6. MR TOBIAS’S SWEET SHOP

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You will notice a new header. As our course progresses, relevant SATORI designs or influences will regularly punctuate the stories. The relevance of this one will become apparent when we move to one of the most enjoyable jobs Michael and I ever did.

To start with, SATORI had its fingers in lots of pies, unsure of which direction to take. We did graphics for a couple of cool fashion labels, painted a Californian mural on a massive wall at a restaurant called Pacific Plaza in the West End, worked with Christopher again at a club called Madisons in Camden Lock and on various projects which were fun and challenging.

A highlight of that period – and a labour of love – was designing and painting the shopfront for our local newsagent. ‘Mr Tobias’s Sweet Shop’ is an intrinsic part of World’s End’s colourful history and Tony Tobias was its technicolor proprieter. Outside the shop on Kings Road (a little down the road from Vivienne Westwood’s ‘Seditionaries’) was a sign which read ‘UNDER JEW MANAGEMENT’. Inside the shop was an insane Community Centre for schoolchildren, misfits and waywards, animals, locals in general, and the elderly sometimes ‘resting’ with a cup of tea. It was almost impossible to leave Tony’s without a smile on your face.

Inside the door were half a dozen crisp boxes. If you were local you avoided one of them at all costs. If you weren’t and decided to fish out a packet of Salt and Vinegar from its box you were in for a surprise. Inside it lived The Biggest And Grumpiest Cat On Earth (I can’t remember his name – are you out there Tony?). He didn’t like being disturbed and if you didn’t get bitten you’d almost certainly receive a hefty swipe from a paw the size of a dinner plate.

The Tony Tobias Fan Club ranged from 9 to 90, had immensely different life styles and philosophies and probably, in our ludicrously litigious and protective Nanny State, be regarded as an evil gathering which would inevitably cause long-term, irreparable, psychological damage to all involved. Exactly the opposite was true of course. Children had respect for different generations, potential social problems were often solved by discussion and humour and many practical problems (particularly for the elderly) were solved by the pool of skills the Community Circus provided. Broken bicycles were repaired in exchange for fixing a broken window, legal advice was given in return for painting and decorating, baby-sitters were easily found in emergencies and if someone was ill Tony was probably the first to know and care would be organised. It was not uncommon then (it still happens) to see someone taking dinner across the road to a neighbour who was bedridden. *

One day I learnt the true meaning of the phrase ‘Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover’. It was early in the morning and the Sweet Shop was heaving – kids on their way to school, builders buying newspapers, the odd scream erupting from Salt and Vinegar and a woman (probably in her eighties) at the front of the queue was fishing for change in her purse. Tony reached below the counter and held up, for all to see, the centre-fold of a gay magazine, making hilarious comments on it. The photo was about as explicit as a photo of a muscular naked man could be and Communal Embarrassment for the old lady rippled around the shop. People coughed, turned away, and tried vainly to become invisible. A few expressed outrage and others left the shop unable to cope. If they’d waited a moment or two however, they would have seen the old lady look up from her purse, aware of the uncomfortable silence and stare at the centre-fold. ‘Blimey,’ she said, ‘I wouldn’t mind that between two slices of bread!’

The structure of the double shopfront was essentially Victorian – an excess of moldings, decorative cornices, pilasters and protruding blocks of wood surrounding the shop name facia. It was an ideal canvas on which to paint an extravagance of colour. It was a Sweet Shop after all so Michael and I took a box of Liquorice All-sorts from Tony and headed off to our local DIY paint-mixing store. We got back, laid out the tins in a row, opened the lids and nearly threw up. Shocking Pink, Lime Green, Lemon Yellow, Electric Blue, Tangerine and Chocolate Brown is not your average architectural colour combination but they perfectly reflected the larger-than-life character of the shop. The project took weeks longer than it should have done – extended tea-breaks in and outside the shop were essential and, unable to resist the opportunity, with Tony’s help, work often turned into Laurel and Hardy street theatre where ladders, planks, ropes and paint-tins took centre-stage in scenarios devised to play practical jokes on innocent passers-by. Of all the jobs I’ve ever done it was undoubtedly one of the funniest and if work can be as enjoyable as life outside work – what can be better?

Mr Toby facia plain

*Joy of joys … I didn’t expect to find it (I’ve looked before) but there it was – recently posted! There was a documentary about the 31 bus and at the southern end of the route (World’s End) was TONY TOBIAS’S SWEET SHOP. Tony features heavily in the last 10 minutes of PART 2 and watching it you will see exactly why he deserves his reputation …

watch here

One more mention of Country Cousin. One of the staff there became a life-long friend and a local neighbour twice. It was Tim who introduced me to Tom Robinson and the chance to design an album sleeve for his new band – SECTOR 27. It took several years after arriving from India to get to SECTOR 27 so, although it’s taken a while to get here, the characters on the way have all contributed to the journey.

Next … DEFINITELY(!) SECTOR 27 as well as PETE BURNS and the THOMPSON TWINS.

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24 Responses to “6. MR TOBIAS’S SWEET SHOP”

  1. Dorinda Says:

    Hi Andi- that nasty kitty was called The Professor- he was a tabby and he had circles around his eyes that made him appear as if he was wearing a pair of glasses and reminded us all of an intellectual, and it was because of these ‘furry spectacles’ he was named the Professor….xxxDorinda

  2. Ricky C-M Says:

    He was evil that cat – got me a couple of times! I remember once just hanging out when a builder came in – Hard hat, tool belt, and Tony launched into one of his campest monologues! I was mortified! The builder didn’t know where to look! Genius! We’re trying to work out if the shop is now a chemist’s or an antique shop!

