john_lennonI was working in a record shop the day John Lennon died.  In fact, I was on an afternoon break when I heard the initial report that he had been shot.  I went straight back to work and almost instantly people were coming into the shop, asking us if we’d heard the news.  The guys in the hi-fi section turned a radio on and then, there it was: John Lennon confirmed dead.

Customers openly cried.  My girlfriend rang.  We sold every Lennon and Beatles record in the shop in fifteen minutes flat.

I was the store buyer, responsible for ordering stock, making sure we had product available and in the right quantity.  The shop’s manager was a bit of a business genius, a pioneer, I now realise, in what is now called just-in-time stock control.  “Why should we act as a warehouse for some bloody record company?” he once asked me when I wanted to order more of some album than he thought we needed.  I was in a constant running battle with him as to how many copies of any given album we ordered, especially new releases by unknown artists.

“Look, Tim,” he said to me, taking me aside in a fatherly manner one day.  “To you, these things we sell are records, music, the most important thing in the world.  To me, they might as well be sausages.”

We actually made a good team: my youthful, knowledgeable enthusiasm tempered by his hard-headed business approach.

As it happened, the day John Lennon died, the manager was out of the store, off collecting stock from another shop.  But I knew what to do.  I went up stairs, got our stock cards for all of the Lennon and the Beatles’ albums, went through them carefully but quickly, and then rang the company and placed our order.  It was obvious we had to get in quick as every shop in the country was going to be on the line trying to get whatever stock they could.  Still, I wasn’t worried.  We were the biggest store in the land, sold more of everything than everyone, so I knew we’d get what we asked for.

So I placed our order, my boss’s voice loud in the back of my head: “Why should we act as a  warehouse for some bloody record company?” I looked at the numbers on the stock cards again and did a quick sum of the total.  I was confident I’d done the right thing; still, it was a big order.  Really big.

By now, down at the counter, we were taking special orders for Beatles’ records and especially for John Lennon’s recently released Double Fantasy.  People were still crying.

It wasn’t until about an hour after the news that Lennon was dead that my boss arrived back at the shop.  He practically drove his car in through the front door.  He came flying in, buttonholed me, in something like a panic, and said, “Have you heard!  Did you hear the news!”

Yes, I told him.

“Have you placed an order?” he said, and there was desperation in his eyes.


And then came the question I always dreaded.  “How many?” he asked.

I told him what I’d ordered.  I spoke aloud the massive quantity.

“Double it,” he said without a moment’s hesitation.

I couldn’t have been more surprised if the poster of Kate Bush we had on the back wall had come to life and she had beckoned me into the back room for a personal demonstration of the hip wiggle she did in the white-dress version of  the film clip for ‘Wuthering Heights’.

Stunned, I went upstairs and placed the huge order I had already placed all over again.

The rest of the afternoon, we went about our business, talking to customers about what had happened and taking special order after special order.  I think I was more shocked about the number of albums I’d been allowed to order than I was about the death of a Beatle.

Come closing time, we locked the doors and the staff went through the usual ritual of ringing off the tills and getting the day squared away.  The boss was double checking my count of register one, as per our usual practice, and I said to him, “You know, it’s pretty tragic, isn’t it, what happened to Lennon?”

“It is,” he said in a reflective tone.  “Won’t be anywhere near as big as Elvis.”

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Peter Fray
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