The Woolworths Museum

Picot Mix Special Feature

Celebrating the career of Philip Picot who served F.W. Woolworth for 37 years from 1923 until 1960

Documents from the Woolworth Archives celebrating the long and dedicated career of Philip Picot, one of the chain's best loved and most fondly remembered managers of all timePhilip Picot 

An awkward, rather shy youngster who matured into a swash-buckling innovator in his early career, and the unlikely war hero of Royal Bognor Regis before his world was turned upside-down by a family tragedy.
Phil became one of Woolworth's
best loved and most fondly
remembered sons of all time.


Philip Picot was born in St. Helier, Jersey, Channel Islands in 1900, the youngest of five sons of Matthew J.F. and Elizabeth Picot. He also had a sister who was his senior by five years. The family relocated to Tunbridge Wells in South East England just a year later. Two of his older brothers, Frank and George, enlisted in the Army, one in 1910 the other in 1914. Frank became a Sergeant in the Royal Artillery Ordnance Corps before declining a Commission. George rose to be a Corporal in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. By 1917 all four older sons had answered Kitchener's call, making Mum and Dad determined to keep Phil out of harm's way. They mapped out a career path for him as a teacher like his sister Mary, or, if he preferred, an Accountant. Matthew and Elizabeth were relieved when the Armistice came and the Army discharged both Frank and George on medical grounds. At least all their children had survived and were on the mend. When the demobilized men decided to join the leading High Street retailer F.W. Woolworth and Phil showed an interest in following them, their parents agreed not to stand in the way. All three younger sons would support each other as they built careers as well-respected, popular, senior Store Managers during the 1920s.

In the years after the Great War. the F.W. Woolworth Threepenny and Sixpenny Store chain was expanding rapidly across the UK. It was on the look-out for bright, dynamic young men to join as learners for management. The regimented training would allow each recruit to find his own pace or level, with some making it to the very top and others never getting beyond the stockroom. The most successful tended to be bruiser-types who were confident, self-assured and worldly wise rather than book learnt, with ex military men particularly impressing the MD. Brother Phil didn't really fit the mould. He was kind, generous, softly-spoken and a little awkward. Yet by 1923 Frank had proved his worth to supremo Fred Woolworth, and only had to mention his baby brother's interest and by the end of the day the wheels were in motion to get the young man on-board. He started his training at Brixton in South West London the following Monday, as the most junior of four learners reporting to its Manager, Albert Truscott.

Phil kept his head down and did his best to learn. But over his first eighteen months was bullied horribly by the other three trainees. Their 'banter' went far beyond a joke, as they belittled and undermined him with the store staff, and deliberately set him up to fail on the jobs that Truscott assigned to him. The Manager had unwittingly made the problem worse, after observing that each learner reminded him of one of the characters of his favourite author, Charles Dickens. Picot's caricature as Mr. Bumble was the most cutting:


I fumble as I bumble, my stock bin's full of jumble,
when challenged I just mumble "what's wrong with being humble?"

The Manager was infuriated by his young charge finding the rhyme funny rather than annoying, shouting across the salesfloor:

You're heading for a tumble, and still you wouldn't grumble!


He shared his concern with his Superintendent, Ernie Cox, that Picot Jr. was in danger of becoming the oldest trainee in the Company, or failing to make the grade and being bumped down to stockroom management. Frank was disappointed that Phil hadn't let on that he was struggling, when he could so easily have shared a few tricks to put the "man-boy trainees" back in their place once and for all.

Cox's gipsy's warning came at an opportune time, just as Frank was starting work on his biggest project to date, transforming nearby St John's Road, Battersea ("34 Clapham Junction") into a Superstore. He borrowed Phil to assist, gave him the management support that he had deserved from the start to establish his authority, and watched as the young man quickly blossomed.

A Bradbury pound note (actually a 'snide oncer' returned by the bank as a dud, retrieved from brother Frank's collection) burning in a great piece of theatre when Phil Picot finally put the bullying man-boy learners from Brixton in their places and earned his spurs as a man ready for Woolworth's Store ManagementPhil's fellow learners from Brixton all volunteered to work nights for him, drawn by generous overtime, but larked around rather than doing the work. Phil made a very public show of burning the Bradbury pound notes that were intended for their pay packets, - each a week's wages - saying "Oh look there goes your bonus!", and all of a sudden the banter was no more. Phil arrived the next day to a hero's welcome after the night watchmen had spread the word that 'P2' had given the "annoying man-boys" their come-uppance and left them cherry-faced!

Phil Picot was able to blag a Morris 1 Ton Truck, on extended loan from the F. Kenning Company, allowing him to fetch stock from the Co-operative Warehouse and gather up fixtures for the new-look superstore at Clapham Junction, as well as a convenient way of shifting goods between the remote stockroom in Loughborough Junction and the original Brixton Woolworth's on the corner of Brixton Road and Atlantic RoadOn a roll, Picot Junior also persuaded the Warehouse Traffic Department to put him in charge of evaluating a new 1 ton Morris Van which Kenning's had sent on extended loan. He would use it to ferry goods between the Granary Warehouse at St Pancras, the new-look Clapham Junction, his home store at Brixton and its remote stockroom in Loughborough Junction. Cunningly, he also persuaded his boss, Albert Truscott, to pick up the running costs as a quid-pro-quo for the learner doing all the driving and maintenance, mainly in his own time.

Phil's elegant display of curtains, nets, material and curtain track moved the Woolworth home adornment department a giant step forward, showing just how far sixpence could go, by showing the price per yard or foot. It was admired by the MD, photographed and copied in many stores across the British Isles during the late 1920s and early 1930sThe MD William Stephenson was initially unimpressed that Phil had duped the Warehouse into thinking that it was brother Frank who had called and asked for the van, but gave grudging respect for the polite but spirited defence that the young man put up. He had only said "My name is Picot", How could the truth deceive? Unusually Stephenson authorised the van retrospectively, and, finding himself impressed by both Junior's window displays and stockroom standards at Store 34, told Supt. Cox that Woolworth's could cope with having three stores led by a Picot.


The F.W. Woolworth 3D and 6D Stores in High Street, Strood, Rochester, Kent, the 256th store to join the chain on Saturday 21 May 1927. The interior fitting, counter layout and staffing had all been overseen by Philip Picot, who was promoted from 'Ready Man' to Store Manager on opening day, and at the helm for the next five months.As a reward for his work on the extension at Clapham Junction, Superintendent Cox offered Phil a special arrangement for his first store, similar to one that Fred Woolworth had made with Frank at South Shields in 1921. Once he had trained one of the other Brixton learners to take on the Morris Van, he could take control of the whole project to open a store in Strood, a new town on the opposite bank of the River Medway to Charles Dickens' beloved City of Rochester. He would officially remain a 'Ready Man' on a fixed salary until April 30th before being promoted to Store Manager on a commission basis from May 1st. Phil leapt at the chance, knowing that being allowed to choose his own range, staffing structure and store layout was a big compliment.

Unusually the building at 69-71 High Street had been erected by another retailer, the Home and Colonial Stores, in 1924 as part of an expansion drive. Shortly after the Strood opening, the parent had acquired Maypole Dairies, leaving it with two stores close together, one on either side of the Medway bridge. Believing that the outlet in the city of Rochester had greater potential, it put the other one up for sale.

Woolworth quickly snapped up the remaining 98 years lease in Autumn 1926 and had set about adapting the building to its corporate look. Straight after Christmas, as Phil took temporary digs in the town and started a search for something more permanent, he took the helm of the project. Work commenced on installing new pitched pine flooring and the company's standard tin ceiling panels on the ground floor. It completed by the end of February, as the main construction team turned their attention to the stockroom, staff accommodation and cash office. During March standard rack-binning, baling machines and two Evans Express Goods lifts were installed, along with a Chatswood Safe, wall shelving and filing cabinets in the cash office, and a comfortable staff canteen. In parallel the shopfitting contractors set to work assembling the wall shelving and island counters on the salesfloor.

