Video/Gallery: Veteran auctioneer Basil Smith celebrates 90th birthday at work

Suffolk auctioneer, Basil Smith, celebrated his 90th birthday today on 27th October.
Basil works in

Suffolk auctioneer, Basil Smith, celebrated his 90th birthday today on 27th October. Basil works in the Garden Produce section of the Clarke & Simpson auction rooms at Campsea Ashe and was given a surprise presentation during his auction. Basil at work on his birthday. - Credit: Archant

A Suffolk auctioneer says he has no plans to hang up his gavel after celebrating his 90th birthday presiding, as usual, over a weekly plants and produce market on Monday.

Suffolk auctioneer, Basil Smith, celebrated his 90th birthday today on 27th October.
Basil works in

Suffolk auctioneer, Basil Smith, celebrated his 90th birthday today on 27th October. Basil works in the Garden Produce section of the Clarke & Simpson auction rooms at Campsea Ashe and was given a surprise presentation during his auction. - Credit: Archant

Around 100 regulars turned up at his regular weekly market at Clarke and Simpson’s Auction Centre in Campsea Ashe for a surprise celebration during its regular Monday sales.

Basil. who is thought to be the oldest auctioneer in the country, admitted that he was moved to tears as staff and customers gathered to present him with gifts and birthday cakes to mark the remarkable milestone.

“It was unbelievable,” he said. “I was properly gobsmacked. I have never seen so many people in all my life. I was totally bewildered.”

He added: “You don’t get that every day.”

Basil is renowned for his friendly banter as he takes bids for plants and vegetable produce, always coaxing his buyers to up their bids.

“You can take the mickey out of people without them knowing,” he confided. “I don’t need the money, I just do it because I love it. When I retire, I’ll do it up the top and all. I can’t give up. I have got to keep going.”

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The buyers are “a good bunch of people”, he said, even though he will berate them by saying they “must be on social security”, or offer to cook the produce for them as well if they will not bid the price he believes the goods are worth.

“It’s all good-natured banter,” explained centre manager Geoffrey Barfoot.

Basil was “exceedingly popular” with his clientele, as well as being dedicated to his work, arriving at six in the morning to set up at the height of the season in summer, he added. He often helps with Saturday sales, working as a viewing porter.

“He’s 90 years old, but his voice is still strong and clear and he can still shout at them if they make too much noise. He’s an amazing character,” he said.

“If they won’t bid what he thinks is a reasonable amount of money, he’ll tell them how mean they are.”

Basil, a talented gardener with a greenhouse full of his own home-grown produce, is originally from Snape and now lives at Eyke and remains very active. He started work at the auction centre in the mid-1980s, having previously worked at the fire department at Bentwaters. Until about 10 years ago he also worked as a relief porter.

Geoff believes that Basil must be the oldest working auctioneer in the country.

“It’s incredible, amazing. He still drives,” he said.

“The livestock’s gone. We still sell a little bit of poultry, but Basil’s produce, vegetables and plants, it’s the last vestiges of a very rural practice.”

The produce and plants market regularly attracts 60 to 70 buyers, although Basil says that it used to bring in more allotment holders in the past, as well as the regular smallholders and market stallholders.