Office Life - Phones and Typists
Biography > Hills Electrical > Memories of Work
The Office Structure
When I joined the company in 1976 there was a three way distinction. There were the electricians and apprentices called the operatives or more usually the labour, the management that is the guys who ran the jobs called the “Engineers” and the office staff otherwise called the “girls” who ran all of the administrative functions. Then there was my father, mother and I.
As I joined I became the office manager. I knew diddly squat about business – but it wasn’t difficult to learn, it was a hell of a lot simpler than Fourier transforms, for example. So my first function was to take over the running of the office from my mother. The office consisted or a large open area with desks in which the “girls” sat. There was an accounts office in which my mother and I worked and my father had an office, with his own toilet no less. The engineers then had a large open plan office with 2 more offices, one for the engineering director and 3 others for the engineers. There was another office for the job costing clerk.The girls, who could be any age between 15 and 60 were in the front office.
There was a switchboard which had 4 incoming lines and 16 extensions operated by one lady. So if I wanted to make a call to some one I could either pick up the phone and ask her to make the call or dial it myself . If our telephonist made the call she would get through to the telephonist at the other company and then ask to be put through to the some one. The some one would come on to the line and the telephonist would say:
“Please hold the line, I have Mr Hill for you”
“Please hold the line, I have Mr Hill for you”
I would then start the conversation. I could of course give our telephonist a list of calls which she would then go through one after another as I put the phone down on the previous one. She would also do this for anyone else including the engineers.
Incoming calls would all come in to the switchboard and they lady would answer them – phone the extension of the person who was being called and then if they were happy to answer the call say cheerily to the person at the other end of the line:
“Putting you through now.”
It’s what is called today an announced transfer.
The switchboard and phones belonged to the GPO (now BT) and we rented it from them. Telephone calls cost real money, but they were cheaper in the afternoon – so we were always encouraging people to make the calls then.
They had classes in schools where there was a room full of 14 year old girls who would learn to type. The idea was that they typed without looking at the keyboard and simply reading the copy from which they were typing. Really good typists could do 100 words a minute and keep it up all day, whilst chatting to their friends and smoking.
We hired a couple of school leavers to be typists almost immediately I joined the company and they would sit all day typing away. Anything that needed to be in print, letters, memos, quotes and invoices mainly, were handwritten and placed in a tray by the typist who would type them up. Near the end of the day she would get them signed and put them into envelopes.
Everything had to have a carbon copy or two of the document. They all then had to be filed in lever arch files.
We had just taken delivery of a new fangled franking machine, by Pitney Bowes, so we didn’t need stamps. I must admit I never understood the logic of this. You paid the same amount as for stamps, bought the machine, and had to pay for it to be serviced regularly. It didn’t even save time. But it did make you look as though the company was big.
Typewriters had evolved over the years. To begin with they were manual machines where the impact of your fingers on the keyboard lifted a key which then hit a ribbon and punched through to the paper underneath. The pressure of the key would transfer to a carbon paper beneath and then to another piece of paper beneath. The number of copies was limited by how hard you hit the keys. The electric typewriter was the next stage which powered the keys via an electric mechanism. IBM Invented a golf ball typewriter which still looks amazing. Every time you depress a key instead of a lever rising up a print head in the shape of a golf ball covered in raised metal letters and, spins to the correct location and hits the paper.
When I joined we bought two daisy wheel typewriters. When you hit a key, a disc, the daisy wheel, which had letters and numbers attached rotated to the correct position and the printhead pushes it onto the paper, via a ribbon. The daisy wheel could be changed easily and so you could have different fonts and sizes of print, easily for the first time.
We tried dictating machines and short hand over the years but neither worked for us.
Everything was on paper when I joined and pretty much everything was when I left. There were lever arch files stuffed with invoices, orders and statements. Job files were full of specifications, invoices, and orders.The filing room was always over flowing.
At our Leamore Lane premises we started to put papers into a loft area above the filing area. I’d grab hold of the loft floor and push my way up to get a file – so much for being young.
We used to do work experience for school kids. Finding anything for them to do was often difficult – so on one occasion I had one young person do some filing. She shoved papers in files at random. It took weeks to find them all again.
We moved to Green Lane in 1988 and the paper mountain continued to grow. By 2008 when SEC took over there were multiple containers stuffed with papers. The personal papers that were delivered to me in 2008 ran to 2 truck loads. All I could do was to have a massive bonfire and keep the odd document.