Colin Blackmore Interview

This morning on the 30 October, [2014)] I’ve got Mr Colin Blackmore, an old friend of mine, and been in Hawke’s Bay for a great number of years and was in business known as H W Blackmore, Men’s Outfitters, the leading outfitters in Hastings and Hawke’s Bay probably and a very well-known gentleman. Colin, good morning.

Good morning Jimmy.

And nice to be with old friends when we get to this age. So just feel nice and relaxed and I’m talking to you on behalf of the HB Knowledge Bank. Could I ask you a little bit about your father and when he arrived in Hawke’s Bay and the setting up of H W Blackmore and then we’ll move on to your life.

Right, as far as I know my grandfather had a fairly varied sort of life in the South Island to start off with, then eventually finished owning a farm in Dannevirke, or out of Dannevirke. Then his son, that is my father Herbert Blackmore, got a job working for Mr Bullock in a men’s outfitters shop in Dannevirke and from there my father left him and went and started the shop in Hastings in Heretaunga Street.

Who did the building belong to ?

The building of course belonged to D Newbigin, later to J Newbigin and we eventually bought it from them, but my father started the business in 1924 and we had that shop there right up until 1990 when I closed it down. My father would have run the business from 1924 for about 30 years and then I took over and ran it for another 30 years until 1990. What stage are we up to now?

You have just explained about when you finished up and you worked in it. Tell us about the clothing industry in those days and remember the green hat which you were renowned for?

I think I know what you mean. Of course a lot of my life to start off with was during the war years because I went to boarding school, Hereworth, in 1938 and then on to Collegiate after that and first there in 1941 so I had the complete war at boarding school. And of course being war time we couldn’t get all the clothing we wanted and whenever we managed to get a line of sports coats in everyone in Hastings suddenly found they were wearing the same sports coat. And to get a line of shirts, I remember once my father going off with a pile of peaches for a supplier in Wellington. And so it went and of course those days we never had a sale because we could sell everything that we could get.

After the war of course things improved and we had some very good years from then on as did the farmers. Then of course later on as you know in the ’80s with Roger Douglas and his reforms and also with Muldoon’s wage freeze coming off things became much more difficult as generally you would agree Jim. But anyway we still existed alright but it was far more competitive and we had to join this highly competitive age which before, as long as we sold good merchandise and gave good value we could make a reasonable return. However, things change and we have to change our ways a bit, and you would agree with me on that Jim.

Now you had a pretty big staff.

Yes, at one time we were employing 19 people. As time went on of course we got down to about 12 and we introduced in 1953 a ladies’ department and we put that upstairs to start off with and then we found it was better to have it downstairs. But first of all in 1953 I can remember all the women coming to town in the mornings wearing hats, their best clothing, looking resplendent and walking upstairs to our floor for ladies. But things changed as all the women started to go to work and life became more relaxed so then we found it more advantageous to put the ladies department downstairs where it flourished and did very well.

When I think of your shop, when I think back of your shop I see the TV programme of “Are You Being Served?” and going up the stairs – I often think of Blackmore’s.

Very much so, it was in those days too. Yes, you mention the hats. We went through an era of course where every young man especially of farming vintage all wore, at one stage, it was a brown hat then changed to a green hat and everyone had one.

My father used to say he had six hats a year. He used to leave them somewhere. The Hastings Club or County Club.

We had many men that came in, buy a new hat, beat the hell out of it, before they put it on their head.

Were there any other companies in opposition to you?

Oh yes, at one stage there were seventeen outlets for menswear in Hastings. There were Millar & Giorgi, Baird’s and Hunt’s. This was before Thompson’s came and all the Department Stores, Baird’s and Westerman’s and others.

Hallenstein’s around then?

Where were they? Somewhere, I forget where they were. There were seventeen outlets and it went down eventually to about three. Poppelwell’s were there too. At one stage my father, I think he employed Poppelwell for awhile. I forget now.

