Uriah, the Big Biba Roof garden Derry and Toms 1973.

Uriah was also known as George Spence which I did not know until Rubyfoot mentioned it a few logs back. He joined us all at Big Biba when we moved from Westbourne Park , and cleaned the offices at Derry and Toms as well as our space on the roof garden. The legend was that Uriah had walked into the old Biba store in the early days, picked up a broom and started sweeping the place up. He was offered a job as a cleaner and carer for Barbara’s dogs , she had two great Danes at that time,  and he had been with Biba ever since.  I am not sure where he was born I seem to remember someone mentioning Jamaica, he had a very strong accent. Here he is with his broom sweeping up our mess. We generated a lot of waste paper with cut up photo prints, how neat everything would have been with computers. To the far left of this photo was one of the guys [cannot remember their names] a carpenter and a sign writer who were putting together the black and gold windows and childrens’ floor furniture. He is diligently working away in his own mess.Untitled-9

Uriah would amble up to the tearoom with bins and garbage bags and chat away to us whilst he swept everything into great piles. We found it very hard to understand what he was saying but enjoyed the conversations anyway. There was so much commotion at the store, everyone racing around in panic with walkie talkies screeching he was welcome respite. He moved through Big Biba in slow motion,  a solitary figure unless he had Otto , Barbara’s great Dane with him.  Sometimes he he would bring Otto up to the roof garden and we would marvel at the pair of them, they had exactly the same languid gait especially viewed from  behind and they had a strong bond.
I could never determine how old Uriah was, he could have been forty years old or sixty. His slowness made me think he was quite old but maybe that was because everyone else was working at hyper speed.
Steve told us a story about him once. Apparently Uriah used to clear up after fashion shoots at the store and at these sessions there would be all kinds of props including potted plants and feathers to create the Biba ambiance. There would also be cardboard backdrops covered in Biba wallpapers  all to be disposed of after the shoot.  One day someone was invited to Uriah’s flat and was astonished to see that he had kept all the props and decorated his flat with them. He had propped up all the wallpaper backdrops around the flat creating a mini Biba environment for himself. We all remember him fondly, I often wonder what became of him. He is also to be seen with Otto on the front of the Biba newspaper.
Here are some more pics from that session. Chris sent them from his phone a few years ago and I had not seen them since 1973.spot the duck

Mick at his desk. If you look behind him next to the desk and underneath the far doors there is a solitary duck waddling around. In the foreground is the sign writers and carpenters area.

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Mick and me , same pose, at a desk having a cigarette break by the looks of it. Under my right arm is an iconic tin of ‘cow gum’, this was the petroleum product glue we used to paste all our bits of paper down with. It was horrible stuff, highly flammable with terrible fumes which made us giddy and gave us headaches. So glad to see the back of it.

Mick and me working away.

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Mick and Chris posing with various hand painted black and gold glass panels.Untitled-6

Mick with a huge photo print of Barrelina [ from the pinup  colouring book ]. I believe this was going to be mounted on wood for the Rainbow room.Untitled-7

Mick at his desk.

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Chris and Mick on the sun pavilion.

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Mick and Steve.

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Mick and a food hall lady adapted and painted by the sign painter. I wonder where she is now?Untitled-12

Mick at his desk. My desk is in the foreground, I was working on the soapflakes pack amongst all the crap. The workmen used to dump loads of stuff on and around

my desk.

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It is a shame we have no photos of any of the floors in progress but it would have been frowned upon, it was to remain a mystery until the store opened.

4 comments

  1. Kasia, these photos are priceless…especially the one of Uriah. Thank you so much for posting them. x

  2. thank you ruby foot. Yes, lovely memories.

  3. murray · · Reply

    Dear Kasia,i dont think you would ever believe how happy you have made me today -discovering your blog has to be one of the hliglights of my year so far ! I have not been able to do anything today except read your wonderful recollections of time in the world long gone.
    I adore your work and for me the Biba world was only fully complete when you arrived .I visited Big Biba in 1973/74 and the experience was life defining,I had to be a part of this world at ALL cost’s.
    Seeing the photos of you all in the design studio/roof garden is a delight ,and i can only thank you again for sharing something so special !
    THANK YOU for you beautiful,exquisite and magical work!

  4. Kasia Charko · · Reply

    Thank you so much Murray, what lovely things to say, it means a lot to me. There was a time when I thought that all the Biba work was gone and would never be remembered or seen again, I am so glad it had such an effect on you.

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