The story of how Ginger, the boy from Norwich, started making his mark in the world.
PUBLISHED: 12:50 25 July 2012
Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2005
He left school at 14 and got a job in a Norwich pastry factory - Ginger was on his way to a remarkable life.
The members of the Bull Close Boys Brigade in Norwich always got a warm welcome at the magnificent Wembley Stadium – Ginger made sure of that.
Although Ginger had become Sir Arthur J Elvin MBE, the boss of the theatre of dreams, he never forgot his roots and when he had been a lad he marched through the city streets as a member of the brigade.
“I’m a Norwich man all right,” he would remind people. He was proud of his city and proud of his accent.
Arthur was described as one of the cleverest showmen on earth who transformed his beloved Wembley Stadium into the Olympic arena for the 1948 Games. He was certainly an astute businessman as his story reveals.
Last week I told you how he was hailed as the “presiding genius” as he took over the organisation of the Wembley events.
But who was he and how did he rise to become known as ‘The Governor of Wembley?’
Arthur was born at a terraced house in Magpie Road in Norwich during July of 1899. His father was a Norwich policeman.
They called young Arthur ‘Ginger’ because of his reddish hair. He went to Bull Close School and joined the Bull Close Company of the Boys’ Brigade.
Tragedy struck when he was 10. His father died, leaving his mother to bring up the family on her own.
With no money coming in Arthur got himself a job at as shop in Magdalen Street delivering the Evening News.
Looking back over his life in an article for the Sunday Chronicle in 1935 he said: “Leaving school at 14 I became a clerk in a Norwich pastry factory at seven shillings a week.
“After a few weeks I got a similar job in a boot factory at nine shillings a week. I was working as a clerk in the Inland Revenue at 12 shillings a week within two or three months,” he said.
“Then I joined a firm that was running canteens for the troops in the first world war. I served behind the bar and, as I was living in, I felt pretty rich on my 50 shillings a week.
“I felt that there was too limited a scope at Norwich even for a boy of 16 and that London was the place for me,” wrote Arthur.
“I became a soft-soap salesman in Aldgate for 50 shillings a week and, as soon as I could, I joined the Royal Flying Corps and went to France as an observer. My pilot and I were shot down and I was a prisoner-of-war in Germany. I was 18,” he said.
“In December 1918 we were released and I was demobbed with a gratuity of £300. I spent it almost at once. I went to the Ministry of Munitions and was employed in breaking down ammunition in France. Although I was not yet 20 I had charge of hundreds of workmen of all nationalities.”
Back in Britain the enterprising young Arthur had run out of money. What would he do next?
Tomorrow I’ll tell you how he started selling cigarettes outside Wembley – and ended up buying the place.