At the age of nineteen I had a temporary and precarious job as a backroom assistant in a bakery shop. In between heaving trays of bread I allowed myself to dream, and to aid that process, I used to scan the local paper for jobs while eating lunch. At last I spotted an ‘opening’ for, and I quote, “Office Boy and Would Be Executive,” in the jobs section of the local paper. There was a number on the bottom of the advertisement rather than an address, a deliberate ploy I later discovered, so I rang the number and a cheery confident voice answered in a rich south-London accent, “Frank Kaplan, What can I do you for?” I admit I was ‘thrown’ but determined to continue, the alternative being working as a shop assistant ‘till the end of my days,’ so I said I was ringing in answer to the advertisement. “Ave you got any experience in any office of any kind?” he said, possibly put off by my young sounding voice. “No, I said.” “How old are you?” he asked and I told him I was nineteen.
“Come tomorrow at 10.30 and we’ll have a chat” said Mr Kaplan. “I’ll see if I can get away from the shop” I said. “No probs” he replied. “Either you turn up for the interview at 10.30 tomorrow morning, or you haven’t got the job. That’s how it works round here.” That was my first introduction to Frank Kaplan, and to say he was an original character is to stretch the word ‘original’ to bursting point. Still, it is the only one I can think of.
The job interview was memorable: I was decently scrubbed up and suited. I felt I had to grab at any chance I was offered; Stacking bread in the back- room of a bakery was not on my pathway to dreams. “Come in, come in” said Frank, a fat cheery man whose trilby hat was visible on a chair near his desk. “So what makes you think you’d be any good at any job” the opening question, to which I desperately replied, “Well, I think I’d certainly be quite good anyway”. There was a pause, the fat guy started laughing. He shook around a fair bit in his chair, and then began a series of wheezes and gasps meant, I presume, to indicate the later stages of laughing hysteria.
I sat as impassively as I could through his whole performance, which ended with him looking at my CV, obviously lacking in both content and detail. “It’s the way they walk Stanley. The way they walk. Tells you all you want to know.” He explained to me later on when I asked him why he took me on, “But what about their competencies?” I might ask, and he would reply “Stuff that. You can always learn to be competent, but character is character, and that’s what I look for in a man. I’ll find the opportunities, you tidy up after me and we’ll get along just fine”. “Have I got the job then I asked nervously”. “Course you got the bloody job. Start now. “
“But what about the bakery?” I asked. “ Who gives a toss about the bakery,” he said “ I need you here” I looked at him and I thought to myself, I’ve only been there a couple of weeks and here’s a permanent job of sorts and a bit of excitement so I’d better grab it. “Okay” I said, “I shall start straight away”. “That’s what I mean” said Frank. “Character: you’ve got spades of the stuff. You just don’t know it yet” What he meant by “Character” was not yet clear and the definition of what constituted “good character” was to become an ongoing topic, made more interesting as his unusual approach to life became apparent.
He was a great respecter of the marriage state as long, “it did not cramp his style.” He believed firmly in the payment of taxes, but not by himself, and thought “The Truth” was a horror novel put out by some disturbed Hollywood mogul. In short he introduced me to a view of life which would have been astonished my mother. A ducker and diver to his very marrow, Frank Kaplan thought honour was the fall back position of the foolish and the timid, and in our short time together he tried to show me that “There is another way Stanley. Another way me old sport”
It was a vigorously developed philosophy explained to me during our short time together, before representatives of Her Majesties police force walked in and interrupted our Monday morning conversation. His final parting words to me, “At least I’ll see my pals again.” Good old Frank. He had friends everywhere, or so he said.