Purveyor of suiting to Mr Bertie Wooster finally shuts up shop

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THE SMILING face of the doorman as he greeted some of Simpson's last customers belied the discontent inside the store. Two assistants were having an indiscreet moan about the way bargain-hunters were rummaging through the last of the stock. It was all rather undignified towards the end.

At 3pm today, the doors of Simpson, in central London, will close for the last time. The shop is something of an institution, part of the world- renowned parade on Piccadilly, alongside Fortnum & Mason, Hatchard's (booksellers since 1797) and the Royal Academy of Arts. Tatty red awning bedecked the entrance, and the words "Good buy, Good buy" were sprayed on the building's famous curved windows. Long-standing customers had come to say just that yesterday. One, Margaret Simpson - a well-spoken woman, immaculately turned out in one of the store's navy hacking jackets - was particularly sad to do so.

As it turned out, she was no relation of the original Simeon Simpson, who established Simpson's Daks line of clothing in 1894. Over the years, however, she had enjoyed deferential treatment from staff who assumed she was. "I wish I had been a `Simpson' Simpson," she said. "It wouldn't have closed if I had been."

Sozos Liassides, who has worked in the men's suits department on the third floor since 1971, was trying to maintain standards to the last. The 65-year-old Cypriot, known to colleagues as "Andy" (anything else was too complicated), retired in September, but agreed to stay on until the closure.

"I'm a qualified tailor," he said. "I did alterations of my own free will to satisfy the customers, because they pay my wages, not the company.

"If I wasn't satisfied with what came from the workroom, I did it myself because then it was perfect. Many times I ripped garments to pieces and put them together again."

Mr Liassides stood beside the lonely rails of remaining suits. His own clothes hung beautifully, but then again, he had made them himself. Perhaps he could have made it into management if he'd played his cards differently, but he didn't care for politicking, he said. He cared for the clothes and the customers, a quality that probably contributed in no small part to Simpson's reputation.

"I don't know," Mr Liassides murmured mournfully. "It's a pity because you can't find many people like us anymore. Great Britain used to be number one in the world for making garments. Now I don't know what's happening. Most of the stuff is imported. Why don't they train young people?"

The barber in the basement was rather jaded by the sentimentality surrounding the store's closure.

"It seems to be a very drawn-out end and I think we've got to the point now when we are glad to clear off. People are very upset that the place is closing. But you ask them if they shop here and they say `No'."