Hugin Cash Registers


© Bob Denton 2019
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I was winning prizes and accolades at Xerox but little in the way of money, so I applied for a job back in the cash register business with another Swedish organisation, Hugin. I was appointed to their Special Applications Division, focusing on sophisticated systems such as hire purchase accounting, dry cleaners’ systems and VAT accounting.

Appointment to Hugin (Mar-1972)

Here I met the second person to shape me significantly. It was Ken Turner at Sweda who taught me selling, now it was the turn of Hugin’s new MD, Dave Pope or DCP, who taught me marketing and management.

I learned DCP’s backstory. As a ‘Paddington boy’ his first business activity was to stand near Spurs ground holding a six-inch nail and calling out to those parking, ‘Mind your car, Mister’ – most paid up. He had become established as a sales trainer with Muldivo, a calculator direct sales organisation, and brought a number of people with him from there.

ASIDE: This is not quite sat at the right place because Britain’s 3-day week was in 1974. But what the heck it’s a good anecdote. The Ted Heath government had just emerged from the 1973 oil crisis, then in 1974 ran into trouble with the miners’ unions and decided that electricity had to be saved by putting us on to a three-day week. Power was selectively switched off on specified days to businesses.

One of my clients ran a series of burger bars and realised that one of these was on the edge of a zone, so that while he was off, the shop next door was on, and vice versa. He talked with the other retailer and agreed to run a power lead between their shops. My customer ran from this a whole raft of freezers, fridges, cooking ranges and grillers through this. Next door was a shoe shop that ran about three light bulbs when it was their turn, yet the retailer never realised the inequality and was happy with the arrangement – presumably only until his company received their power bill.

Hugin booked a stand at the Business Efficiency Exhibition (BEE) at Olympia. I was called into DCP’s office and told I should prepare a ‘network analysis’ of the tasks various people would need to do and by when, which would provide us with a major fillip from the show. I had enough smarts not to admit that I had never heard of the technique; I just agreed and left. As I was already a paid-up member of the Institute of Marketing, I called its library and a booklet on network analysis was couriered to my office.

After a weekend I returned with a colour-coded chart that involved every member of the team in some way or other. This was important as the organisation contained two camps. The first was the ex-Cooperative Society people; Hugin was owned by the Swedish Coop (KF) and we supplied most of the UK Coop business. The other camp was DCP and his new coterie – including me. The exercise, as DCP had surmised, brought the two closer together – at least for that project.

We are getting a bit ahead of ourselves, but several years later I was asked to brief the design of our stand and came up with an interesting approach. By that time the question was whether electronic cash registers (ECRs) would kill the electromechanicals. Of course they eventually would, but right then the debate was still alive and kicking.

I had little budget and a large square area to fill in the open well of the hall. I quickly decided we did not have the budget for any expensive grand superstructure so instead used squares of black and white carpet to create a large chess board. We found a source to loan some large feature chess pieces that had been used in a Bond movie. The pawns we created were flat-topped to take hold a register. We presented two types of registers (ECR and electromechanical) as black and white. (You might imagine that much debate ensued about which should be white!) The clever bit was that the arrangement depicted a stalemate, our message being that different pieces suited different situations; there was no overall winner. It was eye-catching, won awards and very inexpensive to mount.

Brochure showing roles of different chess pieces/cash registers

© Bob Denton 2019
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Electronic Cash Registers (ECRs)

This was an interesting period as, despite what we would later say at that exhibition, traditional cash register makers were having to face up to new technologies such as scanner checkouts and ECRs. How might they co-exist with the traditional electromechanical business – and what new players might emerge?

Early on, Hugin’s ECR became known internally as ‘Jesus’ because while everyone believed in it, no-one had seen it. It was announced that it would be shown at that year’s Hannover Messe so I went with an overnight bag to see and review it. In the end I stayed for over a week awaiting its arrival. While I bought shirts and undies I had only the one suit which after several days of walking the huge event could stand up in the corner of my room at night.

In those days hotels were scarce and you had to go to an accommodation agency to make a private arrangement – or you could go to the Hauptbahnhof square (railway-central station square) where various women would regale you with the benefits of their accommodation, many accompanied by pretty young girls. I decided it was safer to use an agency.

I stayed with a Herr and Frau Pieper, sleeping in their double bed while they used a camp bed in their kitchen. There was no bath or shower offered, just a coldwater jug and bowl. My German was non-existent as was their English and we had some awkward moments. They were pretty poor at miming what a word meant, so it took some time to understand frühstück and their constant repetition of sieben; while I understood that to be seven, it was not much help. Miming putting a spoon to your mouth might have helped explain it was breakfast and tapping a watch or clock explain their preferred time to serve it. They also confused me with schlüssel which conjured up shower for me, being desperate for one. Surely showing me the latchkey they were offering would have been self explanatory.

Despite their being very hospitable I needed a bath or shower. I learned the Swedish team was in a roadhouse outside Hannover and said I didn’t care if I had to sleep on a bedroom floor, I was coming with them. In the event I got my own room and the bath I so needed. I was already intoxicated by the bath and sauna, before we got to the restaurant and bar.

ASIDE: I could pour down beers (back then!), having participated in yards-of-ale challenges, so when it was evident I was falling behind in the drinking stakes, I quickly caught up. Seeing this, the others challenged me to drink another strong German beer in less than four seconds. I got them to lay down their money and promptly did it. I excused myself and popped back to my room. For some reason I sat on the loo. Almost immediately, there was a knock on the door. When I answered it, Stig pointed out that I had been there for the best part of an hour!

The next year this led to some serious drinking games, including an evil brew called Ratzeputz. Today this is still sold as 58% alcohol but back then the alcohol level was significantly higher. Boy did it burn. It took two beers before any of us could talk.

But a British colleague, Barrie Lock, and I were remembered more for a different event. The group took several taxis down to ‘The Street’ in Braunschweig to walk past the window tableaus established by the local legalised hookers. As we walked it, we two Brits disappeared and there was much amusement when we were found playing table football in a bar having become bored by the girls. Albeit alluringly dressed and presented, perhaps it was their eyes that were most disturbing as they sought out the serious individuals from the window-shoppers.

