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The antique dealer Captain Bob
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The antique dealer Captain BobCaptain Bob is one of the great characters of Portobello Road, with a long history in the antiques trade... and, as Rachel Surtees discovers, an even longer memory.

If you stumble across the Captain's Corner in The Red Lion arcade, you'll immediately realise you're in the presence of one of the great Portobello characters they talk so much about. "They call me Captain Bob, but I'm actually a fraud," he says. "Some of my items might be spurious, and they are often curious. You may like to know that I talk in rhyme, much of the time."

Captain Bob remembers his date of birth but rarely his age... he's 78. With the years has come a veritable wealth of experience. He started off as a trainee navigator claiming that he "could have been Prime Minister, but chose not to be". He sailed from Hamburg to Mumbai with his brother Stephen, and then spent years working for British Aerospace. He began trading at Portobello Road market 25 years ago. Starting off with just a shelf in someone else's shop, he then moved on to work with the famous Susan Garth, the founder of The Red Lion arcade, London's first antique market. "She allowed me in on the condition that everything I sold had to be old." Captain Bob trades in general antiques, explaining that he's never been tempted to specialise because he enjoys being "encyclopaedic". The Captain is not only extremely knowledgeable about what he sells but it's fair to say that his stall overflows with jewellery, vases, glass, candlesticks, snuffboxes, old frames and figurines each of which invariably has a wonderful story attached. That said, he does have a soft spot for Roman coins, some of which he sells for less than £7. "These are genuine antiques, not just 100 or 200 years old, but 1,700 years old." His eyes wide at the very idea that what he is selling could be that old.

It's hard to say what's most attractive about the Captain's Corner: the 500 items of stock that cover every nook and cranny of the stall, or Captain Bob and his wondrous stories. He's seen some remarkable sights during his 25 years at Portobello Road Market, such as a 90-year-old tap dancer and an escaped macaw that caused havoc in the market. His eyes glitter with delight as he recalls the time that a young dealer working under his tutelage managed to persuade a customer known as Freddy the Frog to part with his white shoes for £10. "We watched him walk back up Portobello Road barefoot, looking for a new pair of shoes."


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