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The Chester-Perry Co

The Buying Department

Highslide JS
Strip 5743 was published in the Evening Standard in October 1980
Placed on the 2nd floor (or not, see below for a review of this vexed question) of the Chester-Perry Building, the interested visitor may find the Buying Department. Here, depending on the time of day, they will encounter buying clerks gossiping, queuing for the tea trolley, chucking paper aeroplanes about, rehearsing for the annual nativity play, fighting fiercely contested tournaments of desktop football or just sleeping. Oh, and occasionally doing a little buying as well.  Here is an absolutely typical picture strip 4645
Strip 4645 was published in the Evening Standard in May 1976 and in Living Death in the Buying Department
. Note that Hewitt, Dimkins and Pilkington are also in the department alongside Bristow and Jones.

The department is headed by the Chief Buyer, Mr. RJ Fudge. In earlier days, as we can see from the example above, Hewitt and Pilkington worked alongside Jones and Bristow. (Dimkins was never actually in the Buying Department but worked next door in Invoicing). Indeed, the Department was positively crowded during the 1960s. Pilkington was a sort of senior clerk, paid a little more than Jones, Hewitt or Bristow, though seated with them at a desk in the main office. Then a youngster from the Northern Branch, one Barker, joins the Department and is soon promoted above the other clerks to the position of Assistant Buyer. Pilkington, foot half on the management ladder, is complacent but Bristow, Jones and Hewitt are furious. Apart from plotting, they fail to do anything about it, of course.

The moment that the boss is out, work is put away,animosities are suppressed and everyone joins in the fun. If they need a fourth for bridge, Dimkins will be cajoled the moment he makes the mistake of entering the department.

Highslide JS
Strip 48 was published in the Evening Standard in April 1962
Barker left the strip in 1965 and gradually first Pilkington, then Hewitt faded out. No deputy has been appointed. Indeed when Fudge is on holiday the temporary Chief is chosen by the time-honoured C-P method of first clerk to raise his hand. Or someone like Softy Palmer draws the short straw.

Inside the Buying Department

The department appears to occupy two large rooms, one of which is Fudge's private office and the other used by clerks. Fudge's room is wood-panelled and luxurious, a fitting repository for his huge gleaming desk and elaborate chair. We glimpse it from time to time, usually while Bristow is on the receiving end of a deafening chewing-out - such as strip 1325
Strip 1325 was published in the Evening Standard in May 1965 . This scan is from the Sydney Morning Herald February 1966
, a strip that perfectly encapsulates Bristow's relationship with his boss and typifies the plight of middle management and staff, both trapped in roles that they cannot escape.

The clerk's room is fitted out with the usual filing cabinets and battered old desks, a hatstand and a jealously guarded window. And a radiator or two. Having a desk either by the window or by the radiator is a matter of great consequence. Bristow is keen on his access to the window, especially when his friend the pigeon is fluttering by, or there is a chance that Miss Pretty of Kleenaphone may drive by (although in the latter case he will be quickly elbowed aside by every clerk on the floor).

We do know how the department is decorated, or at least how it looked in July 1962 when, as strip 120
Strip 120 was published in the Evening Standard in July 1962. The paint pots are labelled "black", "sludge-brown" and "olive green" - sorry about poor quality of photo
shows, it was being redecorated. The previous colours, olive green walls, sludge brown doors and black surrounds are being excitingly updated.

Chief Buyers-in-waiting

The department that held at least 6 staff in the beginning had shrunk to two clerks and a Chief Buyer in the late 1970s, a size it thereafter retained. But therein lies a great mystery. For Bristow is, as he has always maintained, no less than 18th in line for the position of Chief Buyer. Surely there should be 17 additional clerks in the department? Or if not actually there, then working in similar positions in the C-P organisation (we learn of one or two counterparts in the Northern Branch in a recent strip on Frank Dickens’ website)? It is hard to think who might be in line for a Chief Buyer’s job other than people in that line of work, but there is precious little evidence of them inside the walls of the Chester-Perry building.

