Oral History: Anthony Keable

Full transcript

So if you could just start by telling us your name and spelling it.

Ok.  My name is Anthony Keable.  My surname K.E.A.B.L.E and um my father was a er construction engineer and er my family before that were blacksmiths and er engineers on the railway so engineering’s in my blood [laughs].

When was your born?

I was born in 1940 um 17th February 1940 in Clacton in East London [laughs] so I’m a genuine Londoner.

That’s where I was born.

You were? Oh right, anyway, so I was born there and um this was obviously our, just after the break, outbreak of World War II.  My father was a construction engineer, and he applied to join the RAF um but they turned him down, he said it was cos he didn’t have the Brylcreem, but they turned him down because um, the Ministry of Works had a job lined up for him and during the war he was responsible for over a hundred men and his job was to go round the morning after the air raids and decide whether or not they sured up houses that had been damaged by the bombs or whether they knocked them down.  And um he was very very busy and er obviously we didn’t see a lot of him, um, I think it was about 1942 we moved to Sidcup in um lets say, near Longlands Road and er we were there during the war and on the, I think it was about the 29th of January 1945 um, a V2 rocket landed within a hundred yards of the back of our house, blew the roof off our house, er I personally sustained minor injuries, cuts etc and bruises when the roof fell in on me and my sister.  Um my mother was badly cut up in her face, she was in the room at the time tucking us in and my, I was only five years old, my older sister was seven, and um, my mother was taken to hospital in East Grinstead where she was treated by a er surgeon by Mr McIndoe and he was the chap who did the work repairing the faces of the fighter pilots in the Battle of Britain.

Oh right.

So, my mother went, was taken away, and I didn’t see her for a few weeks, um, in, after that um, I went tot stay with friends of my family in er Longlands Road Sidcup, and er I’d been there two weeks and I had the front bedroom on the upper level looking out across the road and one night I thought was a bomb hit the house opposite, it wasn’t, I later found out in the Bexley library that it was another V2 and I’ve since been to where that house is and you can see the old style houses and the newer style house which was built where the V2 rocket destroyed it.  So, twice Hitler missed me and um I can never say that I was an unlucky person [laughs].  So, from um after the war um and um we had to find somewhere else to live and we went to er Chislehurst and we lived in an old er house which was the Old Rectory to St. Nicholas Church and er the Rectory was quite large building it was built in 1586 and it’s actually the building where in the 1880s er Canon Murray and others er er got together and created Hymns Ancient and Modern for the Church of England.  So this house is very famous and in fact I wrote a little book er all about this house and it’s in Chislehurst and Bromley libraries.  Um one of the people who lived in the house, cos there was four families lived in this old house, with us, in the late 1940s, um was a chap called Mr Drew and he had worked at Vickers-Armstrongs during the war and it was his suggestion later on when I came to leave school um that I go and try and get an apprenticeship at Vickers-Armstrongs and er that’s in actual fact what happened.  We moved out of the Old Rectory about 1951 and moved to another part of Chislehurst where we lived and in um 1955 I left Edgebury Secondary School er in Chislehurst where I had been going and I had been doing metalwork as my special subject and um my mother took me to Vickers-Crayford and I had an interview at Vickers-Crayford to see whether or not I was suitable and they said afterwards that I was and so I went back later again and that was the time when I signed the official Secrets Act because of course Vickers was producing armaments and other equipment which was not for being divulged to the general public.  I er went there initially as an office boy and there were there was a there were three large wings at Vickers, the North Wing and the South Wing which were both industrial er um production floors, but there was the West Wing, and the West Wing was the one where all the offices were, there was offices on all floors of the West Wing.  Um there were office boys that were on the different floors, but the job that I got, and it was just by luck, was, I became the office boy on the fourth floor, and the fourth floor was the management floor, so I was the General Managers’ office boy.  And I ran errands for his secretaries and the Commercial Manager and other managers, the Wages Manager and those people on the floor, and er, in the morning when I went to work er I had to report to the Commissionaire who was an ex-Royal Naval er um Bosun I think he was in the Royal Navy and er I had to report to him in the the office and he would check that my shoes were clean and my tie was straight and I was in correct shape for greeting the managers when they came into the the West Wing, when they came up the top of the lift and my job was to stand there in the morning and greet these people. Er so I had I had a plum job as far as office boys are concerned, we were all told whether you were an office boy or whether you were a store boy, store boys worked in other departments, but their jobs were often to take drawings and small pieces of machinery from one department to another.  But we had all been told, that when we were employed, after our fifteenth birthday, that prior to us becoming sixteen, we would all have to go to Erith Technical College and take a competitive examination.  There was an intake of so many apprentices every year and this was so that the company could continue er to have a steady workforce every year, you would have older skilled craftsmen retiring and they needed the throughput of the apprentices to work their way through their apprenticeship, become skilled craftsmen and replace those who were retired.  So along with the others I went to Erith Technical College, I took the exam and I passed.  And so the following year in er 1956 after my sixteenth birthday I er reported to the apprentice workshop and er I was er met the Superintendent Mr Bob Hall and the er other people in charge and er I started my apprenticeship.

Before we go onto the apprenticeship, could


Er did your mother ever work?

Did my mother ever work?  My mother was a secretary and my mother was a secretary and she worked in the East End of London for a number of companies including er a Jewish company and er yes she did shorthand and all that, obviously during the war she was involved with other things er other groups of wives who were involved in doing war work to support the local area um and um in actual fact because of that and the fact that when we were in Sidcup I went to school when I was four years old, it was deemed that I was safer at school at Longlands School in Sidcup than I would be at home because my mother had to go out to do war work.

Do you mean munitions factory or?

No, she was working with other groups of women on all kinds, she wasn’t actually in the factory but they were doing work various work for various areas and such I think it was like er support for um er health and all that kind of stuff.

Right ok.

Anyway, it was deemed that I was safer because my mum couldn’t be at home, for me to go to school and so er cos my older sister went to school so I went to school at four years old and um I used to have to walk to the end of Brooklands Avenue and wait there and I waited there and another young boy came along who lived not far away and we waited for an older boy and I’ll never forget his name was Billy Tinsley and he’s responsible, he was responsible for taking us from the er corner of Harland Avenue and Brooklands Avenue taking us to Longlands School.  One morning, um I was standing on the corner with the other young boy and Billy came up and we started to walk down the road, across the road, down towards Longlands School and we heard the sound of an aircraft flying very low and um Billy pushed me and the other boy into the front garden and down alongside the wall and we crouched alongside the wall as the plane went over, now I never knew whether it was a German fighter or what it was but um er Billy had been taught what to do and to and we had always been told that if something like that happened you had to get into someone’s front garden and lie down alongside the wall cos if they were machine gunned you’d be a target.


And so [laughs] three times he possibly tried to get me and he missed um and so yeah um I would also say that because I lived there in Brooklands Avenue during the war and the railway was at the back of the house going er not far from New Eltham Station between there and Sidcup Station um if the bombers had had trouble they would try and drop the bombs they had left on the railway.  Er that was quite common in the South East area if they got lost and they couldn’t find their target then they would simply find a railway and try dropping bombs on railway um.  And er you’d think that maybe if you were three or four years old you wouldn’t remember things but er I certainly remember the er sound of the German Bombers coming over, being outside the back of the house er about going to the Andersons’ Shelter and um you would hear the drone of the bombers and the bombers would would drone, the pitch would go up and down and um er it was always very distinctive and er its for a specific reason.  In the Royal Air Force, Piston Engine Aircraft had their engines synchronised and so this meant there was a steady tone, whereas Germans never bothered and so the result was you would hear the high and low pitch from the two engines and that caused the droning noise, you could always know whether it was our bombers or our planes going over or whether it was the Germans.


So [laughs] but when you hear that siren go and I’m not talking about the all-clear cos I didn’t mind that, I can hear that, but when I hear, if I watch a film and I hear the siren go, the warning going, it sends a shiver down my spine because I can remember it like it was yesterday um it’s very personal when someone is trying to kill you.  And you just don’t forget that and er I’ve spoken to people who were young, my age, that kind of age during World War II, you don’t forget that, its its sort of burnt into you, its its its so scary that you would never forget it.  Anyway, that’s just the bit about um my early life.

In, in this school, sorry to…

No go on.

You said that you, that you were interested in…


Yeah.  What was it that…

Ok. Ok.

That got you interested in…

Ok, right ok, right um in metalwork yes, I was in um, they streamed you in the secondary schools back in the fifties and so I went into 1A, I was in 2A and 3A and I think it was A, B, C, D or something like that, that the the classes, and in the A stream we did French and other subjects that weren’t done in the in the lower streams and um I really liked that because um I actually came out top in English and um and I did very well in French and sadly when, when I had to choose and you had a choice, you could do a wood work or you could do a pottery although I don’t know how that would make one ready for a job, um and you could do metalwork right, or science, and er I was interested on how things work and er I decided to go and do metalwork and in actual fact one of the items that I made at the school I took with me when I went for my interview um to see if they’d have me as a potential apprentice and this item that I’d made was examined by the er um er the er engineering er supervisor that of the apprentices and I presume he thought er I had potential for being trained and so in a way maybe that that helped me to get a job.

Hmm. was it something, the metalwork, were you using lathes at school?

Right, I’ll tell you something else.  In the 1950s, er, in the 1950s if you went into a school, you would probably go in through a grand entrance if you were a visitor and almost certainly there would be a glass case, and in that glass case there will be objects and items that had been made by er members of the school at various times and these were like prize exhibits that would be shown to the visitor.  And so there was always this idea that anyone who was really gifted would be encouraged, but unfortunately the rest of them would not really be encouraged.  Also when I went into the metalwork shop, we had two beautiful lathes there, they weren’t very large but they were quite very nice, but we had very limited access to use them and in fact um we would er twenty minutes before the end of the class session, everyone would stop what they were doing and would clean the place up so it was immaculate, the lathes often weren’t used, not because they couldn’t be used but because they didn’t want them to get dirty and at the and at the we had to polish all the handles on the drawers that were brass before we finished the class.  And there was this um idea which I always thought that the the cleanliness and the appearance of the workshop was more to display to visitors of the wonderful environment, er rather than the nitty gritty getting down to teaching, er people, er and the boys the real art and craft of engineering.  And er I feel in a way er that was simply a school policy, but of course, when I became an apprentice, I was being trained um by real professionals and er I do believe that the er er metalwork master of which there were two in the metalwork class was a former milkman um, or what my father used to tell me um because I think he knew him from earlier times, and so um probably wondered why [laughs] he must have had qualifications but nevertheless, um he wasn’t to me a true professional and it was only later on I met real professionals, who really knew er what they were talking about.

Had your Dad done an apprenticeship?  Was he like…

My father was apprentice, er as apprentice carpenter and joiner.  Er and he worked in um he worked in he spent his apprenticeship in Alton in Hampshire, and then he decided that er when he finished his apprenticeship and I’ve seen his apprenticeship certificate, I think I’ve got it somewhere, um he went up to London to see if he could get er a job in London and um he was taken on by a er er company in Tottenham and er he became I believe what they call a layer-out.  Which meant that he was the person that worked out all the dimensions and everything of what they were doing.