Map showing the relative location of the F.W. Woolworth stores grouped around the River Medway near the Royal Naval Dockyards at Chatham in the 1920s, showing Stores 256 Strood, Rochester, Kent, 17 Chatham, 177 Maidstone and 138 Gillingham. All three neighbours provided help to assist Phil Picot as he launched his new store in Strood.Opening and Preview Day newspaper announcement for the new Woolworth's in Strood, Rochester, Kent in 1927

Key staff recruitment was the first priority. Phil needed a Stockroom Manager and Senior Stockman, a Floor Walker, two Floormen and two Learners. The Superintendent gave him a head start, redeploying Learners from 17 Chatham and 177 Maidstone and recommending the Senior Stockman Man from 138 Gillingham for promotion.



Building on what he had learnt while setting up this displays at his brother's enlarged superstore at Clapham Junction in London, Phil Picot hired Annis Bolsher to be the window dresser to be part of the team at his own first store in Strood, Rochester, Kent. Annis poses for the camera alongside her first display of cups, saucers (3D the pair) and teaplates (2D each) from the main display window to the left of the main entrance. Sharp-eyed viewers may also spot the sign for the jewellery department, which was straight inside the main entrance.

Brother Frank travelled 100 miles round-trip from Portsmouth to Strood on each of the four weekends before Phil's store opened. Keen to get his brother off to a good start, he had tapped his extended network at District Office and John Snow's Buying Team at EO for special bargains. He was impressed by Junior's methodical and orderly planning, and his instructional technique showing people once and then standing back as they got the hang of each task. It seemed that the late nights at Clapham Junction had taught Phil many new tricks.

The greatest challenge for a manager was to hand-pick the right team to complement his skills, particularly in his first store. Phil had shown good self-awareness, hiring the most talented people he could wherever possible, but not afraid to take a risk on others, knowing they could be moulded to do many of the simple, repetitive tasks and to learn on the go. Home-grown talent was always particularly loyal. His top performer had been hired on a whim, and initially was paid the least. On a trip to the local pub Phil had admired the beautifully lettered menu boards and chalk drawings of the sandwiches, and the landlady had introduced him to Miss Annis Bolsher who had prepared them. Without hesitation he persuaded the young lady to 'go plural' also working for Woolworth's before the pub's first orders each day. She became his window dresser and display guru, and excelled in the role.

As the brothers surveyed the scene an hour before the top brass arrived for the opening, Annis's handiwork was everywhere - feature ends of best sellers, plinths of Frank's sixpenny wonders, gorgeous display windows, and magnificent stacks above the cornice, all finished off with some outstanding display boards on the side walls at the front of the salesfloor. Little wonder that the MD William Stephenson gave Junior such a vigorous handshake as he congratulated him on "an excellent store". He was glad that his faith had been rewarded, and could see what a difference the slightly longer period of training had made to the quality of the job done by Phil Picot. He would be climbing to the next rung of the greasy pole sooner than he might expect.


F.W. Woolworth's 3D and 6D Store in the popular south coast habour town and coastal resort of Poole in Dorset. pictured in 1928. At the time the Store Manager was Philip PicotAfter waiting four years for a store of his own, four months after opening, Phil was on his way up. At District Office the DM described 256 Strood as a 'tight ship', commending Phil for making it run like clockwork. He had shown he could do more.

Store 84 in Poole, Dorset needed him. It had opened in 1920 and had exceeded expectations. Its sales pattern had surprised executives. They had classified Poole as a resort that would bustle with holidaymakers and day-trippers in the Spring and Summer, but be quieter in the second half. But its profile showed it was also a harbour and fishing port, trading strongly all year round.

Hunting knives were one of the ranges inherited from the USA when the British subsidiary was first founded. Despite initial criticism from the Daily Mail that the Americans did not seem to understand that there were no wild bears in the City of Liverpool, the range had proved a surprise hit in the major industrial towns and seaports, where they proved useful for gutting fish and cutting baling twine. 
The team had not appreciated the scale of the local boat-building and maintenance trade, or been aware of the number of steamers and packet boats that used the small dockyard in the Harbour. Those business had a workforce with plenty of spending power. Everyday staples sold well all year round, along with snacks, sandwiches and drinks, speciality tools and hardware, as well as tinwares, cooking implements and the fishermen's favourite hunting knives.

Ever since it had opened, Poole's displays had been rebuilt each Spring to transform it into a resort store, crammed with toys, buckets and spades, sunglasses and cream and paperback job novels, before restoring the east coast or northern industrial town style of layout for the second-half. Phil's task would be to define a new 'best-of-both' look, that was easier and cheaper to maintain and, if possible, could grow the sales even further. He relished the challenge.

After careful consideration, he proposed to redeploy the walls of the store. Traditionally most of the space was for signs or duplicates of the products that were displayed between glass dividers on the personal service counters that ran parallel to the wall with a five-foot (1.5m deep) service area behind. Phil believed he could do better by establishing permanent displays of the seasonal ranges on one side of the store, and tools, hardware and kitchen goods on the other. At most bays shoppers would have to point at the items they wanted, but a few sections of service counter would be removed, creating new self-selection areas for those items that needed to be examined before being purchased. For example customers always inspected cards and postcards before buying, and wanted to flick the pages of books and feel the weight of a saucepan or the grip on a handsaw. Having made a selection they would pay at the adjacent counter, where the assistants would keep an eye out for anyone needing help (or discouragement from helping themselves).

Every week or two the exact selection would change - for example sunglasses and suncream would be replaced by rainhats, woolly socks and gloves in the winter, and some toys would be swapped for seeds in the early spring and shrubs in the autumn before the full selection of playthings was laid out ready for sale at Easter and Christmas. Xmas Decorations would be squeezed into the hardware and tools area, with cards and wrapping paper on the opposite wall, creating a festive area at the back of the shop, which would feature canopies of garlands and foil decorations to draw customers in. Instead of a full-scale relay of the store twice a year, a little would be moved every week, making items easier for shoppers to find and allowing the tasks to be done as part of people's day job rather than paying premium overtime to get it done out of hours.

Many of the ideas were brand new, and acknowledged to be true radical thinking by both Phil's Superintendent and his District Manager. Despite a few reservations they were happy to let him have his head, so long as he promised to submit 'S59s' (sales reports) whether performance was good, bad or indifferent. Many of the ideas that Philip Picot pioneered in Poole later became company standards. Few company workers in the 21st Century would have believed that many of the initiatives to reduce the number of counter moves in small stores in 2004-5 had first been introduced eighty years earlier!

Phil Picot had a special display fixture made for the right hand enclosed window at the front of the Poole Store. It allowed him to display a selection of the store's broad selection of hardware and tools, and to keep on churning the display to maintain interest. The goals was to attract fishermen, boat owners, handymen and people working in the docks to the great value range. Some pieces were a tenth of the price at rival stores.

Phil had a special display fixture made and marbled to go in the right hand display window at the front of the Poole store. Its compartments could do justice to virtually any piece from the "Cabinet Makers' and Builders' Hardware" (tools) range, clearly stating every price. Phil's goal was to tell passers-by about the very broad selection of Do-It-Yourself that could be found inside at a fraction of the price elsewhere. Some of the larger pieces were up to ten times dearer from a specialist, and probably no better made.


An elaborate window display of the wide selection of tinware that was available from Woolworth's in Poole, Dorset in 1928. The ranges proved particularly popular in the local fishing and handyman communitiesPhil kept his windows topical, dressing one or the other every fortnight. The tools display often featured a project or hobby as its main theme, while the home offer normally drew on the kitchen calendar, from marmalade making and pancakes in February to Turkey and Cake Tins in November and December. Sometimes a cheeky banner asked "why pay half-a-crown?", a dig at rival chain Timothy Whites and Taylors which charged up to five times more than the Woolworth's sixpenny limit.

