16/09/2021

Prism demise and aftermath

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Richard and I fell out on 31st October 1984 and for the very first time the 60:40 (he-me) relationship that we had happily operated upon was referenced. That is, he invoked his majority and I walked. But quite quickly thereafter the delicate balance of our arrangement with Sinclair also fell apart.

Behind this was something we only learned much later. Sinclair had done a deal to save money with its appointed manufacturers (Timex and Thorn-EMI) by removing elements from the expected quality assessment procedures of their finished products – this delivered them savings of just pence per unit, yet significant across the numbers being sold. Prism did not know this but soon felt the impact. Suddenly several multiple retailers were experiencing high returns’ rates, customers returning their Spectrum because it did not work when they plugged it in. Some retailers recorded 40% returns. Sinclair denied there was any manufacturing issue, claimed these were no-faults-found or finger-trouble.

If a retailer experienced that degree of faulty product, they had a simple response, they didn’t pay Prism. They didn’t hold back payment just for the faulty percentage, they held back all of the shipment’s payment. If Prism was not being paid then it could not pay Sinclair. So the delicate relationship Prism: Sinclair disintegrated and the Romalpa Turbo process was activated.

This was three months after I had left, Sinclair refused supply to Prism in January 1985, which led to its receivership. Romalpa Turbo had Sinclair scurrying for Prism’s stock and receivables because they now had no distribution.

Clive Sinclair and Alan Sugar doing their de

Sinclair Research didn’t survive this either. It was acquired by Alan Sugar’s Amstrad the following year.

ASIDE: Several years later I approached a NatWest branch in Covent Garden with a business plan looking for financing. The manager listened and rejected it, had he left it there then that would have been the end of it. But he leant forward and said he would never back anything I did, because he had been a high-flyer at the bank’s regional level, but had missed the Romalpa Turbo clause which placed Sinclair ahead of the bank in the Prism receivership.

As a result, he had been demoted to become a mere branch manager, and he blamed me as one of its principals, notwithstanding my having left the organisation well before its demise. This worked in my favour because I complained to NatWest HQ and got something you never expect, a letter from the bank absolutely absolving me of any blame in the receivership. I never learned where that manager ended up as a result of his outburst, but I imagine it was a branch rather less prestigious than Covent Garden.

There were several intriguing issues that emerged from the demise. The first was that, after I had left and before the receivership, Richard signed a logistics deal with a large Irish family from the Kings Cross area, promising them exclusivity for Prism’s transportation business. They bought an expensive new truck, but in no time there was no Prism transportation for them to perform, and they remonstrated, but by then the receiver was in charge.

They waited outside the Mora Street offices of Prism and grabbed Richard as he left one evening and tried to bundle him into a vehicle. He fought them off, but, in the fracas, he had suggested that I was to blame. At the time I was angry to hear this false claim, but I guess you try anything in those circumstances.

The first I heard was when I received a phone call at home from someone saying I owed his family money. I naturally asked who he was and for what, but he would not tell me, so I said this is ridiculous, tell me who you are, or else how will I know what this is about. He would only say that I should ask my mate Hease, he would explain. I called Richard and he told me of the attempted abduction and gave me the number of a guy at the Met looking into this.

I called the police guy and he explained they were a ‘known’ family and this was probably one of several uncles who had called to try to muddy the waters as to who they were. My conscience was quite clear, I had not entered into the deal with them and had been gone from Prism for over six months by this time.

A day or so later I received a second call and despite expecting it I had not really resolved quite how I would handle it. To my surprise something inside me flipped, after explaining that this was all after my time at Prism and that I had informed the police, I then found myself shouting down the phone that I was bigger and nastier than Richard and if they came anywhere near me or mine I would [expletives and threat deleted]! For the next week if I saw someone sat in a car near home, I got the collywobbles, but I never heard from them.

The second issue was the Mora Street premises. We had rented these from the owner of the Rochford Plants company, they rented or supplied house plants and fixturing to corporates. The lease had a dilapidations clause that said we would be responsible for any damage or exceptional deterioration to the premises. Being a young and fast-growing company, we had decorated it throughout, patched and then repaired the roof, added sub-divisions (tastefully) and had spent profligately on the look and feel of the premises.

So, imagine the surprise when the three principals of Prism got a dilapidations’ claim for £186,000. This became protracted and frustrating affair because the principal at Rochfords was unwell and he would go quiet for months and, just when you thought it was all over, it would re-surface.

Today I appreciate that you must take hundreds of photos and videos on taking possession, that you should keep a file of all the work, maintenance and decoration that you undertook so that at the end of the lease you can run another set of photos and have your case readily to hand. We knew none of this.

Our Chairman with his Mum

After taking advice, I blagged my way into the premises late one evening and took photos to highlight the work that we had effected, these showed our decoration was still intact and so on. In the end Ian McCorquodale, the Prism Chairman, and I agreed and met a negotiated £30k fee in full and final settlement. It took a year or two of Richard and I only talking through lawyers, before we recalled the good days more than the demise. We would regularly become partners over ensuing years.

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