I had shown an early interest in electronic point-of-sale (PoS) systems and DCP asked me to create a thorough report on the current UK status, our likely competition and future prospects. This unprepossessing front cover shows the state of the art back then – I used Letraset, laboriously scratched from a sheet to provide large characters. There were no IBM Selectric or Golfball typewritersand we were years from any form of word processing. Letraset made a report look good – or so we thought at the time.

Letraset-ed ECR report cover – August 1972

My ECR report really changed my life as I was soon posted to Stockholm to run the marketing side of Hugin’s move into electronic cash registers. My concern was defining saleable products and at the time I was unaware of the significance of this moment.

We were designing them based around the Intel 4004, the very first microprocessor. During this project things were moving rapidly; the 4004 was released in March 1971, the 8008 superseded it in April 1972 and the 8080 in April 1974. Given this constantly moving target, our designs had to be constantly reviewed.

Notwithstanding the microprocessors, the project necessitated a major rethink as while the old electromechanical registers had finite stainless steel components that had to be designed and built to add each new feature, these new electronic devices were almost unlimited in the features able to be created in software. In fact, some of the early proposed ECRs looked more like Christmas trees with too many buttons for a retail staff member to understand or use. Where electromechanical registers were defined by engineers, ECRs required definition by marketeers.

ASIDE: Around this time Jane and I developed the habit of driving around Europe and at 4pm looking through our two main guidebooks for somewhere to stay. On one occasion we were in Belgium and turned up at a hotel where the receptionist acted a tad strangely, insisting we could only stay for one night, which had been our expressed intention anyway. We realised the reason when we had checked in and went out for a late afternoon drive.

We turned a nearby corner and found the F1 Spa-Francorchamps ‘track’. Unbeknown to us it was the Tuesday before the grand prix and the public roads used for the race were yet to be closed off. We could still drive around the route. The pits were already built, the cars were in them and we could get up very close. I doubt this would be allowed today.

Returning to the hotel we ate in its restaurant. The haughty waiter passed me the huge tome that was their wine list which proclaimed on its cover that the restaurant had won top cave prize in Belgium for many consecutive years. In our mid-twenties, we were not yet well-drilled in wines and disposable income was not large, but I felt we had to pick something in the mid-range rather than go house wine. I chose one at £35, then a significant sum, and was distressed when it was decanted and chilled, killing its taste. This was my first ever chilled red and I have never been a fan since.

Over a period of three years or so I probably escorted most of the major UK retailers to Stockholm to show them our factory and its latest developments. It helped that our parent company was the Swedish Coop ( KF) which then had tens of hypermarkets, hundreds of department stores, thousands of supermarkets and a national distribution system that was worthy of investigation too. Of course there was also the NK department store and Ikea to visit while there.

KF’s infinity symbol

ASIDE: KF was a major retailer, responsible for over a third of Swedish retail revenues. This was helped by the long serving Swedish Socialist government giving KF one of the sites in a new town, with other retailers having to vie for others.

The organisation’s logo was the infinity symbol; today it is a little more stylised. It used the strapline ‘KF supplies all your needs from erection to cremation’ – not sure it would have been well received in the UK.

KF had a set of tome-like manuals setting out everything from finding a new site, designing the store, through equipping and running it.  You might expect it to be very formulaic, a socialist-cum-nanny set of diktats. But the front cover bore a cartoon of someone scratching his head and some Swedish text. Translated this said, ‘If everyone follows the rule-book, then who writes the next rule-book?’ Nicely saved!

Appointment as National Sales Manager (Aug-1974)

At this time the British government was seeking to control foreign exchange and for every trip you took the amount you ‘exported’ was written into the back of your passport, making it necessary to resort to stick-in addenda sheets when travelling as often as I did. With its deliberately prohibitive prices for alcohol, Sweden was darned expensive. It had successfully reduced the consumption of hard liquor for ten or more years by the simple expedient of making it outrageously expensive. Alcohol could only be legally bought through the government-owned Systembolaget and restaurants did not get a wholesale price, only volume discounts. Costs were not helped by the fact that most restaurant dining was business dining, so none catered for low-cost eating. One year I was shocked to compare my salary with the amount I had taken to entertain clients in Stockholm. These expenses summed to more than five times my salary – quite sobering!

I took a group from Sainsbury’s and that particular visit led to it introducing the sloped escalators, where the trolley locks into the grooves, that they had first seen with me at KF. They were also interested in the checkouts Hugin developed with a Swedish shop staff union, that were redesigned on ergonomic principles. UK supermarkets had checkout operators standing side-on to the customer and sliding the goods underarm. The Swedes sat the operator facing the customer and sliding the goods in a sideways motion as we do today (now of course from a moving band and across a scanner) The cash drawer was removed from under the register and built-in in front of the operator as it is today.

ASIDE: DCP had a Swedish partner, Inger, and I sat with her for many days translating the tome that defined the Swedish union findings from Swedish to English. I listened to her explanation and wrote it down in English. Once the session was over and I reread what I had written I needed to rework it several times before it looked anything like English. I have admired translators ever since.

© Bob Denton 2019
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Global conference

Hugin had agents and subsidiaries in around eighty countries and it was important that we understood different national requirements before committing to our ECR and PoS strategies. We invited all eighty to join us in Barcelona where we would outline our marketing thinking and receive their feedback. We split them into syndicates to work through different aspects to come to some consensus as to the overall design requirements.

These agents were characters! The Brazilian was a big guy who liked his cigars. He had shipped a huge car with cow horns fixed to the front to Barcelona – and the meeting was just for three days! His suits were striking too. They all had 3cm long hand stitching for decoration. He was named Bandini but instantly became referred to as ‘Banditi’.

The Aussie did something that still gives me the best appreciation of the size of Australia. He put up an overhead transparency map of his country, then superimposed it with another showing a map of Europe. He aligned Perth with Barcelona and dramatically illustrated that Sydney was way beyond Moscow.