Jim you might be interested, I don’t know whether we will be in the fact that a small or minor highlight in my career was the introduction of moleskin trousers to Hawke’s Bay and indeed to New Zealand. For many years all young farmers would come back from a trip to Australia skiting about their moleskin trousers and eventually I got tired of this so I gave £5 to Ian Nimon who you will remember well, Jimmy. I told him my size and he came back with a pair of moleskin trousers for me and they cost £4.19.6 in Australia. I then took those trousers to a manufacturer in Auckland and said “I want 100 pairs of these please.” They said “No one would ever buy a trouser like that. You’re foolish to think of even making them”. I said “I want 100 pairs” so they set about importing the cloth. Within a few weeks he came back to me and said “All the women in my work place are in tears. They can’t get the needle through the cloth. Let’s call it off”. I said “Go and get a canvas maker and get the needles from him. So carry on”. They said “Will you then promise to take every pair?”. I said “I promise to take every pair”. So that was the start of the moleskin trousers. They delivered 100. I advertised and we sold 70 pairs in a week. Every young farmer in Hawke’s Bay came and bought one. I then put advertisements in the Freelance and the Auckland Weekly and every day an order would come in for a pair of moleskin trousers – from Canterbury mainly, Canterbury and Wairarapa. The orders would come in. We had great days with those.

Eventually of course they went out of fashion because jeans came in and jeans ruined it for the moleskins. But that happens in trade and life. We had a great time with them but then jeans came along so we joined the denim syndrome then.

Then of course, denim were not allowed into some restaurants if I remember rightly.

That’s right. You weren’t allowed denim. Now of course you’re allowed denim anywhere because it’s part of dress and the jean cut is popular, the narrower trousers.

And then we had the tweed jackets of course. You had to wear a sports jacket.

Absolutely, and the cavalry twill trousers. I’d forgotten about them. Every one of us had a pair of cavalry twill trousers and a check sports coat. And to start off with of course, there were even Harris tweed sports coats, but then we found Harris tweed was a bit too heavy for Hawke’s Bay so we went into a lighter cloth. Mainly check.

I think they said you were more or less undressed if you didn’t have a jacket on and a hat.

Yes, that’s right. And of course we all wore ties. I can remember – and you would remember Jimmy – you would be wearing a tie at golf. We all wore ties to golf.

And we still have one. Although I think he has given up golf now. Hugh Van Asch, who still wears a tie everywhere.   And what about your sporting prowess? Now you were a bit of a golfer. You … no, not top notch I don’t think, if I may say that … but you were pretty interested in golf.

Loved my golf. It distresses me that I can’t go out there now because my knees have given up. I loved the golf game and all that went with it. Of course in the old days we would stay there far too long afterwards, drink up heavy then that all stopped with the drink driving.

And you were also chairman of the starting up of squash in Hastings.

Yes. You reminded me about that the other day.

Made some big decisions. A bit like a number of things these days. They took a long time to get off the ground.

What – the Squash Club?

Some of the decisions which were made at meetings.

How right you are.

So retirement and then what happened? Trips overseas?

We gave up the shop because of siblings, and quite rightly they said “Look, we would like our share of everything”.  So when the Blackmore family got together we decided to shut the shop down, sell the building, sell a couple of houses, a house in Taupo and divide it between us. That was in the late ’80s.

In 1990 when we gave up the shop, at that time we had been having exhibitions of art upstairs in the shop and we decided to carry on in Long Cottage in Iona Road where we lived. We had a large garage there so we converted it to an art gallery from 1990 till round about 2004, 2007 I forget now – we had art exhibitions there and they were great fun, reasonably profitable. We met an enormous amount of people, art people and others. We had a lot of great customers who used to come in and buy the art. I was half retired as it were and we loved that time because we weren’t working 8 hours a day. We just worked flat out for a week and then would be another month or two before we had another exhibition. We used to bring the work in from artists from all over the country. We endeavoured to get the best and we were very successful at it. Lots of fun. It was quite a fun time.

And pretty social too.

Yes, very social. If you happened to be there as some people made a point of doing at 5 o’clock you would definitely get shouted, so the wine and gin always came out at that time so long as the right people were there. We had a lot of fun with that art gallery. I never reached any great heights in the professional world. Apart from running a business I was president of Jaycee at one time. I was a member of Rotary. I was on the A&P committee. I was chairman of the Hawke’s Bay Retailers’ Association but otherwise I haven’t got a great record of community service.

I’m surprised at that. The City Council … perhaps they didn’t do those sort of things in those days. They present certificates now to people for what they have done in the community.

I haven’t done a lot I don’t think.

Yeah, but having a business. I know people with businesses, just because they had a business in Hastings – that they got a certificate from the Council.

Did they? Well well. I think I qualified for that.

Well of course you probably weren’t in the top echelon like myself.  [Laughter]

Yes, quite right.

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Colin Blackmore Edited.ogg

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Interviewer : Jim Newbigin

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