The Trade Journalist We Deserved
Trevor Tarring (latterly of this parish but for the most part editor and managing director of London Metal Bulletin) was the thinking man’s metal person. There is almost no area of our metal trade that Trevor’s journalism did not touch.
Like many of us in the world of metals, Trevor was born into it. His father, Leslie, had joined the London Metal Bulletin in 1920, not long after its founding in 1913, and was still editor when Trevor joined in 1953. By the time Trevor retired in 1999, father and son had between them tillered the Bulletin for 79 years.
Graduating from Brasenose College, Oxford in English, Trevor brought to MB journalistic rigour, anecdote, and acute price reporting. During his years at the helm, it can certainly be said that the trade was enhanced by the high standards he set.
This was not an easy matter as he described in an article for Lord Copper written with a touch of wistfulness in January 2018 entitled Long Ago and Far Away.
‘In those days a total of 25 souls ensured Metal Bulletin appeared as a print product twice a week. By the time you subtract those concerned with managing and selling subscriptions and advertising, keeping track of the cash, working on and selling the reference books and managing the business generally, it will be seen that there were not many left to write the articles, discover the prices and deal with readers complaining about one or other of these (or both).’
I was lucky enough to be acquainted with him outside the confines of trade journalism because of our shared interest in writing in general as well as the friendly relations he enjoyed with my father, and various of my bosses, notably Colin Williams and Malcolm (Mick) Brackenbury. Always the umpire (not only of price) Trevor was often to be seen on a summer’s day in white coat stewarding the sometimes-ropey batting and bowling employed by metal traders wheeled onto the pitch once a year for the Wogen Cricket Match in Vincent Square; a Pickwickian affair that Trevor’s literary sense would certainly have appreciated.
His great love, outside journalism, as is well known was messing about with cars (or as Emma his daughter corrected me - taking a leaf out her father’s book - ‘fettling’) a connection he shared with both the Brackenbury brothers and Colin Williams of Wogen. Mick’s Dad, Charles Brackenbury, had raced at Brooklands, and Trevor lived within walking distance of the track and the famous ‘Test Hill’. He lived at Robin Hill on St George’s Hill where he garaged his beloved open top Frazer Nash(es) and was Captain of the Frazer Nash Club from 1984-87.
Lunch with Trevor in recent years was always heralded by the veteran Frazer Nash Anzani puffing and spluttering elegantly into the drive. Jumping in to head out to the Casa Romana in Weybridge, it was noticeable how the traffic stopped to give way for its metal reporting driver to pass, whether in awe of his journalism or his vehicular choice, I am not sure.
What Trevor did for sure in his role as editor and managing director at MB was to stand firm against generations of bullying metal merchants eternally complaining about MB’s published prices if they were not in their favour, while still managing to remain on friendly terms. Trevor knew his role and never deviated towards the idea that he might be a trader. It was Trevor who enhanced inviolable rules about how and which prices were quotable, how averages were constructed, how consumer delivered prices were essential to published price authority, and how they should be promulgated.
Although I would argue that the journalistic side of the now online successor publication has diminished since Trevor’s departure, the money-making pricing its new owners enjoy, as now published by the re-branded Euromoney-owned Fastmarkets, owes everything to him. Today, while fewer metals contracts are based on LMB pricing, the valuation of listed companies worldwide would not be feasible without Fastmarkets’ authoritative benchmarks which guarantee high subscriptions.
His legacy, aside from this, though, will be in the many books on our trade which he took great pains to research and write. When all is said and done, when trading days are over, and metal traders sit by the fire to reminisce, whisky in hand, over fine trades past, it will be the books Trevor wrote that will be a true record of the sweep of metal history; one which those involved were too busy to record.
Trevor was an inveterate collector of stories and some of the best of these are contained in his books. His 1997 book ‘Corner! A Century of Market Manipulation’, is I think one of the best examples; each chapter recording various megalomaniac traders’ psychopathic determination to dominate one market or another. In Corner! Trevor takes us chapter by chapter on a journey of some of the colossal failed attempts - the Secretan Syndicate, such moments as the Bandoeng Pool, the Aluminium Cartel of the 1970s or the crazy scenes in the tungsten market which led to Simon Hicks of Metal Traders Ltd bankrupting in 1972 the established LME firm of which he was an employee, or Nelson Bunker Hunt’s attempt in the early 1980s at cornering the silver market.
In his portrait of Hicks, (comically dubbed ‘Simonix’ by Trevor in a nod to Goscinny and Uderzo and our famous Gauls) his character of inveterate gambler, which ultimately betrayed him, is brought to life in the account (which Trevor obtained direct from its protagonist) of a train journey commuting to London. If there was no metal to bet on there was life – and Hicks wagered his fellow passenger in the First-Class carriage that the train would not arrive on time into Waterloo. When Hicks could see he was about to lose the bet he pulled the communication chord and demanded the £20 fine to be paid to the irate guard from the passenger’s £100 stake which had been put down at odds of two to one.
Now that Trevor is gone, I shall read his books ever more closely, partly to remember him, but also to glean the wisdom and comment he has left between hard covers.
Perhaps I need to reach for a motoring metaphor in Trevor’s honour? He was someone who got under the bonnet of our trade and, if he emerged somewhat dishevelled and covered in grease from the effort and brickbats, what emerged was a finely tuned engine! Indeed, I would argue, that his unwavering, uncorruptible, price reporting, is one of the reasons London remains the metal trading capital of the world. Here at least it is not possible to rig published prices.
I would suggest anyone entering the metal trade today does themselves the service of reading him for they will gain a sense of continuity, morality, and values that remain distinct from the vulgar task of making money.
His dry and wry commentary on the world of metals will be much missed.
Further Reading: By simply entering ‘Trevor Tarring’ into the Lord Copper search engine you will find 12 reflective articles which we were proud to publish in the last few years.
By Anthony Lipmann, First Published on www.lord-copper.com June 2023