Ruth Rosenthal is Jack Rosenthal's middle daughter, who also worked with him at Century 21 Toys and later at Alltrades. The following is based on the emails she so very kindly wrote me, kept as verbatim as possible but rearranged and edited a bit to keep various topics together. [The few bits in square brackets are my additions.]
I worked for my father at J. Rosenthal Toys and Century 21 Toys from around 1965 to 1967. It all started with Fireball XL5 which was manufactured by Quercetti. Around 1963 we met with [Alessandro] Quercetti (my father, mother, younger sister Suzy and I) in Stresa in Italy. My father and Quercetti were trying out the new Fireball XL5 toy which was launched by a catapult. I remember this, because it got stuck in a tree and the men had to find a ladder to retrieve the only sample. The rest as they say is history.
My father was born in Stepney on 25th June 1915. His father misspelt the surname [on the birth registration] it should have been with one l. He had three sisters, Bessie being the oldest. His mother's maiden name was Annie Greenberg, although in her later years she told us that her name was actually an unpronounceable Polish name which immigration couldn't spell and neither could she. His father's name was Lazarus Rosenthal.
Lazarus and Annie were both tailors. She sewed button holes and used to make us coats when we were small. Lazarus rarely worked because he was slow and very meticulous with his work. Lazarus was also known as Max and was active in the Bund (Jewish socialist movement which is now called the Jewish Labour Movement). He was a Marxist and was known as the 'Little Karl Marx' because of his knowledge of Marx.
My father had his first heart attack at the age of 57; his father died from the same condition at the same age. He died on 2nd February 1992 after what was probably his tenth heart attack. He never gave in to ill health and stopped working nine months before his death.
My mother, Esther, was born on 25th January 1918. They met in the queue outside Sadler's Wells, they were both mad about opera. She was 17 he was 20. She told me he was so poor that he was still wearing his bar mitzvah coat. When they got engaged she bought him a new coat. My father adored her and he always told everyone that she was so beautiful, which she was. As you know they married in 1938.
Early 1941 Jack was in the army and was sent to Shahjahanpur in northern India with the Ordnance Corps. When he arrived there he was a Sergeant and when he was discharged he was a Regimental Sergeant Major. He returned to London on 7th January 1945 to meet his daughter Hilary for the first time. During his time in India my mother wrote him over 1,000 love letters which we still have.
He started working for Guiterman's when he was 14, and returned to them after the war. Sam Guiterman was good to him. He rose through the company becoming Company Secretary (a qualification that he gained at evening classes) and in his early 40s I think he became Managing Director, before the sale. Following the sale of the company he established Cavendish Distributors with a number of backers and then some years later formed J. Rosenthal Toys.
I don't have a complete recollection of the timing of the S. Guiterman sale. I believe that it could have been late 1950s. I remember the name of one of the people involved in the takeover was Trupp. My father always described them as asset strippers.
He definitely had formed Cavendish Distributors by the early 1960s. I am not sure what toys they did but I don't think that he started travelling to the Far East until he established J. Rosenthal Toys. At Cavendish he travelled quite a lot in Europe, I assume buying toys. He established J. Rosenthal Toys because he wanted to control the company himself. At Cavendish he was sharing the profits with sleeping partners.
I am not sure what Polypix was. The only early 1960s toy I remember is a talking Bugs Bunny that Suzy had and loved. It had an American accent.
We will have visited Quercetti possibly in May/June [of 1963]. Somewhere we have photographs of our visit and I seem to remember my mother wearing a cardigan so it can't have been the height of summer. The other people who were involved with this visit were Sergio Polletti who was an associate of Quercetti and the manager of Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromees, which is where we stayed. We had never stayed in a hotel like that before, it was amazing. The introduction to Quercetti and Polletti was made by Gino Mani who was my father's agent in Italy. Gino had been the main European buying agent for AMC the American buying house, which is how my father met him I believe at Guiterman's. My father and Gino (and the two families) were very close, they were like brothers and truly loved each other. They were in touch until they both died which if I remember rightly was within months of each other. If I remember correctly Quercetti and Polletti, and possibly Mani were shareholders in J. Rosenthal Toys. Quercetti always travelled [to the hotel] to see us from Turin where he was based.
J. Rosenthal Toys was started in Edgware, I don't remember the address. We moved to Potier Street later when we needed additional space. If I remember correctly we had the whole of the Potier Street building and we entered through the blue doors. The offices were at the top and warehousing on the ground floor. I remember the steep stairs up to the office. The building next door was a broom factory, the smell from it was dreadful.
The one thing that no one knows is that my mother helped my father build JR Toys. She kept all the books and the stock lists for him. They both qualified as bookkeepers at night school. She used to do the accounts at home, while looking after me, my two sisters (Suzy was a baby) and my cousin who lived with us for a while after my mother's sister died. She also looked after the dog. She is the unsung hero of his story.
My earliest memory of Keith Shackleton was at Edgware. However, the contact could have been made as early as Guiterman's. I was never involved with Guiterman's as I was too young so it is difficult to know. Often these types of contacts were made at the toy fairs.
You mention the Thunderbird toys being manufactured in Hong Kong and the UK. The main manufacturer was in Hertfordshire and his first name was Rodney, I can't remember his surname.