Right, ok.  So obviously he had a flair for that kind of thing, and um anyway, it wasn’t long before he became er um or he had quite er er a good position in the company and um it actually my mother, my mother’s brother worked in the company and that’s how my mother and my father met [laughs] he brought him home, and er er they got to know one another and later one they married.  Um my father worked for er er also for some other companies, and um he had a very good understanding of construction methods and he could work out loadings and things like that and I think it was his ability to be able to make assessments on structures and things which is why the Ministry of Works decided he was more useful to the country in the capacity of assessor after bomb damage than he would have been actually serving in the Armed Forces.  Obviously he served in the Home Guard, and um he served in the Home Guard at Sidcup and er he became Sergeant Firearms Instructor.  He was very good, and er not only did he he, er could he shoot very well but, um he taught my mother how to shoot.


I don’t think it was really strictly legit that he brought a rifle home, but he taught my mother how to shoot and I do remember after World War II my father disposing of a considerable amount of ammunition we had in the house um that had come from the Home Guard but if they’d have come to our house um the Jerrys got to our house, er they xxxx er my mother was pretty good with a rifle.


Um, you have to realise that of course during World War II er that people were in anticipation that the German invasion could take place and Kent was going to be the first place to cop it, Hell Fire Corner as they called it.  So, yes so er and obviously er at a later time, er that threat disappeared and what happened was we had various bullets, er um after having a shooting session I believe at the Home Guard, er my father would pick up many of the ones that weren’t used [laughs], so to speak and he had them and um he he anyway he had some of this stuff at home and er one day in when we lived in the Old Rectory my mother was cleaning out some pots on the, on the above the mantelpiece, and obviously there were some bullets in there, one fell in the fire, it went off with a bang and cracked all the back of the um the er fire and she said to my father, get rid of them.  And so um any bullets and stuff that were left lying around were disposed of.  But it was not unknown at all for civilians to have guns in the period during World War II, a lot, there were a lot of people who had guns who might not have been registered, obviously my father was because he was Home Guard Firearms Instructor, so um, he had different rules but um anyway.  So that was the end of all that, um, yes, the when we lived in the um, old house, the Old Rectory, Glebe House it was called when we lived there, um, Mr Drew, er lived in the lived in the floor up above and he er he had a son and a daughter as well as his wife and he had worked in Vickers-Armstrongs during the war and so yes, he was the person who suggested and said well if Tony’s interested in metalwork, why don’t you see if you could get him an apprenticeship.  I personally wanted to join the Royal Air Force, in 1954 I joined the Air Training Corps, 173 Squadron Orpington.  At that time I was facing call-up because when you got to eighteen, everybody was called up, you had to serve in the army, navy or the air force, one of the three.  If you became an apprentice, your call-up was deferred until the end of your apprenticeship, but after you ended your apprenticeship you went in.  I thought that I might be called up so when I was fourteen so I joined the Air Training Corps and I knew that I well you took your basic examination and you got a star for that, if you took the proficiency examination and passed, which I did, and you got a badge for that, you then had right choice of service, and I presume the same applied with the Army Cadets or the the Sea Cadets.  Once they had [achieved] a certain er er competence level um that was on their record because the Army Cadets, the Navy Cadet and the Air Cadets were all junior parts of the services and they were er er a means of providing new er people to go into the services, each one supplied you know, when I was at 173 Squadron Orpington um virtually every month there would be a couple of cadets who had left the squadron and were now in the RAF, right, that was because of the call-up, people were having to go, to go in.  So I had choice of service, so I knew that when it came and I was going to be called up I would go into the Royal Air Force.  I wanted really, and this I was fourteen, I wanted to go as a boy entrant, which you could do, but my father refused to sign the papers.  He said no, and er anyway, he refused to sign the papers and I could not go as a boy entrant so I thought right, okay, I will become an apprentice, and I will do engineering, I would still hold my certificate and when I come out at the end of my apprenticeship I will still go in the Royal Air Force and that was how it was going to be.  I had a friend, who was born in November 1939, and er he went into the Army and he went into BOAR, which was British Army Occupation of the Rhine, ok, and that must have been about 19 ooh 1960 something like that about 1960 and he had finished his apprenticeship and when he finished his apprenticeship he was called up.  I was born in 1940 17th February, the intakes were every three months, mine was the next intake to go, and the government stopped it.

What National Service?

Stopped National Service.  I missed my National Service by one month seventeen days.  Right so I was expecting that I would get my call-up papers, even though I was apprentice, I would then be deferred at the end of my apprenticeship I would be called up.  But in actual fact, what happened was, they stopped it.  And sadly for my friend, they found that all the three services were short of numbers, so they made all the er er conscripts do er one more year, now this was really bad for them because if you did your conscript two years you were paid a very small amount of money.  If you signed on for three years you were paid regulars money, over twice what the conscript got.


So, those last intake chaps, be it the Army, the Navy or the Air Force, all had to do three years, they got paid regulars money for the last year, but they’d been paid conscripts rate for the first two years.  Now if they knew were going to do three years they’d have signed up and they’d have got more money for doing it.


And also it was a lot easier if you were a regular rather than if you were a conscript.  So, I yes, I wanted to go in, but I didn’t and then the actual fact, when I was getting towards the end of my time in the Air Training Corps, I went to Biggin Hill and for one summer I served with er 600 Squadron County of London, Royal Auxiliary Air Force, and er I was Assistant Armourer [laughs].


Yeah, and we had er F8 meteor fighters and T7 trainers, and um I would also work as an assistant on the Bowsers, er we used to put in [Aftag] and [Afture] which is aviation kerosene, which is what we refuelled the aircraft with.  And um, and so yes, and I had a wonderful summer, every Sunday I was at Biggin Hill and er we used to eat in the mess of 41 Squadron which was the squadron with the Hawker Hunter fighter, the regular squadron, but the Royal Auxiliary Air Force at the time, there were two squadron, two other er squadrons apart from the regulars that were 615 County of Surrey Squadron and 600 Squadron the County of London.  And on their badge there was the shield with the sword, similar to the Lord Mayors Coat of Arms.

What was um, the reason your Dad didn’t want you to go into…

Er, well, my father, I didn’t see my father for many years.  First of all during the war, I hardly ever saw him. Then, after the end of the war and we were living at Glebe House in Chislehurst, he um was working he was working for a major construction company and he was involved um in this huge pipeline, laying um a system they had, if you remember, if you’ve looked around places you’ll see gasometers.  Well at one time the gasometers supplied gas, town gas as they called it at the time, to the local area, ok.  But the system wasn’t all joined up, and it was only after World War II that huge gas mains were laid, all across the country to join all the system up so that they could pump gas from one area to another.

Right, ok.

And he was involved with that, and I would see him once every three weeks maybe, and then um even til I was about, up until I was about fifteen, fourteen or fifteen, er, after fourteen, I still only saw him once a fortnight at the most.  So I hardly ever saw him, and I think what happened was he realised I was growing up and that he wanted to be there, er while I was still young.

Right so he wanted you around.

And so I think it was really, it was his, he he he felt that he wanted to be there when I was still young and he’d missed it because I had hardly seen him during my earlier period of life because he was never there.  He worked away and never saw him hardly, so I think it was his idea, he said oh that I’d be I would be lonely I couldn’t get on very well and that, but I was determined, no I knew what I wanted to do and I wanted to become a er an airframe fitter and um there you are [laughs].  But it wasn’t to be, never mind.  Um, so, yes, so that’s how I ended up and I was living in in um in er Chislehurst in the new council house that had been built on the edge of the estate and um I lived there and um I went to work at Vickers.


And er that’s how I then became an apprentice and er um, yes, the lot of things were very hard, and the initial six months in the apprentice school was er quite gruelling.  You would be given er a job, a tool to make, and and it would be explained to you how to make this particular tool and there would be a drawing and instructions on the back on how you should do this and er you would have to er make this item and you have to make it accurately and er each stage, you would have to take it and present it to the charge hand who would examine it and tell you whether you got it right or whether you were doing it wrong.  And er sometimes um you might end up making three of this particular thing because you got to a level where you got it wrong and the charge hand would chuck it in the bin and say start again Mr So-And-So.  And you had to do this and they were very hard on you and you had to do this.  Come Friday afternoon, we all er after we clocked in we all trooped into the schoolroom at the back of the apprentice school.  And there, we got out all our books, and we had to record everything that we’d done during the week.  So if you’d been skiving you’d have got into trouble, not knowing what to write down, but you would have to explain in detail how you made and what you did, and if you wrote down and I wrote down sometimes I did this and in error I I filed this down too far and it would not be right and it would be scrapped and I got a new piece of material and I filed it, and I went through it all again and you had to do that and after you’d written your log, of all the work you’d done during the week, you then had to go and queue up at dais where the apprentice supervisor sat, hand him your book and he would read it, and then he would interrogate you on the work that you’d done during that week and then mark your book [laughs].  It was, it was quite hard, it was quite hard.  Sometimes we would have lectures by er people who would come from other parts of the factory.  There would people come and they would be talk about things like abrasive wheels and grinding machine and and and er various other other subjects, and we would sit there and you would have to write it all up in your book, listening to the the thing, you’d make all your notes and then afterwards you had to write that up properly and submit what you had learned from that lecture.


And so once again that was submitted to the apprentice supervisor and if you weren’t doing very well you’d be called into the office and told ‘Right, you’d better buck your ideas up’ [laughs].  Otherwise you might get chucked out, so yes, um and like I say, in the apprentice shop there were lathes, there were a milling machines, drilling machines and other machines.  However, the emphasis was for you to use hand skills to do er a lot of the work, although you could have made these items much quicker using machines, the idea was you had to know how to do it without machines.  That was the idea.  And that way then if in the future you was in a situation, you had some machines, you could do some things, but you didn’t have it all, you still had the skill to use hand tools to create the items.  During the period of time that you were there, the first six months in apprentice training school, you were to make a set of tools.  You would start off by er being given an old file complete with teeth, you would have to soften that in the forge and after you’d softened it you would have to file all the teeth off of it and you would have to er beat the end out on the forge to create a special shape and you would have to polish that until it gleaned and there wasn’t a scratch on it and some days we would polish these items we’d made and we’d go up to the apprentice charge hand and say there, and Fred would say, right, take it away now and polish it [laughs].  And it was really hard but it was deliberate, it was deliberate, and at the time I thought they were really what you might call bloody-minded, right, but no.  What they did was, they gave me a skill that in later life I found I had depth to be able to solve problems which other people said they couldn’t do without the machines.  And er I, it was only later on I realised how lucky I was to have such an in depth apprenticeship and training um, it was extremely good.

You mentioned about um, er having to write up what you’d done.


Was that quite difficult in terms of the way that you would learn hands on stuff, so you’d almost, would you say that you’d almost learn stuff so that it became quite intuitive?  So writing it up into something you could write up, was that difficult?

