Great Yarmouth’s Percy hangs up spanner at 84

At the age of 84 Percy Trett is finally retiring, but lovers of his In The Countryside column need fear not...while closing his family garage he intends carrying on writing for the EDP as he has done in one way or another through six decades.

Ironically, when Trett's Garage and its one acre site in Victoria Road, Great Yarmouth, goes up for auction on February 24 it will allow Percy to focus for the first time on his life-long passion for nature which could have become his profession but for a couple of cruel twists of fate.

After leaving Yarmouth's former Duncan House School, he would have gone on to study marine biology at Leeds University but for war-time service with the Army Air Corps intervening; and when he returned to his home town in 1945, he found his ambitions thwarted again.

He recalled: 'My father, also called Percy, had been running the garage since 1918 but after the war he was quite ill and I said I would take over the business for a year – it turned into a long year.'

It was the mundane life of running a garage after flying Tiger Moths and Lysanders and doing parachute jumps during the war – 'living for kicks' as he put it – that made him turn to diving for fresh excitement.

And it is that hobby which has given him some of his most memorable wildlife discoveries, studying sea creatures and fish on the seabed and around the Norfolk coast's endless wrecks.

Percy, who has three children – two of whom, Mark and Simon, have realised his ambition of becoming professional marine biologists – said he had mixed feelings about retiring.

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'I have some amazingly loyal customers whose fathers and grandfathers came here before them, but I am fed up with the bureaucracy of running a business these days and all the health and safety. It used to be the case that if a man fell off a ladder, he fell off a ladder. Now they hold a court of inquiry,' he said.

Percy, a magistrate in the town for 26 years, said during his childhood, petrol was still brought to the family garage by horse-drawn cart in two gallon cans – and it cost less than 20 old pence a gallon.

For a small back street garage, he has attracted a surprising number of celebrity customers through the town's show business tradition.

He said: 'Just after the war I was a friend of the Britannia Pier manager and he used to put some of the summer show stars our way.

'I remember servicing the Jensen that was the pride and joy of Charlie Drake and Russ Conway was another customer at the time.'

Despite suffering from the early stages of Parkinson's disease, he still rises at 5.30am and leaves his home on the site to be first in the workshop in his overalls before 8.30am.

Percy, whose wife Jan suffers from dementia, said: 'People tell me that I am the oldest MoT tester in the country. When I went on refresher courses, they used to lay the carpet out for me.'

When the property is put under the hammer by Aldred's, with a reserve price of �340,000, it will mark the end of a family era, for Percy's grandfather, whose main business was running a fleet of herring drifters, bought the property in 1898 as a stores. It will also be a sad day for Percy's four employees, one of whom, Trevor Brown, 63, has been with him since leaving school.

stephen.pullinger@archant.co.uk