The canvas in oils reproduced below, which used to be on the wall in the Directors' Dining Room at Woolworth House, shows the inside of a seaside store in around 1928 and is widely believed to be the branch at Poole shortly after Phil had made the layout changes. In an era of black and white photographs the oils give a magnificent injection of colour that help to illustrate the sheer magic of a trip to Woolies in its heyday.

A canvas in oils showing a seaside Woolworths in a harbour town in the late 1920s. The painting is widely believed to be Poole in Dorset during the time when it was managed by Philip Picot


The Southern Electric Railway has been a major feature of the High Street at Poole for more than a century. Left: 1920s poster promoting excursions to the Dorset harbour, top right: level crossing, middle right: quayside, bottom right: locomotive outside the main harbour customs buildingThe changes at Poole proved a big success, boosting business on the specialist tool ranges and attracting a loyal clientele of boat builders, dock and factory workers, many of whom also grabbed a sandwich, snack and hot drink when popping in first thing in the morning or at lunchtime.

Philip found Poole had winter day-trippers too. Some picked the resort as somewhere different for Christmas Shopping, often at Poole Pottery on the quayside, although some named "a Woolworths like no other" as the main attraction. Proving the 1920s weren't that different from the 2020s, many Londoners took the Southern Railway's super-cheap winter day-trips which let them stay warm all day without paying to put coal on the fire. Woolies was the cheapest place to grab a snack before a slower-the-better ride back to town!


A Southern Electric train map showing the location of the stations at Poole Harbour and Portsmouth Harbour stretching thirty five miles along the central south coast of England, a the store numbers of the major Woolworth stores. In 1927/8 the branch in Poole, Dorset (No. 84) was managed by Phil Picot, and the one in Commercial Rd. Portsmouth, Hampshire (No. 35) by his older brother Frank Picot.

Phil was happy and content in Poole and would gladly have settled there for a while. The staff were motivated and enjoyed the work, while the clientele seemed to be in less of a rush than in a major city or town.

For the first time since joining FWW, Phil and Frank found themselves living close together, allowing the two and their wives to meet up every other Sunday for lunch. Rather than take the car, they followed the daytrippers, taking a cheap-day return along the coast between Poole and Pompey, allowing them to enjoy a drink, some convivial conversation and a relaxed, scenic ride home as their food went down.

The new layout and product adjacencies proved too successful to allow Phil to rest on his laurels for too long. A creditable set of results at the year end of 1927 rocketed to an increase in net profit of over 50% the following year, when the store also recorded its lowest stock loss (shrinkage) since it had opened. By the end of January 1929 he found himself back in the smoke, at the helm of Harrow Road, one of the most profitable stores in West London.


The F.W. Woolworth 3D and 6D Stores in Harrow Road, London, W9, which opened to acclaim in November 1925 and quickly became established as one of the most popular and profitable stores in West London

At a stroke the DM had decided to give Phil Picot a huge move, supplanting him 110 miles north from a central south coast resort to a fashionable, up-market West London suburb. The reasoning is hard to fathom. Perhaps the DM hoped the young man would perform the same magic on the shrinkage as he had at Poole, but it is more likely that he just thought it would be good experience for his CV.

On the face of it the pay package was generous, particularly when adding in the extra 40% of a year's salary contribution for moving costs, but the reality was that the Woolworth expected its Managers to move within a month, selling their home and buying another, or cancelling their digs to move closer to their new job. They were expected to bring their wife and children with them, just like their furniture. No consideration was given to the kids - pulled out of school mid-term, or the wife who might have to abandon her job without notice, and would certainly have to sacrifice her circle of friends.

When they moved the Picots expected to be in Harrow Road for at least a year and probably two. Yet six months after moving in they were off again to Sittingbourne, barely a dozen miles from Strood, Phil's first store. He had gone full circle.


An oblique view of the F.W. Woolworth store in Sittingbourne High Street, next to the Rose Inn, once one of the most famous hostelries in England on the famous Roman Watling Street stretching from London to Dover via CanterburyWoolworth's had opened to acclaim at 46 High Street, Sittingbourne on 26 November 1927. The town was on the main A2 from London to Dover via Canterbury which the Romans had called Watling Street. Its major industries had produced many of the bricks that the capital was built with, and much of the paper that its business documents were printed on. For generations it had built barges and used these to send goods up-river to the Metropolis.

Like Poole, Sittingbourne was also a popular tourist spot, nestling amidst the cherry orchards of the garden of England, and had suddenly found itself without a Manager in the middle of the year. Phil had been sent to the rescue.

A close-up view of the elegant Georgian-style frontage of the Woolworth's store building at 46-48 High Street, Sittingbourne, Kent in around 1929Christians had first started to make the pilgrimage to Canterbury in the twelfth century after the brutal murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in the Cathedral in 1170AD. Sittingbourne became a favoured destination for a night's rest on the journey, later also welcoming those en route to the Continent on a Stage Coach from London down to Dover.

The DM hoped Picot would boost sales and profit by doing the same analysis he had done at Poole, before adapting the range and layout in Sittingbourne. His increasing maturity made him an ideal ambassador, who they hoped would play a significant role in the commercial life of the town as the Manager of its largest shop. As a reward for agreeing to move a second time, he was promised some time to settle, lay down roots and become embedded in the community, promoting the Kent tourist spot as an ideal place to visii and shop.


The original Woolworth's store in the historic High Street at Winchester, Hampshire in the early 1930s

Three years after moving to Sittingbourne, Picot was on the move again. For the third time his analytical and diplomatic skills would be needed for a challenging role in the historic Cathedral City of Winchester in Hampshire. The District Manager Frank Sprague took him to dinner to outline a particularly knotty problem. The FWW store was too small and old fashioned and needed to be expanded or moved, but the City authorities did not agree. They had a strong aversion to chain stores, which they felt were spoiling the area.

Further investigation revealed that the City Councillors had refused every application by a chain grocer, chemist and stationer in recent years to protect the family-owned character of the High Street. They had made an exception for Woolworth's only after the company sacrificed its normal store design completely and agreed to blend in fully to the existing streetscape. They argued that customers had still found it easily, keeping the tills jangling, while the Company felt there was vast untapped potential and that customer service was not as good as it should be because of space restrictions, and that the 'camouflage' meant that the store did not get its fair share of the tourist trade, sacrificiing its Quick Lunch potential to a local patisserie, with a newsagent dominating the sales of ice-cream, wafers and soft drinks.


Reborn with a fresh coat of render, restored window frames and a regilded fascia, Woolworth's in Winchester High Street facing the Pentice, pictured in the mid 1930s

Sprague felt that it was time for FWW to fight back, and believed that Philip was the man to lead the charge. On a familiar theme, the displays at Winchester would need to be rearranged to give more prominence to the seasonal offer. Once Picot had determined the optimum layout, the execution would be rather different from usual. Without making a song and dance about it, as things were moved they would be restored to the regulation look which had been toned down in 1929. He hoped that the public would assume that faded elements had simply been returned to their original colour and brightness. Placing a diplomat at the helm of the store might help to head off any awkward questions.

The District Manager would facilitate the changes by bolstering the store's annual budget for routine repainting and running repairs, and tweaking the calendar to increase the frequency with which each element was refreshed. The increased funds would allow the fascia to be regilded, increasing the contrast between the maroon base coat and the gold lettering, and the principal sandblasted glass departmental signs would be reworked to match. Each element would appear brighter. To brighten the elements which were artificially lit, the sodium lights would also be updated, with the wattage of some bulbs being increased and other clusters of lights being lowered by extending the chains. The exterior masonry would be washed or repainted, with the paintwork burnt off the exterior of window frames and re-done in the brighter wonder white shade rather than pale cream.