Yes, no, no I would say that it would be something that because you start, if you started at the age of sixteen, I’d never done that when I was at school, never done it when I was at school, however, er it was expected of you, um, when you you came an apprentice, and the idea was that you had to learn everything.  It wasn’t good enough for you to learn most of it, you had to learn everything.  And that was the difference between a skilled man and say a semi-skilled man.  And er, later on when you’d finished your apprenticeship you would realise that you were then in the brotherhood of all the skilled men and they had er a they had a social standing, they were, they felt they were a higher level than other people who were semi-skilled and they did.  And and because of that er they were respected, in the same way you would say, if you took for instance the railway, the engine driver was venerated as being someone who knew so much and could do all this whereas the chap who just oiled the wheels or you know and so there would be a hierarchy and of course you are talking about a time when I finished my apprenticeship of the 1960s, which is when the Unions were at their strength.  If you remember the sixties was the era when lots of strikes and that happened and the Unions had er er had grown and had power and influence and so therefore er it was in the Unions’ interest that they preserve the hierarchical er er situation that um that was in factories er and I related in my little thing I’ve written that um even as an apprentice, I was not to sweep the floor, I was not to make the tea, I was taking away another man’s job if I did.  And at the same time I was denigrating my position, I may only be an apprentice, but I was an apprentice skilled man and therefore it was expected of me to behave in a certain way and that applied to all of us xxxx.

How was that explained to you?  Was that explained early to you or was that just was that something that just…

That was something that you began to realise, from a young apprentice you would not realise that, say there was this hierarchy, when you’re in this apprentice school you were just amongst apprentices, there was a form and a charge hand and an apprentice supervisor who were over you and told you what to do and you followed their instructions.  However, when you got into the factory you would be confronted by all kinds of people.  And um you would learn then that the skilled men were, and they a skilled man would normally, you could normally tell the skilled man from the unskilled man.  He would normally appear to be better dressed and and er er and and would have an air about him that that er of superiority, oh yes it was, definitely it was, and they knew it, and they knew the factory needed them and their skills and they’d gone through it all and er you were going through your learning curve yourself.  Um you also went one day a week to college, day release they called it.  I went to Woolwich Polytechnic, and you could do two courses, I did City and Guilds and the other course was National Certificate.  National Certificate was often taken by pupil apprentices, there were also two types of apprentices.  There were ordinary apprentices, which is what I was, and there were pupil apprentices.  Pupil apprentices normally did um oh yeah, they were normally, they spend, they’d certainly spend six months in the drawing office.  I did, but that was for another reason, but they would spend time in the drawing office, they would also go in the Foundry, that was the only place that I really wanted to go in that I didn’t, they would go in the Foundry.  And as a pupil apprentice, er potentially when you qualified after twenty-one, you would not be looking at being a skilled man, no you’d be more looking at becoming a manager.

Would they do a higher National?

Er yes they probably would, yes they probably would, yes they probably would you’re almost certainly right there.  Yes, so in other words these people would be um in fact there was two people at the meeting at Hall Place who were deferred and I think er it they were in the drawing office er yes, almost certainly yes.  They were, that you would be management potential if you were a pupil apprentice you would be management potential.

In that, was there scope for people from a working class background to do that?  Pupil apprentices or was it…

To to, I don’t think so, I don’t remember, there were there would only be a few, there would only be a few, the ratio if there were let’s say there was fifty apprentices, I doubt if there’d be more than five that would be pupils, right.  It was a very small ratio.  But those um probably, they came to become engineers, but unlike me coming and from the majority of young boys who came from say a secondary school, because secondary schools were the only schools that taught metalwork, right, which was a basic form of engineering.  You wouldn’t get er anything like that at a grammar school so these pupil apprentices may have been grammar school er boys, who wanted to go into engineering ok, and maybe they came with a grammar school er with a certificate anyway to start them off right, and er management would be looking at them as potential managers in the future yeah.  And ironically they were looking to move managers, but not as charge hands.  Charge hands, and I was one myself at one time, um are normally people who are promoted from the ranks, so to speak, so er in like in the army the same kind of hierarchical, whereby lets say er a manager would be like an officer, or whereas a charge hand would be a sergeant, yes?


They, it’s sort of equivalent sort of thing, in actual fact in my case I became charge hand and then I became an engineering supervisor before acting as a deputy to the Chief Engineer.  So I actually came up from the bottom and worked my way to the top, but in most cases I would think pupil apprentices were potential management, engineering management and ordinary apprentices were potential skilled workmen.

So would that affect the relationship during the apprenticeship with pupil apprentices and…

No, not really because we were all starting out at the same time, we were all ignorant of all these things at the time and what and er sometimes probably if those pupil apprentices had come from grammar schools, they would not have had as much engineering um er experience as boys from secondary schools who who worked on mechanical things in their metalwork classes.  [Pardon me].  So, um er but yes I did know some of them and um, I there was one er er boy, who was an apprentice with me at Vickers-Armstrongs and he was a pupil apprentice and um, he er was very clever indeed.  I, I caught dermatitis um from soluble oil, soluble oil is an oil which is mixed with water and used on cutting tools on lathes and drills and milling machines etc and it comes as a white liquid, we all used to call it mystic cos it had all kinds of things in it, including tea and coffee [drains].  I caught dermatitis, and because I caught dermatitis I had to be taken off the machine shop area, and I was given a cream, and they decided to put me in the drawing office for six months.

Right ok.

And er that was wonderful.  Anyway, I worked in the drawing office alongside a pupil apprentice and the chaps name was Dave Downer.  Dave Downer was er was a very clever apprentice and he became a er amateur motorcycle racer, and er he had an old Rudge Motorcycle, pre-war, 250, and he re-built this, and er worked on it and improved it, and he raced this and he did very well.  And the quality of of him for instance, I can show you, or explain to you about, his his quality of his his skill.  He was due to ride at a race at Crystal Palace, and depending on the type of circuit you used certain race shows on the gears.  And he did not have the right size sprocket to go on the main shaft of the engine of the motorcycle.  So somebody in the factory turned for him a blank, and machined the centre to fit onto the shaft, and it was a blank made of what’s known as A-steel, quality steel.  He filed the teeth on this disc and won the race.

What at the…

At the, at the Palace.

Right, ok.

He filed the teeth on the, on a plain disc.


Now, to me, that’s quality engineering.


You’ve got to be good to do something like that.


Right, yes.  Which, which showed that once again, that hand skills, that we had been taught, in the um what’s the name, in the apprentice school were really useful, really useful.  Sadly Dave went on, later on, he went on and he was killed in a crash at Brands Hatch with Derek Minter the King of Brands.  And he er he he had raced on the Dunstable Dominator for er a chap called Paul Dunstall who was a tuner down at Well Hall in Eltham, and potentially he could have been a champion.  And it was very sad he was killed in this accident er, but the quality of the engineering er and I saw some of the stuff er was extremely good, I actually, later on I actually took up motorcycle racing myself and er I rode on the side car of a Vincent powered outfit, and I um, we did quite well, and I did all the engineering on the engine.  I modified the engine, er completely [laughs].  And we did very well.  Um, the an example of lets say engineering er know-how or skill, when I was racing with er a friend of mine who came out of the RAF, we had a Vincent side-car outfit, Black Lightning was the engine, a genuine Works Black Lightning engine, and it was fitted with a triplex chain on the drive.  Now if you’ve seen a triplex chain you’ll know it’s a very wide chain and it can, and because of the area on a triple sprockets on both the er clutch and the engine, it means there’s very high friction.  Very high friction will soak up brake horse power.


If you also know, that most lifts, the chains on most lifts will take three times the actual load of the lift.  Chains are very highly stressed, right.  In other words they’re well within their capacity to do that, that’s because we don’t want accidents on lifts.  So therefore, if you could modify the engine to run on a simplex chain, with a single sprocket driving and single sprocket on the clutch, you could save about four brake horse power, and I modified it.  And we ran with a single chain, but I threw it away after every race meeting because if it broke it would take my head off and I I was on the side-car.


But I knew that the stress on that chain would be good enough for us to do one meeting.  And we rode at Brands Hatch all that and afterwards er and then we changed and put a new chain on.


This is using your knowledge of um er lets say of er the quality of products, er so as to be able to gain an advantage.

Mmm, do you think that the, that the learning you did at Vickers, what, do, how did you, how did, what was easiest way for you to learn?  Was it doing something or…

I found, I found ok, when you went into the factory you would go into different departments.  When you went in and and into, say like the er, the department or you was going to go onto a lathe, I learned on Capstan lathes, and I learned how to set the machine up.  When you have a Capstan lathe it, it doesn’t have normally a chuck, it has a collet and that is like a split gripping, er er cylindrical item, so that you can insert a small, er er round piece of material steel or brass, and lock the collet around it so that it is in the collet and it can be machined.  And so it’s designed for doing mass production, now there were setters, they were skilled craftsmen who set up machines, adjusted the tools on the tool posts, the drills and everything you set up so that you could produced this item very quickly, mass production.  Er there were setter operators, they were people who set up the machine themselves and then manufactured the batch, ok.  And then there were operators, they were a lower skill level, the setters set the machine up for them and they came and operated it.  But as apprentices, you had to set it up for yourself, you were to learn how to do this right, because when you finished your apprenticeship and you came in there you could be a setter, not a you would not be a setter operator, you would be a setter right and you would be doing that so you were always looking at this thing that you had obtain the maximum skills, so when I did, I did about six months working on Capstuns.  Then, I went onto centre lathes.  On centre lathes you would machine all kinds of things on centre lathes, er um, castings, and you would have to put counter-balances on the face plate as it spun round so that it didn’t go out of balance and shake the thing apart.  Um, on it, on the section there would be one skilled er turner, and he would advise you, er on how you got this set up and would point out what was wrong or that, and so you would learn from his skill, he would be like passing that on.  So, it would be up to you to try and figure out to do this, he wouldn’t be there to do it initially you would have to set up and then you’d ask his advice, do you think you got that right or maybe there was half a dozen apprentices and you’d say what do you think, yeah, that, I’d try doing that.  Er, amongst the scary things that I did, was I turned magnesium.  Magnesium is a highly flammable er metal.  And when I was given the job of machining this magnesium casting, I had instruction from the er um skill turner on the section, and er I had to wait, and the fire brigade turned up to my lathe and they had buckets of sand that they stacked alongside.  Then the Head of the Fire Department spoke to me and er explained what I was to do in the event of the fire.  They then moved anything inflammable away from my lathe, and they had to make sure that the liquid coolant was working properly and there was no blockages and I had to clean the filter out and make sure everything, everything was ok.  And the reason being that if the tool got over, over heated on the point of contact because it was blunt or that, and it had instead of cutting the material off it would cause a hot spot and a magnesium would then burst into flames with a blinding white light.  Er and then the only thing that you could do was to chuck buckets of sand over the er the the magnesium casting ok to put it out.  And when you did this, I was told that, and I never had to actually do this, but I was told that once you chucked the buckets of sand er fine sand it was, not coarse sand, white and dry sand, and when you chucked it over there, the sand would get in all the bearings of the lathe and the mill wrights would come along, chip the concrete away and take the lathe away to be stripped down and rebuilt because the sand would have got in the bearings.  And so, er I only ever machined one casting made out of er magnesium but er and it didn’t catch fire fortunately for me but yeah, it’s an experience [laughs].  As you know magnesium was used for making flares wasn’t it.


