John Lewis shuts up shop on staff trading insults

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Employees at the John Lewis Partnership, the department store and supermarket group, have always been fortunate when it comes to free speech.

If they had a gripe about work or one of their fellow partners in the co-operatively owned business, one officially sanctioned way to let off steam was to write a letter to the in-house weekly magazine Gazette.

Staff at Waitrose, Peter Jones and John Lewis indulging in this democratic perk used pseudonyms like Millie Tant and Ivor Calculator, and aired grievances such as male employees not wearing jackets at the department store in Cheadle. In a recent Gazette, a correspondent moaned: ``I was shocked to discover that partners other than management are still living on the breadline. Since John Lewis is a partnership, surely it is time to give the backbone the support it deserves.''

However, according to the Gazette's editor, Penny Junor, letter writers have abandoned professional criticism in favour of ``vulgar and personal abuse''.

In recent issues, they have attacked directors' pay and proposed random testing for recreational drugs.

Stuart Hampson, chairman of the partnership, and himself recently labelled evasive by a correspondent, agreed with Ms Junor that in future offensive letters will be amended along lines agreed directly with him or not published.

This could spell the end of the tirades of regulars like the Green-eyed Homosexual Wearing Pink PVC Dress. Responding to a partner called Bog Trotter, who had criticised the staff at Peter Jones for being ``peculiar'', he stormed: ``Bog Trotter and anyone else who thinks along the same lines would do well to remember that without the contribution of us Alice-band wearing, frumpy old homosexuals at Peter Jones their bonus each year would be considerably less.''

Tired of reading such vitriol, Ms Junor addressed the problem in a strongly- worded editorial last week. She told the Independent: ``I simply wanted to send a message to partners to tone their language down. `It has become more abusive and the attacks have become more personal. It's not terribly fair.

``By and large partners treat each other with respect. In many ways the partnership is how Britain used to be.''