Guispert, the Spanish agent, had a sales manager who looked like a street fighter and ruled his team with an iron fist. One evening we assembled for dinner off La Rambla and I saw him go to talk with each of his local sales guys. They each got up and left. When I asked, he explained that they had to go out to sell or get a cash register demo before they could join us for dinner. That certainly focused their attention.

But he had a redeeming characteristic. When we allocated breakout rooms at our hotel for syndicate sessions, the Spanish sales manager had grabbed the pool area on the roof for our group so we could sunbathe and bathe while contemplating our tasks. We would open our instructions, he would scan them cursorily and say ‘Yes. No. Don’t care’, then leave us to discuss our thinking and take our conclusions back to the plenary session.

ASIDE: The Guispert family was very rich, they represented a large number of major-brand technical products. For our evening entertainment they flew in Spain’s leading flamenco troupe. On the last day we were invited to their home for dinner. There were around seventyof us transported from Barcelona in a fleet of limos. Seeing a huge villa on the skyline I asked if that was theirs and was told it was the barbecue room! The huge estate housed villas for all their family members and their senior staff. At the actual hacienda we were all seated comfortably in the dining room (70+ people!) and we dined on Guispert lamb washed down with Guispert wine.

We did glean lots of useful data and I became involved with Stockholm in setting our plans accordingly.

© Bob Denton 2019
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After the conference and many trips to Stockholm I returned to the UK to try to graft the specific requirements onto our prototype products that would satisfy UK retail customers.

At the time I had no idea how pioneering my work was, I just wanted to get it done – and this was long before Richard Fairhurst’s definition of pioneers. I bought an Intellec MCS8 device that could program EPROMs (Erasable Programmable Read Only Memories). I had to prepare, in machine code, any changes that I wanted to include. Finally, I got to pursue the computer programming that had been inspired when selling some six-guinea Chelsea boots. This programming was very low level and slow; it was done with instructions in hexadecimals. Essentially, I would load my reprogrammed material via punched tape, load it into the EPROM, then carefully plug this into the ECR (their pins were quite weak and easy to break), and see if it worked. I noted anything odd that it did, and then repeated the process again, and again, and…

Intellec MCS8

One very weird thing happened. The Intellec never seemed to work in the morning, but I had a 2-to-4 hour response deal with Rapid Recall. The engineer arrived in the afternoon when, frustratingly, it worked perfectly. This went on for several days until we established that the bank next door was only running its mainframe computer in the mornings. It was putting spikes through the power grid that were causing my malfunctions. As a result I should have been well placed to design and sell an uninterrupted power supply system, but instead got on with pursuing my goal of getting demonstrable ECRs.

While working among the Hugin senior team it turned out that many of us had strange middle names – I am Robert Soulsby Denton of course, then there was Robert Nelson Holmes, Jack Kith Reynolds and Peter Friend Prowse – at least no-one could ever be the one to cast the first stone.

ASIDE: Bob (Robert N) Holmes and I lived in a London hotel all week as we both attempted to move up to town. He was the first to rent a place in Bedfont, Middlesex and for a time I stayed with him, and later him and his wife-to-be, Ali. He and Ali, a Scot, would regularly consume the best part of a bottle of scotch in an evening, and they converted me. My drink of choice has remained scotch, preferably a malt, but today I happily partake of an Irish too.

Bob and I inadvertently attended a whisky aversion therapy session. We had lunch at the Athenaeum Hotel on Piccadilly, London when it was having a malt whisky festival. We decided to participate. We ordered our first from a reasonably long list and as we waited for it, we heard bagpipes start up in the kitchens and a piper in full regalia escorted our drinks to the table. Fine we thought, this would be just for our first, but it wasn’t. Every time we ordered another (and we set out to try them all) out came that caterwauling piper. While it underlined our dislike of the sound of the pipes – it didn’t turn us off whisky!

I, probably none-too-soon to save my liver, found a house in Surrey.

© Bob Denton 2019
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Family in Stockholm

As a young family we lived in Stockholm for several months late in 1974. It was not easy and ridiculously expensive to get yesterday’s English newspaper. There was no English TV channel, and back then there was no fax, email or internet, only telex. We were completely cut off from British news for those months.


It was odd because when we moved back there were only two things that we appeared to have missed. People were inexplicably talking of ‘doing a Stonehouse’ and we learned that both Lord Lucan and John Stonehouse had disappeared while we were in Sweden. The other oddity was that people kept saying ‘Not like that, like this’ with weird hand movements that meant nothing to us. Other than those cultural references it was as if we had not been away.

Swedish TV did show The Brothers English TV series with Swedish subtitles; they called it Arvingarna or The Heirs. The only thing we understood on Swedish television per se was the recurrence of the word Snö in the weather report. There was a general election going on back home (which confirmed Harold Wilson’s second term) and, judging by the video content, there was often news comment on it. However it also kept showing polluted northern towns with long dirty terraces, chimneys billowing smoke and steam engines – it didn’t look a lot like Byfleet in Surrey! There was a popular belief in Sweden that all their pollution came from our British Midlands.

We enjoyed our stay in Stockholm, watching ice hockey matches, walking in the forests… but Jane bore the brunt of the stay, keeping two young children entertained, mostly indoors; it was around minus-5C outside. We were in a third-floor apartment and because all the other flats were at +30C we could turn off our heating and it was still too warm for our liking.

Once it got down to -10 to -15C outside, the cold was a dry cold and much better, but at -5 it was damp and unhealthy. We soon found we had no resistance to any Swedish ailments. Jane, who has seldom been unwell in the 55+ years I have known her, contracted gastritis and then bronchitis. This meant we had to negotiate the Swedish health service.

One day I got home to find her very unwell. I had no idea what to do when this happened in Sweden. So, I knocked on a neighbour’s door. They answered it completely traumatised as this sort of approach was unheard of in Stockholm. People kept very much to themselves. A lovely lady from the factory babysat for us and she confessed she knew no-one on her floor, in her building or on her street. I began to understand why Stockholmers had one of the world’s highest drink, drug and suicide rates of that time.

