Phil Harrington was a secondary wholesaler and retailer based in Guildford, Surrey. Over the 50 years that Phil was a customer to both the Old Covent Garden and New Covent Garden Market he was renowned for his honesty, integrity and phenomenal ability in all matters of the fruit industry.
Phil started off as an amateur boxer in his childhood and was very successful, over the years representing the Army and Great Britain; he also had a 15-bout professional career at Light Heavyweight and fought many times on the same card as the illustrious Henry Cooper. He then built up a highly-successful career supplying fresh produce, following in the footsteps of his father.
His daughter, Kim Dew, recalls his passion for Covent Garden: “Dad would get up at midnight six days a week, Monday to Saturday, and dress relatively smartly to drive to the Market.” When she asked why he kept such gruelling hours, he replied it was his hobby, not a job – a way of life – and he truly loved the characters and sense of camaraderie.
As a young girl, Kim accompanied Phil on many of these trips. He would take her to the pub and sit her up on the bar. “Sometimes it was 2am but there was always a bacon sandwich and a nice drink… I used to come back rich because all the lovely traders would give me a coin and say to me ‘pop that in your money box.’”
Gary Marshall, chairman of the Covent Garden Tenants Association, was a close friend. He said: “There are many quotes and stories about Phil that will always sum him up as being a gentleman and in the 40 years of knowing him, I never heard him swear. However, those that chose to disrespect him or tried to take a liberty would quite quickly be subjected to his right hook. You’d never come back for seconds!
“Phil was larger than life, cared very much for and supported all the young salesman in the Market with his expertise and experience, which was always greatly appreciated. When he spoke, due to his stature and the respect afforded to him, it was a pleasure to listen. There would be many stories, some about his boxing and army career, lots about his gambling ability on the horses, but most importantly about how he became somewhat of a legend for his fabulous fruit business in the town of Guildford,” said Gary.
“To all those in the market he was simply known as Big Phil. His support and service to Covent Garden was recognised in 2009 when he was the first winner of the CGTA Award for Lifetime Achievement. This was presented to him by the CGTA President Peter Fowler MBE at our annual dinner dance in 2009 and was a moment of great pride for Phil.
“I never heard Phil say a bad word about anyone,” adds Gary. “He would just say ‘He’s a good boy’ and was so humble that when you were in his company, either at the races, out to lunch or having a beer, he would simply say ‘You don’t want no better’.
“Phil will be sadly missed but never forgotten and his life has left a footprint and mark on us all. At this sad time our thoughts and the support of the Market go out his family and close friends; another Covent Garden legend is now serving up a bit of fruit and veg in heaven.”
Kim concludes: “He had a great life and was always really happy. He loved and adored the Market - it was one of the great loves of his life.”
“One of the nicest men to ever walk in Covent Garden. RIP Big Phil.” Bruce White
“Phil was a true legend and a gentleman. He was a great boxer and a hard, but fair businessman. His generation had a certain way about them; old school I suppose is the term. You respected their dignity, pride and wisdom.” Eddie Barrett, H G Walker
“He was a legend and always will be. I had some great times with him and the infamous Ray the Gun.” Danny Murphy, Yes Chef
“In the early days, when we had cleared certain lines, he’d just give me a look. We always found enough to fulfil his order! He was always polite – I never saw him angry and I didn’t want to!” Grenville Snowdon, French Garden
“I still remember taking Phil’s bag order out as a youngster. Lovely man. Sleep well Phil.” Steve Pollard
“RIP Phil. A true gentleman.” Jason Tanner, Premier Fruits
“Another legend lost. You were a true gent.” Paul Murphy, Yes Chef
“A true legend … with a mean right hook!” Justin Denyer, Covent Garden Supply
“As a cheeky 28-year old salesman I decided to say to the gentleman standing on the other side of the January King cabbage ‘don’t be a silly old man’. This young salesman learnt quick!” Simon Collier, Premier Fruits
“RIP Phil. Such a privilege to have been part of a thriving, iconic, exciting market with unforgettable characters like him.” Micky Hyams, The Mushroom Man
“Very sad news. I have so many great memories of Big Phil over the years. A real gentleman.” Bob Kent, Bruce White
“Very sad – what a man he was!” Chris Sparshott, Sparshott Fruiterer
Donations in memory of Phil
Should anyone wish to make a donation in memory of Phil, his family’s chosen charity is Age UK Surrey. You can make a donation via this link via the funeral directors, Alan Greenwood & Sons Funerals. You will also find details of the funeral on Monday 22nd February on the link to the website page.
Phil’s daughter Kim says: “Due to current Covid restrictions we are only allowed to have 15 people, which as you can imagine is quite difficult and very sad for Dad. But we are working on a heartfelt service for him including family, friends and business tributes.”
All enquiries regarding the funeral can be made to:
Alan Greenwood & Sons
66 Send Road
Surrey GU23 7EU