A Personal History of the British Music Industry 30 – John Fruin 2


With photos of John thin on the ground, but with his handwriting so familiar to those who knew him, here’s a telling letter that was the fore runner of our interview meeting

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Having set the scene in part one, we now return to John’s EMI days.

When I was sales manager at EMI, about 1964 and had been doing it for a year, two things occurred which stuck in my mind. The one about a memo first – I was getting more and more incensed with not having album sleeves for my guys to use when selling in the product. For whatever reason they were late coming through. In those days you sold on a monthly supplement basis four weeks ahead. I was very good on sales techniques and EMI had been very good in sending me on courses, but (the salesmen) didn’t have the sleeves, so they were just talking about something instead of showing it. The advertising and print side was under a guy called George Freshwater (c.f.Colin Burn Pt.3) and Janet (Lord) who was right down the line then – he was real old school EMI, always seemed to be 80 years old and was held in fear and trembling by the young ones. When we were at Hayes there was an old school building opposite the original head office – it’s now the site of Record Merchandising (well, it was at the time of the interview – I think it’s now a cash and carry) and next to it was the foundry. Freshwater lived in the school, the advertising division was for EMI Sales and Service as it was then, and he ruled this domain. When he eventually moved to Manchester Square he wasn’t happy about it, but he still ruled – he had his whole floor. I went off on holiday and and wrote a letter to Geoff Bridge with copies to all and sundry, saying :’How can I be expected to reach the targets which I know are achievable and support (A&R) people like George Martin and Norman Newell when I can get sleeves from the advertising division?’ When I got back there was a note waiting for me, copied to all the same people, which totally denied all the things and finished ‘I understand Mr. Fruin has been on numerous sales courses by the company – I have one to recommend the Managing Director sends him on..The Head Shrinking Course for the Navajo Indians in South America.’ Wonderful! I learned the lesson – don’t send bad news notes, only send good note and argue with people face-to-face.

The other was also when I was Sales Manager when EMI got involved with Paul Hamlyn and Music for Pleasure. We formed a joint company with them. There was the Paul Hamlyn Organisation which I was very impressed with, Richard Baldwyn and three guys who ran it with Paul at Feltham and us at Hayes. They started to recruit and I read that the Sales Manager of the new MFP team was going to be ***** from Broadmead, Bristol. You can’t say so but he was a villain and all of us in the business knew he was a complete loser and I can remember saying ‘well, that’s going to be a disaster.’ Six weeks before the launch they fired him. I got called in and they said ‘the Sales Manager’s gone and we’ve got to get this off the ground; will you take over doing the Sales Manager’s job at MFP until we get someone, as well as doing your job at EMI?’ This was repeated a few years later with Polydor and MGM, so I did. Eventually Tony Morris became the Sales Manager down the line. There was a lot of work involved; EMI was on a roll anyway. One Friday night I’m working late in the office trying to catch up. I’m aware of a shadow and it’s (Sir Joseph) Lockwood whom I didn’t know very well at that time. He said ‘What are you doing Mr Fruin?”I’m working – I’m doing MFP and I’m doing this.’ I thought I’d really scored. All these Brownie points are mounting up, but he said ‘Something for you to remember – I always feel that people who can’t get their jobs done in the normal working day are either inefficient or untrustworthy. Goodnight.’ A wonderful piece of old style management. I had two good put-downs during that period.

You were a local boy and EMI was a local employer

I went to EMI purely because I’d been away at school in Horsham, came home and was waiting to go into the army for National Service. I had to have a job. I picked up the local paper and saw an ad for the Export Department in EMI Sales and Service. I thought ‘that’s convenient’ (I was as career minded as that!) I thought I was going to be in the army – my father had been. I went to the interview and got the job, did my National Service and came back. The chap who was with me at EMI at that time was Jack Florey. Jack went to CBS eventually and became the Sales Director. He and I were both in EMI Sales and Service then – he eventually became one of my reps and then an area manager.

What was the ‘Service’ bit?

