End of an era as auctioneer Martyn Fox leaves Keys of Aylsham

Keys Auctioneers Martyn Fox who's leaving after 33 years and planning to write about his life and ti

Keys Auctioneers Martyn Fox who's leaving after 33 years and planning to write about his life and times in the auction world, Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

He has sold everything from condoms to coffins and has known some of Norfolk's most traditional characters – but this morning Martyn Fox will bring down the gavel and end an era.

After 33 years, auctioneer Mr Fox will conduct his last sale for Keys at the family firm's Aylsham saleground.

Aged 59 he wants, not to retire, but to 'change direction' and spend more time with his wife, Sue, who has multiple sclerosis.

And he hopes to become 'Norfolk's James Herriot', writing about his funny and memorable auctioneering experiences in the same way that Herriot, the pen name of Alf White, recorded his life as a Yorkshire vet.

Mr Fox came to Norfolk from Yorkshire, aged 26, as assistant to Geoffrey Key, then head of the business, and remembers beginning his career at produce sales which, he said, could be more difficult than trying to sell something for £20m.

'You had to haggle with old ladies who won't budge and pay more than 50p for cabbages, and you're trying to get £1,' he said.

As the economic climate got tougher, he was involved in a lot of insolvency work, selling up bankrupt firms' stock, and not knowing from one day to the next whether a batch of bikinis or heavy machinery would be coming under his hammer.

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'I've become a specialist in wedding dresses,' he joked.

Over the years, sale-goers have grabbed his attention in many ways, including tapping him. He once turned to find that he had mistaken a dog's tail wagging rhythmically against his leg for a bidder. He recalled: 'I told his owner, 'You've just bought a lawnmower for £20.''

Mr Fox is also well known for his charity auctions and has helped raise £350,000 over the years for a range of good causes. He has also made £3,000 for an MS charity and a clinic in Kenya by giving talks about his work.

And he was thrilled in 2008 when his charity work made him an MBE.

'Aylsham has been a wonderful place to live and bring up four children and Keys has been a happy, family firm to work for,' he said. 'I still feel on holiday after all these years and the MBE was the icing on the cake.'

He will miss the characters, but said rural Norfolk was changing fast. Cottages once covered in flaking paint were now more likely to be smart, 'bijou' second homes.

Mr Fox added: 'I feel incredibly privileged to have caught the end of 'Old Norfolk'.'

Do you have a story about Norfolk's heritage? Contact alex.hurrell@archant.co.uk