Finally he had a special request. He wanted to improve the range of signage available for the seasonal and catering offer, by developing some kind of modular design which could be built up in enclosed windows to promote ranges of interest like ice-cream cones, cream teas, or take-out picnic boxes. He wondered if Phil might give it some thought and scribble down some thoughts about the wording and themes. He would arrange for Peter Dutton, the Managing Director of the company's printers to travel down from Liverpool and spend a couple of days taking in the sights of Winchester. By putting the two of them together he hoped the creative sparks would fly and Dutton would return to the north-west with a picture in his mind's eye of a seasonal signs catalogue and kit and would be able to develop a prototype which could be tested and refined in the windows and displays at Store 359.

Phil accepted the new role without hesitation. Once again the family would be moving one hundred miles for work, this time to the west, though the branch in Winchester was within an hour's express train ride of George and Frank's homes in town for Sunday lunches. Whether it was his legendary diplomatic skills, deploying the innocent, beguiling smile that had once won a change of heart from the gruff Yorkshire chairman William Stephenson over the Clapham Junction van, or simply the fact that the people of Winchester had adopted Woolies as an honorary local shop rather than an invading chain-store, Phil was able to make the cosmetic changes without apparently even raising eyebrows in the town. The store looked brighter, and as District Manager Sprague had predicted, its sales to day trippers and holidaymakers started to rise.

The enclosed display window to the left hand side of the shopfront at Woolworth's in Winchester, dressed with a number of the signs from a new seasonal toolkit dreamt up by Store Manager Philip Picot and Richard M. Dutton, the MD of the retailer's point of sale printers, Duttons Limited which was based in Pall Mall, Liverpool

Perhaps even Sprague was surprised by the success of his second stratagem. Despite neither Picot nor Dutton being innovative and creative, they bonded quickly, becoming friends and meeting regularly. Workers at the Liverpool printers considered their boss "a bit of an anorak, happier tweaking a complex machine than making chit-chat", Picot was equally reserved. Duttons Ltd produced outstanding work at a very keen price by leveraging the latest printing technology. But the editors of Woolworth's The New Bond Staff Magazine - Richard Dutton's much-loved brainchild - were acutely aware that anything he wrote for them would need to be heavily pruned back from thousands of words to a few punchy headlines.

Somehow Sprague had persuaded the Liverpudlian that his Manager was a fan of Dutton's and had requested a face-to-face meeting, while assuring Phil that he would be the ideal man to represent 'FWW'. He could gather ideas by chatting with customers, suppliers and his own team before preparing input for the 'conflab'. Phil added a Sunday chat with his brothers, finding their input particularly insightful. They had acquired some Yankee magazines like Chain Store Age from friends at the Office, and advised Phil to make a collage of his favourite cuttings about American shops, and to snap or sketch anything that inspired him closer to home. When they met, Peter Dutton revealed that he too had recently discovered the wonder of storyboards, which he had found a more effective way of conveying his ideas toh his lithographers and compositors, than trying to describe them.


One of Phil Picot's most successful window displays in persuading day trippers to buy their picnics for sunny summer lunchtimes in Winchester from his new modular tea bar at the threepenny and sixpenny stores, featured the company's popular tinned peaches and bartlett pear halves, along with tinned cream or condensed milk, and Crosse and Blackwell's 1lb Tins of Salmon, or small jars of salmon or crab paste. Supplemented with fresh bread and butter and bottled drinks this provided everything needed to make a substantial picnic for all family for under half a crown (12½p at the time or £10 at today's prices)

Within forty-eight hours the pair had built in enviable library of layouts. Dutton drove them back north on Wednesday evening and had proof signs delivered to Winchester's doorstep to greet Phil Picot when he arrived at 7am on Friday.

Phil loved the results, which are shown on the left above. He went on to take soundings from regular customers and daytrippers, suppliers' representatives and his own team. The overall reaction was very positive, with most people finding them eye catching and effective.

Phil was taken aback when his District Manager arranged a visit as soon as he heard that the signage had arrived. The boss asked to be collected, along with the Superintendent, from Tuesday's 8am train at Winchester Southern Railway Station, just four days later. Sprague beamed from ear to ear when the new-look window came into view. He too thought the new signs would be very appealing to customers and highly effective. They opened a world of possibilities. Without more-a-do he headed straight for the cash office and called his PA in London, dictating a telegram to Peter Dutton, offering his "sincere and heartfelt thanks for your outstanding work at Winchester". Dutton gave the document pride of place on the Company noticeboard for all to see, leaving it up for months. The success inspired him to meet regularly with Picot every three months, keeping on refining the formula and adding new elements until the Blitz finally interrupted their routine in late 1940.

Phil was particularly proud of the modular tea-bar signs which he dreamt up with Peter Dutton. They found favour with many of the smaller stores, looking neater than something chalked or handwritten, but being much more flexible than the permanent painted or sandblasted signs favoured by the city superstores. The letters were quick to change, with further stocks in a variety of styles available to order from Dutton's. The two men considered the signs to be a win-win, as a money-spinner for the Pall Mall printer and a cost and labour saving for store managers across the land.


Three Kings, two Queens, royal collectable playing cards from Woolworth UK in the 1930s. The range that was withdrawn from sale, depicting the uncrowned Edward VIII who became the Duke of Windsor after the Abdication, is sought after today1936 marked a high mark for sales and profit in the Hampshire County Town. Phil had deftly steered the store through the Great Depression and, unlike most of his peers, had avoided getting left with surplus Souvenirs for the Berlin Olympics, which had not caught the public's imagination, or the hastily assembled range of collectables to mark the accession of King Edward VIII, originally intended as the advanced guard for a much wider range of gifts for the Coronation that never was. The Buyer in London was forced to dump those mementoes that couldn't be returned onto the US market at knock-down prices to make way for his new selection of George VI pieces.

An F.W. Woolworth Threepenny and Sixpenny Store opened at 10 London Road in the Sussex resort of Bognor Regis on 2 February 1929. It was extended in May 1934 (as shown) and again in 1962 and remained a popular favourite throughout the Company's time in the British High StreetReviewing the Annual Results, the Metropolitan District Manager Frank Sprague was impressed. Over a four and a half year period Philip Picot had doubled the Winchester sales of seasonable and tourist ranges, and had boosted its year-round trade on the staple products by more than fifty percent. Catering sales were particularly impressive, making a substantial contribution to an outstanding overall return. Reports indicated that as well as boosting the coffers for shareholders, the Store Manager also commanded respect and admiration in the local community. Over time he had morphed into that rarest of breeds, an elder statesman for Woolworth's. It was time to move Phil onwards and upwards, and he had the perfect spot in mind at Bognor Regis, a booming resort on the Sussex Coast, which had recently been in the news.

H.M. King George V and Queen Mary play with their popular grand-daughter Princess Elizabeth during his convalescence after surgery at Craigwell House in Bognor, Sussex in 1928 
Woolworth had been working on a new-build at 10 London Road, when it was revealed that H.M. King George V and Queen Mary would temporarily be moving their household to Craigwell House in the town for his convalescence from a major operation. It would be designated a Royal Palace. Over the following months the Queen became a regular visitor to the town centre, and was often seen strolling, shopping, touring antique shops or simply taking afternoon tea by the sea.


Finally, 140 years after Sir Richard Hotham laid the resort's first brick in 1787, he had achieved his goal of luring the King, the cream of London high society, holiday-makers and day-trippers along from Brighton. When George V renamed the town 'Bognor Regis' it accelerated the rapid rise in visitor numbers. The Woolworth store had opened to popular acclaim on 2 February 1929, often packed to capacity at weekends and by 1933 it was full to the brim throughout the High Summer, prompting the construction of an extension. During the winter additional space was constructed to the side and back of the premises before being conjoined in the Spring. The work culminated in a grand re-opening on 18 May 1934.