It’s highly dangerous, yeah, so there are er various things which are quite dangerous.  One other section I worked on, I worked on the grinding section.  You had to learn how to use grinding machines.  I’m not talking about a standard grinding wheel where you sharpen a, but grinding machine where you have wheels, and you have like say a small lathe with a collet and you put and item in and you grind various diameters on various shapes on on like a cam shaft or things like that.  And er when I went onto the grinding section there was about twelve grinding machines standing there, and er I was working on one of the machines and doing a job and then er I hadn’t finished the job so I left it set up as er ready for some more, waiting for the batch to come through, and then er, I said er I know what I’ll do, I’ll go and set up another job on this next machine, and I went to the machine to start altering the settings of what it was set at, and this older fella came up to me and ‘Don’t you dare touch that machine’ he said.  So I said, well, why not, and he said, ‘That machine is set up to grind valves’, now, in the late 1950s er oils were very poor er engine oil for cars was normally SA30 or SA 50 and you changed the oil whether it was summer or winter, with the viscosity, ok, you wanted thin oil in the winter and thick oil in the summer.  The oils were pretty poor by today’s standards and er and and compared with synthetic oils today they were rubbish.  The result was, that anyone who had a car, an Austin 7, a little Hillman Minx or something like that, would have to de-coke his engine, probably at least once a year, because the oil built up carbon on the valves and when it built up carbon on the valves you didn’t get a seating and so the engine lost power.  So if you only a fairly small engine the result was after a while it didn’t go very well at all.  This grinding machine was set up to grind valves for peoples’ cars because the valves always had the same angle on the face of the valve.  It was set up and the er normally, the youngest apprentice was given the job of grinding valves.  People would come up to you during the week with their valves from their side valve engine because they were all side valve engines in those days, and give you the valves and you would put them in the collet, set them up and grind the faces so they had no pit marks…

Ahh, so they were all workers…

Er yeah, and then you’ll give them and they will give you sixpence.  And that was the going rate, sixpence and you ground peoples’ valves.  And er that that was left set up on pain of death did anyone alter that, because it was set up and and er they would take their valves home and then rig, er seat them in the cylinder on their side valve engine and er er after they’d de-coked it.  And so that that was a common thing.  You have to realise that during the war, um er people were very busy, so the result was that not only could you not leave the factory, you weren’t allowed to leave the factory, you had to stay there the whole of the time right, apart from say you could go out at lunchtime but you had to be back in the factory by the time the er bell went or the clock chimed one o’clock I think twelve to one for the lunch hour.  Um, so nobody could go outside, the result was that um there were always people who would be selling cigarettes and sweets and other things, they’d have a cupboard a metal cupboard, covered with cardboard or whatever, and inside they’d be they’d have that, and you could go and get your sweets or you’re your cigarettes or stuff and and you could run it on tick and you would pay at the end of the week when you got your wages, right.  And there were like I went to a one department I’ll never forget there was behind this hoarding thing there was a barbers’ chair, and if I went down there and by this big, boring machine to get something, I’d see people sitting there getting their hair cut.  Now, sometimes you’d see the foreman sitting there having their hair cut, they didn’t have time during the war to leave the factory, so the result was all these little enterprises sprung up inside the factory.  Now, the shopkeepers outside in Crayford knew that there was people selling cigarettes and and er sweets and stuff and that inside the factory and they petitioned the management, but the management didn’t do anything because the management wanted the production to keep going, they didn’t want any disruptions, if you were working peace work and you you spend ten minutes having your hair cut, you will have to work that into your peace work cos you’ll have lost that time, so its not actually costing the company any money.


You see, if you were being paid an hourly rate then you would be taking the company’s time, but because it was peace work you would lose that time cos in that ten minutes you’re having your hair cut you could have been manufacturing something and claiming bonus on it you see.


So, so, but it meant there were people in there who had time clocks.  And would take bets for the for the dog races and the horse races and that.  And they’d have a little radio and they’d listen and people would go and place bets and stuff, it was very well organised, it was all kinds of, of, or you could say self-enterprises going on in the factory, but the er management wanted the factory to run and because it was on peace work, ok, these things did not really affect the costs so to speak.  Cos, as I’ve just explained, so the result was um, it meant that people didn’t skive off or try and get out the factory some way or something like that because everything they needed was there.

Right, and these were all employees?

Oh these were all employees, yes, it wasn’t overt, you’d go up and there’d be a turner and he’s working on a lathe and they’d go ‘Oh hello Fred, can I have ten weights’ or whatever it was at the time, and then he’d have the cupboard open with all the machine tools and that and there’d be another cupboard and he’d undo the padlock off of that and it’d be full up of cigarettes and sweets and stuff [laughs].  And some of the people, including one shop keeper, one chap who had a shop in Bexley, didn’t make much money out of the bonus system and the peace work, he made more money by selling sweets and cigarettes.


You see, so he had a shop that his wife looked after but he had the er the cupboard with the stuff in it and he was selling all the stuff during the during the during the week, oh yeah, [laughs] you had to admire the, the er enterprise.  Now there was a pub called the White Hart which, the White Swan sorry, the White Swan that backed onto the factory.  Right, just by, I think it’s where Carphone Warehouse is right now.


Ok, near the clock tower.  Well, that backed onto the Foundry, and during the hot summer er you can imagine how hot it got in the Foundry with the casting and the pipes used to go through a hole in the fence [laughs] from the pub to the men in the Foundry, oh yes it did happen.


Ahh, yeah, if you take for instance also, you you made tea in the factory, you couldn’t leave your machine or your workplace really to go and have a cup of tea anywhere, and there were no tea machines in those days.  Nobody had any refrigerator, so everybody had a tin of Fossils condensed milk, and that’s what you put in your tea because there was no other way of doing it so you made a cup of tea from the urn that would be heating the hot water and you you put your tea in or your coffee, and use condensed milk.  And so there was a guy always selling, he had a cupboard full of condensed, tins of condensed milk [laughs] yeah you could always get a tin of condensed milk.  And what it showed was, the enterprise of people and obviously this enterprise had been at its pinnacle during the war, when sometimes people were working very long hours, I mean I’ve worked twelve and fourteen hours days, er when I’ve had to but I believe during the war some people were working eighteen hours a day and its it was, you know when things were very important they had to.  So er, yes, so you could say that er the enterprise, but yes, the foreman of the departments all used all these facilities just as well as the ordinary chaps.  So, there, it was no big deal.

What was the, er what was your relationship with the foreman?

What was our relationship with the foreman.  Some of the foremen I thought were good, some of the foremen I thought were, how can I say, untouchables.  There were one particular foreman of which I’ve written about, who was the foreman of the tool room. Now, in any factory, you will get a er situation where some people think that their department is a bit better than everybody else, and the foreman of the tool room where the tools were made, right, and when we talk about tools we’re talking about gauges, um we’re talking about um er, items which are used for checking the, the items that are being made, ok.  So they have to be made highly accurately, and er and they will be made by toolmakers, and toolmakers as skilled craftsmen, probably er think that they are the best of the er of the lot.  We make the tools, without the tools you couldn’t do anything, right.  So there’s the one floor on the South Wing, I think it was the third floor on the South Wing, and I was sent to the tool room.  And er, anyway, I was on a lathe and I was machining gauges and things for er er for specification and um, there the foreman came along.  The foreman wore a brown pinstripe suit and a bowler hat.  He had a carnation, and there wasn’t a speck of dirt on him.  Crawling along or crawling, bobbing along behind him was the charge hand who wasn’t dressed anywhere near as smartly as the foreman.  He would approach the apprentice, who was beneath his level completely, and he would speak to the charge hand and say ‘Ask him what’s happened about so-and-so’, the charge hand then would speak to the apprentice, the apprentice spoke to the charge hand, but you did not speak to the foreman.  The foreman didn’t even speak to you.


An incredible um, I, I even in let’s say the late fifties, I found that so Victorian, I couldn’t believe it because I’d never seen it in any of the other departments.  It was the only department where the, where the er where the foreman appeared to be like God, or he was God to these people, I felt sorry for the toolmakers and the people that work in that department cos I, you make a mistake, I should think you were in real trouble.

Did other foremen just wear overalls then or did they wear suits too?

No, other foremen, the other foremen, that was interesting, right.  Realised that obviously in a machine shop you have contact with dirt, with oils and and and and dirt and carbon dust all over the place, right for machines working and that so you’re going to get dirty so, if you took the main er workshop called CPL, Commercial Products Light, Mr Haywood who was General Foreman in charge, would come in in the morning and he would be wearing er, a smart suit, collar and tie, and yes, very respectful, he was responsible for over two hundred people that worked in that building and he would hang his nice suit up on the rack and then over there or in a cupboard, and then he would pick up his other er jacket and that.  And his other jacket was a nice jacket, but I remember, all the cuffs were covered in oil [laughs] and the rest of it, it was a suit, but it was filthy, but that was what you wore in the thing.  He wasn’t afraid if he had to come to your machine and point out you’d done something wrong to lean across and get hold of the item and say ‘You’ve got to do this’, right.  Whereas, ok, in that same workshop, er at one time and I believe it was first the, it was the first place I went to after I left the apprentice school, was the View.  It was called the View, or the Inspection Department.  This was a small section of the, of the building, and in here were the people who inspected all the jobs that were manufactured on it, on the production block.  And at the age of sixteen, I was sent there and I got a white coat [laughs].  I wore a collar and tie and a white coat, it was wonderful [laughs].  At sixteen I felt I was management [laughs] because that was, that was the thing, the inspectors were er once again, it’s a hierarchical thing, ok, so we had the Chief Inspector in his white coat and then the other people who wore white coats, and there was a woman who worked on the desk with the large book and she wrote up all the details of the jobs that had been approved.  What happened was that, if you were out on a lathe and you were going to make something, you’d er er machine the first item, the first one we called it, one off, you’d machine one off, you’d mike it up and check it was exactly as per the specification and then you walked down to the View and there would be a little window on the side of the View, would be the Main Inspector.  Not the Chief Inspector, but the Main Inspector, you would hand him the drawing, which tells you what its got to be, and on the back of the drawing would be the instructions.  And you would hand him the item, and he would, he would, his little glass you know, little glass they use to put in your eye, like a stamp collector or a or a jeweller and he would examine this thing and and and measure it up with er er a micrometer of a vernier.  And when he was happy with it, ok, he had a stamp, his own personal stamp, that had a number on it.  And he would stamp that, and that would be a show, that that product was approved, you had done it to the specification.  And he’d give it back to you, you put that in a little sack, and you took it back and tied it with the rest of the, the sack with all the rest of them, and then you’d manufacture the lot, because you had had the first one passed, ok.  After you, you’d completed the batch, right, you’d right your name on the ticket where it said who machined this blah blah, and then you’d take the bag with the stuff down, walk into the View and stick it on one of the racks.  And then, the er inspectors in there would be taking jobs off the racks, going through the batches and checking them and all the rest of it.  When they approved that that was alright, they would go with the ticket to the woman who wrote in the log this job was alright, and then the people got paid their bonus on the peace work.  So if you had a job that was, er um  allowed you four hours to do it and you managed to make all, do all the work in two hours, ok, then you write that all down, put that in the View, and if that went down ok and you booked that on the on the card, um, then you get paid your normal rate during the week for your week, your basic money, but you’d also get two hours at bonus rate, cos you saved two hours time.

