Digger: Morning Neil. How are you?
Neil: Fine thanks David. You?
Digger: Very good thanks. Shall I dive in to the questions?
Neil: Yes. Please go ahead.
Digger: Can you please tell us about your background and the
background to The Retro Caravan Company?
Neil: Well, I've always had a VW split-screen and the family
grew and we had to have more space for the holidays. I thought I'd look for
a caravan but English ones just didn't do it for me. Eventually I
managed to find a Dutch one - a Mostard, and from that point onwards people
kept saying "Nice caravan." And I thought "Hmm." That was about
five or six years ago and since then I've sold quite a few of them and I've got a selection
of my own that I just use for prop hire and so on. I store them down
the road in a barn along with some vintage tents and vintage
Windbreaks and chairs and that sort of stuff - all things to do with
camping from the fifties to the seventies.
Digger: This whole retro thing is a really big thing now,
Neil: Yes, I know and I was there early. So I managed to get
some nice pieces and some terrific vans and some really stylish French
Digger: So you have some Dutch caravans, some French tents...
Neil: Yes, I've got Dutch, Swedish and Belgian caravans and
the tents are French and a few English ones.
Digger: So you're not into Musketeers or Alpines?
Neil: No. They just haven't got the shape. There's only a couple
of English caravans that I'd go for and they're all too rare
Digger: There are some things that we do, or did, really
well but caravans weren't top of the list, were they?
Neil: No, the Dutch seem to have the style and especially the
Swedish. They were on the back of Bauhaus design.
Digger: My dad was quite a pioneer and used to take us over
to Spain and France in the late sixties with a caravan. I can remember
all sorts of great caravanning memories. It was unusual in those days but
not so these days. Retro camping - it's a big thing now isn't it?
Neil: It is now, yes.
Digger: Please tell us about your passion for these fifties,
sixties and seventies caravans and camping equipment.
Neil: I just love vintage stuff. My house is full of vintage
and retro furniture from the fifties and sixties. My cooker's vintage
sixties, my fridge is vintage fifties and the whole kitchen is from the
Digger: Keeping these things maintained and working - you
must be skillful at that and finding the parts?
Neil: I'm a carpenter by trade anyway and I did sculpture at
university so I'm handy with my hands. A furniture maker too, so I can turn
my hand to most things. I'm a handyman now doing maintenance on about
Digger: Why are we so nostalgic about those times and about
Retro, even those of us who can't remember them?
Neil: If they didn't grow up with them themselves then they
saw them didn't they? That's how I got the bug - my uncle had fifteen
campers rotting away in his garden and I loved them. My mother was always
going away in caravans and I spent a large part of my life in a caravan just
travelling from farm to farm working for many years.
Digger: Eating from a pressure cooker?
Neil: Oh yes! Certainly did. I just think people like the
shapes and what goes around comes around anyway doesn't it? It always does in
music and design and style and everything.
Digger: Yes, which is good for us because there's always one
decade that's in fashion.
Neil: Yes, and next weekend I have Paul Merton's artistic
director coming down to see me to do a programme where we take him around in
my camper van and a caravan and visit some very obscure artists and places
and people I know. The meeting is to set everything up really.
Digger: It sounds good.
Neil: I might be going with Paul Merton - I don't know yet.
Digger: He's been around India and also he did that
programme where he explores the silent movies and early comedy, hasn't he?
Neil: Yes, this one's called Paul Merton's Journeys - The
Digger: He's been turned into a 'modern day' Michael Palin,
Neil: He's mad on Buster Keaton and so's my artist friend
down in Dungeness who paints caravans. Every time someone comes down in a
weird shaped caravan or camper he gets out there with his paintbrush and starts
painting. He's a good, well-known artist and he's normally abstract and doing
beautiful big boats in misty backgrounds. He lives in a railway carriage.
Digger: I guess this is one of the people you're going to
take Paul to see?
Neil: Yes, definitely.
Digger: Please tell us what options are available with your
Neil: We hire out to film and photo shoots and promotional
events but we are now going into renting out to the public for weekends or for
a few days so
they can try one out before they buy one. And then I may be
doing a search for them, so I'll find the caravan and if they like it then
they can negotiate with the owner, wherever he is, and then they pick
it up and I can get a fee for that.
Digger: That sounds like a useful service as it must be hard
for those without experience or contacts to find what they want.
Neil: That's what we thought.
Digger: I sent you that link to my client who has a retro
caravan park in The Pyrenees?
Neil: Yes, that looks good although I don't get down there
that much myself- usually I go to Holland and Belgium. I've got a friend in
Brighton who's got a campsite and he has got big woods split into
sections. He's got vintage caravans, including a couple he's bought off of me.
He's got a double decker bus and a big Airstream and he's even got a 1950s
Digger: Good God!
Neil: He's turned them all into accommodation and it's a
really wacky place for people to go and stay.
Digger: It sounds very unusual.
Neil: It's called Blackberry Wood campsite - you want to
look him up.
Digger: Brighton is the cool place, of course.
Neil: Yes, and he's right up there in the hills.
Digger: What are the best things about what you do?
Neil: I love it with a
passion and all of the attention is on the caravans and I'm preserving them.
And you get some reflected glory from that as well?!
Of course you do, absolutely. I also get to meet quite a lot
of interesting people through it, including famous people
which is nice. It really is a passion and I love to preserve
That's a word that crops up so often with people I'm talking
to and that's really 99% of the battle, isn't it, if you
enjoy what you're doing?
Exactly. Oh it's so nice to be able to do it as a job.
Digger: What sorts of comments and feedback are you getting
They send me more clients and more business. Good enough for
That is the best sort of feedback.
And they come back to me for awnings or repairs and so on.
If they don't store them indoors they don't last that long
without needing some attention. Most customers have got
barns or something out the back to store them in so they're
The reality is that a lot of
these items are only fifty or
sixty years old yet they already have an iconic status as
well as a rarity value.
Yes, I've only gone for the rare ones but if you look on The
Internet, even the English ones are going for phenomenal,
really stupid money. You could pick them up four years ago
for a couple of hundred pounds and now they're a couple of
Are they still a good investment?
Oh yes. It still is a good investment. They're still going up - it's
like the missing link between classic car and home.
What has The Retro Caravan Company got planned apart from
this Paul Merton thing?
I am going to be doing Party In The Park for the BBC. I am
not sure if I'm doing Goodwood this year on the South Bank.
I actually got quite chatty with Lord March last year, he's the owner of
the show. He's a really nice down-to-earth guy.
So onward and upward then?
Yes, onwards and upwards and eventually I want to have half a dozen
all stored away, nice and clean and tidy and just expand it
to renting out to the public. I'm just taking it steady.
The Retro Caravan Company sounds like a great business and
as though it's doing really well. Just as importantly, you
love it too.
I do. It's a nice way to make a living.
Thank you David.
Retro Caravan Company