F.W. Woolworth Store Managers Frederick Farmer and Philip Picot who were instructed to swap stores in 1937, switching between Bognor Regis and Winchester. Both soon became recognised 'square pins in square holes', ideally suited to the branches that they managed.Executives felt that Bognor's new-found fame had boosted its potential, but the extension hadn't managed to bank it. They concluded that it was time for the Manager, Frederick Farmer, to move on, taking the rare step of swapping him with a colleague. They brought in Philip Picot from Winchester and sent Frederick to take his place. Farmer would later opt to spend the whole of the rest of his career, stretching through World War II and right into the Sixties, in the Hampshire City. Given a free rein, Phil Picot would might well have done the same at the seaside, but was given no such option.


Phil was asked to concentrate on three areas of the operation. The first priority was to maximise the potential of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth's Coronation. The public had taken the couple and their daughters TRH's Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose to their hearts nationally. Bognor Regis was one of the most staunchly royalist towns in the country.

Despite the late change in plans and the short available lead-time, the Buyer excelled. With no time to bring in imported items he had to rely on his British suppliers. They stepped up to the mark, proposing a magnificent range of bunting, flags in all manner of shapes and sizes from a four-foot (approximately 1.2 metre) diagonal down to just four inches (4 cm) for a hand held child's flag mounted on a simple stick with a clip over gold foil finial.

The official logo/motif of the Royal Coronation of H.M. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, as issued by Buckingham Palace in Winter 1936 ready the ceremony the following yearWith a nod to a tradition that stretched back to the Coronation of King George V on 22 June 1911 (when the Company had only ten stores) each branch was sent six to twenty-four ornate glass plates to sell first-come first-served on Saturday mornings for sixpence, one twentieth of the regular price. The Buyer's loss-leading got so much press comment that it drew attention to his much wider selection of royal items which was available at 600 stores across the Great Britain and 150 more in Canada, giving it free publicity worth much more than any discount. Great care had been taken to give the plates the same design agreed with Buckingham Palace for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897.


A surreal snap of the Buyer's favourite Coronation mementoes from his Woolworth 1937 range issued to honour H.M. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, taking from the company's staff magazine, 'The New Bond'The best of the 1937 Coronation items stood the test of time and still look stylish 85 years later in the Woolworths Museum in 2023


Philip's second objective at Bognor Regis was to build a credible, year-round selection of toys, balancing outdoor items like simple cricket bats, stumps, footballs and skittles, beach items like buckets, spaces and miniature windmills, and boxed games, jigsaws, dye-cast models and other wonders for the Christmas season. Despite having a smaller store than his neighbours at Western Road, Brighton or Montague Street, Worthing, the District Manager wanted Bognor to box above its weight, offering the best selection of toys that Woolworth had to offer anywhere, establishing itself as the destination of choice for the younger generation.


Three generations of the same family at the seaside in the main shopping street outside Woolworth's. Phil Picot's goal was maximise the value of grey pounds at his store in Bognor Regis. After a slow start it proved very lucractive during World War II, as Woolworth took a leading role on the Home Front.HHis third, and most visionary but least-defined objective, was to find ways to boost the Bognor Regis store's appeal to a new demographic. Sprague had noticed a new trend for the 'active elderly' to sell property in London or the Home Counties and set up a new home in a bungalow in a fashionable resort like Bognor, or Sandbanks between Bournemouth and Poole in Dorset. Such new, well-to-do residents had plenty of disposable income, which they liked to spend on their grandchildren, often inviting some or all of the next generations to take a summer holiday with them. Phil was to find way to tweak his store offer to broaden its appeal to this group. This would maximise the number of 'grey pounds' that made it to his bottom-line.


A rare, early colour photograph, taking in the early morning in Spring 1937, showing the assembled staff of the large F.W. Woolworth store in London Road, Bognor Regis, West Sussex. The store could boast such a large team that standing shoulder to shoulder they stood almost ten metres wider than the frontage. The picture was taken from across the other side of the street in bright early morning sunlight by the new General Manager, Philip PicotPhil quickly got to grips with the new store. Sprague had chosen it wisely; Bognor had many similarities to Winchester. Both were affluent, had a comparatively elderly clientele, were famed for high civic pride, productive local industry and a year-round tourist trade. But Phil soon found a major difference too, which he considered a treat. He had inherited a very high calibre staff. In Winchester he had favoured young unmarried women who needed the money, while it seems that in Bognor his predecessor had opted for the married women we call ‘empty-nesters’ today. Fred ha0d sought out ladies whose husbands had taken early retirement who weren’t ready to slow down themselves. They brought a refreshing wisdom and initiative to their work, which he found uplifting.


A new Marks and Spencer superstore, purpose built as part of a joint development with Montague Burton, the Tailor of Taste, replacing two private houses at the south-eastern end of London Road in Bognor Regis, half a dozen doors along from Woolworth's in July 1936. The retailer traded there for over half a century before controversially abandonning the location in favour of a second branch in Chichester suddenly in 1990. 
Picot was amazed that Sprague appeared unaware that his Bognor Store had faced new competition from July 1936. It seems that he simply assumed that it was Frederick Farmer's unimaginative style that had failed to capitalize on the extension of the premises, rather than exploring whether there had been any external factors at play, leaving him unaware of the arrival of a large, newly-built Marks and Spencer superstore just six doors to the south-east of Woolworth's in London Road.


Press advertisement introducing the new Marks and Spencer Super Stores, which opened at 6 London Road to the people of the West Sussex resort of Bognor Regis when in opened in July 1936 
When Philip raised the subject with his predecessor, he sheepishly admitted that he had been embarrassed at how he had allowed the "public-school type" who had been appointed as the M&S Manager to usurp his position as the town's leading retailer. He had stepped aside to allow him to chair the Rotary Club and had simply accepted a revised plan for late night trading and Christmas Hours in the town as proposed by the incomer and his domineering bosses from Baker Street.

Farmer had done his best to contain the losses, but, despite his best endeavours, over the second half-year he had faced a decline of a fifth in the sales of food and small fashion items, a tenth in homewares, and slightly smaller amounts across the selection of fancy goods and music. Philip kept his own counsel, sure in the knowledge that he would have dug his heels in to protect the Company's status and good name, but equally certain that it wasn't too late to turn the situation around.

He would make the fight back his mission for his first year at the helm, targeting overall sales growth for 1937. He would call on external help from the team at Metropolitan District Office, who had developed a playbook to deal with new competition, which included supplier-funded promotional merchandise at jaw-drop prices, some lee-way to loss-lead with the central marketing department covering the cost, and a boost to the local advertising budget. He would get help from his chum Peter Dutton, devising posters to appeal to the thrifty nature of his affluent customers, reminding them that the Woolworth ceiling price of sixpence was one tenth of the M&S limit. Certainly some of the competitor's items were larger or more luxurious, but others appeared identical or similar, just much more expensive. Featured products included a number of toys, saucepans, food items and the silk stockings in our example below. Customers were advised to "Shop Woolworth's First" to ensure that they always got the best possible value.


Faced with competition from a newly opened Marks and Spencer superstore, Philip Picot the Manager of Woolworth's in Bognor Regis launched a concerted fight back, drawing on the skills of his friend Peter Dutton to highlight the huge disparity in the price ceiling operated by the two retailers. Knowing that while his customers were affluent they were also thrifty, the short-lived in-store poster campaign highlighted items stocked by both retailers that were similar or identical and cost two, four or even ten times more at M and S than at FWW. 
Working together Philip and his friend, the Liverpool Printer Peter Dutton, came up with a simple poster campaign entirely consisting of proof prints which were shown only in-store, highlighting several very similar items in the ranges of the two neighbouring chains, that were much cheaper at Woolworth's.