My neighbour asked, ‘Does she have fever’. I confirmed she did and she asked, ‘How much fever?’ I said I had no idea, pressing with no success for how to contact a doctor. I went back to our apartment and phoned someone from the factory who asked, ‘Does she have fever?’ and ‘How much fever?’ I brushed that off and was told of a mobile doctor who I could phone. I phoned, and the receptionist inevitably asked, ‘Does she have fever’ and ‘How much fever?’ I grumpily said ‘Look she has a high fever. Its actual degree is irrelevant.’ She despatched the doctor who earned my undying gratitude when he just looked at Jane and saw she had a fever and got on with his diagnosis – gastritis.

Södersjukhuset – Stockholm’s southern hospital

So, when towards the end of our stay she had bronchitis I wasn’t going through all of that again and took her and the kids to the Södersjukhuset, the largest hospital in Stockholm. Its name means literally the southern hospital. It had a prominent site in the city, commanding the skyline.Visiting it proved just as fraught.

ASIDE: The Swedish for seven is ‘sju’, quite difficult for a Brit to say (look it up). I was taught a tongue-twister to try to fix it in my mind – ‘Sju tusen, sju hundra sjutiosju sjösjuk sjömän’, meaning seven thousand seven hundred and seventy-seven seasick seamen. This served only to highlight many times that I couldn’t quite get it right.

It’s like the French word ’fauteuil’ for armchair. My French grandchildren always laugh at my pronunciation no matter how hard I try, but I get my own back by getting them to try to say ’squirrel’ – try it on any French person you know.

At the hospital a guy sat up high behind a large counter looking more like a magistrate than a receptionist. He asked me for Jane’s försäkringskort, the Swedith equivalent of a National Insurance Card (there was no EHIC card then). I explained we did not have one and he then asked for her passport, which we had not thought to bring with us. I blustered that I didn’t realise we needed a passport to be treated when so evidently unwell. He stepped down from his Dickensian overseer’s chair and wandered off.

In a switch from the tradition I had now learned, he didn’t ask for her temperature but handed me a thermometer making clear we needed to record Jane’s temperature. The device was in a plastic bag, so I asked if I should unwrap it, No. I mimed putting it in my mouth and he mimed that it should be applied up the rear. As we had the kids with us, I found a side room for Jane to comply. While we did this, he had fabricated a försäkringskort for her with a number generated based around her birth date. I wondered if he had factored in her temperature too. So ‘Fru Denton’ was now in the system and we saw a doctor.

While Jane was still recuperating, I thought Benylin might help. So, I went to a Stockholm pharmacy, but they rather stuffily refused to supply it unless on prescription. I called by to see the factory nurse whose English was quite vague, and asked if she could give me a prescription. She picked up the phone and before I knew it two big guys were crowding me. She had thought I was after drugs! A few days later I flew back to the UK for meetings and an overnight, walked into the first chemist and got Benylin without any problems and returned with it in my luggage. Drug running?

© Bob Denton 2019
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BYFLEET – 1974

9 Magdalen Close Byfleet, Surrey KT14 7SS – the right-hand semi, aerially showing the now mature ‘churchyard’ behind.

After many months of my spending weekdays in London we eventually moved into Byfleet, Surrey.

We had a great time while there but weren’t very happy when a graveyard moved next door to us. The house was a corner plot. It had a large garden that ran out to one side but, behind the house itself, it was quite shallow – say 20-feet. The border was an elm hedge but this was the era of Dutch elm disease and it was not faring well. Behind it was a large open field which perhaps 60-feet to the left was bordered by a school and some 150-feet or more across it was a church. Without warning the church had someone go bish-bash-bosh and it became consecrated land – they began to bury people in it. But they didn’t fan out from the existing cemetery 150-feet away from us, instead they ran the graves along the hedge at the back of our houses. We had people being interred 30-feet from our dining table!

A few doors from us a house changed hands and a new South American wife wailed when she saw an angel was installed on the other side of the gate at the bottom of her garden. Several people left the church in protest at its thoughtless act. It was tough as we had young children and out of respect felt obliged to pull them indoors whenever there was a burial behind the threadbare hedge. When we came to sell the house, we realised the real issue. Who would buy with this ‘facility’?

It was a tense time as I began commuting daily from Byfleet to Southend, starting with stretches of the busy A3 and finishing with the equally congested A127, not to forget crossing London in between.

We reached for Roget’s Thesaurus and after much debate concluded that ‘churchyard’ was the most pleasant synonym for graveyard. We described the field as the ‘extension to the churchyard’. There was only one first floor window at the rear of the house that gave a view of the graves. I placed bunk beds in front of it and developed the technique of extolling the virtues of a perfectly ordinary cupboard on the opposite wall to draw attention away from the window. One day I realised I had lost my audience. They were looking at a guy in full motorbike leathers and helmet, walking across the field holding a big bunch of flowers. Fortunately, the people who did buy dismissed the issue by amusedly asking if it was the ‘dead centre’ of Byfleet.

ASIDE: Our Byfleet property master bedroom had a double aspect and our last year there was 1976, one of the driest and warmest summers of the 20th century (and not equalled until 2018). Heathrow recorded sixteen consecutive days over 30C, five of over 35C. There was a drought, hose-pipe bans, an increase of 20% in deaths, a plague of 24-billion seven-spotted ladybirds and years of counting the costs of house subsidence.

Those steamy nights we left both windows open until one night when I woke to find something large and tacky on my bare chest. When I pulled at it, it clung to my chest hairs. I panicked and threw it on the floor and beat it to death with a slipper. It was a giant green grasshopper. Matt (five at the time) was hugely disappointed that I had disfigured it but still took the corpse to school. For the rest of that hot spell we kept both windows firmly closed. At least it wasn’t a spider – and ‘Alien’ had not yet been released!

