50 years? Who’d have thought

A black and white photo of a policeman walking past the original Virgin Records store on Oxford Street while Richard Branson sits in the window
Image from Virgin.com
A close up of Richard Branson smiling, looking at the camera
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 15 October 2020
Was delighted to receive a letter from Dermot Bassett, who must be among Virgin’s longest-serving customers.

Realising that the Virgin brand was turning 50 this year, he got in touch to explain how he and his friend would visit our warehouse in Praed Street, London on Saturdays in 1968. This was long before we had an actual record shop - Dermot and his pal would get hold of our mail order records before the mailman!

“There we were regaled with what seemed far-fetched schemes, which seemed at best unlikely,” he wrote. “I think it was your good self who, one week, excitedly went to get a photograph to show us and say you were going to buy this old manor house and turn it into a recording studio! We thought yeah, of course you are..... Who knew!?!?”

Image from Virgin.com
Image from Virgin.com

That idea turned into reality as we bought The Manor and transformed it into an incredible live-in recording studio, where Mike Oldfield went on to create Tubular Bells and set Virgin Records on the path to becoming the biggest independent record label in the world. Soon, everyone from Van Morrison to Queen was recording at The Manor and the Virgin brand had lift off.

Richard in the studio at The Manor | Image from the Branson family
Richard in the studio at The Manor | Image from the Branson family

Dermot explained how the news was broken one Saturday that we were opening a proper record shop on Oxford Street and he wouldn’t have to come to the warehouse to get his music anymore. “Of course, there was no mention of having to walk through a shoe shop and up the stairs at the back! I suppose it did fall short of having to knock three times and ask for Mabel.”

Image by Virgin Records
Image by Virgin Records

Virgin has came a long way since then, and as we turn 50 years young we’ve collected many of the highlights in our new book Virgin By Design. It includes some incredible never-seen-before imagery and many tales from those early days right up to the present. For the records fans like Dermot, yours truly and our original tastemaker Simon Draper’s favourite Virgin Records sleeves, from The Sex Pistols to Culture Club, The Human League to David Bowie.

Richard Branson with a copy of Virgin By Design
Richard Branson with a copy of Virgin By Design

Our brand continued to grow from our roots in the music business and I’m glad we brought Dermot along with us. “Of course Virgin then grew in a way I would never have expected and I’ve used your e-mail, broadband, trains, planes and possibly things that don’t come to mind just now.” Thanks so much for your note Dermot, and for your wonderful custom over so many decades. What wonderful memories you conjured for us. “50 years eh? Who’d have thought........ Actually, you probably!”