“THE BEST OF LUCK! THE BEST OF LUCK! THE BEST OF LUCK! THE BEST…”
I can’t have been more than six years old when I first heard those words. Horace White was most closely associated with the Sainsbury’s branch in Finchley, but made regular visits to the Camden Town branch. My family’s visits to the Camden Town supermarket were rarer – I was much more used to traipsing round Safeway’s in Holloway.
But one Sunday back in about the year 2000 we ended up in Camden Town for some reason or other, and one thing stuck in my head: a muffled, repeated exclamation: “THE BEST OF LUCK!”
It didn’t seem like it was directed at particular individuals, simply repeated over and over again. I didn’t even know quite what it was he was saying until repeating it at the house of a family friend who was looking after my brother and I; and it was then I learnt the first of many stories of “The Best of Luck Man” – or Horace White.
But back to Sainsbury’s on that fateful Sunday. I kept hoping we would see where this exclamation was coming from; but like us, he moved quickly from aisle to aisle. The exhortations would get quieter, then louder again, reaching crescendo. “THE BEST OF LUCK! THE BEST OF LUCK!”
Finally, finally, I caught a glimpse of him, but only in the hazy distance: perhaps in the spirit of his legendary status.
I may have seen him once or twice more in the years ahead, but I certainly haven’t in the past eight years or so. I wasn’t sure that he was still active in what he was best known for. But at various points in the years after my first encounter I discovered I wasn’t the only one to be fascinated.
I remember being humoured by a schoolfriend who remembered the stress being on “THE”. As in “THE bestofluck. THE bestofluck. etc. etc.”
My RE teacher at secondary described him as a “great man” and an “inspiration”. And at some point, I think when I was about nine years old, I ended up doing a bit of research about him on the internet, and ended up co-writing an anthem in his honour, with three verses and a chorus.
It was exciting at the time to discover that “The Best of Luck Man” was famous. (Obviously he was if he was talked about on the internet.) There were numerous stories, including lots about people winding him up. If you go on YouTube, you can probably find heartless videos of this. Sickening. But it’s clear from the tributes of the last few days that he’ll be most remembered for his good spirits rather than his reactions to aggression. In the material age, at the heart of materialism – the supermarket – there was someone who was willing to go a long way to spread goodwill.
I also discovered at this point that his real manor was Finchley – and that he was known even better here than he was in Camden Town.
There was one story that particularly resonated with me. One online commentator described how bus-traveller Horace – when he came to his bus stop – would wait on the staircase, out of the view of the driver, until the doors began to close. At that point he would make himself visible and exclaim “what’s the hurry?” I’ve no idea if this is true or not, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to try out ever since.
There was one website (and more I’ve found since) that called him “Hotel Horace”. Can anyone explain that one?
Years later, I discovered I wasn’t the only one to turn the story of “THE BEST OF LUCK!” into song. There’s this offering, that’s not bad – an amateur effort evidently not written by young children. Ours was equally positive – perhaps more so. I don’t remember all of the verses, but here’s the chorus:
“THE BEST OF LUCK!
THE BEST OF LUCK!
He’s wishing you the best of luck.
THE BEST OF LUCK!
THE BEST OF LUCK!
And that is what we wish him now.”
We do indeed.