 A giant green grasshopper

© Bob Denton 2019
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Demming ECRs

We developed two ECRs – the Hugin 100 which avoided the Christmas tree approach of cramming every possible feature onto it and the Hugin 300 which was programmable, offering many more trinkets and processes.

Hugin 100 illustration

Demonstrations of the prototype Hugin 300 ECR proved fraught. You would set the routines you wanted to show onto its RAM card, but invariably the battery would fail during an important demo and lose it. Helpfully, yet annoyingly, a series of warning lights gave a binary message as to any problems experienced; there was a two-light sequence that I almost came to expect.

Hugin 300 programmable ECR

A major demo at Jacksons the Tailor hit that very problem as the manager stepped from the presenter’s spot for me to take his place. He saw those lights and raised his eyebrows as we passed; he knew I was screwed. But I recalled a guy at Sweda who had experienced a similar problem. I copied him and presented the 300 without ever pressing a button – and got away with it.

I developed the technique of presenting a complicated demo that included slides, a flipchart (no PowerPoint back then) as well as the Hugin 300 itself. But when I had a board presentation at Currys, the electrical retailers, I hit a quite different problem.

I set up in the Currys’ board room and was seated in an anteroom as I heard the board assemble. Someone threw open the double doors but no-one introduced me, so it was a shaky start. I walked in, introduced myself and got into the three-media demo. It went perfectly, no battery problems. I was taking questions and I guess it was an overt sign of my beginning to relax that I parked part of my thigh onto the edge of the board table. A look of horror spread across the board members’ faces and without a word they rose, almost as one, and left the room. I’d had the audacity to sit on the board table. They would not take my calls following this event; any likely deal was dead. I did perhaps get the last laugh as much later while I was a director of Dixons we bought Currys and I metaphorically danced on their board table.

I seemed to specialise in issues with big name retailers. Prior to ECRs I had arranged a major meeting with Sainsburys. DCP, who was set to attend, was flying in from Indonesia late in the day. We were invited to have supper with board members at the top of their building. I arranged a helicopter from Heathrow to hustle my MD to the South Bank. Before all of this would unfold I was having lunch and spilt a full glass of milk over my suit trousers in our canteen. I had to sit behind my desk for much of the afternoon trouser-less while my secretary took them to a dry-cleaners. Not a great start.

I got to Sainsburys in good time and the helicopter link worked well and we were ushered to the lift up to the boardroom which was set for supper. The early conversation was pleasantries. We had just been served soup when their chairman switched to business rather abruptly. He stated that they would not do the deal for many 1000s of registers with Hugin unless we could offer all their branches full technical support on Saturdays.

I mentioned above that we were a company with two camps. In the Co-op camp were all our engineers, fully unionised and fiercely aggressive for their rights. Our current scheme was that each engineer was paid for a Saturday standby one week in four and this had worked well, particularly in supermarkets that could afford to lose one checkout for a day as they had many. The union reps had told us that if we took this Sainsbury deal then they would want all engineers to be paid for every Saturday and we simply could not afford that.

I had my soup spoon up to my mouth, lightly breathing on it to cool it down. DCP stood up and said ‘Well, good day gentlemen’ and promptly left. I recall briefly pondering whether to proceed and swallow the soup or lay my spoon down. I have no idea which I did, but I scuttled after DCP and caught up with him in reception. I was devastated. The deal and the meeting had taken many months to arrange. Thankfully, the Corps of Commissioners guy on the door politely approached us and said the board would appreciate us rejoining them. The chairman greeted us by conceding that they would accept our standby Saturday scheme.

ASIDE: For no good reason this meeting reminds me of an Aerofone investor meeting I had in Kleinwort Benson’s top floor London boardroom. It provided a really good view of London but, as this was just two days after the 9-11 attacks, attentions wandered as we fearfully watched every plane on approach to Heathrow until it had safely passed!

It was in my ECR role that I found myself first presenting papers at all sorts of conferences and meetings. As a result of our Co-op connection I found myself sharing stages with leading Labour Party theorists and pedagogues of the time, such as Shirley Williams and Barbara Castle. Though I would not have had the nerve of the Mayor of Scarborough who said there were now two castles in Scarborough, and he was sure theirs was the craggiest. Barbara smiled but I assessed her as capable of punching above her weight.

ASIDE: I came across a remarkable orator at around this time. Another West-Country guy on the Hugin team was also a Round Tabler and we (he, a friend of his and I) decided to attend the inaugural dinner for a new Table in Bagshot. We were unfortunately sold a pup and told that everyone would be in DJs, a common enough occurrence at Table events. Of the 200+ attendees just three of us were in DJs, all from the West Country, and we were ribbed all evening. Whenever someone tried to refer to the serious side of Tabling they would be shouted down, everyone calling out ‘Titbury’ (my work colleague and his friend were Tetbury Round Table members) until we stood up in our DJs to great ribaldry. Then they’d call out ‘Stockport’ as a guy from that there had been established as the one who had come furthest for the inaugural.

So just imagine how remarkable it was when a guy stood, told one joke then spoke authoritatively and quietly about Tabling’s charitable objectives. He gained total control of the rabble we had become. You got the impression that if he had asked us to march on some objective we would have risen as one and done so. I learned later he was a barrister and significant in various international youth organisations. I have never heard anyone exercise such control. Another speech that left its mark was made by Manfred Stolpe, not for his control but for its remarkable content (see later).

Appointment as Managing Director: Market Dev’n (Jul-1975)

© Bob Denton 2019
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Product Codes

Because Hugin had a concentric-circle bar code system, I was elected to the European committee that considered the approach to be used for the Standard Product Numbering Symbol (SPNS), aka the European Article Number (EAN) or Universal Product Code (UPC). The committee consisted of retailers, equipment manufacturers and food producers.

 EAN barcode

I flew out to an SPNS meeting in Amsterdam and arrived at almost the same time as my colleague from Sweden, Stig Fack. As I waited for my suitcase I saw him through a glass wall at the airport and he kept putting up two fingers of one hand and one from the other. It meant nothing to me and I had to wait until he caught up with me in the process.

