Following the story in the Free Press on November 19 about the remarkable escape and bravery of bomber-pilot Lucian Ercolani during WW2 I had quite a few emails from readers.

One of the emails was from Brian Wratten, who also told me that he had been Lucian’s chauffeur for 34 years.

Brian has some remarkable reminiscences of those years, which he has kindly agreed to share with us. Brian writes:

The first time that I met Lucian Brett Ercolani, I was twenty six years old and he was in his fifties.

It was 1973 and having been passed over for promotion in the job that I had had since leaving school, I thought it was time to put up or shut up. So I put up and resigned.

My great love has always been driving, so when I saw an advertisement in the local Bucks Free Press for a company chauffeur at Ercol Furniture Ltd, I told my wife that I was going to apply. She looked sceptical.

Firstly I had no experience in that field at all and she also thought that my age would count against me.

My application was received by the works manager, Ron Roberts and I was duly invited for an interview. A week later I received a letter saying that I had been short-listed and would I attend a second interview with Mr Ercolani on Saturday morning. When I arrived there were two other candidates. At this point I thought that I stood no chance, as one gentleman was leaving the RAF where he had been a driver and the second was a good twenty years older than me, and also an experienced driver.

When it was my turn I was shown into the board room where I was greeted by a tall distinguished man who shook my hand warmly and waved me to sit opposite him at his desk. My first impression was how softly spoken he was. He had, what would be termed a posh accent and a fascinating way of making you feel at ease but knowing that you never stepped over the line with him.

He asked about my previous job, my family, and he looked at my awards that I had won in driving competitions. He was also impressed that I was a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists. He remarked that I was rather young, to which I replied, rather cheekily, that I could be with him a long time. When I said that I had no experience at chauffeuring, he replied “Oh just open the door when I want to get in, open it when I want to get out, talk in the car when I want to talk to you and shut up when I don’t, that’s all there is to it.”

I got the job and was with him for the next 34 years.

“The Old Man”

In my early days with him Mr Ercolani would like to reminisce about his father, who was also called Lucian although by now he was universally known as “The Old Man”. He had come over from Italy with his mother, father and siblings. They were penniless immigrants who set about settling into the British way of life living in London. Eventually he graduated from college with a degree in furniture design and spent the next few years learning the trade in various companies.

In 1921 he decided to start on his own. He traipsed around the banks and money houses of London until, after a lot of disappointment, he managed to secure a loan of £10,000. He decided to set up shop in High Wycombe, at that time the furniture-centre of England where the likes of Ebenezer Gomme’s G-plan,and Parker Knoll were well established.

With the £10,000 he bought a field in Spring Gardens, to the east of the town centre alongside the railway line which ran to London and right opposite E Gomme Ltd.

With 14 men in a shed he started Ercol Furniture Ltd. When I joined the company over 50 years later there were 900 employees and the factory stretched as far as Hatters Lane, over a quarter of a mile. It had an annual turnover of £30,000,000 which in those days was remarkable.

Interestingly the ‘Old Man’, had a brother Victor who had started a company called Cabinet Industries based on the North Circular road near Chigwell in Essex. As the name suggests they made wooden cabinets for all the main TV companies of the time, Bush, Phillips, Pye etc. At the height of the business Victor sold up for several million pounds and lived in luxury well into his eighties.

The Old Man went from strength to strength, being joined in the business by Lucian, who was his eldest son, and his other son Barry, a year or two younger. They were a formidable force, but dark clouds were on the horizon, war was coming.

To be continued in the New Year.