My dad had an agent in Hong Kong called Andrew Lee, he worked with my father over many years. He was married to a well-known opera singer called Ruth Lee. Unfortunately, their marriage fell apart in 1970. They had two sons.
The reason that Century 21 had financial problems was because of the programme scheduling. Thunderbirds was scheduled over the school holiday months in the summer. However, this was not the high selling season for toys which of course was from September through to Christmas. My father could never convince ATV, and Lou Grade, that this scheduling would prove disastrous for the toy company. As it did.
My father knew Raphael Lipkin for many years and that was how he went to work for Triang.
I travelled to Hong Kong and Japan with my father on a business trip in 1967 when he was with Triang. He carried with him the Nasa Space Dictionary which he used to design toys.(1) He not only designed a lot of the toys but also the boxes they came in. He was a multi-talented man. In Japan he bought radio-controlled cars.
I remember the Alltrades building in Peckham, before they moved to Atlantic House. We had a constant problem with the local children breaking into the warehouse and stealing toys. My father wouldn't involve the police because it was a poor area and he felt that the children should have toys. In 1972 around November [probably later, see next paragraph] two boys broke in and lit a fire. The warehouse was full of plastics and the place turned into an inferno, everything was destroyed. Terry Aarons phoned and spoke to me at home because they needed to tell my dad who was at home recovering from his first heart attack. Terry was really scared of the effect it would have on my father's health. The shock was so great that he had a massive heart attack and we almost lost him. He was a real fighter and slowly recovered. The whole of the retail toy trade rallied round and sent in copies of unfulfilled orders and invoices. With a lot of hard work on Terry's behalf, and they were well insured, they managed to get back on their feet. The two boys were charged by the police. My father didn't want any action taken against them but the police had no choice.
My father had the first heart attack in Hong Kong in 1972 possibly in October/November. It was mild. He had been playing tennis with a business associate Mr Lee, he sprained his ankle, stopped playing and was taken ill during the night. The manager of the Mandarin Hotel stayed with him in the hospital, he knew my father well. It was him who contacted my mother. He was not fully recovered from that heart attack when the fire happened, this caused the second heart attack which was severe, I now think it was around March of 1973. I remember that my sister Hilary had recently given birth to her daughter Rachel. Hilary and her husband Michael took the children to the hospital (Barnet General) to say goodbye, and my dad recovered. He did that to us so many times over the years that we thought he was invincible.
I suppose you must be right that they moved to Atlantic House after the fire because the building in Peckham was destroyed. I know that the business bought the building [Atlantic House].
[After hearing that the Atlantic name above the door is in the font used by the Atlantic model company from Italy, who also had a UK subsidiary in that building] At that time there was another director of Alltrades called Harry. I have been trying to recall his surname but I just can't remember it. He could be the link between the two companies.
[After hearing Alltrades and Atlantic UK were also registered at a Wilec House in City Street in Shoreditch, London] I had assumed that they had their offices and warehouse at Atlantic House but I could be wrong. I don't remember Wilec House. I do know that when the business went into receivership Barclays Bank took Atlantic House along with my parents' home. That was 1983/4.
I attended the bankruptcy hearings with my father and mother. The recorder (I think that is what he was called) told my father that his business problems were not his fault, they were due to the 1983 recession and as importers with a cash flow problem they didn't stand a chance of survival. In 1983 something like 75% of the British Toy trade disappeared.
After losing everything he went to work for Hackney Pensioners Project. He spent his final years using his accountancy skills helping pensioners fill out benefits forms, advising on how to manage their meagre pensions, managing the finances of the Project. He featured as a newscaster on the BBC 'Red Nose Day' (I think that is what it was called). The fundraising was dedicated to a number of pensioners' organisations. He was amazing because all his left wing politics came out in the broadcast. You may be able to find this in the BBC archives, we have a recording of it somewhere.
As someone who came from such poverty and deprivation he was amazingly successful. Known in the toy trade as a genius and a very smart dresser. He was a very warm man with a great line in corny jokes. He loved to be the centre of attention with friends and family and with his small sweet voice would sing the great opera arias that he loved. He was a life-long Aston Villa supporter although he never went to a home match.
He was the most generous of men to both his mother, sisters, wife and daughters. I always tell people that if my father had money everyone had money. He was very good to his staff. Cyril Hose who was older than my father worked with him and for him from when my father was 14 until Alltrades disappeared. When other salesmen said that Cyril was too old my father quite rightly defended him because of their love and respect for each other.
It was my great privilege to help to support him and my mother in difficult times, as he put it I was repaying the national debt.
He remained a dedicated socialist all his life. When my husband became a [Labour] MP for Edmonton in 1997 he had two photographs of my father on his desk in Westminster. I wish my father could have lived to see him elected, he would have been so proud.
Hilary was a textile designer. Suzanne (known as Suzy) was a journalist. I started work as an accounts clerk, I never qualified because it wasn't something that women did in the 1960s. In the 1980s I went to work as a trainee in an IT department for a bank and in 1994 was appointed IT Director for Guardian Investment Holdings, part of the Guardian Royal Exchange Group. When GRE was taken over by AXA in 2000 I was made redundant and worked for the following eight years as IT Director for Age Concern England. I then retired.
1: My dad was very secretive about this publication so I am not sure where it came from. He may just have been pulling my leg of course. He liked to do that. Unfortunately, I don't know what happened to it. It could have been lost in the fire. I saw him with it in 1969. back to text