Picot knew his clientele well, spotting the fact that however affluent his active elderly customers were, they were also thrifty and would soon get the message and double-check how much they were paying. Soon, as he hoped, they were back shopping Woolworth's first, Within a few weeks he had successfully made up the sales shortfalls of the previous year, and was back making sales gains each week. He had also reached an accommodation with his opposite number at M&S, over the local Rotary Club and working together for the good of the community. This allowed the campaign to be quietly retired before it spilt over into friction between Executives at the chains' headquarters in Baker Street and New Bond Street


Bognor Regis Woolworth's elected two colleagues to take it in turns to be 'New Bond Correspondent', submitting stories and pictures to the retailer's popular House Magazine, that would highlight the branch's good works in the community, and some of the team's social activites 
Getting sales back on track and the agreement with M&S allowed Phil to turn his attention to community affairs, consciously putting something back and encouraging his team to take part in local events and to raise money for charity. He became a strong supporter of the Bognor Regis War Memorial Hospital, with both the store and the family contributing regularly to their appeals. Keen to please their new boss, his staff nominated two colleagues, Miss Gray and Miss Thorpe to take it in turns to act as Store 344's 'New Bond Correspondent', gathering snippets of news, local paper photos and permissions and sending them in to the editors of the retailer's popular House Magazine. Miss Gray was the first to get an article published, appropriately with a piece about Miss Thorpe becoming the surprise winner of the Bognor Bathing Belle competition held at the local Odeon Cinema.

Weeks later Miss Thorpe's endeavours also resulted in a good news story in the staff magazine, with a feature about Christmas Dinner that the Bognor store laid on for 221 local poor children, as shown below.



Two articles from Bognor Observer, reporting the huge party laid on by Woolworths staff at the town's new and short-lived Band Pavilion. Held on 9 March 1938 500 revellers, many local but some from as far afield as Brighton and Winchester, danced the night away to the music of Ivor Kirchin and his Band, The second article notes that the surplus on ticket sales of ten pounds and ten shillings was donated to the Bognor Regis War Memorial Hospital 
The new social committee came up with an unusual proposal. They opted to delay the staff's 1937 Xmas Party, instead proposing a self-financing event that would reflect the unusual Manager swap that had led to Phil Picot's appointment as Manager at Bognor Regis, and his predecessor Frederick Farmer's move to the Hampshire county town of Winchester, as well as catching up with various colleagues who had transferred along the South Coast to take up appointments at or from one of the three stores in Brighton. They booked the town's new sea-front Band Pavilion and its popular band-leader Ivor Kirchin to put on a spectacular show, going on to sell almost five hundred tickets to colleagues for half a crown each (12½p then, £5 today). Years later it was still fondly remembered as one of the best socials ever. What was more after paying for the venue, band and catering, the committee still had a surplus of £10/10/- (ten pounds and ten shillings, or £350 today), which they donated to the Bognor Regis War Memorial Hospital.

Mr and Mrs Picot thoroughly enjoyed the event and were impressed at the way their team had stepped forward and made most of the arrangements themselves. The couple funded various spot prizes and some treats for a special lucky dip feature for guests. To his surprise Phil found that after the reports appeared in the popular Bognor Observer Newspaper, he started to get three times as many responses each time he advertised a job vacancy. The article had helped to put the word out that it wasn't only Marks and Spencer's that valued its people and made a generous contribution to the local community!


Extracted from the Woolworth's House Journal 'The New Bond' a picture of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain amidst a throng on the tarmac at Heston Aerodrome in Croydon with his piece of paper. The picture carries the single word caption 'Peace!' 
Unusually the Late Autumn 1938 New Bond carried a news photo of the UK PM, Neville Chamberlain, on the tarmac at Heston Aerodrome with his famed piece of paper. The editor was reflecting a virtually universal sense of relief and happiness at Herr Hitler, the German Chancellor's assurances that there would be "Peace for our time". Plenty of hindsight has since expunged that short-lived national sentiment. Little more than a year later the peace and tranquillity of dancing the night away at the Pavilion would seem to be a very distant memory.


The changing face of Bognor Regis as the phoney war morphed into the Battle of Britain during 1940By the end of 1940 Philip's world had changed beyond all recognition. Britain and its Empire was at war with Germany. It had begun to evacuate children from the big cities in February, leading to a big influx of young people around the resort and many older customers taking long-term responsibility for their grandchildren.

As Winter turned to Spring the German army quickly over-ran Continental Europe, invading Denmark and Norway in April, Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg in May, and by the end of the month forcing its way through France and pushing Allied Forces right back to Dunkirk on the Channel Coast, with Hitler's Operation Sealion threatening an all-out assault on Great Britain. The new Home Guard set to work laying barbed wire and other anti-invasion measures along the beaches, as newly-appointed PM Winston Churchill rallied the nation for the tough times ahead.

Despite being a sleepy resort, the town often found itself in the firing line. By September 1940 instead just targeting airfields the Luftwaffe had turned its fire on the nation's docks, industry and Cities. Bognor was the first landfall between the continental airfields and the Naval Dockyards at Chatham and the factories of Canterbury and the Medway. It seems that planes that had got into trouble en-route or had lost their bearings off-loaded on Bognor before returning home.


Stockroom Assistant Norman Livesey joined the team at Woolworth's in Bognor Regis when he left school. With waiting to be called up a volunteered for military service at the outbreak of World War II, and was surprised to be assigned to the Army Pay Corps, where at least his colleagues aand manager though he would be safe, little did they know the sad fate that would befall him.From the outbreak of war Phil faced big changes in-store. One-by-one male staff were called up for active service and even women supervisors were press-ganged to manage one of the firm's smaller stores nearby. Also a few sales staff were redeployed to priority factory work or the Women's Land Army. Those who were conscripted were rewarded as Woolworth topped up their service pay with their regular wages. But Bognor's most patriotic employee, young Norman Livesey (right), lost out by volunteering. To his surprise rather than being sent to the battlefield he was assigned to a behind-the-scenes job in the Royal Army Pay Corps. To add insult to injury, in keeping with a strict company rule, Woolworth withheld all of his bonus payments because he had put his own name forward rather than waiting to be called into service.

As he prepared for Christmas 1941, Philip was close to being the last man standing, with all but one of his Deputies and Under Managers away to pastures new. He had to rope in the Office Cashier (Manageress) to act as an occasional second keyholder, providing cover for any days when random chance meant that neither the Manager nor his Deputy could be in-store.

The humorous drawing below, showing the way that seasoned Managers like Picot were expected to adapt and embrace new ways of working to overcome staff shortages during World War II, could have felt a bit too close to comfort as he rolled up his sleeves and set to work as a shelf-filler, floor-walker and bell-answerer as well as the Store Manager, with his Deputy frequently serving customers in response to any flash queues. But, by all accounts, Phil embraced the challenge with enthusiasm and good humour, with his wife also stepping in to help out at the busiest times, winning admiration from colleagues and customers alike.

It seems that both husband and wife were throwing themselves into their work and focussing their energies on the store and its team as part of putting on a brave face when news broke about brother Frank's ill-health. Phil's elder brother had inspired his decision to join Woolworth's and his guiding hand and wise counsel had always been invaluable. Conversations over Sunday lunch had helped to guide difficult decisions at Winchester, and had even smoothed his transition to Bognor Regis. Wartime restrictions had interrupted those regular trips, leaving Phil less aware of the speed of his brother's deterioration than he would normally have been. The severity finally emerged when Frank was declared long-term sick, freeing his wife Lucy from a commitment she had made not to discuss his condition with the family.

Floral letters spelling Frank, the first name of the oldest of three Picots who managed an F.W. Woolworth store, who passed away in August 1942 at the age of just forty-nine yearsLucy provided loving round-the-clock care for Frank after he was ordered to his bed in Ealing to recuperate, keeping him as comfortable as she could. But his body was failing and little-by-little he simply faded away, finally losing a brave fight for life in August 1942. He was just forty-nine years old.


