Simon Marks, the first Lord Marks of Broughton, who died in 1964, was possibly the greatest merchant prince of the century. His own father, another Michael, had arrived in England from Poland in 1882 and first traded in Leeds as Marks' Penny Bazaar ("Don't ask the price - it's a penny"); in 1894 he had taken a partner, Tom Spencer, and in 1926, when the younger Michael was six years old and his father was 38, they went public as Marks & Spencer.
Simon's wife too, Miriam Sieff, was a dynamic and colourful character in her own right. Michael grew up in the shade of this powerful pair into a shy, bookish, retiring figure, indifferent to the empire his father had created, deeply troubled by his inevitable wealth and fearful that any friendly approach might conceal a predator.
He married five times and only his first wife, Ann Pinto, chosen from the ranks of the "haute juiverie", and who bore him a son and two daughters, was considered appropriate by the family, which was shaken by his conversion, with his last wife, to her Greek Orthodox faith.
I first met him on the lawn of his father's house, Titlarks Farm, Sunningdale, in the summer of 1941. He told me he was a Communist. My father told me Michael had given a grand piano to his girlfriend, a musician, but it was too big to negotiate the stairs to her bedsitter.
I was rather drawn to this scruffy, nervous fellow, so different to the rest of his family, who knew so much about painting, music and literature and we became sort of friends. He took me to lunch a few times, bearing his own thermos of tea, in the boardroom of his father, at Michael House, the headquarters of M&S, and when I became a publisher his mother asked me to give him a job.
He knew more about children's books than anybody I have ever met (and was the author of one in The Prince of the Golden Apple, 1975) and could and should have been a bookseller.
He never seemed to have any cash for his cab fare and the only money I ever had off him was for a charity to acquire a children's library, and pounds 5 I charged him for playing a game of tennis, which he paid quite cheerfully.
Despite his talents and intelligence he achieved nothing and his entry in Who's Who simply lists his date of birth and his children.
Crippled by money, he was a martyr to (his own) fortune.
Michael Marks: born 27 August 1920; succeeded 1964 as second Baron Marks of Broughton; married 1949 Ann Pinto (one son, two daughters; marriage dissolved 1958), 1960 Helene Fischer (marriage dissolved 1965), 1976 Toshiko Shimura (marriage dissolved 1985), 1988 Liyang Chang (marriage dissolved 1993), 1994 Marina Collins (nee Sakalis); died 11 September 1998.Reuse content