From The Grand Hotel in Iran to First Stationers in the heart of Esher
7th December 2011
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Stewart Knight is a self-confessed rebel! He says that rules are made to be broken. He has had an incredibly adventurous and fun life in a way that very few people seem able to have these days. Born in time to enjoy the swinging sixties, he explains that after the austerity years of The War, the 60’s were an “explosion of colour!” His is another example of a life story that really should be captured in a book...

He starts by showing me a video clip of The Grand Hotel, Ramsar in Iran where he and a team of 20 croupiers were stationed during the reign of the Shah of Persia before the Ayatollahs took power. The clip showcases a stunning hotel, lying in the midst of huge grounds with lush vegetation. Palm trees nod in upwards of 30 degree heat and the sun beats down relentlessly – a far cry from Esher High Street. Before they could open shop, it took 15 men several months of non-stop work to renovate the building, turning the upper floor into their living quarters and the ground floor rooms into a huge casino.

He describes a world of gambling which has a very different culture to any other industry, for both punters and staff alike. It’s a world of glamour, partying and risk-taking. Some punters, he explained were out and out gamblers, literally throwing a die to determine every decision in their lives. Others of course lost or won fortunes overnight. For the staff, it was one long party and they often played well-orchestrated pranks on each other. For example, on one occasion, a small group of croupiers returned to the hotel much later than expected. Their colleagues had set up a court room and donned judicial outfits to try the defendants. Having found them resoundingly guilty, each individual had to pay one week’s wages in fines. This was then promptly used to fund a drinking session!

Stewart and colleagues had to bail out before the Iranian Revolution took hold in 1979. Many of their Iranian friends fled to the States where an ex-pat contingent settled in Beverley Hills. He returned to the UK and continued his career progression working at various casinos around London. One summer, he attended the Berkeley Ball in London and was swept off his feet by Bruce Forsyth as the pair soft-shoe shuffled up a platform and into the marquee! At one point, he dated Miss New Zealand for 6 months and eventually he married a Playboy Bunny but sadly the marriage ended after 18 months when she returned to America.

In 1995, one of his close friends started to import computer hardware and software from America. Stewart looked into the same and decided to import recyclable toner cartridges for laser printers. He moved to Cobham and soon after, he bought Esher Stationers in the High Street and renamed it First Stationers. Over the years, the store developed a loyal following and is still thriving. If you pop in there one day and see Stewart shuffling a pack of cards, you now know why!

© thebestofesher, 2011

Above: Stewart Knight

Below from left to right:  Michelle and Ginny 

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Ruby I

Member since: 9th July 2012

I run thebestof Esher and I'm passionate about local businesses and charities that provide a valuable service to the local community. If you know any good news stories or you'd like to write for us, contact...

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