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Big Mike: Personal assistant’s reign of terror hid a secret none of us could have realised

Our popular mystery columnist tells how he underwent a total recoil recently…


Time 6:48 am, July 30, 2023

In my last column, I reflected on the life of a former colleague that was very well lived until he was called up by the great scrappage scheme and left to ponder his next sale from on high.

Ted’s funeral was obviously sad to attend, but it was also a great opportunity to catch up with some old friends from my 40-plus years in the car trade.

Among them was Nigel, the new car sales manager of a Citroen dealership where I was the used car gaffer back in the early 1990s and who was always a good mate and drinking companion.

Over a few beers, we recalled some of the people from those days whom we remembered both most and least affectionately – or on certain occasions, both.

Our dealer principal back then was a bloke called Geoff, who was a perfectly reasonable chap if you were allowed access to him.

If you needed a bit of wiggle room on your margin or had a customer who needed a bit of extra love to make up for a problem, Geoff would listen and nine times out of 10 you’d be given sufficient trust to make a decision and get on with the business of selling cars.

The problem, though, was that Geoff employed a gatekeeper.

Those of you who have worked in main dealerships will know the structure well.

The dealer principal is the great almighty, often the owner of the business or a direct descendant.

Because he is so busy and important (and it’s usually a he, or certainly was in the Nineties when misogyny was still alive and well and allowed to thrive in the world of car peddling), the dealership employs a personal assistant.

They often go above the expected remit of managing his diary and opening his post to instead taking over the entire running of the dealership – or that was certainly the case with Moira.

Moira was our DP’s PA, or more correctly, his pet witch.

Her sole job, it seemed, was to make every single one of the dealership’s staff feel very small indeed.

She was a diminutive and wiry woman, with scraped-back hair and half-moon glasses, over which she could make you cower in the corner with just one withering glare.

She was always immaculately turned out, with a knee-length pencil skirt, sensible shoes and a choice of cardigans in a varied selection of miserable beiges and thunderous greys, depending on her mood when she got out of bed that morning (and woe betide you if it was the wrong side).

The look was finished off with a pearl necklace, which quite clearly had cost her more than my average monthly commission – a gift, she told us, from her former boss in appreciation of her ‘work ethic’.

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It was Moira you had to ring if you were calling in ill and who would bark down the phone at you if you even dared to employ a croaky ‘phoning-in-sick’ voice.

When it came to getting holiday approved, she would interrogate your reasons for taking time off, irrespective of the fact you had a holiday allowance.

She was an awful woman whom everyone was terrified of, including the DP himself, who once confessed to us that he too had to beg her for time off when he wanted his annual family holiday, only to be greeted with stock Moira phrases such as ‘You won’t be needing your car for two weeks then’, as if control of the demonstrator fleet also fell under her command (which it sort of did).

Imagine our surprise then when Nigel and I wandered up to the bar at Ted’s wake and ordered a couple of pints only for a familiar voice to pipe up from a neighbouring table.

‘I always said that the booze would be the death of you two,’she barked.

‘I’m surprised you’re both alive even now – didn’t do Ted any good, did it?’

There she was, in all her finery, pearl necklace still attached and cardigan as neatly aligned as ever, not looking a day older than she did 30 years previously.

That said, she did look about 80 back then, so I guess time had eased its passage after a pretty rampant attack earlier on in her life.

With her was Geoff, our former boss, himself now well into his 70s. And that’s when realisation dawned – three decades after we incurred her wrath on a daily basis.

‘Give them a break, Mum,’ said Geoff. ‘They’re getting on a bit themselves these days.’

Yes, Moira was Geoff’s mother. And also the owner of the dealership group that had employed us all those years ago.

Had we not been so misogynistic, we might have realised that at the time….

Main image used for illustrative purposes:

This column appears in the current edition of Car Dealer – issue 185 – along with news, reviews, interviews, features and much more. Read and download it for FREE here!

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Car Dealer has been covering the motor trade since 2008 as both a print and digital publication. In 2020 the title went fully digital and now provides daily motoring updates on this website for the car industry. A digital magazine is published once a month.

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