Fishy Tale .1959 - 2009
I’m 5’2” and I don’t like heights, so anything over 5’3” is too
tall for me’ says Rupert the Fish, more properly known as Robert Stephenson,
in response to a recent offer to take a trip in the London Eye. He chose not
to elaborate on the 350’ bungee jump he did at the Town and Country festival
a few years ago as a dare from a local radio presenter.
Rupert was a part of Coven try's Market’s tradition, his family links to
the well known fish stall dating back over 98 years.
‘It was called Southall’s until I changed the name to Robert Stephenson
about 5 years ago’ he said ‘and we are one of the five longest serving
businesses in Coventry Retail Market.’
Rupert is a Coventry kid through and through, his mother being from
Coventry, although his father was from County Durham.
Born in 1959 in the maternity room of the then Keresley Hospital - now the
Carvery Dining Room of the Royal Court Hotel - he admits that even though he
looks East and West, North and South, this is still his town, although many of
the charities he supports tend to be nationally based.
‘We raised about £15000 for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution
before we moved to the new stall last year.’ he says proudly of just one
aspect of his charity work, which encompasses BBC Children In Need, The BBC WM
and Coventry and Warwickshire Christmas Toy appeal, The Fisherman's Mission, the less well known Dogs for the Disabled
association and the annual lime tree club bowls charity day.
‘I collect foreign coins and do sponsored walks for the Dogs for the
Disabled. It’s rather like Guide Dogs for the Blind, but the dogs are
trained to help their owners more physically, and it’s very important.’
Rupert also supports the homeless and lonely in Coventry , this Christmas
he collected 10 large hampers of tinned and packet food at his stall , and on Christmas
day he collected a tonne of food from the big stores in Birmingham , all to be
shared by Coventry open Christmas , a night shelter over the Christmas
period for the homeless and lonely of Coventry.
He was made an honorary life member of Coventry's Lime tree crown green
bowls club in 1999/2000 for his work in supporting the charity event the club
holds each year , Rupert has also often been Auctioneer at the annual charity
auction night the club holds too, although he freely admits he only play the
odd game of bowls he really enjoys the company and friendship the bowls club
have shown to him.
Rupert takes all his charity work in his stride. He is matter of fact about
the emotional work of collecting for the families of the young fishermen who
died in the Solway Firth trawler sinking a few years ago, which meant he was
invited to the House of Commons to receive an award for his efforts.
Rupert's efforts to help the fishermen's mission recently have been " fish filleting
displays" at the lions and rotary clubs , then auctioning the lots off in
aid of the fishermen's mission.
‘There is always an opportunity to help someone, and I find there is
always a way of re-cycling things for the benefit of others, especially
money.’ He says with his wide grin.
So, how did he get the name Rupert the Fish ?
years ago the mid 1970’s my old boss Les Swan, owned two greyhounds, and every
Friday night we used to go ‘flapping’(illicit dog racing) at Hinckley, and
on the way home we always called at the Bull and Butcher pub in Corley for
Les’ half pint of old and filthy. On this particular day I was proudly wearing
the latest fashionable yellow check flared trousers, and as I walked in Landlord
Roger Phillips yelled out ‘Here comes Rupert the Fish.” It’s stuck ever
He is a well known name on local radio, frequently being heard on BBC
Coventry and Warwickshire’s Annie Othen show, and on BBC WM’s Ed Doolan
show. His e mail contributions are regularly read out, as is his expert advice
on matters relating to his interests.
Robert’s home life revolves around his animals, flowers and more
importantly his family as well as his being on the committee of the Fillongley
Agricultural Society. He has his own web pages which elaborate on his wide
ranging hobbies, including dogs, ferrets, tropical fish poultry, rare doves and
associated other birds - the web page on rare birds had over 12000 hits last
year - as well as his collection of dahlias and wild flowers.
He also spends time on the boat he has off Anglesey.
‘We go out with fishing tackle, a box of worms and a crate of Budweiser’
he said ‘and we come back hours later with fishing tackle, a box of worms and
an empty crate.’
On the business front, Robert is proud of his involvement with Coventry
Retail Market, and is on the committee of the Market Traders Association. He
feels that the redevelopment within the market area has allowed more people
access to the stalls.
‘The old stall in the outer area was so cold in the winter that one day I
cut my self badly and didn’t know until someone told me’ he said showing the
deep scar. ‘But now it's warmer we all get a fair share of the business, and
each of the fish stalls has it's own specialty. Mine is shell fish and game.’
Robert has an amazing amount of energy, and devotes a lot of it to people.
His personal philosophy is that ‘I felt that I had enjoyed a lot of life, but realized
that some people have a rough time, and so I try to give a bit back to
society. Make people feel warmer, and give some good news. We need a lighter
touch and I want people to show they care about each other.’
lightning accident in August 2003 , Rupert now has reduced a lot of his activities , but
continues to help when possible.
He now devotes most of his spare time to tending
his garden and travels the country taking photographs of poultry and livestock
for U.K. Magazines , Fancy Fowl and Smallholder , in which he has had a number
of article and photos printed.
by: Stephen Brookes, MBE ©
2002 (Coventry Web
A FAMILY fishmonger is to close after 98 years trading in the
Robert Stephenson - known to everyone at Coventry Market as Rupert
the Fish - has decided to hang up his apron and put away his
knives for the last time.
The 49-year-old, who is one of the most well-known and
colourful characters in the market, said the business founded by
his grandparents, could not cope with the increased competition
from supermarket giants.
Stephenson, whose family has sold fish for 98 years, outside his
stall on Coventry Market which will close in a week's time
He said: "For approximately 98 years we have traded in
fish in Coventry at various markets. My mother was a fishmonger
and my grandparents, I'm third generation. I am very sorry to be
going but the way the world has changed and people's shopping
habits have changed, the supermarkets are taking over in my
He added: "I'll be taking the tools of my trade for
sentimental value, the knives will be waxed and put away for safe
"My customers are upset I am going but I have told them there
are other quality fishmongers in the market. They realise the
world is changing. It is really difficult for the retail trade to
compete with multinational giants and the government and the city
council need to address the problem before we lose all independent
"I want to thank all my customers for supporting me over
the years, without them I wouldn't have got this far."
The crunch decision to shut up shop came when Robert, who lives in
Radford, fell and broke his shoulder at Christmas. He was forced
to take five weeks off and struggled to run the business while
Robert has grown up in a family of fishmongers. He joined the
family business, working with his mother Kath Southall, now
aged 91, when he was 14 years old. The stall, which has sold more
than 40 varieties of fish and 15 different types of shellfish,
poultry and game over the years, has become a favourite among the
20,000 weekly visitors to the market. Robert will open up for the
last time on Saturday May 10.
Jerone Smith, secretary of the market, which held a farewell
presentation for Robert, said: "The whole market is very
upset that Robert is leaving, he has been here since the market
opened and he has been a great ambassador for the market. He has
done a lot of charity work. It is a massive loss for the retail
market but we understand why he has decided to call it a day. He
is a brilliant character and as a whole the market is very
Robert has built a reputation for the charity work he has done
over the years. In 2000 he was presented with a special award at
the House of Commons for his efforts.
He was honoured by the Royal National Mission for Deep Sea
Fishermen after asking his customers for help after the Solway
Harvester tragedy, in which seven fishermen drowned after their
trawler sank in heavy seas off the Isle of Man in 2000.
Rupert's Mum, Kath Southall selling flying fish Circa
1917 -2009 R.I.P.