Phil made no secret of the fact that he felt that Woolworth's failure to maintain the Manager's Office at the Ealing store, allowing damp and mould to spread on the front wall and around the window frame, had played a major part in his brother's pneumonia and had contributed to his death, and alleged that it had been driven by the same hate campaign launched by some middle managers after the short-lived Brixton strike. He campaigned tirelessly for his bosses' private apologies to be put on the record so that no-one else would ever suffer the same fate, but his words fell on deaf ears. Throughout the War the campaign energised the surviving Picot brothers and their wives, stopping them from dwelling on what had happened to their big brother. Both George and Phil went to lengths to ensure that they were the best Managers they could possibly be, not only to honour Frank, but also all their men and women who were fighting for King and Country, or serving the nation in other ways.

Freedom is in peril, a British propaganda poster from World War IIThroughout his Woolworth career, Philip had never considered himself a hero because he had never served in uniform. He had been too young during the First World War, and was already too old to enlist for the Second. He had always considered his brothers Frank and George to be stronger, braver men because of their Military Service. As a Manager Phil had earnt the trust and respect of his staff as a polite, kind and fair man rather than a larger than life character like them. But in December 1942, he turned out to be the bravest Picot of all.

By 1942 life at Woolworth's had settled down to a regular pattern. Retired employees had returned to work, easing the pressure on their colleagues. A former Floor Walker had made a particularly welcome return in Bognor, easing the burden for Phil and his Deputy and helping them to drive up standards. The range had been adapted, and good store discipline meant that availability on the shelves had improved. As November turned to December, the store was able to offer a good range of cards, comic books and a few toys for the children and even a few decorations and small bars of chocolate.

Enemy bombing had become increasingly rare since Hitler had abandonned plans to invade the UK, until a new threat began to emerge during 1942. Occasionally enemy aircraft began to cause a nuisance in coastal towns after losing their way during daytime sorties to the Naval Dockyards and heavy industry on the River Medway. The public were asked to be on their guard.

After several quiet months, for reasons only known to the Luftwaffe's High Command, they undertook a spate of seemingly random attacks along the South Coast during December. Initially the attacks followed the familiar pattern of targeting the vicinity of the Cinque Ports between Ramsgate and Hastings. They hit Deal in East Kent, raising alarm by dropping their remaining bombs in Sussex on their return flight on the night of 6/7 December. There were further attacks on Folkestone, Dover and Deal on the nights of 11/12 and 14/15, before killing nine people in Aldeburgh on the Suffolk Coast on December 15th. After all those night time raids there was a frenzy of daytime activity on Wednesday 16th December. Eleven aircraft sprayed cannon fire, machine guns and bombs on the towns of Bridport and Poole on the Dorset Coast, and Portsmouth along into Hampshire before heading inland to hit Bramley and Effingham in Surrey and Tonbridge in Kent. As they turned to return home they sprayed the centre of Pulborough, near Horsham in West Sussex, before using all their remaining ammunition to attack Christmas Shoppers going about their business in London Road, Bognor Regis.

According to Company folklore, passed down the generations at Woolworths and recounted to the writer as their Christmas Store Standards Visitor in 2002 (which happenstance scheduled on or around the sixtieth anniversary of that attack), hearing the commotion outside, "Mr. P." (that is Phil Picot) didn't hesitate. He grabbed his tin-hat and donkey jacket from under the front counter and raced into the street, dodging the fire from the planes above shouting at the top of his voice "Get out of the road, head into Woolworth's we'll keep you safe", randomly grabbing people and shoving them towards the door or to the side of the street shielded by the sunblinds and canopies of the shops. Seeing what was happening the staff held the doors open, shielded behind the frames, while other hurried the incomers towards the back out of harm's way. Meanwhile Phil Picot went the whole length of the street and back until not one person was left in the open, seemingly oblivious of and invisible to the planes above.

Phil Picot's Milk Cocktail Bar was his home from home during World War II, he frequently served customers himself, mainly with tea, coffee or Bovril, proud that no coupons were required, and he always made sure there was something hot to drink and something decent to eat


Once the street was clear he hurried back to Woolworth's, making hot sweet tea for everyone he had rescued at his Milk Cocktail Bar. After the trauma he encouraged everyone to sit and catch their breath, before administering first aid for a handful of scrapes and sprains that people had sustained in the panic. As calm returned, Picot 'evaporated', seemingly embarrassed by the thanks and praise being lavished on him by some of the shoppers. He had to be dragged back by his staff for a hearty round of applause. The one shy, quiet Picot who had never been to war had proved to be the bravest of the bunch, and yet did not accept that he had done any more than his duty to keep his customers and staff safe at all times. One thing he was prepared to agree with, that perhaps the German pilots had spared him because they admired what he was trying to do.


For the record, (researched in THE BLITZ, THEN AND NOW, edited by Gordon and Winston G. Ramsey and published in 1990 by Battle of Britain Prints International Ltd., Volume 3, Page 188,) as the Luftwaffe contingent returned to France after their attacks, the eleven planes had killed fourteen people on the ground in little more than hour, but not a single one in Bognor Regis. And sixty years later, the Woolworths Store's staff remembered Phil Picot's name and proudly shared his story with their Head Office visitor, the Woolworths Museum author, Paul Seaton. They were the unexpected winners of the Store Standards Competition that Christmas.


Philip Picot would be embarrassed to be called a hero even after all this time, when to him it was his elder brother Frank, already a hero of the Great War, who ultimately gave his life for Woolworth's. By the end of the long conflict, Bognor Regis was one of the stores that had lost an employee on active service in a foreign land.

Phil discouraged his staff from talking about "the day the world went mad", and admonished anyone who made German tourists or refugees feel unwelcome after the War. He argued that the only way to win the peace was for harmony to be restored, which was best achieved by everyone forgiving and forgetting.

He remained stoical throughout the war, a kind, generous and thoughtful man, who was always polite to staff and customers alike. He kept his grief about Frank's death to himself, believing it was everyone's patriotic duty to remain positive and support the war effort.

But one piece of news proved particularly hard to bear both for Phil and his whole team. It broke at the beginning of February 1945 when the war was nearly won. It stemmed from an 'Official Paid' envelope from the British Army. It informed "Mr. P.Picot or The Manager" that he no longer needed to hold the job of Pte. N. Livesey for his return from active service, and was free to hire a permanent replacement. A tick-box went on to explain why, stating simply that N. Livesey, service Number 7663352 had died in uniform on 27 December 1944. Phil felt compelled the share the news with his team. All were doubly shocked. It seemed cruel that "young Norman" could survive five years of war, only to lose his life when it was all but over. But more confusing was how someone in a safe occupation at home could lose their life in uniform. Despite repeatedly asking the question, they were unable to find an answer, coming up against the secrecy of wartime, particularly as they weren't family members. The question was never answered, until now.

Finally, in the 21st Century, with help from the Royal Army Pay Corps Regimental Association, the AGC Museum, and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, including special assistance from Major Peter Bamforth, Bianca Taubert and Katia Wright, we can reveal that Sapper Norman Livesey, was seconded to the Royal Engineers and working on Harbour Reconstruction in Sicily when he was killed in enemy action on 27 December 1944. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission he was twenty-five years old, and the son of William and Martha Livesey of Westhoughton, Lancashire. He is buried in the Syracuse War Cemetery, Sicily, IC5, were he is Remembered with Honour. His grave carries the private inscription "FAR AND OFTEN OUR THOUGHTS WANDER TO HIS GRAVE SO FAR AWAY, REST IN PEACE".

It seems likely that Norman, who was known to be disappointed at being allocated to the Pay Corps when he wanted to play a more active part, lobbied during the war for a different role, and was probably seconded to the Royal Engineers as their work expanded in rebuilding key infrastructure as the Allies pushed the Axis powers back during 1944. This seems the most likely reason why most Army records still showed his Regiment as being the Royal Army Pay Corps at the time of his death, even though the grave shows him in the Royal Engineers.


Please join us in remembering Norman Livesey, a well loved employee of Woolworth's in Bognor Regis until war broke, who sacrificed everything for a cause that he believed in, and gave his life that others might live.

