Covent Garden

Michael Leonard Pargiter

05 April 2008

Mike PargiterMichael Leonard Pargiter
26 February to 4 April 2008

On the morning of Friday April 4th, the Trust’s long-serving and dedicated Company Secretary and former Trustee, Mike Pargiter, died in Wexham Park Hospital, Slough, after a short illness at the age of 71.

Mike was a member of the GLC Covent Garden Team from 1978 until its abolition in 1986. He became head of the Team when the London Residuary Body assumed control. After the former GLC-owned lands were sold, he became an estate surveyor in the Royal Parks Agency until his retirement in 1997. He offered to work voluntarily in the Trust office, was elected a Trustee for the prescribed two sessions and, subsequently, was appointed Company Secretary.

Trustees, former colleagues and friends joined his family, and his wife Margaret, for a service to celebrate his life at St Thomas of Canterbury Church in West Hyde, the village where they lived near Rickmansworth, on Wednesday April 16th.

Among the mourners was Leana Pooley, the Trust’s Administrator from 1992 until her retirement in 2006. She wrote the following words which were read out to the congregation by the Rev Canon Graham Hardwick, Mike’s cousin who conducted the service.


Throughout the 1990s I was one of two other women – apart from Margaret – who shared Mike’s life. Twice a week, from about 1996 until 2006 Mike came to help me run the Covent Garden Area Trust.

His last years of employment as a civil servant with the Greater London Council had ended with him overseeing central Covent Garden. The GLC team had converted the Piazza from a fruit and vegetable market into a beautifully restored historic market building full of lively shops. Mike’s job was to continue with the GLC’s plan to keep a balance between unusual tenants, colourful street theatre and happy, involved residents. When the GLC was abolished Mike gravitated back to Covent Garden - together with many of his colleagues – to help the Trust which had been set up to maintain the GLC’s enlightened aims.

Of all the retired ex-GLC people who gave their time voluntarily to the Trust, Mike gave the most. Before his hip operation, he would struggle painfully and dutifully into our office near the Piazza. We worked well together because he had a brilliant understanding of bureaucracy and was a whiz at filling in forms, which I hated doing.

Not that Mike was dull and predictable – far from it. That modest conventional exterior concealed a passionate art lover. All the time we worked together he also went to a weekly art class and his excellent watercolours were regularly chosen to appear at the annual Bedford Park exhibition in Chiswick.

He adored show business and fun and glamour. The other woman in his life in the 1990s, apart from Margaret and me, was Darcey Bussell, then an ethereal young ballet dancer. Mike loved watching her on stage and when he occasionally glimpsed her in the streets of Covent Garden, he would be thrilled.

The framework of Mike’s life was formed by duty and ritual. His strong sense of duty made him an invaluable lynch pin of the Trust. He was Company Secretary for many years until his death – all unpaid. He and Margaret also gave invaluable help to Pargiter Court, a sheltered housing scheme in Soho. The elderly inhabitants enjoyed regular teas in London provided by Mike and Margaret and, in the summer, visits to Pynesmoor Cottage, their house near Rickmansworth.

The ritual of Mike’s life combined the weekly train journeys to Covent Garden with the less regular long car journeys to their cottage in Cornwall. These car journeys were a rite of passage all their own. As with everything about Mike, there was a quirky element.

When Mike was a child, his parents took him every summer with them on their Cornish holidays. His mother was a nervous passenger and his father therefore followed a route on minor roads given to him by the AA. Mike continued to follow this route throughout his life. I know about this because when I bought a cottage in a remote part of Somerset, I was amazed that Mike immediately said “I know North Brewham. It’s on my way to Cornwall”. Sure enough, Mike and Margaret would regularly appear at our country cottage before heading towards yet another backwater on their way west.

There are three stories about Mike – which he told me himself – which always make me laugh. In the days before Margaret got her own snazzy red car, she was driving somewhere with Mike when they were overtaken – and cut up – by a motorcyclist. Both Pargiters were outraged. Margaret put her foot down and followed the motorbike. She roared round roundabouts and up suburban streets and finally chased him down a side alley … which ended in a car park behind office blocks. She and Mike found themselves on their own, in a “no man’s land” of concrete and barbed wire, facing a black leather figure on a motorbike pointing right at them. How Margaret managed to screech to a halt, do a wheelie, roar backwards in a cloud of burning tyre smoke, I can’t imagine. It was a glorious ending in which a middle-aged, backbone-of-England couple triumphed over something sinister and evil.

Mike’s next story involved yet another ritual – the regular trips to America to stay with Margaret’s sister and brother-in-law. It also highlights Mike and Margaret’s great love of jolly japes. They arrived at the American airport, went through customs and then, instead of being like normal people and walking out to greet their nearest and dearest, they dressed up in a bizarre fashion in order to make their folks laugh. I can’t remember what Margaret wore but Mike certainly put on a repulsive mask to look like the creepy killer – wasn’t he called Pizza Face? – in the film Nightmare on Elm Street. I think one of them was wearing a red wig. As they pushed their trolley, all disguised, through the swing doors into the airport lounge, they were gradually aware that, instead of smiling relations, they were facing a line of armed police.

Mike’s third story is set at home in their cosy old cottage, Pynesmoor, where Margaret, a pillar of the community, was entertaining the local wine tasting club. Mike was not so keen on the wine tasting and decided, earlier that evening, to instead play with a new computer game in his den upstairs. Being polite, the couple decided they would explain Mike’s absence by saying he had to attend a meeting elsewhere.

At some point in the evening one of the guests, giving a flowery description of a certain wine, was rudely interrupted by loud crashes and bangs from upstairs. Margaret, racking her brains, said that a picture must have come loose and fallen to the ground in a bedroom. In fact, it was Mike. He had been having an exciting time trying out a new flight simulation programme. All had gone well as he steered his plane around the world until he came in to land at an exotic airport. Too fast and too low, he crashed into the upper slopes of a volcano. Being a good and realistic computer game, the result was a series of violent explosions and clouds of smoke.

During the course of writing these few memories of Mike, I looked up the website for the Covent Garden Area Trust. Every year there is a Rent Ceremony where the Trustees walk around the Piazza behind a jazz band. They pay a charming peppercorn rent of red apples and posies of flowers. Every year photographs are taken of the event and a collection of these – arranged by year – can be seen on the website.

The photos of Mike combine so many elements of his personality. The reason he’s there is because he’s the Trust’s Company Secretary but this is not just devotion to duty – he’s thrown himself into the occasion. In one, his love of art and theatre is obvious – he’s wearing a boater with a ribbon round it which matches his waistcoat which matches not only Margaret’s hat but also the little coat worn by their inevitable West Highland terrier. In another picture from another year he’s sporting a bright red bow tie and Margaret’s waving a special flag he made, printed with the Trust’s name and logo.

Year after year you can see Mike wreathed in smiles, dressed up to the nines, jollying everyone along. This is how I will remember him – having a wonderful time – in one of his favourite places.
Covent Garden Area Trust
42 Earlham St, The 7 Dials Club, London WC2H 9LA
Tel: 020 7497 9245 |
Registered Charity No: 299874. Registered at Companies House, Cardiff. Registered No: 02280893.

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