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Monday, 26 September 2022

University of 3rd AgeYarns for the Textile Trade, or Close Encounters of a Famous Kind

Speaker: Noel Moroney


The guest speaker at u3a Todmorden's September Members Meeting was Noel Moroney, who gave us 'Yarns for the Textile Trade, or Close Encounters of a Famous Kind'

Noel was born in on Christmas day in Dublin, where there is a custom that children born around that time received a name associated with the festival. This led to no Christmas presents for 86 years, plus a driving licence number that started with the word 'Moron'.

In 1961, Noel applied for a position at Ormerod's Spinning Mill, Brighouse, as a laboratory assistant. The mill measured 300 feet in length and four storeys high, employing 800 people to work the spindles – an enormous building in what was then a small town. He recalled once having to traverse across the frost covered roof of the factory to lower the company flag to half-mast. This was to mark the death of King George VI.

Ormerod's Woodvale Mills

After leaving Ormerod's, Noel found work at other textile companies, before working at a local firm, Gannex. This company was owned by Joe Kagan, who developed the special waterproof, breathable material. The Gannex raincoat is probably one of the best known and remembered garments, famously worn by Harold Wilson, Nikita Kruschev, Chairman Mao, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh – plus the couple's nine Corgis, in a special tartan version, even though Joe Kagan had been reluctant to produce 'doggie coats'.

An article in 'Private Eye' suggested that Harold Wilson was actually a worldwide salesman and male model for Gannex. In 1980, Joe Kagan was involved in a huge scandal resulting in him going to prison and losing his knighthood, but not his life peerage.

It was later found that Harold Wilson had in fact received a monthly salary from Gannex, for consultations and other advertising services, while Prime Minister.

While working in London in the 1970s, Noel frequented a central London Club and recognised the MP George Brown arguing with a staff member who wouldn't give him his car keys to drive home. The manager intervened, and Mr Brown's car was brought round to the front door, and off drove the MP. Two or three days later came news that the police were dealing with George Brown for drink-driving.

Noel moved back northwards in 1974, becoming National Contracts Manager of a textile firm in Derbyshire. This company had for many years provided clothing for public bodies including the NHS and the Department of the Environment.

One week, the firm didn't receive any orders from the NHS, which was unusual. Noel contacted a local member of staff, a ward sister, to ask what was happening, and was told that all fabrics bought by the NHS had to be flame retardant. As his firm didn't deal in these, a major part of its income had been lost.

Looking for new sales opportunities, they turned to the world of mail order goods, by companies such as Grattans, Littlewoods, Freemans and Empire Stores. He persuaded his firm to pursue ideas for items such as childrens' bedspreads for the younger market, tailored for boys and girls, the best sellers being those featuring 'Barbie'.

Noel subsequently moved to work for Coloroll, based at Nelson, who had also taken on a new colleague called John Bray, who had previously worked for Addis, a company which made brushes. Mr Bray met, and worked with, designer Linda Beard, in the creation and design and marketing of a wallpaper called 'Dolly Mixture' This was very successful at the time, and subsequently the fresh and modern designs featuring flowers, sweets, and other cheerful items were also produced in fabrics to match. The cloth items also proved very popular and leading to seventeen miles of fabric per year being needed to meet demand.

Noel, and the people who worked with him, went on to create different and new types of design, which included having football team crests on bedding and being involved with projects of many kinds.

His final tale was about one of his drinking partners, a lately Todmorden resident, the actor Tony Booth, who was a descendant of John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln's assassin – as was the wife of Tony Blair, his daughter Cherie. This ended an absorbing, amusing and, to say the least, diverse presentation which was met with well deserved applause.

The next Todmorden U3A Monthly Members Meeting will be on Thursday 20th October 2022 at 1.45 p.m., open to all fully paid-up members at the Central Methodist Hall, Todmorden. The speaker for this meeting is Janet Dearden on 'My life and times, as an educational leader, in Sudan'.

Not yet a member? You can attend one talk free by requesting an invitation to this zoom event. We're always delighted to welcome new members. Contact details: website at www.u3atod.org.uk or email at info@u3atod.org.uk.

Many thanks to Colin Sanson for this report


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