OBITUARY: Bill Sutton
Thursday 07 September 1995
Sutton's most famous efforts were with the Goblin Teasmade, the teamaker taken to the hearts of the British public, at its peak selling 300,000 a year. Sutton crossed the Atlantic in the mid-Seventies to market voltage- adjusted Teasmades (before then the Americans had been coming to Britain to buy them) and was delighted when the New York department store Bloomingdales accepted an initial minimum order of 250; a small amount to the Americans, but a huge order for the more conservative British.
Sutton's lifelong love affair with Goblin could be blamed on his uncle, who helped him get his first job with the British Engineering and Vacuum Cleaner Company in Fulham, west London (which later became Goblin BVC). He was just 14, and had cheekily asked for a job at the company where his uncle worked, having already advised his headmaster that he had a job in order to escape school. The year was 1929, and he almost lost this first job after only six months, when he was suspended for a week without pay for fighting with another young employee over the polishing of the metal vacuum cleaner ends.
Sutton had received top marks at school, and his handwriting skills enabled him to progress into an office role by 1930, travelling to and from Somerset House with hire purchase agreements. A total of 13 local boy scouts were later used to carry out this task as business grew. He then moved on to work in the Accounts Department and then the Statistics Department of the early Goblin company, which by this time had about 45 branches, from London to Aberdeen.
In Easter 1938 the company moved to Leatherhead, for which Sutton received a bonus of half a crown for the move on top of his pounds 3 salary. Part of his new job entailed getting the company chairman Hubert Cecil Booth (who had invented the vacuum cleaner in 1901) to sign off cheques. It is reputed that Booth insisted on Sutton telephoning him daily at 10.30am; which Sutton duly did, but Booth never answered, instead ringing Sutton back at 11am to ask why he hadn't called and threatening him with the sack. It was perhaps from these early experiences that Sutton developed his indefatigable sense of humour.
When the Second World War came, Sutton went into the infantry, as he could drive. Afterwards, he rejoined the sales office at Goblin, dealing with the notorious purchase tax applied during this time to vacuum cleaners, washing machines, electric clocks and irons. Even the Teasmade was taxed as a clock. Goblin vacuum cleaners used to change machine colours at least once a year, and one of Sutton's successful early marketing ideas was to ask for primrose yellow and mauve, because they were Oxford Street fashion colours at the time.
Sutton's intensive marketing efforts led to his rise to sales manager in 1958. A production site was set up in Birmingham in 1965 to produce Goblin's upright vacuum cleaners, and Sutton became marketing director of the Group. By 1971 the electronics company BSR had bought Swan and Goblin to diversify their operations, and Sutton was made sales director. In 1984 the US-owned company Shop Vac Corporation bought Goblin from BSR, Sutton remaining with the company through these ownership changes.
Sutton was appointed MBE in 1989 for his services to the industry. He claimed in April 1994, celebrating 65 years in that industry, that he "never worked for money; only for love", and continued to receive letters from all over the world about ancient Teasmades and Goblin vacuum cleaners dutifully continuing to provide years of service. He woke every morning to the sound of his own Goblin teamaker and radio. In 1979 Sutton was the subject of the television show This is Your Life and was presented with the two-millionth Teasmade by Nicholas Parsons.
Albert Edward (Bill) Sutton, sales consultant: born Barnes, London 26 March 1915; married 1940 Sylvia Perrin (one son, one daughter); died Guildford, Surrey 20 August 1995.
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