Oh right so you’d go on and do something else.

Right, then you’d move on to the next job.

So you’re saving, you were saving time.

And your ambition was to accrue as many bonus hours as you could throughout the week, so if you managed, if you had to book forty four hours, and you managed to, to um lets say, produce items to the value of one hundred hours, they would then owe you the balance, right, at a rate of so much per hour.

Right yeah.

And you’ll get paid that as a bonus on top of your flat rate.  Right, so the objective was to, to do as much as you can, um. Now, one of the problems was that if there weren’t enough inspectors in the in the inspection department or the view, your job might sit on the rack for a while and if your job wasn’t signed in the book by Thursday, you wouldn’t be paid your bonus on the Friday, it’d have to wait til the following week.  So, as I was the apprentice and I would walk out alongside and up and down the lathes and talking to the various machinists and operators and some of them I got to know quite well and they would say, er, they would sort of say ‘Tony, um, I put that job in the view yesterday, I don’t know whether it’s gonna go through anyone’s looked at it, do you think you could sort it out for me you see’.  And um, quite often there would be er bribes, with the er sweets or ice creams or something like that [laughs] someone who was desperate to get some bonus money made a er, hadn’t had much last week and they wanted to and so I pulled their job off the thing and I I, so I was selecting which jobs I was doing sort of thing.


Er um, maybe the other inspectors were um working on the on the system but I I because I was the sprog in the department I could pick out these various things you see and so er yes.  Incentives we used for um uh the apprentice whoever the apprentice was, you did six months and I’d leave there and then somebody else would take that site.

Yeah sure.

You see.

So would the, the relationship with the inspection team and workers then, what was that like?

The, well um, it was, how can I say, er yeah, it wasn’t bad but of course sometimes there would be problems and the, and the items would fail the inspection.  If they failed the inspection then um, probably the foreman of the department or even the head foreman if it was serious cos you have to realise that sometimes when you got the job to do, it had already been manufactured, half manufactured, and people had spent time and money on it already, so scrapping it at that point would be expensive.  So, they might er come to some agreement with the inspection department or how we can put this problem right so to speak you see, er and that that did happen, er serious stuff if you had screwed something seriously and you knew it, then it had to disappear, right.  Hopefully um, it might be only one or two of a batch or something like that, and the place most of the stuff disappeared was in the river behind the Cray river behind the factory because if you were found guilty of losing something you could get a reprimand or er, um, y’know be warned or something, however, if you scrapped a valuable item you could get the sack.


So er so it was better to er for it to be lost rather than [laughs] for you actually to say that I screwed it all up.

And so co-workers in your workshop would know you, that would you back each other up? In the…

Oh yes, yeah there was a camaraderie about that because no-one’s perfect and we would all screw up a job occasionally right, and people would come up with different ideas. Now as you’re taking this I will tell you something, that the skilled craftsmen knew a few tricks or two.  And er one of the, one of the things they knew was how to use condensed milk.  If you bored a hole or you drilled a hole and ‘ringed’ this hole out, in a casting made of cast iron, and you er um were going to put it into the inspection right, and you had a gage which is like a ground diameter section that you tried in the hole to make sure it was right.  You found the go end of the gage went in lovely, but you are not supposed to get the no-go in and the no-go is slightly larger.  If the no-go went in the job would be scrapped or might have to be re-worked.  However, if you had a tin of condensed milk you could cure it.  You would smear condensed milk inside the hole that you had machined out.  Because condensed, because cast iron is a very rough as a material, if you were to look at a surface of cast iron er with a shattergraph you would see a series of peaks.


When you put condensed milk into the whole it filled up the gaps between the peaks and it closed the hole up.


Many a job went into the view that had been, that had been wiped with condensed milk and you couldn’t tell because it went grey as soon as you put it on the inside of the ball.  Er these, that is just one of the typical er er things only a skilled craftsmen would know how to, how to overcome that.

And those trips to the tray would they come…


During your apprenticeship or after?

They would come during your apprenticeship.


When you would see a skilled craftsmen who somehow had made a mistake.


And he had learnt from other people how you overcame that problem.


Oh yes, there were lots of, there were lots of ways that things were done.  And er, these were, these were probably things that were handed down from, from one to another.

So there was, so he would trust you even at that stage?

Oh yes.  Oh yes, you were gonna be a skilled craftsmen to take over, you had to know it all.


Right, you had to know it all and so yes.  So um, when machinists working on boring machines, um, you might have a casting as large as that cabinet and they bored a number of holes and one of them came out and it was too big and you couldn’t do it with um, condensed milk, then you’d have to own up and the charge hand would come and have a look and they’d say ‘Ok, righto’ and then you would bore it out larger, and then someone would come to the apprentices on the lathes section and we would make bushes that would go into that casting.


To get it back to the right size.

What were bushes?

We would bush the castings for them.


Oh yes, we made, we made a lots of bushes for people who got things wrong on boring section.  [Laughs] yeah, as apprentices yes, so you had to make a bush so he would bore the hole out larger, ok, the casting would be brought to the apprentices section where the lathes were, you would measure up the um, the size that he bored it to and then you would make a bush which was to the finished size it should have been, right, and then we would fit the bushes and the casting would then be ok to use then.

Right ok.

So we’d save lots of, of castings the apprentice saved lots of casting from being scrapped.



And if, so if um, you ok?


If they um, you know when you were talking about a batch going into an inspection if…


If you got to that stage where they questioned the quality of that batch um, who would then negotiate with the, would it be the foreman?

Well yes the foreman, you would if you were the person who manufactured the batch that had a problem, you would be called to the view, er the er charge hand and the foreman would be called and the chief inspector and they would look at the thing and decide um what was the best way of remedying the situation.  They do not want to scrap the job, ok, they, they might have, they might say oh well, we’ll re-bush that or we’ll get that welded, er or that, although to be fair, no forget that, because welding didn’t really come in until about 1960.  Um, prior to that er construction was all reveted(?), right, so um yeah, they would try and er er come up with different ideas um on a prefabrication you might find that they decide to cut out a section and and um bolt in another section to replace it.  Um, but um each individual case was was viewed on its own merits, it was the objective of the foreman to get all the machine parts er, to be used.  They did not want to scrap anything, no-one would want to scrap anything er er just for the sake of it because the guy got something wrong.  Um, if there was a way of getting round it then they would find a way of getting round it, er, they had to meet er um, er delivery times from er customers, be it military or be it um, what’s his name, be it, er commercial.  I must tell you also at this point about the difference between military and um, commercial.  When you made a item for a commercial company, be it a gearbox, casting for a pump of whatever it might be, it’s tolerance, in other words when you machined it, had to be within a certain range.  So if it said this item had to be twelve inches from one face to another, you were allowed a tolerance of 0.015 or fifteen thousandth of an inch.


Right, fifteen thousandth, that was what we called open tolerance.  It could be plus or minus fifteen thou, ok.  When you worked on military equipment, the tolerance was close limits, it was 0.001.  One thousandth of an inch, if you manufactured this part and it was going for an aeroplane that had to be right within one thousandth of an inch, and if it was two thousandth of an inch, it was too big and if it was less, once again it was wrong.  The reason being that you could make items for commercial use, it could be a pump or something like that, and if it was a fraction larger it would not make any difference. However, you manufactured parts for the other aircraft factories that Vickers(?) built and we did sub-assemblies for the Viscount airliner and for the Valium bomber.  And Air Ministry specification was, it was right.  You can’t have the wings dropping off an aeroplane, you can’t have an aeroplane falling apart.  These things have to be highly accurate.  Now, it was still done on peace work.  The difference was that where as you might get two hours for doing one job on a commercial, you could get up to six hours for doing it on military specification.  The difference was, you had more time, but you had to get it right.  You had to get it right.  And if you got it wrong, then, in a lot of cases it was scrapped at quite cost, and if you scrapped more than so many er, you’d get the sack.


So, you, they could not afford for people to er get things wrong and, the…I say.  We built sub-assemblies for the Navy, I’m not sure about what we did for the army, probably because I was not in…personally involved in the machine guns.  Right, er, we built equipment for the Navy, which came under naval specification, and that was closed torrents (?) and we did stuff for the Air force, and that was called AID; Aeronautical Inspection Directorate, and that is like a super view system, or of er er where um specific inspectors would inspect that, not the stuff that go in the normal view, that was for the the normal work, as I told you like I’d, if you were doing stuff for aircraft or naval there would be an inspector who inspected that, and it had to be right.  Give you an example, um, if we, er this is, a lot of stuff for aircraft, I don’t know if you get on an aircraft now, you have a look, you’ll see look, things aren’t welded on an aircraft, there’s thousands of rivets.  And the reason why is it’s actually stronger, rivet construction and there’s less likelihood of a seam tearing on a joint, right, so aircraft wings and that are not welded in the way that you’d see lots of others things welded.  Ok, if you were making a sub-assembly that was riveted, there was a big card er in the in the fitting shop where I worked, and it said ‘Red, seven o’clock to nine o’clock.  Green, nine o’clock to eleven o’clock’.  And this was for the rivets.  The rivets would arrive from the heat treatment, and you would rivet these things together, and between seven and nine you used the red, when it got to er nine o’clock um you moved over and used the green.  And the reason was, these rivets self hardened.  If you dropped a rivet on the floor, forget it, never picked a rivet up off the floor, and you would move the box that contained the out of time rivets and put it on one side and you would work your way through.  Everyone did it, I did it occasionally, somehow you picked up the wrong rivet, got it in there, started hammering it and it went solid.  And it would not spread, the rivet would not spread.  You’d used a rivet that had gone hard, and then my god you had to be ever so careful about cutting that rivet head off so you didn’t damage the item.  So at the end of the day all the rivets were there, back to the heat treatment, and then they came up to you, so you had to be very accurate and then you could work that rivet, it would be soft, but after that time it would start to go hard.


And then if you hadn’t finished the job, finished riveting it down, you might you’d have a un un un-squashable rivet stuck in a hole that wasn’t finished and the job would be ruined.

{Sorry can I interrupt}

Yeah sure.

{I don’t mean to be rude, I was just wondering about the timing of dinner, are you nearly at an end or…}

Well we’ve a little way for now.  You have something and I’ll have something a bit later on.

