Monday, 5 October 2009

A Gentleman's Gentleman - Alan Parkes.

I may be breaking some rules (again) by posting this short video because it was produced not by me but by the British Broadcasting Corporation - around 16 or so years ago.

Shortly before we decided to move to Scotland I read a piece in The Times about Alan Parkes. It told how this 65 year old man had left South Africa where he had lived for twenty or more years.

Alan had set up a flower shop business in S.Africa and was successful. However, when he reached 65 he wanted to return to England and retire. The plan was good, except that the ruling government then banned him from taking the money from the sale of his business out of the country!

He arrived in London virtually penniless. He was a well-educated man, a student of architecture amongst other things and an ex-army officer during WW2. He decided to put an advert in a London newspaper offering his services as a butler! He had no experience as one although when he was a child his family had their own butler - so he knew what the job entailed.

He was offered three positions. He took one of them and remained as butler in that same house until his death, aged 84 a few years ago. The 'Times' diary article gave this brief outline of his return to London for 'retirement'.

I was most impressed by the article and wrote to Alan, via The Times newspaper, and told him of my impending plans to decamp from England and go to work for an Earl in Scotland. He wrote back and we became friends via the telephone and letters.

After my arrival in Scotland, having settled in OK, I invited Alan to spend a week or so with us in the east wing of Mellerstain. He was 80-ish at the time. He said he'd love to come for a few days as he had never been to this area of Scotland.

He arrived at Berwick railway station and we picked him up in the car for the 30 mile trip back to Mellerstain. His stay was really enjoyable for all of us. He was one of nature's real gentlemen.

During his stay he told us of his various experiences and employers as a butler. He also had a video tape of a short article on BBC television which I managed to copy onto a blank tape. I have now been able to rip that video onto my hard drive and this is shown below.

The BBC had heard of Alan Parkes being butler at a lovely old house on the banks of the river Thames. The house was being sold, and one of the conditions of the seller was that the new owner would employ Alan as butler. And so they did.

I was greatly saddened when Alan's daughter rang me one evening to say that Alan had been ill for a week or so and had died suddenly. She said that her Dad had often told her of his visit to Mellerstain and of our brief friendship. Pancreatic cancer killed this lovely old chap. Thankfully he had only a short period of illness before he passed away.

I hope you enjoy this little item, and hope also that the BBC doesn't object to my sharing it.


Lynn said...

Hi Philip. I sat down with a glass of wine to catch up on your posts and relax before dinner. Once again, you do not disappoint. Being the farmer, I loved the cows. Such gentle animals. Wonderful walk through the woods and how nice to have met Mr. Alan Parkes. He seemed a wonderful gentleman and I imagine you to be much the same.

Your choice of background music is always lovely. We often play classical music for our 2-year old granddaughter. Amazing how peacefully she plays.

Bee Magic Chronicles for Kids said...

WOW! I used to say I wish I had a house wife to take care of me. Now I know all I need is a Butler!!!
This story was very interesting. How nice that this man's story continues on after he is gone.

Monkey Man said...

Once again, thank you for sharing a heart felt story.

the walking man said...

Nothing common in the old man's story. A long life well lived he had.

Shadow said...

what a story... thanks.

DUTA said...

That's a very interesting story of a man leaving penniless one country in order to retire in his home country, and having to start working as a butler with no previous experience at the age of 65. One could learn a few things from this story.

The friendship that developed between the two of you is very touching.

PhilipH said...

Lynn, Alan was a delightful chap. I feel privileged to have known him for the short time I did.

Barbara, Alan was gifted in many areas: art, architecture, floristry to name a few.

MM: I'm sure Alan would have found a good employer in the States too!

Mark: Alan Parkes had a good and varied life and was pleased with the late change of occupation.

Shadow: Hi, and thanks for calling. Alan had a fund of stories to tell when he came to stay with us for a few days.

Duta: I was so glad to have made contact with Alan when I did. His gentlemen employers at the house in London were generous to him to. When his first Christmas as a butler came he was give a cloth bag by the house owner; it had 500 £1 coins as a gift. When this man had to sell the house a couple of years later he gave Alan a bonus of £5000 as a 'thank you' for the way Alan had looked after him.

Tess Kincaid said...

Your post is conjuring images of "The Remains of the Day" with Mr. Stevens and Mr. Stevens, Sr.

I could get used to the notion of an Alan Parkes to take care of me.

Land of shimp said...

I was really struck by the fact that Alan was willing to embrace change, and find a new way to do things to go where he wished to be. It's rather ironic that a man who grew up in a family with a Butler, became such a treasured one his employment was a condition of sale.

I like that he was willing to do what it took to do as he wished.

It doesn't surprise me that he answered your letter, and accepted your invitation to come for a visit. I'm very glad you had an opportunity to know such a man, but really, his story reminded me a bit of you, to be honest.

You went where fortune took you, you adapted to your surroundings, and you still do. Trying out twittering, Facebook, blogging, you roll with the tide of the times also, Philip.

I suspect Alan felt he had found a kindred spirit, even in your act of writing to him. He sounds like a man who could well appreciate the spirit of, "Well now, why not take the chance that this will work out?"

PhilipH said...

Willow: Alan would have served you well, of that I'm sure. He was a calm, quiet chap; never flustered and a very caring soul.

Alane: Alan was so easy to get on with and even though I'd only met him via the phone and mail I knew exactly he was the kind of person I could get on well with.

What happens to us on our journey through life cannot be foretold. It matters not one jot nor tittle in the great scheme of things. Just thank our lucky stars and take life one day at a time.

Totalfeckineejit said...

Great story Philip, so interesting,especially that you made this friendship. Can't help but feel a bit annoyed though that he had to give up the profits of the sale of his business.I hope he enjoyed being a butler and was well looked after,it seems so wrong and anachronistic to be employed in that manner.It is a wonderful story though and thanks for sharing it.
Ps I recognise the reporter as Bob Carolgees who went on Tiswas the ITV saturday morning show with Chris Tarrant,he and his puppet 'Spit the dog' were very poular.I stll have a Spit the dog puppet to this day!

The Bug said...

This was great fun! I loved the tongue-in-cheek way the story was done - it made it more memorable to me. I'm glad you got to know him.

nollyposh said...

Fabulous story! X:-)

Brenda said...

So glad I have across your blog Philip because whenever I visit here, you have some very interesting posts. I love the videos you are doing. It is like watching a good TV show sometimes. Keep entertaining us. I appreciate all the work you put in to these.

Susan said...

I'm sorry that you lost your friend. I really enjoyed reading this... what a fascinating man!

Jeannette StG said...

Came over from another blog, and glad to read your touching story of this nice gentleman Alan Parks!

Argent said...

I'm actually sitting five feet or so away from a man called Alan Parkes even as I type. I'll be back to watch the video later (I'm at work, so cannot view it). Getting very hi-tech over there with the ripping of video, no less!

Unknown said...

Hi Duta. I know it's a long time since you posted on this blog but I couldn't help wondering when it was that you made contact with Alan and did you ever meet with him? I was a very big part of Alans life between 1996-2002 when he sadly passed away. So lovely for me to have found this blog

PhilipH said...

@Michael Snelgrove: thanks for dropping in. Alan Parkes and I met only once, when he came to stay in our East Wing apartment in Mellerstain House for a short and most pleasant stay. I think this was some time in 1996, soon after I wrote to him via The Times newspaper. We kept in touch by phone and letter until his daughter wrote to me telling of his death, by pancreatic cancer I seem to recall. She wrote in response to Alan's request that I be notified of his passing, shortly before he died.