  3. Simon Rudgley Says:

    I spent 2 years of my childhood between the ages of 9-11 in Tony Tobias sweet shop had many *firsts* their….

    1st cigarette
    1st sight of a porno mag
    1st sight of a gay porno mag!
    1st electric shock from the space invaders machine
    1st time seeing a tiger (the professor!)
    1st sight of drugs being taken and sold

    Not a bad preperation for adult life!!

  4. robin Says:

    Just brilliant! thank you Airfix… What a great snapshot of the “old” World’s End, especially seeing the power station at the end of the film, and no Chelsea Harbour… In the days when the Sweeney would be shot in the old car scrap yard down in Lots Road….
    And if Mr Tobias returns, that would be just the best thing ever!!!

  5. Danny Says:

    I worked round the corner in Lots Road in 1982-1983…what a weird shop it was…remember him telling me how he used to tell the old bill to fuck off. felt like a scene from Oliver to me.

  6. robert griffiths Says:

    the shop was always bubbling with energy and people talking buying and laughing, wish i could go back in and see it again

  7. Jerry Tobias Says:

    Many fond memories of that shop too. Remember spending hours in the cellar – in a good way before anyone arrests you Tony. It was full of toys and all kinds of stuff. The shop also did some top range skateboards in the late 70s!

    Professor was Teddys son and was born on my bed in Shepperton whilst i wasy lying in it!

  8. Tony Tobias Says:

    Foot note. Many of the folks who used the shop are now my Facebook friends. Infact a few weeks ago my long term partner Dixine, and I were at a Billy Ocean gog in Hayling Island, as we walked across the dance floor, a woman came up and asked me if I was Tony, etc etc. It turned out she and the frnd with her were from Chelsa and used the shop!!! The lady also went to school in Chelsea with Dixine’s sister Janet. What a nice surprise. In addition Dixine who works with Billy, had her birthday that day, and Billy dedicated a song to her, in front of everybody. Happy days.

  9. Alex McKenna Says:

    That WAS a fabulous film – just watched it again on the BBC site. Captured that period veery well. That shop looked wonderful… Kings Road has become as bland as everywhere else now. I wonder if that centrefold was in one of my old magazines? Zipper, Him were two of mine.. there were others!

  10. Caedmon Says:

    Hey Tony, great to know you’re doing well. I used to stop by for my cigarette papers back in the early 1980s.
    Lovely evocation Mr Airfix and it was great design work too.
    The shop gets a brief mention in my book JImi Hendrix London.

  11. Paul Ride Says:

    I used to ‘hang around’ on Tony’s shop, and loved the Tony Tobias ‘Bottle Test’ that he used to stagger ‘Passing Trade’ with. Tony would be standing behind the counter and the unsuspecting customer would select a bar of chocolate or a bag of crisps. When the customer went to pay for it Tony would ask “Has that passed the bottle test?” “What’s that” said the customer – at this point Tony would grab a bottle of soft drink and smash the article to pieces!!!

    The look on the punters face was absolutely brilliant, everyone in the shop (the Misfits) would fall about in hysterics, and Tony would then congratulate the punter for not buying the sub-standard item and offer another in its place!

    I bought a Panther 650 (Sloper) from Tony in the 70’s, and still live (in the now ‘sterile’ Lots Road Triangle – as Estate Agents like to call it!)

    Hi Tony, hope you’re well…x

  12. Brian Bailey Says:

    For Tony Tobias from Brian Bailey. I met you first when I was with Ann Sarah Seymour from Brickbarn Close. Woud love to hear from you sometime at connidown201010@yahoo.co.uk

  13. Dave miles Says:

    Hello tony just got a computer and am learning I of course remember the shop very well some very funny times hope to catch you at goodwood max respect dave with the 400/4

    • Tony Tobias Says:

      Hi Dave. Great to hear from you. We ran the Harrods annex, good old days. I will be at Goodwood for both events, may go on my ‘Bros’ 650. Take care bro.

  14. Tony Tobias Says:

    Hi everybody. It’s great to relive the good old day. Brian of course I remember you, and Paul, that Panther was a bugger to start. I am now working in Chelsea and Teddington. In the Motorsport biz. I am on Facebook, so please take a look, and join up. Love all you people, made me what I am today.

  15. Adam hayes Says:

    31bus doc now on iplayer, how I found this site

  16. Tony Tobias Says:

    This is Tony, I work in Chelsea again. it still has the same magic. Sad that so many of the wonderful people I knew, are not around there anymore. Love you guys Especially Andy Airfix. What a great artist.

  17. Chris Says:

    Hi Tony
    Just saw the 31 bus route on iplayer – I think they saved the best till last!! I hope you never got round to growing a beard – you have a lovely face and a nose to be proud of – I hate ‘manicured’ faces. Hope you’re still keeping well.

  18. whereshollie Says:

    I never knew the famous sweet shop but came across this via a fab documentary film from 1985, now on iplayer. Some of you may find it interesting if you’ve not already seen it (from 42 minutes) http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0074ry7/to-the-worlds-end-scenes-and-characters-on-a-london-bus-route#group=p00synd3

  19. james Says:

    Just watched the program, loved it, brought back many a happy memory. Used to get the number 11 bus to school each day, just outside the shop. Very happy to hear that Mr Tobias is doing well. best of luck to you Tony, your one in a Millon, thank you.

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