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The Comedy of Errors

Advertising Sectioned: Leech Homes – Follow the Arrows To Better Living! (c.1984)

4 September 17 words: Wayne Burrows

Local adverts ripped from the pages of history...

A house-building company advertising new homes in places like Cotgrave, Retford, Mansfield, and Bingham during the early eighties was inevitably going to try and work a bit of Robin Hood into its pitch. Pinning an otherwise bog-standard advert to a tree with an arrow was clearly a no-brainer for whoever designed this effort, taken from a copy of a magazine that (equally inevitably) featured a picture of Torvill and Dean on its front cover.

Despite all the Nottinghamshire trappings of its advertising, though, the construction company, founded by William Leech in 1934, was actually a Geordie rather than a Midlands concern. Leech was an engineer from Tyneside who, at the age of 21, decided that his ambitions in life were “to own a Rolls Royce, a country estate and a charitable trust.” All three of which he presumably more than comfortably managed.

His big “selling point” was efficiency. He decided that the standard approach to building places to live during his own time was outmoded and insufficiently profitable, and pioneered methods of mass commercial building that remain standard to this day. Perhaps it’s Leech we ultimately have to thank for those all-too-familiar gatherings of near-identical semis clustered around branches of Morrisons next to bypasses and motorways all over the UK.

Still, at least his eighties advertising (just about) acknowledges that housing is about creating things for people to live in rather than just investment opportunities. These days, even the least adequate cul-de-sac shoebox has to play the role of corporate profit generator and makeshift pension fund, long before anyone even attempts to squeeze a bed and settee over the implausibly tight threshold of its white UPVC front porch.

Housing in the UK is now Leech-like in more ways than one, so when Robin Hood is roped in to flog the stock, it carries more than a touch of irony. At least one UK high street bank has been pitching its mortgages on its cashpoint screens with the catch-line: “It felt like a fairy tale when I finally walked into my own home.” Which raises the question of how the whole idea of having a decent place to live became something to be routinely flogged as a fantasy.


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