{Ok, you, are you alright with that?}

Do you, do you want something?

No I’m fine, how, how are you, it’s up to you what you want to do

Well I’m alright, no I’m ok, yeah

{You’re ok, you’ve not got to be away, he hasn’t got to be away for any particular time}

No no, er have you got to rush off an any specific time?

No no no

It’s only six o’clock, alright then ok.

{Alright, well I’ll just…}

Is that ok?

{Yeah I’ll just delay}

I could break and you could eat if you want to

No no no

{I’ll just delay it and we’ll have it later}

Yeah delay it.

{Do you want another cup of tea?}

Yeah we’ll have another cup of tea please yes.

I’m ok thanks.

{You’re ok are you, right ok}


Give it a little while. Right, ok.

We’ll cut that out eh.

Right ok.  Anyway, so, yes, so the aeronautical inspection would make sure that whatever we did which was for Air Ministry was absolutely spot on, and it had to be.


And so, er yeah, so Vickers Crayford um, what did we do.  Well, during the war obviously er a lot of armaments and stuff was going on there, I’m not sure exactly what they did but certainly we were building machine guns when I went there.  Anyone who lived around Vickers, Cray…anyone who lived round Crayford in the fifties and sixties wouldn’t have turned a hair to hear the machine guns going off because machine guns were tested in an underground tunnel, in the factory [laughs].

Oh really?

Yes they were.  It was an underground tunnel into which the machine guns were lowered and er, the, they were set up and adjusted and test fired before being delivered to whoever was buying the machine guns, so yes, machine guns um, Vickers had been building machine guns, famous for building machine guns for yea…for years.


And er, one of the um, departments was called the barrel mill, and so you can imagine what was being made there, right, ah and another one was called the light gun barrel, that was the name of the shop.  And also amongst some of the things that Vickers built there, Vickers built, they had a small workshop, where they built sporting guns for Maharajahs and people like that and I’m talking about late fifties you see.  And er, by all accounts there was a chap who worked in that shop, who was so good, that er he could hold up er er er er the er the barrel that was going to be used and tap it un until it was virtually perfect, um, I think the the these guns that were supplied to these rich er potentates and that er cost a fortune but um, they were made by some very skilled craftsmen who worked in Vickers, that’s right.  It was that little department of its own.

Would they be, would they be a mixture, would they be a turner or would they…?

No they would ought to all be fitters normally.


They would all the fitters.


That’s right yes.


Yeah, um, also I have to tell you that obviously because the company made equipment that was for military or to military specification we all signed the official Secrets Act.  Um, and I haven’t the official Secret’s Act as far as I know, however, anyone who lived in Dartford in the fifties or sixties would have seen an aeroplane flying round and round and round and round over the factory.  And, er that was because we were testing equipment that was used to locate the aircraft [laughs] wherever it was in the sky, er yeah.  And so er, that was the common thing, people in Crayford never took a ______ plane just buzzing round a jet fighter, so that was quite, that was quite a normal thing, so there were departments in the factory where um, you you were not allowed into unless you actually worked in the department.  And you had a pass to get in or out, the reason was because sensitive work was going on there so if you were an apprentice in there, right, and your friends wanted to come to see you, they could not get in, they were not allowed in.  Nobody er was allowed to and we didn’t talk to people outside what we actually did when it came to um er military stuff because obviously we would be infringing the um er the official Secrets Act and could be arrested.  Er and obviously um we just gone through World War II so you hardly wanted to give anything away to any potential adversary so, no you, it was, you were instructed that er when you worked in an area of sensitive nature, but y’know.  Yes you would discuss the job and that with the people you’re working with, but you would not discuss that with anyone outside the factory.

But er, but would you with other workers who weren’t working on that?

Er, not really, no, no it was better not to, it was better not to, see an..anyway, er I mean one of the things that happens in factories that produce um erm sensitive equipment is that you would find that you would work on one piece here, right, and then er let’s say other people would be working on something else over there and then those items would go to another factory where they were put together by somebody else, you never saw the total thing, you saw bits of it, but you never saw the total thing, and that’s common throughout the American Air Industry as well as the er as well as British industry er because then nobody has enough information about the total thing, it’s probably only the fitters and that who put the thing together at at at the at at the tail end of the construction who actually understand it, right, so you’re manufacturing sub-assemblies and you you have to make this so it conforms to that and that’s that, and somebody else makes something else and those items go away um, but how they actually all integrate into a thing.

Yeah, I didn’t ask you what, what did you, so what were you after the apprenticeship?

When I finished my apprenticeship I was a fitter.


Now, this was a a trade that um, they want, well let’s say, um, fitters were regarded as as quite an elite bunch, right, um because as a fitter, your job would be, especially if you were on, on a on a on a an assembly or construction um, you would have to solve the problems, the fact that the parts didn’t fit together properly because for some reason the dimensions weren’t exactly right and that wasn’t quite right and so therefore you would have to use all your skills and knowledge to be able to make this thing work, right.  It’s er, [laughs] it’s so, so er, it wasn’t just the same as machining an item or that, right, we knew that you had to do this and that, there would be times when you would have to solve problems in different ways.  Um, now, I worked as an apprentice fitter on various sections in various departments, ok, and then, er in um, I think it was about fifty-eight, fifty-nine, I was apprentice fitter and Vickers got a contract, commercial contract from a company called Pneumatic Scale in Quincy Massachusetts and that’s part of the Rockwall Corporation of America.  We got a license to manufacture packaging and bottling machinery in this country and er, and so, um, they sent over an American engineer and we started making the castings er and er manufacturing all the parts and we started building a range of packaging machines and er packaging machines and bottling machines right, and um, so er um, this might er I say, a filling machine and er, some of these machines are quite big so about half the size of this room and er if you were the er assembly fitter, right, er the drawings would all turn up and there’d be loads of drawings and er um there’d be like a metal slab on the on the floor and er the castings would arrive and you’d go through the sequence and you’d start putting it all together you see.  And then after you’d built this damn thing and then the electricians would come up and wire the motors up and everything and run all the circuits and er and then you would have to get all the ti…set all the time, get it all to work and everything and um, it might take er might take you three months to build one of these machines you see, and then this machine would be tested and after that it would be sent out and installed in the factory.


Um, this is where I got involved in packaging machinery, what happened for me was something which was quite, as I say a bit unique, I was working for a fitter, as a as an apprentice to him called Charlie White, and Charlie White was a very good fitter, he er was getting on a bit but he knew his stuff.  And er, anyway, so he was building packaging machines er a long with about eight other guys in quite a large building and we each had a bay, which was twice the size of this room, quite big, in which we built the machine.  And er, I worked with Charlie and he explained to me how the machines were built, well, as it came up to my er end of my apprenticeship I was working there, and then um it would appear that a company, engineering company, not far from here, was looking for fitters.  And they were offering very attractive wages.


And the result was three of the fitters left the company to go and work at this other company.  There we are, we had three unfinished machines standing there and the foreman didn’t know what to do.  I was still only an apprentice although I was approaching twenty-one, er, superintendent from the factory who was a guy who was liaison with the foreman of the department, he was liaison between management and that, he er er live, he worked in the in the offices on the west wing but he would come down see the management, he came down and saw the er manager and said er, ‘these companies, certain companies, were pressing them for delivery dates for this machinery, um, what we gonna do’ and they said ‘well, we haven’t got anyone here who knows them’ and then it was suggested, I was called into the office, and they said, do you think you could finish build these machines, so I said yeah I think I can yeah.  So they said, we we’ll offer you a job as a fitter if you can do this and I did it, and the Fr____(?) machines went out and I installed them at the factory and the various factories they went to and when I come back I was a fitter.  At that time they were offering apprentices jobs as turners or or millers, or leave.  So I was very lucky to to become an er um a fitter and er I continued there and I built other packaging machines and um, I went to exhibitions and um I worked on bottling machinery, because we built both bottling machines and er packaging machines and um, it was very good.  And it really, it set me up and I liked the work, I met a lot of very skilled people and er, I I I thoroughly enjoyed it, um, then what happened was um, Vickers had a factory in Barrow, well they got a shipyard in Barrow, Vickers Barrow you might have heard of it, well, number of the er, fitters from Crayford used to go with naval equipment that built at Crayford to Barrow-in-Furness, it was installed in the ships and they would go out and do sea trials.  Well, I think its contract ran down and about twelve fitters came back to Crayford and they were going to have to find them jobs and they looked around and they saw me at the age of about twenty three building these machines and they thought, no he’s too young for this, so they said well no um, you’ll have to go and work with another department and they gave my job to somebody else.  So they shoved me into this department which was er another fitting department but I didn’t like it and so I left.

