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Little Robert of Portobello Road
by Jilliana Ranicar-Breese

We, the collectable vintage dealers of Portobello Road flea market, called Robert Gray, 'Little Robert'. I suppose he was young and gay but not especially little or Camp.

 I adored Little Robert, who had a wonderful stage speaking voice. He had trained as an actor but when 'resting' would scurry around the flea markets looking for antique collectibles to sell to dealers like myself. He successfully found me ventriloquist dummies as I had about 8 in my ever growing magical collection. We would see Little Robert without fail every Saturday. He was one of the regular characters of Portobello.

Over a period of time he bought a small flat with inherited money. I never saw it but he described it in graphic detail. It was a one bedroom bachelor flat the wrong end of Angel in Islington on the crossroads with Pentonville Road. The salubrious red light district area I was told.

Suddenly Little Robert stopped coming to Portobello. Why? What had happened? I became concerned. Silence reigned!

Many months later he reappeared severely changed. He looked older, wiser and was obviously on medication. Gone was the lighthearted gay Little Robert. I demanded to know what had happened.

What a story!

One night Robert was in bed asleep. Reading between the lines I don't believe he was alone, when crash wallop, a black taxi cab drove into his flat through his living room wall just like in a Laurel and Hardy comedy film. Only it was for real! The driver was unhurt and ran for his life. The taxi had broken through the wall and was wedged in front of the bedroom door so poor Robert, apart from being in shock, could not open it to get out and report the incident to the police.

This was in the early 80s and mobile phones were not conveniently on the bedside table. Robert pushed and pushed but at 1.00 am he was shaken and trapped. The only way out was through his bedroom window on the second floor. What to do? Somehow he clambered out down a drainpipe in the moonlight into his backyard and tried to jump over the wall to alert a neighbour. He never spoke about his bedfellow and I didn't dare ask.

The neighbours on hearing the resounding crash, alerted the Police thinking they had seen a 'burglar' escaping out of the window down the drainpipe. The Police arrived and arrested him, not seeing the funny side especially as there was no black cab driver as a witness because he had scarpered into the night. Poor Little Robert was hauled down to the Police station in his pyjamas, to give a statement and prove he was not a 'burglar'. He did not want to involve his bedfellow as a witness.

Later after his ordeal having nowhere to live because the flat had to be completely renovated, he had a complete nervous breakdown. He ended up in a private nursing home, with a famous TV actor but would not say which one. He told me he was on the same wavelength as him. Was it Jeremy Brett who had played Sherlock Holmes? There was a hint it could have been.

He rarely came to visit us at Lipka's Arcade after that. We heard he did well out of the large insurance claim buying a bigger and better flat. After that I had to find my own dummies until I finally had 12 which my future husband, magical Martin, helped me sell to Retonio, the Swiss ventriloquist from Appenzell, Switzerland who had opened a museum and an auction house. Martin stated he did not want to be 13th dummy!

Written in front of a log fire in the lounge of the cozy Roman Boutique Hotel, Paphos, Cyprus on 7/1/17.