Why growing up was a (fancy) dress rehearsal for Pete

Peter Crowder, left with his mum Sue and father Bernard and his brother Charles.

Peter Crowder, left, with his mum Sue and father Bernard and his brother Charles.

Never, for one moment, did Pete Crowder think he’d go into the family business. Especially not when he and his brother were sitting outside a pub, waiting in the car while his dad delivered a singing telegram.

Pete explained: “We knew no different so I suppose for us it wasn’t unusual. For everyone else I’m sure it would have been.

“We could often be found in the car waiting while dad delivered a telegram dressed as Tarzan or Rambo or a gorilla or some such thing.

“Looking back now it’s something that’s funnier the older we get.”

This most unusual of family businesses started in the early 1980s with Pete’s mum and dad Sue and Bernard Crowder.

Pete, aged 30, said: “They met while working for an accountancy firm and mum wanted to find a way in which they could work together.

“They began with the singing telegram business and then owned a joke shop and then began selling fancy dress costumes.”

From these humble beginnings the award-winning Charlie Crow costumes company was formed.

Established in 1985 and based in Fenton ever since, the firm began with Pete’s mum being asked to make fancy dress costumes for adults.

He said: “Over the years the business has become very much focused on children’s costumes.

“I have to say I never grew up expecting to work here but I found myself at a loose end after college, did a bit of work here, and found that I could design costumes like my mum.

“I suppose living in the environment had an affect on me. I had a really fun childhood. There are pictures of me knocking about dressed as a dalmatian and trying on all sorts of costumes. To my brother and I that was the norm.

“We got to try on all the designs and it became something of a tradition that any children in the family – or our extended family – became models for the business.”

Charlie Crow now employs 14 people and sells to schools as well as individuals all over the world.

Its popular lines for children include animals (the dalmatian is still a favourite, apparently), dinosaurs, fairies, Halloween, king and queen and Victorian fancy dress costumes.

Pete, who lives in Wetley Rocks with his wife Jade and their two young children Freyja and Leon, said: “We do obviously go through fads but some designs seem to be ever popular – like our ‘Ernest the Urchin’ which is similar to a sort of Dickensian Oliver Twist-type costume.

“We get a lot of requests for king costumes around Christmas time and last year we had a lot of people wanting king and queen costumes around the time of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

“It’s nice when I see one of our costumes being used – it gives us all our real buzz.

“The ideas for the costumes come from everyone – friends, family, me or my mum who still likes to design 10 costumes each year.”

Pete agreed that dressing up for children was one of the simplest and most enjoyable forms of play which fires the imagination.

He said: “Kids have always dressed up and always will. Parents can pick up, say, a witch’s costume in a supermarket for a few quid and the truth is ours cost a lot more than that.

“However, people soon realise that you get what your pay for and very often our costumes get handed down from one child to a younger brother or sister.”

Pete added: “Looking back I know that when people asked my parents what they did for a living and they said ‘delivering singing telegrams, running a joke shop or selling fancy dress costumes’ the conversation never stopped there. It was certainly never dull in our house.”

We must stop tinkering with our Armed Forces right now

The injuries suffered by Staffordshire Moorlands soldier Anthony Lownds are a grim reminder that, on a daily basis, somewhere in a foreign field there is generally a British serviceman or woman risking life and limb for Queen and country.

The 24-year-old Grenadier Guard was caught in the blast of an improvised explosive device (IED) planted by the Taliban.

He is currently receiving treatment at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham and has so far had four operations for injuries to his right hand and legs.

My thoughts are with Anthony and his family and friends and I wish him a speedy recovery.

While most of us have been enjoying the patriotic fervour generated by the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and, to a lesser extent, the Olympic Torch Relay, Anthony and his comrades have been unable to relax and join in the celebrations.

As we settle down to watch England’s exploits in Euro 2012, spare a thought for the almost 10,000 members of the British Armed Forces who are demonstrating incredible bravery and commitment day-in, day-out in Afghanistan.

To date, since 2001, 417 British personnel have been killed in operations in the place they called the ‘Graveyard of Empires’.

It is a total that, heart-breakingly, is as sure to rise as the sun over that troubled land.

There are, of course, some who would argue that we should never have sent troops to Afghanistan in the first place – in the same way that we should have kept our noses out of Iraq’s business.

But Britain’s Services personnel don’t have that luxury and always deploy and do their duty, regardless of any personal misgivings they may have, which is what makes them such remarkable people.

That is exactly what they are doing right now in Afghanistan and we should be immensely proud of their efforts in the most difficult of circumstances.

But I wonder how Anthony Lownds and his mates felt when they learned a few days ago of more proposed cutbacks to the regular Army?

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond spoke of ‘difficult decisions’ ahead as the standing Army is reduced from 102,000 personnel to just 82,000.

If you know your military history then you will know that this is significant because an Army used to be defined as being 100,000 strong. Anything less than that figure wasn’t considered an Army.

While the regimental system will not be abolished, Mr Hammond said it was inevitable that some units would be lost or forced to merge.

If the national papers are to believed, one of those units could be our own 3 Mercian – or the Staffordshire Regiment in old money – along with such prestigious names as The Coldstream Guards.

I have to say that, for me, enough really is enough.

For years now I have watched Defence Secretaries slash and burn as they have wittered on about making our Armed Forces more ‘mobile’ and ‘adaptable’.

Always the end result is the same: Fewer boots on the ground; Less hardware; More reliance on reservists or other nations; And, ultimately, less ability to react to crises around the world.

Britannia once ruled the waves. Now we will have to hope we don’t need an aircraft carrier until 2020.

The RAF was once the only thing preventing the whole of Europe from falling under Nazi occupation.

But in Afghanistan it was a chronic shortage of helicopters which actually added to the number of UK casualties.

I could go on. The bottom line is that penny-pinching at the MoD over the last two decades, at the behest of various administrations, has significantly undermined the ability of the UK’s Armed Forces to do its job.

This has happened at a time when the actual number of global conflicts involving British Services personnel has risen.

Where is the logic in that?

Whatever we think of the so-called ‘War on Terror’, there is no denying the world is becoming a more dangerous place – with revolutions and the rise of extremism fanning the flames of conflict.

Add to this the ever-increasing economic uncertainty and inevitable shortage of natural resources such as fuel, food and water in the coming years, and you have a recipe for decades of instability.

So what does Whitehall do? Continue to reduce the number of Army, Navy and RAF personnel.

This is madness.

I believe caution should be the watch-word with regard to the future of our military. We only have to look to history for guidance.

Infantry battalions that were mothballed after the end of the Cold War had to be reconstituted for service in Northern Ireland.

Having scrapped Harrier Jump Jets and the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal we realised both would actually have been quite handy for the Libyan crisis.

Yes, times are tough and each Government department has to make savings and each will plead it deserves protection.

But the MoD really is a special case involving tens of thousands of special people who do a very special and specialised job.

The UK’s Armed Forces personnel are our ‘go-to’ guys and gals at home and overseas for everything from industrial unrest and disaster relief to frontline warfare and their importance simply cannot be over-stated.

I firmly believe that for Britain to remain safe and secure and for our country to retain its position as an effective, relevant and respected player on the global stage then we must stop tinkering with our Armed Forces right now.