Shirl and the Sorcerer


We were tickled pink to hear tell of a controversial book about Shirley Porter and family, written by Lord MacLaurin the former chairman of Tesco.

According to the Independent,  the book , “Tiger by the Tail – A Life in Business From Tesco to Test cricket”. has “caused apoplexy”  among Shirl and her rellies:

” It contains a series of scathing portraits of people he worked with, and describes Dame Shirley Porter, daughter of the supermarket chain’s founder, as a “sorcerer’s apprentice”

…and  tells the story of how a downmarket chain of London shops run by an East End barrow boy was transformed into one of Europe’s best run and most successful retailers.

There are tales of rows and coups and boardroom backstabbings.

One of the main characters is Tesco’s founder, Sir John “Jack” Cohen, who was nicknamed “Slasher” Cohen only partly because of his policy in the 1920s and 1930s of slashing prices according to his motto of “Pile Them High, Sell Them Cheap”.

The term “Slasher” was also linked to his autocratic treatment of staff.

The first chapter of Lord MacLaurin’s book sets the tone.

He describes how there was no love lost between Jack Cohen and his two sons-in-law Hyman Kreitman and Leslie Porter.

Mr Krietman resigned from the chairmanship of Tesco in 1974, to be succeeded by Sir Leslie Porter.

Sir Jack had thought he had found his natural successor but he was wrong.

Lord MacLaurin writes: “They were constantly at odds with each other to the point where, on one famous occasion, Leslie and Jack grabbed the Wilkinson swords that decorated the boardroom wall and clashed like duellists, Jack raging:

`One more crack like that, and I’ll kill him’.”

Then there was the time when the chairman of Unilever, Len Hardy, presented Leslie with an ornamental clock at a formal presentation and lunch.

Lord MacLaurin writes: “Now Jack needed a clock like a hole in the head, but it was the principle of the thing that got to him, and when we got back to the car, smoke was coming out of his ears because Leslie had got the clock, and he had got nothing:

“He didn’t say anything immediately, however, just sat beside Leslie chuntering to himself in the front seat. It was too good to last.

“Something had to give, and suddenly he turned to Leslie and said: `You’re nothing but a thief and a crook,’ and bam, gave him a whack on the shoulder.

“We were doing 60 or so at the time, and Leslie said: `Leave off Governor,’ as the Rolls veered across the road.

“But Jack wasn’t to be pacified and bam, he gave Leslie another whack, at which point Leslie said: `I’ve had enough of this’, and punched the old man back. Mayhem on the A3 and while… I tried to intervene, Jack opened the passenger door shouting: `I know when I’m not wanted. I’m getting out”.

What wonderful stock our Shirl comes from.

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