Peter Lyons was born 6th May 1922 in Southsea. He went to school at St John’s College, Portsmouth. Peter lost his older brother Terry to diphtheria.
After leaving school Peter worked for Saccone & Speed supplying the Navy. At that time Saccone & Speed had a strong brand in Hankey Bannister whisky (popular with Churchill and having royal endorsement).
Peter volunteered to join the RAF as a fighter pilot. His application was rejected on health grounds (the unverified family story was that he was told he would be dead within 6 months from TB). Peter was to work continuously for Saccone & Speed (and its later owners: Scottish and Newcastle) until his retirement 40 years later.
Soon after the war Peter joined the London office, and in 1949 he married Valerie Hardie who was working as receptionist in the Piccadilly office. Peter also spent an extended period in the vineyards of France (and more generally) developing his palette and understanding of quality in wine.
He became one of the country’s experts. He would taste wines continuously, even making notes on multiple wines over most family dinners. On one amusing occasion he was in a blindfold competition on television where he recognised every wine correctly. He was confident in his expertise and others learnt from him; Michael Broadbent spent 1953-1955 with him and acknowledged the debt. At that time Peter never saw the point of getting the MW. Later, as the business changed he regretted this decision.
His deep knowledge and love of wine meant there was a strong overlap between customers and colleagues from that time and friends. It is interesting to note that in Val Simpson’s short history of the Champagne academy, the starting point was an invitation to 12 leading UK experts (including Peter) to come to France and learn more about champagne. Peter’s engagement was central to the birth and development of the Champagne Academy.
Saccone & Speed lost its momentum with the growth of supermarkets as suppliers of gin, whisky,… and the company was absorbed into Courage and then Scottish and Newcastle and moved its base to Park Royal. The new model involved off-licences like Arthur Cooper and specially branded S&S outlets selling wine to a much wider public; training and managing retail staff became a key focus of hit role… Peter was never pretentious about wine and appreciated quality at every level, but it was not an easy transition, certainly Peter missed the personal sales and communicating to others with deep expertise; but family responsibilities made it difficult for Peter to make a jump in his career. At that point the MW would certainly have increased his options.
Peter retired after 40 years at Saccone & Speed; he moved with Valerie to his beloved Puddle Cottage in Lanlivery, Cornwall. He maintained his love and expertise in wine until the end.
Peter died on 19th April 2003 much missed by his wife Valerie, his two children and 4 grandchildren.