Burton’s the Tailors suited the Drivetime radio host and fitted him out with a lifelong work ethic
I worked at Burton’s the Tailors, in Worthing, starting on my 16th birthday. I sold suits, despite having zero knowledge of clothing at the time – you could say I’m still good at the art of making stuff up in my job today, presenting a programme on the budget, for example, without really understanding the basics of the economy.
I just walked in one day and asked if they had any work. The interview was short – the manager only asked me what school I went to. Worthing Grammar was obviously acceptable because he gave me the job. It was a bit like that Monty Python sketch where he goes for an interview with MI5 and is asked “Can you keep a secret? Great, you’ve got the job.”
There was some good stuff in Burton’s at the time, with shirts, socks and jumpers downstairs and suits upstairs. I would discuss all the suits and designs with the customers – the cheapest was £25 and the most expensive £120 – but when it came to measuring I’d pass them on to an expert. I got about £5 a day or something like that.
I stayed there for about two or three years then went on to work for Worthing council. I was a paddling pool attendant, a car park attendant and a tennis court attendant. At the tennis courts, I’d arrive in the morning and wind up the nets, sit in a deck chair all day and keep an eye on the bookings, then wind down the nets at the end of the day. If I had to pop out for anything, I’d just put a sign up saying “Back in 5 minutes”.
As a car park attendant I was on one of my first jobs but everyone else there was on their last job, people who had been in the war. I’d just sit and listen and learn from them. It’s hard to replicate that experience later in life.
Worthing had two multi-storey car parks – both hideous – and every Monday I was asked to sweep the stairs. It was a horrible job, but you have to get on with it. I said to myself: “OK, this is horrible, but I need to earn some money and I won’t be doing it forever.”
I was still working for Worthing council when I went to Warwick university to study history and politics. I was doing a bit of university radio and working for the council during the holidays. It was only to earn some pocket money, really, but I learnt early on that if you want to work, you’ve got to go out and find it. If you want a job, you have to work hard, even for a small wage. I had the idea that you can do anything if you’re prepared to go where the work is.
Simon Mayo will be at the Cheltenham Science Festival on Saturday 16 June discussing his book Itch: The Explosive Adventures of an Element Hunter.