In the 1960s estate agent Roy Brooks became a national figure: a TV regular 30 years before broadcasters would welcome just about anyone into their studios, writes Trevor Kent.
This was a man whose weekly advertisements in the Sunday Times and Observer became must-reads, predominately for their refreshing honesty in a profession not known, then as now, for its candour.
Roy Brooks, who died in 1971, was an estate agent in Kings Road, London who made his name and, uncomfortably for a man with avowed communistic leanings, his fortune from harnessing one endearing feature into the prose eschewed by other estate agents of the time – the unvarnished truth.
Chuckles could be heard from the mews windows of the bourgeoisie over coffee and croissants on Sunday mornings as actors and politicians, captains of industry and showgirls vied with their partners to recognise which pal’s home Roy was describing, sometimes failing to realise it was their own.
Who could resist making an appointment to view a bargain described thus: “Wanted: Someone with taste, means and a stomach strong enough to buy this erstwhile house of ill-repute in Pimlico. It is untouched by the 20th century as far as conveniences for even the basic human decencies are concerned. Although it reeks of damp or worse, the plaster is coming off the walls and daylight peeps through a hole in the roof, it is still habitable judging by the bed of rags, fag ends and empty bottles in one corner. Plenty of scope for the socially aspiring to express their decorative taste and get their abode in The Glossy, and nothing to stop them putting Westminster on their notepaper. Comprises 10 rather unpleasant rooms with slimy back yard, 4,650 Freehold. Tarted up, these houses make 15,000.”
Setting the astonishing prices of 1960s homes to one side for a moment, one can’t fail to admire an agent who could say of another London bargain: “Do not be misled by the trim exterior of this modest period res with its dirty broken windows; all is not well with the inside. The decor of the nine rooms, some of which hangs inelegantly from the walls, is revolting. Not entirely devoid of plumbing, there is a pathetic kitchen and one cold tap. No bathroom, of course, but Chelsea has excellent public baths. Rain sadly drips through the ceiling on to the oilcloth. The pock-marked basement floor indicates a thriving community of woodworm, otherwise there is not much wrong with the property… Sacrifice 6,750.”
The last word, or perhaps the foreword as he was asked to supply one for a book on Roy Brooks published in 1985, should go to the late Desmond Wilcox.
He was a client and a friend of Brooks but even this close association did not protect him from awaking one Sunday morning to read of the bar in the corner of his own lounge described as “a white painted brick feature for holding exotic drinks. Rather theatrical and in keeping with the pretentious style of the owner”.
Becoming wealthy from the enormous fees thrown at him by London’s upper crust (5% on the first 500, 2.5% on the next 4,500 and 1.5% on the residue) never sat comfortably with this surprisingly socially conscious agent.
Roy Brooks would occasionally load his Rolls-Royce with 1,000 pairs of shoes and drive to Russia with them, saying: “I take these for old times’ sake – Stalingrad and the defeat of the German hordes. Perhaps I could bring back in return some of their women engineers whose factories I saw prefabricating good homes by the thousands.”
Legislation such as the Property Misdescriptions Act would probably rule out a return to such outlandish frankness today but if it’s true, decent and honest it can’t be illegal can it?
Trevor Kent & Co
Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire