‘Let people make up their own minds’

IT was with interest that I read E. Benham’s letter “Perpetuating untruth” (Gazette, November 20).

Thursday, 24th November 2011, 6:00 am

At the time Ronnie Barker was living in South Terrace, Littlehampton, my grandmother and father owned and ran the general grocers business in Norfolk Road under the name of Cooper’s Stores, and although not being born until after the family business was itself sold, I am well aware that Ronnie Barker was a customer of theirs.

I have been brought up hearing many fond memories from local people about my grandmother and the shop, most notably the one that Mr Benham refers to, suggesting it was the basis for the series “Open All Hours”.

We were even more surprised a few years ago when the story appeared one evening on Meridian news, and was also included in a display at the Look & Sea Centre when it first opened.

Being great fans of Ronnie and the series, the family has always wondered if there was any truth in this.

As such, we had never encouraged the rumour, or made contact with Ronnie Barker to enquire if was the case, but obviously customers and residents who saw the series and knew the shop could see the similarities!

We, too, read in his authorised biography that when approached by later owners of the store, he claimed that it was not the basis of the series itself – however, there are several factors that seem coincidental.

Firstly, the character played by David Jason was called Granville – is it just coincidence that Granville Road was just around the corner from both the shop and Ronnie’s own home?

Secondly, the name of the nurse played by Lynda Barron was Gladys – coincidence too that my grandmother’s middle name, by which she was known to everybody, was also Gladys?

Finally, the title itself “Open All Hours” – a story my father has often told us was when Ronnie knocked on the shop door at about 2am whilst he was working in the stock room behind the shop, only because he wanted to purchase an air pump for his inflatable lilo to take on his holidays that morning – fortunately they were able to supply one!

Your readers may be interested in the shop’s other claim to fame. When Anita And Gordon Roddick set up their first shop in Brighton, it was from Cooper’s Stores that they were regularly supplied fresh produce to use as raw ingredients for their products, made in their kitchen in Littlehampton.

At the height of their success, my sister worked at The Body Shop at their Watersmead headquarters where Anita herself signed a copy of her autobiography for my father “To Basil, thank you for being my very first larder”.

So, who knows? Certainly no intentional lies, or untruths – and sadly we shall never know for sure now that the great comedian has passed on and cannot comment himself, but a little urban myth or local folklore doesn’t really hurt anyone.

Let people make up their minds for themselves.

Chris Cooper

Gloucester Road