Ysenda Maxtone Graham

Dancing on Terence Conran’s grave

‘The Man Who Invented Design’ was a narcissistic psychopath who routinely stole other people’s ideas, say his former employees Stephen Bayley and Roger Mavity

Terence Conran at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2005. [Getty Images]

‘Who,’ asks Stephen Bayley, in one of the ‘S.B’ chapters of this irresistibly spiky co-written book, ‘could countenance working for a man like Terence, a man of such fluid principles, of such day-glo opportunism, of such sun-dried narcissism, guiltless hypo-crisy and Hallelujah Chorus egomania?’

Well, both S.B. and R.M. (the ad man Roger Mavity) did work for Terence Conran, in exalted positions. Both fell out with him, and both experienced at first hand all those qualities and more. In their separate chapters they take turns to express the essence of his genius and to get their own back for his disdainful treatment of them. One of his worst traits was his refusal to acknowledge the vital contributions of his seconds-in-command.

Ooh, this book is fun. I like ‘sun-dried narcissism’, redolent of the exotic item on restaurant menus of the 1990s, the decade in which, refusing to retreat into a corner after the humiliating collapse of his ill-conceived high-street-shops empire, Conran opened the Pont de la Tour, the Butler’s Wharf Chophouse, Cantino del Ponte, the Blue Print Café, Bluebird, the Coq d’Argent, Sauterelle, the Grand Café, the Paternoster Chop House, Plateau, Almeida, Sartoria, the Orrery, Mezzo, Floridita, Zinc and Quaglino’s. The energy of the man! Not that he took much interest in the restaurants once they were open. He was always on to the next project. And he couldn’t bear people telling him things he didn’t want to hear. ‘If you’re so clever,’ he barked at his accountant, ‘why aren’t you as rich as me?’

‘I am the ghost of variants yet to come.’

Bayley exalts in his own over-writing, and I lapped it up. Here he is on Conran’s first restaurant, the Soup Kitchen of the 1950s: ‘Terence attributed to it a Suez-like significance in the history of the nation’s alimentary canal.’

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