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I once worked with an immensely talented person called Tim Bannister and this set of unrelated memories begins with him. Firstly I should say he had some rather attractive idiosyncrasy's regarding his hero's, for he would speak about them by their Christian names. For example, if talking about who were the greatest tennis players of years gone by, other people may argue Borg, Connors or Lendl. Tim would say Björn, Jimmy or Ivan, he would always personalise it as one would with a close friend. If he asked people had they seen Johns latest film, or heard Deans new record, I would know he was talking about John Wayne and Dean Martin, who were two of his greatest hero's. But a stranger wouldn't, and over the years I saw Tim get some strange looks. From the late sixties through to the early 1980's, I worked with this unique young man and I have many pleasant memories of those days. This one involves a request from a young American man for an urgent tennis racket repair, it was during the time Tim managed our Guildford shop.
The young man and Tim were aged about twenty five and both could be described as tall, dark and handsome. I happened to be visiting the shop and, when I heard the American say he was taking part in the Pit Farm Tennis Tournament, I knew we had to grant his request. I said, "Of course we could," just as Tim was about to say a firm "NO." We were inundated with repairs but the truth was I liked the look of the young fellow and admired the pleasant way he had asked a favour important to him. With what I always described as his look of hostile subservience, Tim fleetingly glared at me, as he asked the chap his name. "Martin, initial D," came the quiet reply. "D for what," asked an insistent Tim, "Dean", he was told and the young fellow smiled, adding, "Dean Martin, Jnr!" Tims manner changed in a flash for now he was smiling too, it not only made Tims day, but made his year. As the racket was swiftly pushed to the top of the queue, he and Dean chatted cheerfully like old friends, and they parted with a warm handshake. One happy shop manager and one very satisfied customer. Tim was to later say he was just two handshakes away from shaking hands with Dean Martin himself. So I jokingly shook Tims hand and said that I, therefore, was just three handshakes away from shaking hands with the famous actor, singer and TV star.
A similar story happened when I had an office and small warehouse above my Walton on Thames shop. It was a Saturday morning and, as no one was answering the shop phone, I picked up my extension. A man asked who he was speaking to in rather a cloak and dagger way and I eventually found out why. He explained he was the singer, Tom Jones, and he wanted some keep fit equipment for his son Mark, but he wished, for obvious reasons, not to be seen by the public. He asked if there was a private place he could view some stock and we agreed he could do so in my office. The plan was he would be brought by car and dropped off at the shops door. He would then enter the shop, ask for me and be taken straight to my office. After the phone call I went downstairs and told all of the staff that I had a friend of mine coming to see me and he must be brought straight to my office. I added, as if it was an after thought, "His names Tom." God I could bullsh*t in those days and I did so by just stating the facts. Tom duly arrived and, with mouth agog, the shop manager brought him to me. "Hi Ken," said a smiling Tom, as he shook my hand firmly, there was nothing limp-wristed about the masculine boy from Wales. I bade farewell to my manager and then set about helping my famous customer to the best of my ability. Of course the story that Ken and Tom Jones are friends, quickly sped through my little empire which amused me immensely.
Walter Brooks, one of my earlier bosses, loved to say after meeting someone famous or important, "Shake the hand, that shook the hand of ---," whoever he had just met. This used to amuse my brother Wally and, all these years later, peoples reaction to fame still intrigues me. Perhaps it's because of the Tuffs families slight superiority complex that few famous people impress me, but I am still fascinated by the amount of well known people I have bumped into by chance. One reason must be where my shops were situated throughout the wealthy south east of England. I had shops in towns like Woking, Dorking, Horsham, Farnham, Walton on Thames, Maidenhead and Guildford, all in prime sites. Travelling between these towns, and frequenting many of their better pubs and restaurants, it was inevitable I should meet on the odd occasion some people of fame. I would often meet the actor Oliver Reed in a wonderful pub called, The Punchbowl Inn, which was in a small village called Oakwood Hill. This was situated near to both my Dorking and Horsham shops and I usually arrived there around midday. Sometimes Oliver would be there in a happy and talkative mood but, more often than not, he would just stare at his pint looking a little sad. It is my belief that being ordinary leads to a far happier and longer life than those with fame enjoy!
In 1984 we had an Irish lodger called Martin McInerney and I recall an early evening pint with him in, The White Horse, which is a pub in the Surrey village of Shere. We were happily sipping away when the athlete Zola Budd came in with some friends. She was famous throughout Britain because of her habit of training and racing barefooted, although this hadn't stopped her breaking world records. It was some time before Martin noticed her, but then he nudged me and said, "Jeezus Christ, but that woman looks just loike Zola Budd." I told him that it was her, but he went on, "She's the spitting image of her Ken." "That's because it is her," I replied. "It can't be, what would she be doing here," he asked, "Enjoying a drink," was my obvious answer. Martin kept on staring and whispering and, it would be fair to say, my famous tolerance was wearing thin. "Jeeezus Ken, to be sure she looks just loike her." That was when I told him to shut up, sit in another chair, and not constantly watch the poor girl eat and drink. Some minutes later I went to buy more drinks and, when I returned, Zola Budd and her friends had left. "It wasn't her," a happy Martin told me, adding as if it was proof, "She was wearing shoes!" The sad part was he meant it.
So there you have it, just four stories involving my life and famous people and the reaction of others to those blessed (or cursed ) with fame. Continuing for a few moments with the Tim Bannister handshake theory, then anyone who has shaken my hand is just two handshakes away from doing so with Tom Jones or Oliver Reed. Two handshakes away from Geoff Hurst, Bobby Moore, Fred Perry, Joe Gormley and many others. The fact that I've shaken hands with the boxer Henry Cooper, means I'm only two handshakes away from shaking hands with the great Muhammad Ali. Without knowing it we are all linked in this way to the famous and infamous. It links me to billionaire, Bill Gates, through my old lodger and friend, Danny Renggli, and Danny's linked to the wealthy, Sir Richard Branson, because of me and Shamley Green. Sir Richard once flew with ex prime Minister, Edward Heath, in one of his Virgin planes. They were both on a mercy mission to, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, to attempt to negotiate the release of some British hostages. Sir Edward famously shook hands with the dictator and was successful in his endeavour's. The result was the plane was able to return with Sir Edward, Sir Richard, and one hundred very happy hostages. I'm pleased to be just two handshakes away from our one time Prime Minister, Edward Heath, but somewhat dismayed to realise that makes me only three handshakes away from the now tried and executed, Saddam Hussein!
Everyone who has shaken hands with my brother in law, Lou Gibson, is just three handshakes away from shaking hands with the Queen, for her husband, Prince Phillip, awarded Lou with his MBE. Everyone who has shaken hands with my daughter Kathryn, is just two handshakes away from shaking hands with the actor, Henry Winkler, a.k.a the Fonz, from the 1970's show, Happy Days. Her one time childhood hero visited the School where Kathryn teaches and he was an absolute delight. But I think the greatest, 'Shake hands, with the hand, that shook the hand ' honour is mine, for when I shook hands with Tom Jones, I was shaking hands with a man who Elvis Presley admired greatly. These two superb singers famously became close friends and through that, I, Ken Tuffs, the King of Lo-Am, can truthfully declare that I was just two handshakes away from shaking hands with another King, Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll!
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