England had played Czechoslovakia at Bratislava in a EUFA Qualifying Group the night before, and we had lost 1-2. It should have been played the previous night but heavy fog had stopped play. It was a pity the weather cleared up. Stig was enervated by our failure. The Swedes watched live matches from England every weekend and knew our teams and players.

England had gone ahead with a Mick Channon goal (his tenth for England). As we got into a taxi, the Dutch cabbie took up the tale, pointing out that Ray Clemence, our goalie, had a poor match – when the Czech goalie had been sent off after 32 minutes! The result meant it was likely we would fail to qualify for Euro ’76 – and sure enough, we didn’t. Of course, none of us expected that CZ would go on to beat the Netherlands after extra time in the semis and then beat Germany in the final – on penalties! –not quite so shameful.

I made a mental note to avoid travelling to Europe on days following an England match!

ASIDE: That year we holidayed in Sardinia – and I might have died there. We became friendly with an older couple (we were late 20s and they was early 50s). We competed at volleyball, shuffleboard and all else, and decided to share a car hire to see more of the island. On the north-western tip we stopped at a spectacular beach, its white sands turning the sea turquoise. As we set down our gear, he challenged me to swim to the island that appeared to be just off the beach. He stole a headstart hitting the water perhaps ten paces ahead of me and I tried but failed to close that gap.

We both came to realise there was a strong current whipping from east to west and it was all we could do to swim into it and hold our position relative to the beach. We both took turns to float and wave our arms to the beach but our wives just waved back, not realising our problem. After a rest we concluded that we should swim with the current but try to cut across to the far tip of the island. We had worked out that if we missed it the next landfall would be the Balearics, hundreds of miles distant.

A herd of sea urchins (yes that is their collective noun)

With great relief we just managed to hit the westernmost point of the island where I promptly stood on a sea urchin! We wandered back to the easternmost point, collecting flotsam and jetsam such as netting, footballs and cork and constructed a small raft, which we launched from there. We finally hit the rocks at the extreme western point of the beach, in my case to hobble back to our families. We were very lucky. The hotel nurse extracted as many of the spines as she could after soaking my foot in a bidet, but even many months later I would brake in my car and discover a new piece of spine.

© Bob Denton 2019
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Swedish Management

The second-in-command in Stockholm was Rudi Fjellsater a charming old boy with thick unruly salt and pepper eyebrows and an impish glint in his eye. Behind him in his office he had a huge oil canvas portraying a blasted heath. I mentioned that it was very depressing image, and he said that was the point as it made him look interesting by comparison. Darts had just taken off in the bars of Stockholm and Rudi had a party trick. He would stand at the oche looking perplexed and passing the three darts between his hands, then take one and throw it to stick in his leg. The room breathed in sharply – he had a wooden leg.

The top man was Erik Winberg, a Laplander and a man of very few words. He had a strange management technique. We would have six to ten things we wanted to discuss while in Stockholm and would assemble supporting materials. Inevitably these were more detailed and plentiful for our pet subjects. We would raise one such topic and be ready for battle to ensure our viewpoint was accepted. Erik would simply say ‘Yes. Next.’ You felt cheated after all that preparation, and then he would challenge you on a topic for which you were less prepared. It was as if he could smell each topic’s relevance to us.

His other oddity was that there was no corporate organisational chart. None of his senior people had an identified formal role, they were just known to be senior. They were allocated specific tasks by Erik from time to time. For example, one guy went to work one morning and found he was to leave that day to run the Brazil plant for several months.

This confused meetings but DCP developed a technique for us to keep ahead of the game. We each had an acetate folder with the corner cut out for ease of access to the inserted multiple documents. When we encountered a senior manager and established his current responsibility, we could turn to the acetate wallet where we had our data organised and discuss it towards some conclusion. It never worked for Erik however.

ASIDE: One senior manager had gone to Rome to audit the Italian operation. He cornered me to ask whether in England we tended to believe what our colleagues told us, particularly if two or more had said the same thing. I said that this was mostly the case. He said that in Rome he learned that even if half a dozen came in and independently asserted a fact, he had to assume it was a conspiracy.

Another oddity was when Erik took us and our clients to dinner, invariably at the Stallmästaregården restaurant on the edge of Stockholm. We would receive the large carte in Swedish and ask our hosts to explain each item. When we thought we’d worked our way through it, Erik would then order his choice on our behalf. It was worse with drinks. Again he would order for everyone – starting with an Old Fashioned.

ASIDE: The Swedish custom of ‘skål’ was still respected by Erik. This tradition meant only a senior person could skål a junior without which you were unable to take a sip yourself. As a foreigner if you reached for your glass one of the senior guys would usually cover your faux pas by skål-ing you. This involved bringing your glass up to your chin with your forearm horizontal, one at a time looking directly into each person’s eye, saying skål and drinking. Bring it back down to your chin, forearm again horizontal, look at each person once more and then place the glass back on the table. It is said that this was a custom to control the drinking of younger men at the table, particularly at military dinners. The outcome was that most of your drinks were cleared away unfinished because you did not receive enough skåls – a waste of good, and in Sweden, incredibly expensive alcohol.

Erik’s alternative invitation was to call in several of the firm’s female employees and despatch them to a company summerhouse to prepare dinner. We men would finish our business and travel to the summerhouse to eat. Swedish sexism was alive and well!

These summerhouses were on the archipelago of islands beside Stockholm and they had spawned the Ikea business. Stockholmers wanted simple furniture and décor for these part-time homes. Their use was much extended by the midnight sun in those climes. In June/July the sun dips, barely reaching the horizon before it rises again.

ASIDE: All Swedish tents were a dark sludgy green in colour. I felt sorry for one marketing guy who decided to colour his tents yellow to stand out from the competition. But it meant people buying them couldn’t sleep during midnight sun. I took a young engineer to Stockholm to be trained in the factory and when we flew home he explained he couldn’t sleep in his hotel because it had no curtains. He hadn’t noticed the customary venetian blind built in between the two panes of double-glazing.