Oh what was, what was that fitting, what was the…

Well the fitting department I went into, well it was er, I I I think they were making um, er, parts for er a printing presses but it was, it was pretty boring job it wasn’t a, it was like de..what they call detail fitting, er um er small items which you were er er er um, manufacturing and filing and drilling and that kind of thing, it wasn’t a construction job that I’d been doing for the last few years and I felt that I was cheated.  I left there and I went and I got a job at a small company called Dartford Packaging Machinery Company and I worked there for I think about three years and um, I got on very well there and er I I I worked on some machinery there for um a company that I’d never heard of before called SIG. Schweizerische Industrie Gesellschaft, ________________.  Anyway, I worked on this equipment.  While I was working there I felt that maybe I could still do better and I saw an advert in the paper, the evening news, or my wife, I think my wife saw the advert in the evening news, they wanted fitters at Peek Frean’s biscuit factory in London.  So, off I went, I had an interview and I explained what I’d done already and they said great, and I was accepted and I got a job there.  First of all I worked in the normal engineering department, but they had two engineering departments, they had the normal engineering department and then they had the er the packaging machine department, right.  Any…I did, I did about six months in normal engineering department and then I transferred to the packaging machine department.  And there I was er out on the production floor and my job was a maintenance engineer responsible for keeping the production line wrapping machines or working and there’s a whole range of different machines, a lot of them were made by this SIG company from Switzerland and er, I worked there for ooh, quite a long time.  And er I suppose in total actually I worked there about eighteen years, um, during the time I was working there most of the machinery would have been built in nineteen fifties and so in the seventies it was starting be replaced by more modern machines and that was ok and I got on alright with the equipment and that, I didn’t aspire to become charge hand or anything, I just continued being er um skilled fitter and I ended up looking after almost the largest, second to largest, department in the whole of the factory and I was quite proud that that was my patch.  And then in nineteen-eighty-five they decided that they were going to try and integrate the electricians and the fitters.  They no longer wanted electricians and fitters, what they wanted was technicians.  They wanted engineers that understood electrical systems, and they wanted electricians to to understood mechanical systems.  We didn’t actually have anybody who was multi-skilled at that time because as with the Vickers Group you had fitters, mates, electricians, different machinists, they were they were all trades.  But it, as we got into the mid eighties, it was realised that we needed multi-skilled people, the Union had always been against multi-skilled people because it controlled the situation by having set hierarchical groups, as I’ve just explained.  This was because they had an idea that they were going to get some new sophisticated machinery, so I heard about this, they said um, we’re going to retrain people, we would like people to retrain to become multi-skilled, um fitters could learn welding, um electricians could learn fitting and various other people could learn different things.  And they were going to pay for the training of all these people to learn these other skills and then they would have a multi-skilled workforce.  Right, I had been to, they sent me when I was at um Peek Freans, they sent me to the NEC at Birmingham and one time, and I saw there some machines that had computers on them.  And this shocked me because I thought when computers come in, they won’t need fitters anymore, they’ll only need technicians or electricians, and I thought that the electricians might push out the fitters and I wouldn’t have a job, that scared me.  I come back to the factory and they were promoting these other er options of becoming er multi-skilled and I didn’t see on there what I liked so I approached the chief engineer and said I’d like to learn er um technical systems, computer systems, er for er machinery, I said I’ve been to the exhibition and I’ve seen it and it’s coming, and I’d like, and he said to me well, he said, you’re the only person who’s asked to do courses on that so um, if you can find another five people who are willing to go on that course, I’ll arrange it, so I went round and cajoled as many people til I had the five people that I needed and then I presented that to the management and they said right, so then we did courses on Aishida, a Japanese company’s computer controlled weighing systems um, I did um, quite a, anyway, we did quite a few, we probably did about half a dozen courses on, on computer stuff.  And although, at that time, we didn’t have any computer controlled machines at the factory, and the other chaps who had done the courses with me were all fitters and um, they had thought well yes maybe we’ll have to learn this a bit later on.  As I was a person who pushed it initially, when the first machines came in and they were computer controlled weighing machines to be fitted on each line, I was called to the chief engineers office and I was asked would I like to be involved and I said this is exactly what I want.  And so, I became involved, and I learnt this, and then the next equipment came in and that was for me too.  And this went on, and so, as the equipment came on I managed to keep that much further ahead than everybody else and it became a joke, it was Tony’s toys, and when two machines turned up at the factory costing nearly half a million pounds each, fit with computers, I was the fitter assigned to work with the commissioning engineer from Switzerland and to learn them.  And I then wrote er, briefing notes for the rest of the engineers, on how the systems worked, and I began to teach and really from that point on I never looked back.  Um, all the equipment came into the factory that was new technology was assigned to me, and what happened then was, I think it was um, anyway, they decided to close the factory and move the equipment up to um, a different a other factories, Liverpool and Wigston in Leicestershire and I went up there and installed it all.


I commissioned and a group would have us would go up to the factory, a there would be fitters, there would be electricians, there would be labourers and we would, the machines would be brought on a truck, put into position, and jacked up and wired up and all the rest of it and all these things would be done, and as the chaps finished their jobs so they went home, and I stayed there at the end.  My job was to get the whole thing going in a production environment until I satisfied the production manager of the company, and he was satisfied that everything was working to how it should be and so I stayed on and often I would be there on my own for two or three weeks after everyone else had gone home, so I got used to living in hotels, having the best of all the facilities at the hotels, um, use the swimming pool at the Holiday Inn and a lovely meal and that, but it’s pretty lonely when you’re on your own and you do that.  Ok, so, while I finally finished all that, um and I went back to the factory and it was closing down there wasn’t much left, my former, one of my former bosses at the factory called Graham Stevens, he was chief production manager at Peek Freans, he had got a job as General Manager of the Co-op biscuit factory at Harlow in Essex.  And he said to me, why don’t you come.  So, I supplied my CV to the company and er he took it there and he showed it to the people and um, I was then sent for and had an interview, I had an interview for two hours with, with the chief engineer, the two hours was because he was going to decide who he hired, not have the general manager tell him who to hire and so I got a real grilling.  I got the job, um, and they didn’t have a lot of er um, they had a lot of production lines here making er er cream crackers and all kinds of  stuff, but they didn’t have much in the way of modern technology I’d just used, but low and behold, it started to come in.  The first thing that came in was some weighing machines, the electricians at the factory all thought this will be ours, however when the chief engineer found out I already had a certificate for the course on these weighing machines, the job of looking after them was given to me, now I was given the job of teaching the electricians.  Um, this is, ok, was a slight moot point, the electricians thought when computerisation came into industry, that they would inherit it, and the fitters thought that they would lose their jobs, but it didn’t happen like that, and the reason it didn’t happen like that was modulation.  An engineer can take a card out the back of a panel and put a new one in, you don’t need an electrician, an electrician has the skill and knowledge how to repair things alright, if you take for example, the best example would be your television.  In the old days, if your television failed, it was a valve television, an electrical guy would come and would repair your television, but now you would not repair it, they would look at it, open the back up and someone would put a new card in, they take an old card out put a new one in, push the button [claps] and it all worked, so as modulation, it didn’t need electrical knowledge to be able to repair the things, so therefore if the fitters could be taught how to do this, they could become technicians.  You would have to learn a certain amount of electronics which I did, and they would have to learn, and part of my job then  was to teach electronics systems and computer systems to other people, to the to the fitters, and so in actual fact what happened was the fitters really became the technicians and the electricians just continued being electricians.  But what nobody knew when the technology came, whether it would be done, I can remember one occasion going to the factory at Harlow.  I arrived at two o’clock shift and when I got there the production line was down, there were there was a huge wrapping machine um that cost half a million pounds and electricians were there with all the drawings and it had been down for two hours or so and I asked them what had happened etcetera and then I said alright hang on then and I turned the main power off, carried it forty seconds didn’t I, turned it back on it rebooted, pushed the button and it started [claps].  And they virtually threw the drawings at me.


So, they called me some names, but the reason was that I knew that something had got, I looked at the screen and I knew, see computers are sequential, if you don’t run the sequence it stalls.  And if it stalls nothing works after that, ok, so what had happened was, it’s a series of dots and ones isn’t it, ok, high speed dots and ones which is the code and it runs at high speed, so it goes it reads it, one one one zero one one pah blah, and it misreads one item, as zero when it should be a one, it stalls.  It doesn’t know where it is, failure complete sequence, you can’t do anything.  Turn the power off, count to forty is what we were told, turn it back on again, and it reboots, and away it goes, solves the problem, it runs through and it gets that right that time a mini second of a misread of the code and that causes it to to stall.  Lots of people with the ordinary, ordinary computers had the same problem.  And you very often cure things by just simply rebooting, ok, so what does that really prove, that really proved that it was simply understanding how systems work was actually more important and you didn’t really need to have total electrical skills to be able to do that, I never qualified as electrician I was allowed because I’d been taught how to do it, to wire up three-face systems and such until the company thought maybe you shouldn’t really do this [laughs] um but they did encourage people to use their skills.  Um, so, more equipment came in.  And, as it came in more computers came in, and I really enjoyed it, I used to go to the factories and I had lots of play things, it was fun, it wasn’t a a curse or a job, I loved going there I looked at it and regarded it as my toys, and they sent me, oh yes, I, first of all I’m going to tell you, I was promoted to charge hand after one year at Harlow and then er um a bit later on I was promoted to engineering supervisor and before I finally left when the factory er closed down to er move all the equipment to up to Liverpool I was acting as aide to the chief engineer or deputy.  So I hadn’t done bad from an apprentice at Vickers Armstrong I ended up as a, and I walked, as I I walked into the factory I used to think some days this is mine, this belongs to me, it’s a wonderful feeling.  If you seen the advert for the Picasso, where the, where the, where the the robot is painting the the Picasso car, and you see the charge hand walk down through there with a stern face, and he looks at it and he’s thinking, this is mine, and that’s how I used to feel when I was charge hand, when you become supervisor you’re responsible, I was responsible not just for er the um er er the packaging machine, I was responsible for the whole of the factory and they dealt with fire, gas, explosion, police, break-ins, everything er and um they sent me to um, a University somewhere up in London where I did um er TWI, Training Within Industry, it was er um a system er that was formed er by the US government during World War II.  In World War II er, places like Boeing and Macdonald in California that were manufacturing bombers and fighters for World War II to support the, the er assault on Japan, they had lots of skilled craftsmen.  But they did not have enough um er skilled er er administrators or foreman, charge hands, managers.  Just because you are a skilled man does not equip you for being a person in charge of a lot of other people, you need additional skills to know how to get the best out of those people, and so I was sent to this place where I did role-plays and various other things and I took er I think three different course which I did, er um so that I could manage people because you then find with the job that the job itself is quite easy, managing the people is a lot more difficult.  And also let’s say, I was technical writer throughout a period of time when I was at at um Peek Freans and I carried that other to um er Harlow where you would get a thick book, you would get a machine would come in, you’d get a thick book maybe two inches thick, told you everything you wanted to know about the machine, how to fix it.  When that production line went down, how on earth you going to find out how to cure it.


You don’t need that thick book, what you need; briefing notes on the ten most common problems that are gonna occur and the quickest way of resolving those.  So, I would get the technicians to come in, we’d sit down and discuss a specific machine, and we would identify the ten most common problems, the odd ones that occur, we’re never gonna cure because they’re gonna come random, but the ten repeating ones they’re the ones we have to target, and so we would identify these things, go through them, work out how to, my job was to work out how to resolve these problems, and write the briefing notes, everybody on the section had the briefing notes could read them, so that it went down, oh yes, you do this this this and this, and after a while the guys got very skilled at doing it and the production downtime went right down.  Of course we needed the big book occasionally, but not all the time, you need that information about the regular problems and you have to identify.  I found I got great satisfaction out of teaching people, kind of thing I was taught at this place up in London um was how not to alienate the staff.  You go into a schoolroom or a room where you’re going to talk about things, um you could stand up in front of the people and adopt your autocratic attitude idea and push it across to these people, but their attention will be very little when we all walk out the door, instead you have to create a situation where you and those people appear to be together, on the same level.  I would sit on the edge of the desk rather than stand behind the desk, I was on the same level as everybody sitting in the schoolroom.  I’d sit on there and I’d say well, what do you think, and I would ask these people and collectively instead of me targeting them one guy would say to you, yeah well that happened and the other day and that happened and if you’re so clever you tell us why, and they would gain confidence amongst the group to target me and then I could tell them how to solve the problems, and then they would feel that they, they were, they understood and so I found it was, it was very rewarding because you could get it across, stand there and to schpeel your stuff at people but they would not take that in, you have to be with them, you have to make it friendly and fun and have a few jokes and that and you get that information across, when I became manager you could use a a a a your style, autocratic, democratic.  If you’re democratic you let everybody do what they want and you trust them all, somewhat foolish idea because there’ll always be a few people who will not do what you really want them to.  You be autocratic, no-one does a thing unless I tell you to.  [Claps] that means no-one can do anything, you’re going to have to go down there and supervise everything that they do.  People do not like people standing er behind them, er watching them while they’re working, ok, so my style was a slightly down from fully democratic, probably one or two steps back from fully democratic, and when you problem I would say to the guys, go to the machine, I will give you fifteen minutes, if you haven’t solved it at fifteen minutes bleep me, or call me on the tanoy and I will come.  That meant they would investigate the problem, when I got there they’d say we’ve got so-and-so this so-and-so there, and then I’d say try that or try this, good, it works, great, it’s going let’s go up the canteen.  And I found that approach worked so well, I had someone who worked on the opposite shift me who was totally autocratic, he would not let anybody go and work on any of the machinery without him telling them to.  No you don’t go over there until I tell you, right go over there and do that.  When the production line went down they couldn’t fix it, they called him and he said to me, how do you have so much time to do all the other projects you’re doing, I’ve never got any time.  And I said, I think it’s your style, and that was reflected in the fact that at weekends one of the managers would run the maintenance for the weekend work and we alternated every weekend.  On my weekend, sometimes we would have thirty-five skilled staff in, normally it at least thirty, on his weekend he had about six.  And he asked his guys, he said, why don’t want to wanna work overtime on my weekend, they said because of the way you run it.  And that was because he would not let them, he he gave those people er the idea that he didn’t trust them, and of course if you look back to the people in Vickers, the skilled staff were trusted, they were trusted, everybody expected them to do their job and to do it properly, right.  And so, you have to give people the opportunity to to to use their initiative and their ideas.  Later, when I installed equipment at Cadbury’s factory in Liverpool, oh yes, what happened, after they made me redundant.


