My knitwear journey started in 1971, when I founded the National Scrabble Championships of Great Britain. Thousands of word-game enthusiasts from across the UK took part in the competition and one of them brought me a present at the Grand Final in London: a bright yellow, hand-knitted sweater with a Scrabble board emblazoned on the front with the message ‘Gyles Brandreth Loves Scrabble’ written out in knitted Scrabble tiles. The sweater proved a huge hit with everyone who saw it and inspired me to design and create original sweaters of my own. One of the great advertising men of the era (Peter Marsh) told me, ‘Wear the jumpers on TV and you’ll get noticed. There’s research that shows viewers remember 83 per cent of what they see, but only 17 per cent of what they hear.’
I did as Mr Marsh advised and soon, appearing on Countdown and TV-am, I was known as TV’s ‘colourful jumper man’. One day, in the early 1980s, I was walking down Kensington Church Street and passed a small boutique where in the window I saw a sweater featuring a pair of cockatoos. I went in and bought it. I also asked the shop who had made it. They gave me George Hostler’s address in Leicester. We met up, we became friends and working partners and that was the beginning of the Gyles and George adventure.
George and I created so many sweaters together – mostly one-offs for me to wear on TV (and on stage: he created a whole knitted wardrobe for me to wear as Baron Hardup in Cinderella with Barbara Windsor and Bonnie Langford); a few were designs that George sold through the boutique in Kensington; quite a number ended up in the four books of sweater designs we created together. George was the knitwear designer and craftsman. I was the one who came up with the fun ideas – drawing them for George and sending them to him, either by Fax or, literally, drawn on the back of an envelope.
The sweaters had a number of celebrity admirers, including Sir Elton John and Joanna Lumley, Baroness Floella Benjamin and John Inman, some of whom appeared as models in our books — and one of whom was Diana, Princess of Wales who was a regular customer at the boutique in Kensington Church Street. Diana’s favourite jumper was the one that says ‘I’m a Luxury’ on the front, and ‘… Few Can Afford’ on the back. Joanna Lumley looks as gorgeous in our spotted bow-tie sweater today as she did in it forty years ago. More recent Gyles & George acolytes include Hugh Bonneville, Ziwe Fumudoh, Pete Davidson, Lucy Williams, and Dwyane Wade.
Gyles & George is British knitwear with a sense of humour, designed to make people smile. I hope you enjoy our ‘wit knits’ as much as I do.