James Anstruther Maxtone Graham
1924-2001James Anstruther Maxtone Graham photograph (adapted) courtesy of original by Robert Maxtone Graham
Obituary
by Ysenda Maxtone Graham
Published in 'The Times'
WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 12 2001

Son of the real Mrs Miniver, who became the leading dealer in vintage fishing tackle, entrepreneur with a passion for hobbies and a knack of turning any hobby into a profit-making business, Jamie Maxtone Graham was the world's leading dealer in vintage fishing tackle, and a major influence on the rise of the vintage fishing tackle trade. Single-mindedly, after his first success in 1979, when he bought a Malloch reel for £315 and sold it to a German for £350, he built up a clientèle in 29 countries, from Scandinavia to America and Japan. In his annual catalogue, he flattered and charmed his international readership ("The customers who buy my best tackle," he wrote, "are those who are quick and efficient communicators.") before tempting them with hundreds of antique rods and reels. He also published in each catalogue a list of "delayed settlements", naming and thereby shaming customers who owed him money.

James Anstruther Maxtone Graham was born in London in 1924. He inherited his gift for using few but well chosen words from his mother, the author Jan Struther. His father, Tony Maxtone Graham, was a Lloyd's broker and son of a Perthshire laird. In his mother's book Mrs Miniver, the eldest son, the Etonian Vin, bears a striking resemblance to Jamie. In one of the stories, there is an overpowering stench in the Minivers' country cottage, which turns out to be coming from decaying lugworms from Vin's fishing haversack.

Jamie was a passionately keen angler from an early age, but he hated Eton, and after a few withering school reports he was taken away and sent instead to Gordonstoun -- which he loathed even more. After the fall of France in 1940, his mother and two younger siblings went to America for five years. His father joined the Scots Guards and Jamie, after finishing at school, did the same. He was injured during training, but served in Trieste at the end of the war, and it was there that he developed a lifelong love of card-playing, crosswords, and Strega.

When his father inherited the family estate in Perthshire, Cultoquhey, after the war, Jamie took on the running of the farm. He married Diana Macgregor in 1952 and they had three children. But in 1956 his father sold Cultoquhey and Jamie lost what he had always believed would be his inheritance. He even had to buy from his father the farmhouse in which he and his family were living. So his entrepreneurial instinct was sharpened by necessity.

He had a natural gift for selling by flattering the gullible customer. When his brother was about to dump a 20-year-old car which at first would not go backwards, but then would not go forwards either, Jamie dissuaded him. "I guarantee," he said, "that I can sell this car for you in 24 hours." The next day, sure enough, the car was sold. Jamie had run a short advertisement in the Strathearn Herald "Bargain for Enthusiast."

A troubled and unsettled man, he moved on his own to Streatley in Berkshire in the mid-1960s to become a freelance journalist, preferring to write for American papers because they paid so well. For one of his most memorable articles, he was commissioned by the magazine The Coronet to be a stowaway on board a ship to Bermuda. He was nearly caught as a result of his inability to resist entering the shipboard games competitions. Finding himself about to win the clay pigeon shooting competition, he had to start missing on purpose.

He liked to live in chaos: using the expression from poultry farming, he boasted that he ran his car "on the deep-litter principle". The only tidiness in his life was in his list-making; in this, he could be fiercely clear-minded. He catalogued the family collection of 78rpm records, not only alphabetically but also numerically: One Sweet Letter From You, Two Bass Hit, Three Little Words, Four-string Joe, Five Pennies, Six Appeal, and so on. The smallest in the collection was The Half of It, Dearie, Blues; the largest was Fifty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong.

He was divorced in 1972, and married a second Diana, Diana Pilcher. This marriage lasted only four years, and in 1976, twice divorced and living alone in Peebles, he decided it was time to acquire some domestic accomplishments. He tried to enrol for the local dressmaking class, but was refused a place on the ground of his sex. He had better luck with the local cookery course.

A lover of good food, he quickly became an excellent cook, and decided to start a restaurant in his house in Peebles High Street, called The Thirty Nine Steps. It was the smallest restaurant in Britain, with only one table. "My table seats seven," he wrote in the introduction to his menu, "or eight if you know each other very well." He became famous across southern Scotland for his jugged hare, his bouillabaisse, and his curries with home-ground spices, and his customers always invited him to sit and eat with them, at his own expense.

He fished, all the while, on the Tweed, and rented holiday cottages to visiting anglers, providing each cottage with a converted cigarette machine: when guests put a coin in the slot, out came a packet of a dozen tied flies, made by Jamie. He hired himself out as a van and driver; he taught fishing to parties of teenagers; but as soon as the fishing tackle business started, his other enterprises faded into the background. A new single-mindedness gripped him.

He bought a complete collection of Ordnance Survey maps and drew rings around country estates. Driving for hundreds of miles in his camper-van, he would cold-call at these country houses and inquire whether Lord X would be interested in selling some of the redundant contents of his gun-room. In this way, visiting houses, writing letters to anyone who listed "angling" among his hobbies in Who's Who, and buying up the entire stocks of Hardy reels at Mullock auctions, he built an unmatched collection. One of his proudest finds was a gaff with the inscription "To my dear and faithful servant", inscribed to John Brown from Queen Victoria. Unsentimental, he sold it at a handsome profit.

Often away from home, he asked potential customers to leave their names and addresses on his answering machine. Returning one evening to find a mumbled message on the machine, he sent off a catalogue to "The Occupier, 19 Inaudible Crescent, Alloa". The next day the recipient telephoned him with an order.

He was a prodigious drinker. Of wine he said: "I prefer quantity to quality." He had a buzzer on his wristwatch set for noon and 6pm; as soon as it went off he poured himself a glass of gin and tonic, putting it under the dashboard if he was driving.

Knowing that his memory was deserting him, he handed the tackle business over to his son Robert in 1994. The following year he was admitted to a nursing home. He is survived by a daughter and two sons.

Jamie Maxtone Graham, vintage tackle dealer, was born on May 10, 1924. He died on November 22, 2001, aged 77.