One of my fondest memories was the August season for kräftfiske (crayfish), when you are supposed to take an akvavit shot with each claw – impossible to achieve. You have to drain the shot in one and invert the glass on your head, giving an akvavit shampoo to cheats. The shots you manage to drink are accompanied by the song Helan Går which essentially proclaims that he who doesn’t down the drink in one will never quench his thirst again – not for that evening anyway.

© Bob Denton 2019
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Swedish language

Swedish has a small vocabulary and while I was there I did my bit to help them out. English has so many words for good, great, fab, super, cool, bad, that are used in various eras and by different age groups. Swedish had just three that I encountered – good was bra, very good was mycket bra (much good), or fantastisk (fantastic).

The lack of vocabulary was particularly noticeable with expletives. There was only jävlar, meaning something like damn, while referencing the devil, and one other word, ruder and much less used, referring to female genitals. When you emerged from a frustrating meeting, neither was powerful enough. I therefore made it my mission to give them some useful Anglo-Saxon words that would relieve frustrations more effectively.

ASIDE: Languages have never been my strong point. I learned French at school and tried to master Spanish while we lived there, but this has left me with a confusion about gender. I never understood how a table in several languages changes with context. For me it’s a table, and is still a table whatever’s happening to it, around it, on it or whosoever is doing whatever to it. A friend Cameron married a French woman and took French nationality, living for a long time in France, yet he shared my problem. He invented the word ‘lu’. If he could not work out whether a word should be ‘le’ or ‘la’ he said lu with a big smile and most French people would forgive him.

Perhaps I should confess here to two early French howlers. We were driving through France and I stopped to ask a local the way. He shrugged his shoulders and said ‘Tout droit, tout droit’. I wound up the window mumbling ‘Bloody idiot. If I keep turning right, I’ll end up back here!’ From the backseat my daughter Sarah, probably around ten years old, explained it meant straight on. On another occasion Jane and I were at a marché aux puces in Paris (see how I masterfully avoided the le/la trap!). We were lost and looking for the way out when I saw a sign saying Prêt-à-Porter and have never been allowed to forget that, in my stress to find an exit, I interpreted this to mean ‘near to the door’ (près de la porte). My consolation is that inability with languages is a fairly common English trait – or is that me wallowing in my ignorance?

I once took a Geordie from Jackson the Tailor to Stockholm and it was remarkable how many of the old words his family preserved turned out to be Swedish, clearly derived from Viking roots. Children are barn just as Scots use bairn, kyrka is church, just like kirk. There is a simple meal in Sweden that chops up yesterday’s leftovers – meat, potatoes and other vegetables topped off with an egg or beetroot. It is pyttipanna and the word spoken by a Geordie is instantly recognisable to Swedes.

ASIDE: DCP still had a streak of Paddington in him and reacted to the snobbishness in the Operakällaren, a top Stockholm restaurant. He ordered pyttipanna and a lett öl, low-alcohol beer; they reluctantly agreed to provide both. After his meal he insisted on calling the chef to the table to compliment him loudly on the best pyttipanna he had ever tasted, while I hunkered down in my chair.

© Bob Denton 2019
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Living with DCP

DCP was not the luckiest with homes.

He rented ‘The Mount’ in Bexley that was the lodge house to the singer Dorothy Squires’s large home. This ends up being an anecdote within an anecdote. The inner tale is of a fire that gutted the main house and the lodge; the outer tale is of his houseguest at the time.

A much younger Dorothy Squires
while married to Roger Moore

DCP was not a morning person. It was usually mid-morning before the glaze in his eyes departed and he was on it. So, imagine him wet shaving early one morning and hearing his lady, Inger, screaming from upstairs. Still not fully awake he looked up to see her throwing down her furs and other possessions. He did later recall seeing flames across the ceiling above her but he was then distracted by screams from outside. It was Dot’s sister screaming that Dot was inside the well ablaze main house.

DCP smashed a small window beside the front door, putting his bare fist through the glass (still not fully awake), but then the sister pulled him to the rear door again saying Dot was inside. He kicked that in with his bare feet and pulled Dot out. However, having put a hole front and rear there was a whoosh and the fire accelerated. Dot lost all her celebrity paraphernalia, her mementoes of Roger Moore – and her dogs!

Several of us were called down to the house where everyone was safe but all possessions, except Inger’s, were lost in the fire. They were in nightclothes out on the lawn and we were despatched to purchase clothes, shoes etc for them to be able to leave the scene.

The ‘outside anecdote’ was that the newly appointed worldwide president of Hugin and his sons were houseguests at the time. DCP and others had believed him to be in line for the role and were extremely disappointed when a local Swede, previously from IBM, got the job.

The new president was on his first visit to see the UK operation, acknowledging that DCP had been his sternest opponent for his role. He came for a board meeting but was accompanied by his two teenage sons in order to take a short break.

On his first day one of our team drove them around London to see the sights. Unfortunately they were in the Tower of London when an IRA bomb exploded, killing one and injuring forty-one others. We promptly postponed the board meeting and for their safety transported them DCP’s home to at Bexley – which was gutted overnight. They lost everything they had with them.

Having decided it was best for them to go home, we cancelled the board meeting. As a colleague was parking up in Heathrow Terminal Two to drop them off a small IRA bomb exploded there!

The number two in Sweden telexed DCP saying, ‘What? You missed him three times?’

Arden’s House, Faversham

As a result of that fire, DCP next rented Arden’s House in Faversham from two teachers who based themselves for ten months of the year in Geneva. I mentioned above flying back from Sweden for an overnight stay. This was at Arden’s House, originally the guest house of Faversham Abbey, adjoining the outer gatehouse and with a ten feet thick outside wall. The abbey was founded in 1148 CE.

