In the latest of an occasional series, Graham Bandage talks to James Burrage, saviour of Britain’s flower shops.
Graham Bandage: James Burrage, you are the saviour of Britain’s flower shops.
James Burrage: I’m delighted to confirm that you are indeed correct, you beautiful little man.
GB: Nevertheless, I am a bit baffled. I mean, flowers are lovely and people traditionally like them. And people with hayfever, for example, often have the hump because they can’t have a prolonged sniff of them. In short, I suppose I’m saying, flowers are extremely popular. So why did flower shops need a saviour? Did they not have much of a fuchsia?
JB: No. They did not.
GB: Heh, I said “fuchsia.”
JB: Very good.
GB: It was OK. I’m a bit out of my comfort zone. Say more words.
JB: Well, it was back in 1994. The bottom had fallen out of the floral tributes market because everybody was being cremated. It was dismal. Somebody had to do something.
GB: So what did you do?
JB: I took a picture of myself and put it in a gold frame, and then I nailed it to a tree on the central reservation of the A756. And then I tied a bunch of flowers to it. A day later, I tied another bunch to it. When I went back the next day with another bunch, there were more flowers tied to the tree.
GB: No! Really?
GB: Was it elves?
JB: No. My hunch is it was people. Anyway, before long the tree was festooned with flowers. My takings were up 48%. So I tried another tree. I used a picture of Charles Grodin from the film Midnight Run.
GB: Why Charles Grodin?
JB: Well, he’s one of those people who have a vaguely familiar face but wouldn’t pull in many people if you got them to open your jumble sale. Like Alan Arkin.
GB: Did you know Alan Arkin wrote the Banana Boat Song?
JB: What, the Day-Oh song? Are you being whimsical for effect?
GB: No. It is actually true.*
JB: Crikey. Anyway, trees. I put a couple of bunches on that one. And that got filled up too. Somebody even wrote a poem and had it laminated.
GB: It sounds too good to be true.
JB: Well, of course, people started to talk. And nobody could remember any actual accidents happening near the trees. So I had to up the ante.
GB: What the flip did you do?
JB: I got a dirty great electro-magnet, and stuck it inside a tree. And lay in wait. And when a car went past, I flipped the switch. Instant smash. First flowers were on the tree before the ambulance was on the scene.
GB: You killed somebody just to sell some flowers?
JB: Well, when you put it like that, it sounds evil.
GB: It sounds brilliant, that’s how it sounds.
JB: OK. It worked, the trend spread, and the floral tribute business skyrocketed. But it just wasn’t enough. I wanted more and more. That’s how I ended up in Paris in August 1997.
GB: And now nobody from the lower classes can die horribly without a carpet of flowers cluttering up the street.
JB: That’s right. It’s worked beyond my wildest dreams.
GB: Hang on. Paris? August 1997? You didn’t?!?
JB: Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies. I’ll just say that was a bloody good month for takings. And I get a card from Elton and David every Christmas.
GB: James Burrage. Thank you very much.
*It’s true. He really did.