who sell today don't want to graft. Mind you, some of the boys are employing Old Etonians again now trade's a bit ribby in the big motor bracket. They keep these blokes until they've sold all the family a Rolls and then fire 'em and take on a new lot of Old Etonians.'
Like all British self-made men, Mr. Way is wistful for the land. He already owns one small farm near Berkhamsted, Herts, where he fattens thirty-five steers for market. Now he is interested in a farm of 285 acres costing £22,000. Here, wearing his £50-a-pair crocodile-skin boots, he will relax, away from the bustle of his 20-gn.- a-week furnished pied-a-terre in London.
The new place has a church on the estate. I'll not go, of course, but it makes a change to own one.'
Despite his money Mr. Way still likes simple food. Over a drink in the bar of the Ivy Restaurant favoured by London's ares and beens of the entertainment world, he ordered his dinner— tripe and onions. 'Went to a place once where they didn't have it, so I sent a cab round here to get some. The cab cost a quid and the food 7s. 6d.'
Although he does not drink himself, Mr. Way offered me a bottle of wine. I chose a Pouilly Fuisse shipped by Calvet. 'Is he a good shipper? I prefer Onassis myself. Am I right or wrong, Mr. Warrell?"Right, Guv'nor.'