The official certificate for Sapper Norman Livesey, courtesy of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, who do so much to maintain the memory of the fallen in the World Wars


The salesfloors of F.W. Woolworth's seaside stores had a very distinctive look in the late 1940s, blending features of pre-war times like the mahogany counters and oiled pitched pine floors, with modern innovations like the glass and transparent plastic personal service weigh-out sweets (pic and mix) counter in the front foreground and specialists stands for more expensive lines like branded perfumes. Considering that many items were still rationed, the counters in this pre-Christmas shot taken in 1947 are surprisingly full with few if any references to coupons, but a number of price tickets showing ten shillings or more, ten times the pre-war maximum.After World War II, Phil Picot remained the well-loved Manager of the Bognor Store, as a popular character with staff and customers alike. His home in resort became a hub for the wider family, with other siblings choosing to move close by. He seemed happy and settled and would gladly have stayed at the helm until his retirement date in 1960.

He deftly steered the store through the transition required as war turned to peace and the proposition was reinvented between 1945 and 1950. The salesfloor was relaid to accommodate new, more expensive ranges like branded perfumes, new stylish jewellery and fancy goods from Eastern Europe, and a selection of woollen cardigans, cotton trousers and dresses, along with an ever increasing range of paints and polishes, tools and toolboxes, as well as basic furniture and soft furnishings. Unconstrained by an upper price limit suddenly the sky was the limit, and a new generation of Buyers was able to exploit import quotas authorised before the war, replacing the sixpenny goods of that era with much more expensive, higher quality lines. At the time it was Government policy not to release new quota until the country's lend-lease debt to the USA had started to fall.

Sales and profit rocketed, and staff morale and service were second-to-none, as the Bognor Regis store matched or exceeded the results at nearby Western Road, Brighton (store 73), Montague Place, Worthing (store 89) and North Street, Chichester (store 254), each managed by a younger man on a meteoric rise up the chain. None of those Managers could claim to command the same level of respect from fellow retailers in their towns, nor from the shoppers or the communities at large, or to have done so much for local good causes like the Hospital.

This cartoon from the Xmas 1950 edition of the F.W. Woolworth house magazine The New Bond (Vol. 9 No. 6) asks 'why don't you look where he's going?' - an appropriate question each year end as District Managers shuffled their Store Managers hither and yon like pawns on a giant chessboard. Some decisions totally defied comprehension.But despite all of that, after a good result at the Christmas Inventory in 1951 Philip was unexpectedly summoned to Metropolitan District Office in London to meet the District Manager, Stanley Swash. In his store manager days Swash had been a friend of his brother Frank, who had taken over the Brixton store from him, and had later had to rely on his support as Assistant District Manager when he wanted to swap the Restaurant for a Quick Lunch Counter in the final stage of the transfer to new premises. Swash told Philip that he had done well at Bognor Regis, and it was high time that he was promoted. At the end of January he wanted him to take control of the Muswell Hill store in London N10, which would benefit from a fresh pair of eyes.

Swash believed that, once he recovered from the shock, Philip would also see the news as positive. He had a lively mind and enviable skillset, and would find the challenge stimulating and regenerative, He went on to explain how the decision had come about. At the Annual Review of trading performance an executive who discretion prevented him from naming had observed that Picot had been at Bognor Regis too long and had become stale in the role. He had asserted that the Manager was coasting, and such behaviour should not be allowed to continue, This had stimulated a round-table discussion at which it was agreed that every Manager who had been appointed before World War II who had not been called up during the long Conflict should be moved as soon as possible to help the organisation to limber up for the 250 openings that were expected during the decade.

It was the Company’s policy that managers had to go where they were sent, and Philip was being sent to Muswell Hill. Perhaps if he did well there it would be another seaside store next in a year or two's time, but this could not be guaranteed. He would be happy to pay for Picot to relocate. Muswell Hill was a beautiful Edwardian suburb with some lovely homes at competitive prices. Hampstead and Finchley were also possibilities. He could also commute from ‘Metroland’ further out into Middlesex. But, reflecting his long service, he would be prepared to make an exception and allow him to commute into town each day by car or on a fast train from Bognor Regis, though he would find it half an hour's walk or a short taxi ride from the nearest tube station at either Highgate or Wood Green.

Phil was left with no choice but to accept the so-called promotion or leave the business. A check of Company records shows that many managers - including Frank Farmer, who swapped stores with him when he moved to Bognor Regis in 1937 - were allowed to stay in their stores, hearing nothing of the rule that Swash had cited and serving through to retirement.

G.P. (Barney) Rudge, who joined Woolworth's in 1922, managing the stores in Basingstoke (107), Stoke Newington (61), Boscombe (179), Ramsgate (72) and Eastbourne (172) before becoming the Superintendent for the West London stores in 1938. He became a Merchandiser at Metropolitan District Office duing World War II and retired from that role at Easter 1953 after 31 years serviceIt seems that Picot's move had been suggested by none-other than Metropolitan District's Merchandise Man G.P. (Barney) Rudge, as revenge for the awkward questions that Phil had continued to ask about Rudge's role in brother Frank's death when he was the Superintendent of the Ealing store. Picot had repeatedly written to him and other executives enquiring about the circumstances. He wanted Rudge to explain why, as Line Manager, he had repeatedly rejected his brother’s requests for running repairs to the leaking wall and window in his office.

When Rudge retired at Easter 1954, the staff magazine carried a photo and a short article describing him as 'one of the most popular of our colleagues', to which perhaps one should append 'unless your surname was Picot'. Other than following George Picot as Manager of Stoke Newington from October 1926 and January 1929, he had no direct contact with the other brothers until Frank was sent to Ealing Broadway. Frank's treatment seems to have been the guilty secret that he simply refused to discuss as Executives closed ranks to avoid criticism. Swash who became Company Chairman shortly after moving Philip had also failed Frank by failing to dissuade his boss Frank Sprague from treating Picot senior so ruthlessly. Both wanted to silence Phil.


The large, popular F.W. Woolworth in Muswell Hill, London N10, which was managed by Philip Picot from January 1952 until his retirement in March 1960

Philip took up his appointment as instructed at the end of January 1952. He commuted to Muswell Hill every working day for the next eight years, and was considered a highly professional, good manager by his people. He took care never to put a foot wrong, never mentioning brother Frank again after the implied threat of the compulsory move, but was little more than a shadow of his former self. His Annual Appraisal each year noted good results, a tidy store and efficient service and yet rated him as 'a below average performer', proving the old adage from Galatians 6:7 "Be not deceived, God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.". In other words Woolworth's landed up with exactly the Manager they deserved in Muswell Hill, arriving a little before 9am and leaving a little after 5.30pm, taking two 15 minute tea breaks and a 59 minute lunch break each day, while ensuring that every aspect of his service was by-the-book. If only Frank's bosses had been equally diligent when he was sent to Ealing.

A brief article in The New Bond, the F.W. Woolworth House Magazine marked Philip's retirement in March 1960. He had been loved and respected by all of the people he managed and nearly all of the people who managed him, had made a huge contribution to Woolworth's in his early career and saved a number of their customers from enemy action, yet faded away in his later career, disappointed by how his elder brother had been treated and perhaps by his own treatment.


An article from The New Bond, F.W. Woolworth and Co. Ltd. staff magazine, reporting on the retirement of Philip Picot after thirty-seven years service. It scarcely did justice to his huge contribution to the business


Philip Picot made a huge contribution to F.W. Woolworth over a long career, particularly before and during the Second World War, which we are proud to honour in the Woolworths Museum. He treated the Company far better than they treated him or his family. They all deserved better. It was not only brother Frank's career that was ruined in a single day in Brixton. What happened then impacted on all three brothers. Their lives were never quite the same again.

Shortcuts to the other pages in the Picot Mix Special Feature

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Introducing the Brothers


Frank Picot


George Picot


Philip Picot


Brixton strike 1938


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