From er Harlow which was then a er, hang on I’m trying to think of the name of the factory it changed, er um, Associate of British Foods I think it was finally, because it changed names.  They made me redundant and I, I sat on the table alongside the General Manager and er they were asking to guys what are you going to do when you leave here, and when it came round to me and I said I’ll probably go up to Liverpool install machines for quite a bit of money, and it was a joke, I’d been retired a month and I had a phone call from um, Liverpool and it was a General Manager and he said, we have had um two guys over from Switzerland to try and get this machine going and they don’t know it and they can’t solve it and on the um, they said that on the commissioning list you were the guy who did the commissioning, cos sadly the guy I did the commissioning with Volta Ega (?) died of liver failure, um so he went, he came to Harlow and I did the commissioning with him and he was a good very good friend of mine, he came here quite a few times and sadly he died, he died about the age of fifty-nine of liver failure.


He was the guy who built the machine in Switzerland.  So the other people there didn’t know it, they sent two guys over there to Liverpool and they couldn’t fix it, so they looked at their records and they said contact me.  So in the space of one week, I formed TK engineering, TK Tony Keeble, for my name, and my wife who was an accounts clerk and I must add that my wife er was er aide to the woman who organised the Queen’s Jubilee.  My wife did the accounts for the Queen, for the Jubilee and she went to Buckingham Palace and was asked by the Queen what she did so my wife became my accountant, the two of us in the firm, I worked out the money and I think this was in ninety this was in er two thousand and two and I asked for something like forty pounds an hour plus expenses um, etcetera etcetera.  And they said, yes, and they said when can you come and I said I have to arrange my insurance, my public indemnity insurance of about a million pounds which I had to take out, cost me three hundred and fifty quid, and I said Monday, they said why not tomorrow [laughs].  Anyway, I went up to Liverpool and I installed all the equipment, I taught the technicians, I taught the operators and the and the staff on the lines how to work all this equipment and um, then I come back again and went back up there over a period of about a year until I got everything going and then after that I felt I’d done enough and I decided at that point I would retire [laughs].  So, if I look back now I think that I went from a very scared boy leaving the secondary school to become an apprentice, and I ended up working well I’ll show you…[leaves room]

Oh yeah, look hard

I look hard, that’s right, yeah, I worked for, yeah so that was me, and I worked for the company um, SIG Schweizerische Industrie Gesellschaft


And one of the reasons why I um I speak a little German is because when the computer machines came into the factory, the they were in two languages, they were always in German because the engineers and technicians who built the machines spoke fluent German, they were either Swiss nationals or they were German because er Zurich er which is near Rhine Falls, is only a little way from er the German border, it’s only a mile or so.  When the er equipment came into the factories, be it at er Peak Freans and the Bisco, London or at Harlow, um the computers would be in German but it would also be in the language of the customer, so they would be in English.  Sometimes the engineers commissioning, technicians that were sent over did not speak fluent English, so the result would be that they would have to put the computer into German.  Right, they couldn’t run the machine with the computer in English cos they didn’t understand [laughs] what it said on the screen.  So, um it it became obvious that I really needed to have enough German to be able to understand so I I after a while I I I um I got to the point where I could converse quite well and I could certainly look at the the er the displays on the screen and read ___(German phrase)___ er um or to that effect and er there is a peculiar thing about the Swiss um, er one of my friends Walter Ega would speak to me and he would say (puts on accent) ‘Tony we have a problem with the machine, we are to alter this and we must do that before we can do it’, er er y’know, and then I would reply (puts on accent) ‘but yes Peter but I know we have to do it, and I wonder why I’m talking in this silly voice’.


Because that’s the way [laughs] unfortunately the way that the Swiss speak English, but it was very good and I found, they sent me to Switzerland to learn Siemens S5, er S4 and S5 systems, because Siemens made the computers and I had to learn it all, in the er in the classroom and everything, er and um yes, I had a whale of a time.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and my decision to go with the computer systems back in eighty-five was the best thing I could ever have done, my my um I was made redundant three times and each time I had a job on the Monday, I’ve never been unemployed throughout the whole of my life, um and that was all down really to Vickers Armstrongs. I can, I look back now and feel I owe them a debt for my career and um I feel that um, yeah to go from an apprentice to end up as consultant um is not a bad achievement because I saw lots of people who retired skilled men, or retired for other levels who never got anywhere near that.  So, and there’s always only gonna be a few people to make it to the top of the tree, so if you do make it to the top of the tree, either you’re very lucky or um er you put in a lot of hard work and er hopefully I did a bit of each.  What I actually did was, I used one skill that I had at Vickers Armstrongs, when the first, um computer machines and that came into the factory at Peek Freans, and I worked with the um commissioning engineer, I decided to raise my game.  Instead of working as I’d done in the past as say to commercial standards, I decided to work in the standards I did when I worked on aircraft.  And I was so critical of all the things and I picked out that that’s not quite right and we could improve this and we could improve that and what happened was a letter was sent to the factory in Switzerland, um pointing out that some of these things weren’t quite as good as they should be, and I was called up to the um, chief engineer’s office at the, Peek Freans and said you’ve been very critical of this equipment and I said well I think some of the things could be a bit better, and really I think that because I was critical of the equipment, they decided that that probably that was I was the best person to deal, because if there was anything that was going to be wrong, that hopefully I would spot it rather than miss it so, um, y’know.

Did you, er, when the new machinery came in, was there a reduction in the workforce or…?

Um, there was a small reduction in the workforce um, not not a huge, but then let’s say as far as the the um let’s say or you’re talking about the girls out on the production lines, it was simply because the machines were er um would produce more um, but there was a turnover of staff and I think that the number of staff did start to go down when when the computerised er systems er started to work their way into the into the factories and I think if you went into almost any factory now you would be amazed at the amount of systems that are controlled by computers.


The really, it’s taken over, like Harlow before it finally closed down we had robots, er…

Harlow was the, what was it called again?

Harlow, well it was the Co-op Biscuit Factory initially.

Oh yeah.

You see, it was initially it was the Co-op Biscuit Factory and then it became um, what’s it called, oh yes…

United Foods…

Oh, any, they kept changing, they kept changing the thing I don’t know if this is the one, no that’s the last one I’ve done, right, um.  Anyway, yes the the systems started to take over and what it really meant was that you had to understand it and if you didn’t understand it you’re in real trouble, um it had the potential for making huge amounts of say packaging, enormous amounts of product or making huge amounts of scrap, so you can’t afford the downtime and to shut one of the production lines down, say you’re making cream crackers at Harlow would cost at least two-thousand pounds an hour.


So you, if you had the line down for two hours you’ve cost the company four thousand pounds and as the charge hand, I would have to answer to the management for the delay, why have you cost us all that money, people are standing around doing nothing because machinery has stopped and so whether it was would be a mechanical failure or whether it would have been a um a computer system failure, um you had to try and determine that as soon as possible.

Did, with you know you mentioned that you er, um, you got a lot of satisfaction from from making certain things and understanding…


I assume as well you’re saying from understanding them, the way the thing worked.

That’s right yes.

Did you, did you think, was that the main thing or did you ever think about the actual thing that was made i.e. what did you think, what would it be used for in the future, was that something that satisfied you as well or was it more mechanics of…

When I was making, no, when I when I was making working on sub-assemblies, say at er er Crayford, although I would do the job it, that didn’t give me a great deal of satisfaction because I saw an item but I didn’t see the completed item.


When I built a packaging machine from nothing, from a er er stack of shafts and bearings and and gear boxes and chains and drives and you put the whole lot together, and it and you make it work, then you feel you’ve actually created something right, you get the buzz from actually there is this thing and and you know that you built that, it’s got your name on it so to speak, right.  In the same way that when the computer systems and that came through, it became obvious that there were certain shortcomings and that we might be able to improve them by altering the software, and so one of the things that I did was to analyse performance and then make suggestions and then let’s say later on they would change the software and we could achieve things that we couldn’t achieve before.


So um a the the, I would say that we had, where I built machinery and I saw it finished that I I would great, that was good, and I felt I’d made something, when machines had already been built and I helped commission them, we ran them on production, my buzz came from getting them to perform to optimum performance or even better by looking at it and redesigning parts of the machine to make the performance even better, um, that I got a great deal of satisfaction out of that, and um, there there are, there were times when er you’d think I’m never going to cure this and then something [clicks] goes in your head and you think, I know how to do it and you modify this and you modify that, and and you come up and you’ve got the answer and quite often when I modify machines at Harlow, um people would say ooer I dunno about that, and a lot of the er technicians would say dunno, dunno bout that, and then once you’ve got it going and it’s all working, they go cor yeah that’s alright innit.  No-one ever come up and thank you, but when they realised that it worked and it was more reliable, they probably though oh that’s great I can have another cup of tea because it’s not going to break down [laughs].  So so people would then back you but you get in position where sometimes, sometimes you have to take drastic situations, drastic situations, how about this, if a gear box failed on a machine, and it shut down a production line, it was gonna cost in time, hour and a half to remove the gear box, and it was gonna cost two hours to put the new gear box in, right.  So you’re gonna dismantle the gear, the original one, take it out and then you’re gonna put the new one in.  Conventional thinking, however, you look at it and you think, if I hacksaw through that and that and I can smash it off it’s scrap anyway, fifteen minutes, bolt the new one on, total downtime hour and three quarters, management thinks great [claps].  And that is lateral thinking, that that’s that’s coming away from what you’ve been taught, but it it’s thinking, could I do this in another way, unconventional or not that might achieve what we’re actually out to achieve.

In, so would you, in that um in terms of saving the factory time and and increasing production…


Was that, did you feel that that was something that was important in terms of the company doing better or also for your own, you know position in that company?

Yes, yes because because obviously if the company er um did better, the company’s more viable and and so therefore the company’s, you’re still going to have a job.


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