Former Littlehampton car repair business owner celebrates 100th birthday
A former Littlehampton businessman who made a name for himself as an auto engineer is celebrating his 100th birthday today with family.
George Underwood ran his own garage in East Preston before setting up Scutt and Underwood in Wick, where he was based for more than 30 years.
Since retirement, he has followed his passion for art and now spends much of his time tending his garden at his park home in Climping.
Daughter Lesley Rooke said: “We want to celebrate his long and healthy life by wishing him a very, very happy birthday.
“He is a very active person for his age by still doing all his own housework and cooking but his main love is his garden, and he tries to get out there every day.
“I remember when he was 96, I took him for a drive to Goodwood and he walked right up to the top of The Trundle. He still walks without any form of support.”
George was born on June 7, 1921, and left home at the age of 15, becoming independent thanks to various jobs.
He joined the Royal Air Force in 1942 and was sent to South Africa with an assignment to unload troop ships in Durban. During the war, he was stationed in Norwich, where he experienced air attacks, and also served in Aden and Egypt.
After he left the Forces, George took a job at Butlin’s Park in Littlehampton, which later became Smart’s Amusement Park and is now known as Harbour Park.
Lesley said: “He was working on the dodgems, collecting 6p from all the riders, near the Oyster Pond.”
George went on to work for the local firm Whades, mostly welding, but in 1953, he decided to go it alone and opened a little garage in Manor Road, East Preston.
After 18 months, he moved the car repair and spraying business to Whitelea Road in Wick, and in 1955, he was joined by his brother-in-law Peter Scutt.
George and his wife Joan, who died ten years ago, had two daughters, Faye and Lesley. There are now three grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandson.
When he retired at the age of 72, George featured in The Brian Shewry Interview in the Littlehampton Gazette, where he spoke of the time he sold a car for just seven pence.
Mr Underwood said the vehicle was a 1935 Wolseley 9 and it was taxed to the end of the year. The cut-price offer was intended to lure customers to a Sunday morning sale and so many people turned up, he decided to raffle the vehicle.
“It was in working order and the man who won it drove it away,” he told reporter Brian Shewry.
Mr Underwood admitted that giving up his business after nearly 40 years was quite a wrench, especially as he had met so many nice people, but he said ‘you have to retire at some point and my time has now come’.
At one time, Mr Underwood counted stage and screen star Stanley Holloway and millionaire Doug Arnold among his clients.
George said one of his most unusual jobs was spraying a new Rolls-Royce. The customer did not like the original metallic dark green and had it changed to dark chocolate brown. The task took a fortnight and when the car was ready, a chauffeur arrived to pick it up and deliver the cheque.
On another occasion, George was asked to remove a Rolls-Royce from someone’s land.
“In those days it wouldn’t have been so valuable. I made the biggest mistake of my life and broke it up. Do you know it had headlamps almost a foot across.”
A number of local lads used to work at the garage to gain experience and among those who were paid 50p a week was young Bob Francis, later to become a millionaire.
Sadly, George lost his business partner when Peter died of a brain tumour in 1969. It was a terrible shock and after that, he carried on alone.
Lesley said he gained many customers through recommendation and as far as she knows, the Rolls-Royce respray was his biggest job.
After retirement, George experienced an horrific robbery at his home in Rustington and was hospitalised after a blow to the head with a crowbar.
Lesley said it was as a result that her parents moved to the park home in Climping.