Garland and Mercer

Robin Garland in the Magdala

Two Magdalites who could have fitted very well into the world of ‘Minder’ had an almost paternal/filial relationship. Robin Garland was a sometime Downing College Cambridge student who had abandoned any desire for a career back in the 1950s. He somehow survived partly due to his imposingly patrician presence and also by a series of ventures supported by unusually creative accountancy. When a plan failed as it inevitably did, Garland had a nearly fool-proof exit strategy. He would first defend himself in court (on one august occasion, the Old Bailey); then if this looked like failing, he would retire rapidly to the Isle of Wight where he could rely on a local pub to cover his tracks. Then, if his opponents seemed to be approaching the Solent area, he would make his final retreat to a psychiatric hospital near Bristol where he would claim asylum based on a long-off episode of childhood trauma. Once the heat had died down he would return to London and start anew.

Some of the Magdala portraits – saloon bar

His friend and one-time acolyte was Steve Mercer. Steve also came from a privileged middle-class background but was dogged by ill-health through most of his life. His diabetes and latterly his deteriorating sight rendered him ill-suited to work other than through the good offices of his mentor Robin Garland.

One of their dual operations was the establishment of a taxi firm entitled ‘Luxury Limousines at your Service’. Soon after opening, Robin turned up in answer to a booking by two elderly ladies to take them to the airport. He leaned over from the driver’s seat to open the passenger door for them. As he did so, the passenger door fell off. The passengers decided to cancel their trip in the ‘Luxury Limousine’.

Always an observant man, Robin Garland noticed that motor cycle couriers arrived at the foyers of the numerous businesses on Piccadilly bearing parcels. Invariably the receptionists would hand over petty cash to the riders and then, without opening them, send the parcels on to their post rooms. Robin decided that if he sent in Steven Mercer, dressed in motor cycle garb and carrying an (empty) parcel, this would be an excellent way to collect petty cash from each of the airlines, banks, and assorted offices around the West End. This started as a fine scam, but ended in disaster due to the problem of Mercer’s fading vision. Even the dullest receptionist became suspicious at the sight of a motor cycle courier using a white stick to tap his way across the foyer.

Another of Garland’s plans ended with Mercer spending three weeks on remand in Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison.

Steven Mercer in the Magdala

The invention of the credit card proved to be fertile territory for Robin’s enterprises and he was rarely without a fistful of them. He noticed one night that a female drinker was sitting alone and very upset. Never without a soft spot for misfortune, he sat beside her to offer comfort: “There, there, dear lady, do have a cheque card.”

An acquaintance reported: “A month ago Garland announced that he was starting a business. He had acquired an office and a telephone but no idea what business he was going to set up.”

His long-separated wife Anna was a spirited woman who occasionally looked into the pub. Robin mentioned that one morning she had rushed down Parliament Hill in a fury while chasing after her current lover. Catching up with him she reached up and seized the toupee off the top of his head. She then flung it into the air and accidentally through an open window where it landed on a table in front of a gentleman eating his breakfast.


Overheard at the saloon bar counter:

“He was furious! Furious! The veins were standing out on his teeth.”

To see other chapters – go to top of page and, under the main title, click on the small heading ‘Under Ken Wood’


Feb 28:           1 South End Green – Prologue

Mar 7:                         2 Where Eagles Dared

Mar 7:             3 Murder and the Magdala

Mar 14:           4 The Hepburns

Mar 14:           5 Private Godfrey and the Dame of Soho

Mar 21:           6 Garland and Mercer

Mar 21:           7 Laureates and Spies

Mar 21:           8 The Silver Fox

Mar 28:           9 The Hoffmeister and Kelly

April 4:           10 The Harvey Brothers

April 4:           11 The Journos

April 11:          12 Five Funerals and a Resurrection

April 18:          13 Scallawag

April 25:         14 Crime and Punishment

May 2:            15 Good Companions

May 9:            16 Sasthi Brata

May 9:            17 Bob the Bag and Cornish Pat

May 16:           18 Eddie Linden

May 16:           19 The Branch Offices

May 23:          20 The Mulls Kid

May 30:          21 The Musos

May 30:          22 Closing Time