Sir Tim Waterstone (notes from A BBC interview)

In this post, there is a list of the advanced words and phrases from the BBC Radio 4 Desert Island Discs interview with Tim Waterstone. He is a very successful British business man and founded the Waterstones bookshops.   Aggie and I are currently creating a podcast (in which we will explain some of the words) and it will be launched on 11th October!

You can listen to the interview here:

Embed from Getty Images


Founded Waterstones 1982

0:50 Initial vision of a literary haven for book lovers  

0:54 bursting with stock 

Was considered highly unconventional 

1:03 many didn’t think it would last (including former employees from WH Smith)

Became the natural choice for book launches 

1:16 browsing was actively encouraged and good for business too

70% of book sales were 1:23 impulse buys 

Love of books - the most fabulous consumer product 


Sooner or later they’re going to buy 

2:29 Is it true that you sometimes pop into waterstones to people watch? [LL]

2:32 huge branch in Piccadilly

→ to see how happy people are


Audio books going up, overall book sales going down 

Independent book sellers have to be very good 

3:17 they can’t survive if they don’t run a proper width, and depth of stock 

And people working in the stores who aren’t just enthusiasts but know what they’re talking about 


3:51 A piano that was polished all the time to impress the neighbours 

What are you looking for and how much money have you got? Asked the record shop owner 

4:19 I’ll give you this scratched record from the back of the shop

→ if you like it then I’ll give you another one like it 

4:42 This music just burst out, an absolute total revelation to me


6:14 Your father had enlisted in the Royal Army Service Corps [LL]

6:19 After following his postings around the country [LL]

6:21 You settled in Crowborough  [LL]

Extremely fun! The fighter planes used to fight above us 

6:50 They added to the whole spice of things (the Canadian soldier camp) 

A shock when my father came home, I’d been a baby when he went away to war 

Drew some pictures to give him when he arrived 

7:32 I remember her face dropping 

“Go away, go away, we’re happy without you here, go away”

7:40 He shrunk back

7:45 If he’d been a man of stronger character, he’d have handled it 

V awful relationship 

7:54 Dated from that dreadful thing I said to him in the hall 

8:01 You said that sarcasm was his weapon of choice [LL]

8:04 Quite a chilling description [LL]

8:06 A weapon that a child can’t weather or combat 

8:25 Trying to offset what my father was doing (mother was very affectionate) 

8:32 He couldn’t really cope with the world 

8:39 I had a terrible stutter from 6 - 13/14 

→ had to plan sentences 

Lost when he went to secondary school 

9:09 I had such a desire to prove him wrong, his disparagement of me 

→ Absolutely certain that’s where Waterstones came from 


9:36 Very theatrical, very emotional 

9:42 A sensationally beautiful piece of work 


10:45 Where and how did you feed your love of reading? 

A wonderful bookshop opened in the village 

11:11 I remember peering through the window before it opened

Never bought a single book all those years 

11:28 Started off with fairly standard childrens books 

11:39 Then we went into my moody teenage years

11:55 Mrs Santoro as quite an imposing character 

12:00 She caught me licking my finger before turning a page 


Sexually abused by head teacher 

12:36 I sincerely believe I wasn’t damaged by it 

12:29 I was extremely ignorant, I just thought this must be what life must be like 

I did it so stupidly 

She was furious with me 

13:18 You may have come out of it but most of those children won’t have come out of it


13:53 A velvety, slightly dark quality 


Life changed for the better

Asked me questions I hadn’t been asked before

15:44 What does the story mean? (Mrs Austen to him) 

→ lightbulb went off

15:49 fiction is about meaning some things 

15:59 Struck by the atmosphere of both those experiences [LL]

→ that was what you went on to recreate in your shops

16:22 I knew I wanted to create a book selling empire

16:24 Sorry I’m being slightly immodest 

16:26 Wanted to create a cross between the book club in Crowborough (the small independent) and Heffers (the University book shop in Cambridge) 


College called St Catherines, next door was King’s college

17:07 I used to go quite often to evensong in King’s Chapel 

17:13 Absolutely sublime (the choral music) 


18:39 The marriage didn’t last 

18:43 Afterwards you suffered a breakdown 

18:57 Absolutely unmistakable, it’s not just being depressed or moody or blue 

→ Couldn’t move my hands

19:03 I couldn’t construct a sentence 

19:12 I was very anxious not to lose my job 

Brilliantly they checked me off, which in those days was unbelievable 

Put his hand on my shoulder (the dentist) 

19:39 I’ve actually blurred the memory of this 

Taken to the Maudsley in South London 

19:49 They immediately admitted me 

→ they must’ve drugged me up 

20:06 The dreadful institutional smell of those places

On 5th or 6th day I just did feel better

I absolutely never did (go back) 

3 children with first wife, and 3 with second wife claire 


21:03 the most blissful experience you could possibly imagine 

Love them, give them confidence, and then let them go 


Director and trustee of London philharmonic orchestra 

21:59 A legendary conductor 

22:06 A terrifyingly frail man with a furious temper too

Recorded the orchestra live 

1973 W H SMITH 

23:56 Learned a great deal about the book business

23:58 1981 Sacked and left with a redundancy payment of £6000

Happiest day! Hated working there 

I was angry + excited 

→ should have been scared, all these children to care for 

24:31 I was absolutely exhilarated 


All young arts graduates from Uni who agreed the idea would work 

1982 (when it was born) 

24:56 The original vision, when you set it out to those staff that you converted 

25:01 The place is going to be packed with books

25:12 Trading very long hours 

It was illegal in those days to trade on Sundays! Did it anyway 

25:17 And we got away with it 

25:20 What I impressed on everybody was that we were going to open branch after branch after branch 

No head office really 

→ 3 people in the head office but only space for 2 chairs so third would have to sit on the loo !

Everything was pushed to the branches 

25:55 Wonderful thrust of new authors

No literary festivals, these were those 


26:34 A period of immense personal happiness in my life 

27:00 Absolutely transfixed with the beauty of the record 


28:34 Notable for your aggressive tactics

28:37 Challenging established book shops

28:41 Sometimes you’d open near a lone independent, result would sometimes be them going out of business 

Led to closing of Alan Bennet’s favourite book store 

29:20 They’d had the shot (the independent stores which were shutting down) 

People say I am Personally responsible for closing down so many independent stores but Waterstones when it started out was the smallest independent store you could possibly imagine

What we had was self confidence, a very clear vision and wonderful staff and stock 

29:49 We weren’t sympathetic 


29:54 “Success is not the making of a fortune but the making of a point”

Who are you proving yourself to? [LL]

My father + the world 

30.30 what did she make of it? (his success)

Sold it to WH Smiths in ‘93

31.08 which they did honour (WH Smiths honoured the amount of investment they said that they would)


Song that would remind him of London


32.39 A 25 year age difference (49/24)

32.57  Coup de foudre (love at first sight)


33.13 You’ve just written a memoir

33.20 Parts of his private life that have been catastrophic

33.26  Feels very blessed


Intends to look out at the horizon of the crystal blue sea

35.00 I’d be completely incapable of constructing a raft 

The Oxford Dictionary of English Verse

A photograph of his wife