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Spotted in The Guardian Saturday 9 June 2012

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  • The Guardian, Saturday 9 June 2012
  • Brian Nicholls silk scarf
    Snapshot: Brian Nicholls applying gold leaf to a silk coronation scarf in 1952

    Snapshot: Dad and the coronation scarf

    The handsome glossy-haired young man in the picture is my dad, Brian Nicholls. He is applying gold leaf to a silk coronation scarf designed by Oliver Messel, the stage designer. Dad worked for Cresta Silks (previously Crysede), mainly as a block printer, in St Ives, Cornwall in the early 1950s. Cresta Silks fabrics were sold to Liberty and others, from the 1920s to the 1960s, and the coronation scarf was a limited edition – the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret were each given one.

    This image is from a photo session of crafts and artistic traditions of Cornwall, taken for an Australian magazine produced for homesick expats to remind them of good old Blighty. Asked why he had been chosen out of all the workers for the photograph, Dad replied, "I was the best-looking, of course."

    Dad was taken on as a scholarship boy from the grammar school. His father had been a dyer under the manager, Tom Heron – father of the artist Patrick Heron.

    The Cresta Silks factory was based in Hayle, a 14-mile return journey, which Dad made daily on his long saved for bike. Interviewed recently by textile artist Vivian Prideaux for a book on Cresta/Crysede, she asked what happened when he was late, dad was nonplussed and asked what she meant. "Well, if you were late for work," Vivian clarified.

    I intervened: "Oh no, he would never be late – Dad is never late."

    And he isn't. Dad is 80 this year and you can still set your watch by him. He loved his work and the connection with the great artists who designed for the company: Graham Sutherland, Paul Nash and Heron himself. His energy and enthusiasm for life is undimmed, he twinkles. His hair now a wispy white and a smile is perpetually breaking. At a recent dinner party, an old friend said he didn't know anyone who was truly happy, I said I did: my dad.

    Dad worked at the Hayle factory until 1954. A year later, he met our mother to whom he was happily married until her death in 1986. Together they had three children: myself, my sister Karen and my brother Stephen. We were loved and adored. He remarried, again happily, to Jean and she suffers his competitiveness over Countdown, crosswords and sudoku with tolerance and good humour. I am now a fabric designer (I named the company Betty Boyns, after our mother) and Dad couldn't be more delighted. But that is his nature – he is proud of us all and lets us know.

    During the interview, Vivien showed us the original Oliver Messel scarf. The design is stunning, embodying 1950s style, and the gold leaf sparkles even after 60 years, as does our dad. Happy coronation year, Brian. Paula Nicholls