The house still has priest holes from Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries (late 1530s) and boasts an Elizabethan dining room. Thomas Arden was a former mayor and controller of the port of Faversham, a member of the Confederation of Cinque Ports, though not one of the actual five. He had a role with the government office that was selling off Henry VIII’s confiscated monastic properties and as an early piece of ‘insider trading’ acquired the house, hence its name. He was not alone in being involved in such shady deals during this period.

I had stayed at Arden’s House before with Jane and the children. The room used both times had originally been a small chapel and later set aside for the use of abbey guests. This time, when I put my overnight bag and briefcase in the room I must have been unsettled enough to leave the light on and the door open. Over supper there was something DCP asked me to show him which was upstairs in my briefcase. I went to get it from my room.

The door was closed but it was an old house and I was not concerned. The light was off but I was still not disturbed. The bulb may have blown or fused. When I crossed the room it was freezing cold and as I bent down to take my briefcase I sensed a presence and unable to move. I saw and heard nothing and it took all my energy to shake off the feeling.

I told my colleagues about my experience and none of us was prepared to go back up there. We played cards all night. What really surprised me was that both my colleagues confirmed that they believed in ghosts whereas I had firmly denied their existence before that night. DCP and Inger had felt a presence in the house before but it gradually became more intrusive, resulting in neither of them wishing to be alone in the building. I started to research the subject in general and the house in particular.

I soon established that Thomas Arden had been murdered in the parlour of the house on 15th February 1551. I will leave conspiracists to contemplate that this was 420 years to the day before a date that had been so significant for me – Decimalisation Day. And there’s that 42 again! Oh, I didn’t leave it to conspiracists.

Thomas was murdered by his wife Alice who, escaping a dull marriage of convenience, was having an affair with Richard Mosbye. Alice was described as ‘young, tall, and well favoured of shape and countenance’. Mosbye, a ‘black, swart man’ who was previously servant to Sir Edward North, Alice’s father in law’ had ‘settled as a tailor in London’.

Through the local goldsmith, Mosbye hired some dubious guys from the village to kill Thomas for £10. If the account using this illustration is to be believed, several domestic staff were enjoined in the crime too. Thomas was strangled and his throat cut while playing backgammon with Mosbye.

Alice and Richard were incriminated and burned at the stake (Alice at Canterbury); the two villagers were hung and drawn. The two domestics were also executed in what became a notorious crime of the 16th century. An early account suggests one of the killers was called Black Bob and I might assume that this was significant, perhaps the reason it was I who woke the ghost of Thomas. However, more recent research reveals he was actually Black Will of Calyce [Calais]!

In 1592 a play called Arden of Faversham was produced. Some suggest Shakespeare’s hand is revealed in the work, others believe it may have been a collaboration in which Shakespeare was a co-writer. It was later adapted by George Lillo. There are two contemporaneous formal accounts – Holinshead’s Chamber Book of Days and the Newgate Calendar. The details of the murder are described differently in these but essentially the players and the outcome were the same. Holinshead however includes a local rumour that ‘no grass would grow on the spot where Arden’s dead body was found’. The play has occasionally been performed in those very gardens.

DCP called the owners who confirmed they knew about the ‘presence’ and refused his offer to have it exorcised. But as DCP and Inger found it more intrusive, neither would stay there alone and they soon moved out.

But was it Thomas Arden who grabbed me? I’ve no idea, though it shook up my beliefs. The real surprise was that when I told friends of this, many of them were not only ready to accept the tale but had their own experiences to relate. I read widely at the time in an attempt to rationalise what had happened, but by the mid-1980s the tale had merely become a distant amusing anecdote and I was busy.

Imagine my surprise when some years later Cameron Macsween, a pal and colleague, introduced me to his new French female bestie who was a medium. Before saying Bonjour or mwah-ing me she asked me ‘Why won’t you help him?’ She went on to say someone from the ‘other side’ was asking for my assistance and I had to help him. I politely explained that when watching a horror film and seeing one of the cast heading to some dubious room I am the one shouting out that the solution is simple – don’t go there.

But it got me thinking and I checked through my diaries to find it was the 20th November when I had that experience and bizarrely I realised I had since then had three licence endorsements (the only ones to-date in 50+ years of driving). These were on 20-Nov 1978 and 20-Nov 1979. I naturally stopped driving anywhere on that day but later forgot and my third was on 20-Nov 1984. Now that’s quite spooky!

There is no way you will ever find me anywhere near Faversham on or around that date! Yet that night was not all bad news. None of us would go upstairs that night and instead we played cards – I won enough to take my family on holiday to Greece.

‘That holiday’ in Greece 1974

ASIDE: At around this time there was a memo exchange between Bob Holmes and DCP that was a classic. (Bob was the third person at Arden’s House that night). He sent a memo to DCP outlining some savings he had found from the budget. DCP replied that while laudable it wasn’t enough for Bob to get a new car. Fairly soon thereafter Bob found further savings and persisted, saying that as DCP came to mention it, his company car was overdue for renewal. DCP wrote back using a popular saying of the time that ‘his answer had two Ls in it’ – Bob replied thanks, he hadn’t even contemplated a Rolls Royce.

© Bob Denton 2019
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Back to Hugin and the ‘70s for one last anecdote. We were having a meeting to consider our branding because few could get the pronunciation of our name right – it was Hew-ghin or they called us Huggins, Hoogin, Huge-gin… In the meeting someone asked its derivation and an older member of the Co-op team mumbled ‘It’s Odin’s raven, innit’.

I did a bit of research and found he was right. The Norse god Odin was blind and thus sent his ravens, Hugin and Munin, to fly around the world and report back to him. Of course, it didn’t escape our notice that Hugin cash registers did much the same thing for retail managers.

Hugin and the legend of the raven

We put that raven everywhere – on brochures, in adverts and mailers, and even on the bonnet of our two hundred service vehicles.

I remember one service engineer buttonholing me saying it was humiliating to drive around with the image on his vehicle. I asked him why and he told me people kept asking him what it represented. I asked how he responded and he replied, ‘I tell them about Odin’s raven.’ I said, ‘QED!’

 Flower power and the bees’ knees in 1975

© Bob Denton 2019
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