This is my autobiography from the point of view of my DIY activities – other aspects of my life have been left out.
I was born a few years before the end of World War II - I’m telling you this because I’m sure the society and era into which I was borne had a great influence on my involvement in DIY.
When I was about 5 years old, - I had to crawl under the floorboards, to pull a cable to the other end of the room to help my father re-wire the house – the selection for this job was more a matter of size than of talent. Just after the war you had to do-it-yourself: you couldn’t just “get-someone-in” to do it - there was nobody to get in. So much so, that my father managed to cobble up a bench saw. This enabled him to cut old timber reclaimed from the Thames and reclamation yards. In about 1949/50 my father started boat building – first a Cadet, then a GP14 and later a Heron.
Somewhere in this period, a small dingy, made out of hardboard, appeared and was used avidly – this lasted remarkable well. It seemed natural for me to follow on but in a smaller way. I built a few canoes and one Eskimo Kayak, which was too dangerous for me to be allowed to use on the river. For my 14th birthday I was given an Austin 7 Ruby (it cost £3 10s as far as I can recall). I stripped it down and use it as the base for a ‘special’ – finishing it in time to drive when I passed my test. However, it proved slow and unreliable so I graduated to renovating a very tatty TR2 and a Frog-eye Sprite (the Sprite was sold as a deposit for our first house).
I got married and we started to renovate our own homes. To make up my wages, I undertook house rewiring and plumbing jobs. Eventually, after many years in one rather boring job, I went to Teacher Training College to train as a Science (Physics) teacher. I taught for about 7 years and found that it was not for me. So my wife and I started a building company which we ran for about 6 years. I took City and Guild exams in both plumbing and electrical installation at the time – simply so that I could do the work myself and did not have to subcontract it.
One winter about 21 years ago, we were sitting in the kitchen, snowed in and huddling beside the Rayburn to keep warm, chatting and thinking of what to do next. It struck me that I was asked so many questions about how to do jobs that there was a need to help people with DIY work. So, in January 1987, my wife and I took the plunge and started running courses to teach DIY. We had no idea how to market the courses so I phoned Do- It-All Head Office and asked if we could advertise the courses in their stores. It was one of those turning points – I was put through to the marketing manager who thought about the idea for 2 seconds and said “No… but we do need someone to check our information leaflets” (Project Guides as they were called then). This was the beginning of my career as a DIY advisor.
Perhaps I should mention a few of the things we’ve done in the DIY world. You will have realised by now that my wife and I work very closely together. I’ve worked for Do-It-All (now Focus), as a freelance DIY advisor, since January 1987. Being freelance allowed me to dabble in other activities. I’m afraid the dates are a little hazy but in about 1988 I did a series of DIY programmes with Pam Rhodes (of Songs of Praise fame) for Lifestyle TV. These were great fun and led to some live TV work for early satellite TV channels. I did a few pilots but I am not beautiful enough for serious TV. However, I did some work for Our House with Harry Green and Patty Coldwell and auditioned for the Handy Andy job on Changing Rooms. In 1977 I filmed a series called Tool Box for Channel 4 - my co-presenter was a comedian (who’s name escapes me). This was a continuous giggle but I’m not sure how successful it was.
Sometime during this batch of work, I was asked to do a DIY decorating and repair video called Back to Basics. When the video was finished, I was asked when the accompanying book would be ready – no one had mentioned a book until now – so I was given a month to write it (Tony Lush, (1993) DIY Back to Basics. Chessington: Castel Communications). In 1993, we were asked to build Wendy Houses for the sets of one episode of London’s Burning. This was a charity event in aid of Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital (the plans for this Wendy House are available – see the projects section of this site).
Another of these wonderful, out of the blue jobs was to organised the tasks for the DIY Woman of the Year challenge (a bit politically incorrect now – I’m sorry). While I was finding out that I was not beautiful enough for TV, Dulux gave me the opportunity to do some radio work with them. This was a revelation, you don’t need to look good on radio. Since then I’ve loved radio – it’s a nice cosy branch of the media. I still do radio work and love every minute of it.
Do-It-All asked me to help prepare the training for their staff. This involved writing a training manual or, rather, a series of training manuals. Each time I do something like this I hope that, one day, I’ll get the opportunity to make DIY (home improvement) a serious subject on the further education syllabus.
More recently Channel 4 asked me to do the Q&A section of the Channel4homes web site and Haynes Publishing asked me to write a book, which is now completed, called The Gardens Building Manual. This was a wonderful opportunity that gave me the chance to design and build my own projects and to learn to take photographs – all but three of the photographs in the book were taken by my wife or myself.
In the 20 years I’ve been a DIY advisor, I’ve been concerned about people’s attitude towards personal safety. I feel that I should try to encourage safer working but, to do so, I need to understand the psychology of safety. To help me towards this I’ve just completed an MSc in Business Psychology (concentrating, where possible, on safety attitudes and aspects). With my wife’s permission and some sponsorship, I hope to achieve a PhD. The reason for mentioning this is that you will find requests for safety comments and experiences and a questionnaire or two cropping up on this web site. I hope you will feel inclined to help me with these.