Kevin Bows Out
M & G's, as Carnbeg called it, came about when the two department stores of Minchingfield's and Gow's merged, in 1974.
Gow's had been the stuffier of the two institutions, with a faithful clientele who know just what they liked; they didn't care for experimentation (or even moving the shop furniture around), they appreciated goods value but knew you had to pay to find quality. Minchingfield's had more style about it; the fashion was sharper, appealing to customers who read magazines and would take a risk or two.
The windows of Minchingfield's had always caught the eye, and luckily for Kevin Moir, who was responsible for them, Bill Dennie next door ('hands like hams') opted to take advantage of the upheaval and retire. ('The mannequins could have done a better job job of it than Old Bill.)
There was more work for Kevin, since he also had a say in the look of press advertising. He insisted on doing all the displays himself. His windows were an inspiration, at Christmas time especially. One year he hired a Heath Robinson contraption. Another year he devised a model train layout (the dads flocked to see), which continued round the ground floor of the shop. The following festive season he used motorised figures (Peter Pan flying on a wire, and a fearsome hook-nosed witch poking her finer at Hansel in his cage).
Peter Pan was in position, sort of, as Kevin decided that next year he wanted to turn the shop into a German Christmas market.
He half-funded his travel to middle-Europe himself, M & G's paying for accommodation and 'essentials'.
Kevin was missing his moment of glory, the festive windows which were the climax of his year's efforts. Never mind that, needs must for an artist. But during a walk round a snowy Nuremberg, he lost his balance and went tumbling. He broke his leg, and would be off work for a couple of months. He was obliged to delegate, to a young woman - Dreary Deirdre he called her behind her back - who used to work for Bill Dennie on the Gow's side. She had a lot to learn, Kevin told his confidants (his 'Sewing Circle'), and he was obliged to give away some of his secrets. He criticised the results; it was all very pedestrian to his eye, short on jeu d'esprit. (So what if, as she was proudly putting about, she was 'trimming costs'? People always stopped and looked at Kevin Moir's windows and the displays round the shop.)
But three months back in the saddle and as Kevin was turning his thoughts to Christmas, the shop was sold.
The new owners came in straightaway, changing conditions so that staff were now on short-term contracts. They were also going through the accounts books with a magnifying glass.
Kevin's redundancy notice arrived at the beginning of December. He discovered that his replacement was to be the cost-trimmer herself, Dreary Deirdre.
'But you'll let me finish my Christmas windows?'
The MD, relieved there wasn't going to be a major scene, spoke to management in Manchester, and they relented.
Kevin worked on behind papered-out windows. His colleagues guessed that the Winter Market theme was scuppered. Kevin insisted on absolute secrecy, and no one was permitted to see what he was creating.
As per usual a crowd gathered on the street for the unveiling, early on a bitterly cold evening, with street lights picking out the signs of a frost. People stamped their feet and rubbed glove hands together. It was always worth the wait, though.
Kevin himself, unassisted, took down the brown paper from the windows.
The gawping crowd, as one, gasped. Some covered their eyes. Others were too fascinated to look away.
Every mannequin of the two dozen or so was naked. A full-blown orgy was in process. There was even a chandelier provided.
The police arrived double-quick, and the paper went back up. St John's Ambulance were able to deal with a couple of faintings and one case of hysterical laughter.
M & G's windows had always been 'events'. Now 'unforgettable' could be tagged on. GOING OUT WITH A BIG BANG! the free newspaper shrieked on its next edition's front page, next to a photo of Kevin Moir smoking a cigarette between two fingers, with what looked like Churchillian defiance.
© Ronald Frame
Published in The Herald 2008