A SOUTH Essex businessman was attending a reception held by Prince Charles. The Prince of Wales walked past him, then stopped and looked back admiringly at the Essex man’s tailor-made suit, diplomatically crafted in Prince of Wales check for the occasion.

“You must give me the name of your tailor,” said the Prince.

So who was the master suitmaker whose handiwork stops royalty in its tracks and spontaneously grabs the sort of testimonial that no money can buy?

The stacks of cloth on Arthur Aprile-Smith’s shelves are identical to the ones you will find in the famous Savile Row tailoring houses.

The list of clients is also a match.

Arthur’s work for the movers and shakers of London has gained him a discretionary award that says it all in terms of their appreciation, the Freedom of the City.

But if you want to get a suit made by Arthur, you head not for Mayfair, but for his shop in London Road, Leigh.

It was here, as a young man of 22, that he set up his own business for the first time.

Now, 40 years on, the premises and the craft are still exactly the same. Arthur is prepared to do alterations on suits, but not on his way of doing business.

The world outside may change at a furious pace, but Arthur Aprile-Smith, bespoke tailor, remains an unvarying constant.

There is no doubt Arthur could land a job instantly at any of the famous names in Savile Row tailoring. He belongs to that cluster of individuals who merit the title master craftsman.

Over generations, men like these have made London the capital of high quality men’s tailoring throughout the world. But Arthur stays anchored in Southend from choice. “It’s my own business in my own town. I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he says.

Arthur hasn’t changed, but the market he serves certainly has. In 1969, Arthur’s business got off to a flying start because “all my young mates came to me for suits. Back then, everyone wanted a tailor-made suit for when they went out on Saturday nights. They wanted to impress the girls. As a matter of fact, that’s how I met my wife.”

Some of those old mates still buy their suits from Arthur. Down the years, they have been joined by City financiers and captains of industry.

In every respect, Arthur Aprile-Smith is a West End tailor who happens to be located in a regional town.Far from suffering because of his location, Arthur knows it gives him a competitive edge.

“You will get the same suit here that in London you would pay £3,000 for, but for a lot less,” he says.

London tailors though have something of a reputation, deserved or not, for haughtiness, or at least, for the sort of discreet reserve that would do credit to Jeeves.

If true, the genial and smiling Arthur does not share this quality. The smile is of a man who loves and takes pride in his work, and would rather be doing this than anything else.

“I’ve never been motivated by money. It’s cloth that I love. It is possible to make a very good living in this work, and I could afford to retire at any time,” he says.

“But I have to ask myself, what else do I want to do? This work is what I look forward to doing when I wake up in the morning.”

Arthur says he took out membership of Rochford Fishing Club, eight years ago. “The idea was to provide an alternative interest,” he says. “But in eight years, I’ve been fishing there, I think, just twice.”

Arthur is not the only one who enjoys the tailoring process. The sense of pleasure extends to the client. “You make people feel good about themselves,” he says.

The London Road premises are part of this feelgood process. They exude a sense of relaxation and harmony. But there is one stringent rule. Arthur must meet the client in person. He will not take phone or e-mail orders, sight unseen. He is gently insistent that clients must come to his shop.

“You have to be able to gauge people personally,’ he says. “As well as the actual measurements, there is also the question of what we call their ‘configuration’, the person’s overall look. You can only judge this by looking at them in person. It’s always been said that it’s the man that makes the suit.”

Clients accept this, and have come from as far away as Paris to have their configuration assessed by Arthur. The internet has swollen his customer base, and there is even a potential client in Australia who may make the trip to Southend.

“But even nowadays, the most important factor isn’t websites, but word of mouth,” Arthur says.

It was word of mouth that gained Arthur two of his most curious, but oddly flattering commissions.

One was to provide an Elvis suit for a Presley museum in Canada, the other to provide a copy of the tweed jacket worn by Clint Eastwood in the movie Pale Rider – this time for a Californian film museum.

For once Arthur, waived his requirement for the client to appear in person. “Mr Eastwood wasn’t going to be wearing the suit himself, it was just going to be on display,” he says.

Instead, tailor’s dummies were fabricated in England according to measurements provided, and Arthur built the suits around these.

Elvis’s and Clint’s configurations were, on this one occasion, gauged from photographs.

“The range of people who walk into this shop covers all walks of life,” says Arthur. As if on cue, a female naval officer walks into the shop to inquire about her uniform. Other diverse clients include old Teddy boys, still anxious to keep abreast of the 1950s, and Mods from the 1960s.

This is one local business that appears recession proof. “This business has weathered previous recessions, which have been grim,” Arthur says. “But for now I’m continuing to get all the work I can handle.

“It does seem people will continue to pay for quality.”

Yet despite continued prosperity, there is one cloud hanging over Arthur, and indeed, the entire tailoring industry. Master tailoring is a dying profession. “Young people aren’t emerging to take our place when we go,” he says. “This is a small industry, and it is getting smaller.”

The essential problem, Arthur says, is nobody is available to pass on the skills. “The industry was able to get some Government money and set up a training workshop to a high standard. But the only person they could get to teach the youngsters was an 82-year-old man.”

Those master tailors who remain, all work flat-out to meet the level of orders from around the world. “From time to time I get requests to take someone on as an apprentice,” Arthur says, “but I just wouldn’t have the time to train them adequately.”

Arthur learnt his trade from his tailor father. “We’ve been a family of tailors for as far back as my great grandfather,” he says. “But when I go, there will be nobody to take my place.

“When I set up, back in 1967, Southend was full of tailors. I suppose I’m the last of a kind.”