Work at the Pitsea branch of the troubled hardware chain slowed to a standstill following the discovery by staff that Handfield's oft-touted threat that she would take anyone who stepped out of line “downtown like Ruth Brown” had no grounding in fact.
“The Ruth Brown threat was the second thing that Susan said to me after I was mandated by the Jobcentre to work a 37 and a half hour week at Wrenn's as an unpaid apprentice,” said former bank manager, Clive Judd (54).
“In my mind Ruth Brown was an ogreish woman, possibly an Elizabethan tavern wench, who kept her unruly clientèle in line by bashing their heads together and thumping them with her enormous meaty fists.”
Claire Lee has worked at Wrenn's for 27 years, during which time she has watched it slowly transform from a family-run business into an asset-stripped chain of 127 outlets, operated by a skeleton staff.
A tearful Lee recalled:
“When I was young my priest, Father Pearson, warned me about St Jennifer's pet dragon who would descend from the heavens and cleanse my body and soul with holy fire if I was ever suspected by God of dabbling in Buddhism. Later I came to realise that the name of this dragon was Ruth Brown.”
Handfield's reign of terror was brought to an end after staff researched the mysterious historical figure of Ruth Brown and discovered that she had never existed:
“The closest person of significance we could find was a timid churchgoing spinster who turned down a damehood for her fears that she might faint in the presence of Queen Victoria,” said Judd.
In a hastily issued statement, Handfield has claimed that Ruth Brown is “more of a composite character comprising a number of historical figures who you wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of.”
However, industry experts are already questioning whether she can continue as Manager of the Pitsea branch of Wrenn's without the ability to strike fear into the hearts of her workers.
“She's finished,” said Wall Street Analyst, David Blackshaw. “The lesson to be learned here is do your homework or somebody else will.”
Clive Liborbung of The United Kingdom Association of Ethical Businesses (UKAEB) said:
“Handfield's case highlights the dangers of citing historical precedent as a means of keeping rank and file workers in line.
“What managers must remember at all times is that nobody's historical reputation is unassailable. All that it takes is one televised documentary narrated by Lorraine Kelly revealing that Ivan the Terrible was kind to kittens and your notoriety as a cast-iron ball-breaker is on the line.”
This morning, staff at Wrenn's were celebrating their freedom:
“It was all lie. I feel like a crushing weight has been lifted from me,” said Judd.
“The nightmare is over,” added Lee. “Ruth Brown can't hurt me now. It turns out that she never really could.”