That Bristow is 18th is well known to everyone in the Chester-Perry organisation. In strip 1918 Miss Sunman and Miss Rouge list the 17 men ahead of him whilst lunching in the park. The full list is Pope, Holland, Edwards, Cole, Lamb, White, Buxton, Balchin, Breeze, Mylett, Cook, Hacker, Jenkins, Ingram, White, Perrins and Scarfe. None of these have ever been known to have served in the Buying Department but one or two names are familiar. There is a reference to a Mrs Mylett, implicated in the Great Tea Trolley Disaster. Messrs Pope, Hacker and Balchin are managers in Personnel at various times. And I rather think that Messrs (Hector) Breeze, (Peter) Cook,(Richard) Ingram(s) and (Gerald) Scarfe, at least, may be not unconnected with Private Eye magazine. But not with the world of Chester-Perry.

A few years later and the names have changed but alas, Bristow remains anchored at number 18. In strip 4663
Strip 4663 was published in the Evening Standard in June 1976 and in Living Death in the Buying Department . This scan is from the Melbourne Age July 1976
they are now Wells, Chick, Adams, Lyons, Dansie, Smith, Houghton, Cunningham, Minting, Tomlin, Postlethwaite, Cornellie, Pike, Sheath, Davis and Woodburn. As before, these are in the main names unknown, persons who have never featured in the strip or even been mentioned in passing.. There is one exception, Mr Dansie who is shown (strip 4855 in March 1977) leaving C-Ps for pastures new and creating massive excitement by auctioning off his personal effects including an unbroken run of pay slips (purchased by a mystery buyer believed to be acting for the management). But even after his departure Bristow is still 18th in line…

So Pilkington, Hewitt and even Barker do not feature on either the typists' list or on Bristow’s list. And neither does one other name – Jones. It is not at all clear if Jones is superior to Bristow. Bristow claims to have seniority over Jones because he has worked longer for C-Ps (and because he is higher up, alphabetically). He goes so far as to claim that he, Bristow is 17th in line and that Jones is 19th. The missing slot is awarded to the pigeon that wastes so much of its time lolling around on Bristow’s window ledge. Bristow is probably wrong. People are always being shown round the offices and Bristow is invariably pointed out (whilst fast asleep or idling away the time) as the man 18th in line for Chief Buyer. Who’s Who at Chester Perry’s has him as 18th in line. And there, despite eight and two thirds years service, he seems destined to stay.

In any case this is all academic. When Fudge is, for a brief period, promoted outside the department his place is taken by an outsider. Nobody on the list, or indeed anyone that Bristow has ever heard of, is considered for the job. It would make no difference if Bristow was 1st in line for Chief Buyer. He still wouldn’t actually get the job.

The honour of clerks

The ethos of the department is one of dog eats dog. The clerks are in a state of permanent warfare with each other as they jostle for position. The prevailing morals were nicely summed up in July 1962

I'm furious
Whilst I was out of the room just now, someone forced open the drawer of my desk...
Some of my most valued possessions have been removed
Pilkington's pen, Hewitt's blotter..Jones' rule... strip 125
Strip 125 was published in the Aberdeen Press and Journal in May 1962. This scan is from the Evening Standard in June 1962 . Apologies for poor quality of photo

In strip 583 (this number was also used in December 1962), January 1963, Bristow gets into the office to measure the working space allotted to each clerk and is depressed to find that Pilkington has 25 square feet, Jones and Hewitt 9 square feet each whilst he only has a rather unlikely 5 ½.

Friendship doesn't count for much in the Buying Department. Bristow's dramatic announcement that he is about to walk out and never come back induces a rather mercenary response from Hewitt and Jones strip 2610
Strip 2610 was published in the Evening Standard in July 1969 and in Bristow (1970).


Where is the Buying Department?

The Buying Department has a nomadic existence. Like many other departments it seems to float around the Chester-Perry Building. In any case everyone was shuffled about following the Great Tea Trolley Disaster. Some of the early strips show Bristow leaning out from a very long way up

Highslide JS
Extract from Bristow (1966). Not published in the Evening Standard

In 1973 the department is on the third floor (source: strip 3850) but in 1978 the much-travelled two men who are always roaming around find Bristow kicking a can of clerkomeat along the second floor (source: strip 5064). In November 1981 Bristow wastes time exploring the fourth floor and claims to be directly above his own office (strip 6021) so buying has moved back to the third but In 1999 it is definitely on the second (source: strip 10390). It was still there in 2000 (source: strip 10829) when Bristow congratulates Hickford on having got as far as the second floor as he distributes the bumper autumn number of the House Journal. It seems fair to conclude that the department has settled down there. Good news for Bristow for those days he needs to race up the stairs to beat Fudge into work.