EMI Sales and Service was the organisation that looked after the sale of radios, radiograms, gramophones and eventually televisions – when I started there were no televisions – and records. The service part was the servicing of it, an old-style term, but effectively it handled the marketing, sales and distribution of all those products and records was just a small part. The head office was in Blythe Road, the record factory was across the other side of Clayton Road and the research buildings were to the right.


The EMI site at Hayes. The head offices are the dark building in the centre of the photo. The old school is to its left, and the manufacturing buildings are the white ones by the railway

I know that every office had a fireplace.

I drive past there now and there’s the ground floor and the window where I started work. The first floor was known as The Golden Mile because that’s where the the directors were, and eventually Lockwood came there too.

I recall seeing remnants of the canteen and the old acoustic studio on the second floor

There was a brick shelter built into the building from the war, which was absolute nonsense because it was up on the second floor. If it had ever been hit by a bomb the whole lot would have gone up, but it was to protect staff from shrapnel and broken glass and that was also the copyright storage area.

In those days of sales, were the three labels (HMV, Parlophone and Columbia) treated the same?

The pattern for EMI in the late 1950’s was that HMV was theoretically one shop per town, depending on the size of the town. The HMV franchise was very jealously guarded and was one to achieve (for a retailer). You could only buy HMV records from a franchised shop – the other labels were Columbia, Parlophone, Regal-Zonophone, and then as the world became more international, MGM, United Artists, Verve. When I first came into contact with EMI Records, I was a management trainee and spent time in the EMI Record Company in all sorts of departments within the group; that’s why when I finished my training course, L.G. Wood asked me if I’d like to go and work as his P.A. with Roland (Rennie) who was already his P.A., and Marion (Back) who was the 16-year old office junior, and Joyce Johnston. Prior to that, when I started my traineeship in 1954, L.G. was then called Factored Labels Manager – Parlophone, MGM and everything else – and John Whittle was the HMV label manager, and they both reported to C.H. Thomas, the managing director, so the factored labels went out to wholesalers.

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EMI owned four depots, London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow, which were the places you could get HMV records, but they also sold Parlophone, MGM and all the others, and sold them to the other wholesalers, Thomas, Diamond, Butcher, etc. There were six wholesalers of which some like Selecta (Decca) were owned by the two big companies and some were independent. Philips and Pye had to go through them. Pye broke the mould by saying ‘We’re going to use our own vans as well.’ So Wally Ridley (HMV label manager at the time) was quite right in that there was a great restriction in the distribution of HMV, which was still prevalent in the fifties. When people like W.H.Smith and Boots came into the business there were huge boardroom rows about whether or not they should become HMV dealers.

If you were an HMV dealer were you allowed to sell anyone else’s record?

Oh yes, but it was the only place you could get HMV records. Lockwood by then was in the company and one day he lost his cool and said ‘I’m going to change all this.’ He blew the whole thing apart. I had three years as area manager and on reflection they were some of the happiest days of my life. I was running a depot and as area manager of London I thought ‘I’m really going to take Decca’ – they were so far ahead of us at the time. We reached a stage where in Central London we were delivering five times a day, which was totally non-profitable but was designed to try and put all the others out of business. When my son went on the road he told me ‘I never mention your name, Dad, because they all hate you out there!’ All the old dealers were saying ‘I remember your father, he did so and so.’ L.G. of course was always against the whole thing changing, he’d grown up pre-war and he hated change. Lockwood came in and said ‘this has all got to go.’ Geoff Bridge and I were at war with L.G. for years. I was always being called up to L.G.’s office and being quizzed, because Sir Edward and Townsley (Decca) were always ringing up and saying ‘your man Fruin has done so-and-so.’ I used to do all sorts of things that were considered outrageous by today’s standards. For instance…..


And on that cliffhanger we will pause ! Much more to come

Text ©David Hughes 2016


About dhvinyl

Lifelong obsession with music, 33 years in the music business, 40 years immersed in selling old records, 18 years retired!
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