Failures... don't you just love them?

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The Independent Online

Continuing our occasional series of People with Very Unusual Jobs Indeed. No 77: A Discontinued Expert

Continuing our occasional series of People with Very Unusual Jobs Indeed. No 77: A Discontinued Expert

"Yes, I call myself a 'discontinued expert'," says Hugo Blackmore, "which I suppose does make me sound as if I used to be an expert and am not any more! But far from it. What I am is the first and perhaps, for all I know, still the only expert in discontinued things."

You don't have to spend very long in Hugo's house to see what he means. Everything he owns seems to be discontinued. All his books are out-of-print. His clothes all bear brand names you can no longer buy. His collection of videos is all on Betamax. He drives an old Bugatti car ...

"It may seem odd to collect discontinued things," he says, "but everyone does it to an extent. Anyone who buys a second-hand book, or has any antique furniture, is buying something which is no longer made. Betamax is a discontinued product, but then so are Chippendale chairs."

You can sometimes predict certain products are going to be discontinued, and stock up on them, but often, says Hugo Blackmore, a thing is suddenly withdrawn from the market, and he has to move like lightning to get samples in time. This happened recently with Dasani bottled water, the ill-fated attempt by Coca-Cola to sell purified tap water in a bottle.

"I'm not quite sure why everyone took against Dasani," says Hugo. "Lots of bottled water is tap water. If you go into a supermarket and see a bottle of water which doesn't specify that it comes from a certain spring or source, it's pretty well bound to be tap water. But Dasani got bad publicity, and the Coke people withdrew it, and - well, I was off like a shot to buy some. If it had been a success, I wouldn't have been interested."

Hugo makes his living as a set design consultant for film, TV and theatre. Film companies love him, because often he may be the only person around who still has authentic samples of period objects for them to copy. Old Daily Heralds, for example. LP covers. Copies of Picture Post. Boxes of Lymeswold cheese ... Lymeswold cheese?

"Yes, dear old Lymeswold," grins Hugo. "Got stacks of that in the freezer. Dreadful stuff. But then it's often the dreadful stuff that becomes rare. Do you think it's the famous groups that make the rare records? Quite the opposite. It's the obscure groups that make one record and then disband who leave behind the rarities. It's the companies that fail which I love."

He pulls an umbrella out of the umbrella stand, and unfurls it. Printed on the fabric is the single word, "Consignia".

"Remember when the Royal Mail became, all too briefly, Consignia? It never really traded under the name. It announced plans to do so, and got shouted down, and changed its mind. This is one of the few relics that exist of that era."

He picks up a box marked "Napster" and puts it aside, on top of another marked "Railtrack", to reveal a huge series of boxes marked "Discontinued Theatre Programmes".

"Ah, the flops!" he enthuses. "This is fun! As soon as I get the hint that a show is fading, I have to dash round and get the programme. Sometimes I even see the show. I must be one of the few people who ever saw 'Jean Seberg' ..."

Jean Seberg?

"That was the ill-fated Peter Hall musical at the National Theatre, based on the ill-fated life of the ill-fated actress Jean Seberg ... greatest disaster they ever had at the National ..."

He chuckles. You can tell that the word "ill-fated" or "disaster" is music to the ears of Hugo Blackmore.

"Talking of ill-fated ..." he says, and he roots around in a bag and produces a set of programmes from the recent ill-fated Savoy Opera series, and then puts them away.

"Now, dear boy," he says. "Can I offer you something to drink? Some Dasani water, perhaps? Or a glass of Cloudy Bay 2001? They've stopped making it, you know ..."

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