Bedford | 1941/42 |  Manchester | Whalley | School | Church | Early teens | Starting work | Bill's Page

Starting work

Before leaving school, I must have been told to go to an interview by someone. I turned up in Chorlton St., off Piccadilly; it was the one & only interview I had from school. Of course I had no idea what would happen. No one gave any advice or I didn’t listen! The offer was a job as a junior clerk at the firm of Harry Baxendale & Son. After having passed the interview, (Can you write your name? What is the capital of Burma?), I was promised the magnificent sum of £2 per week. On hearing this, my parents sounded fairly dismissive, as I was just going to be a "tea boy". Nobody told me what to expect, what to go for, or anything about the real world of working for a living! School teachers seemed to give no real insight into the future & parents seemed to think it was a good idea to protect children from the real world ... not prepare them! The church seemed to want you to believe in a gentle Jesus, a tall good looking white man, who looked after the meek & mild. Not in Frank's world he didn’t!

The office was on the top floor (fifth, if I remember rightly). A one armed man called Harry operated the lift. There was Mr. Baxendale Snr. a real “old school” businessman, Mr. Baxendale Jnr., Mr. Royle & the secretary Pat. I had to sweep up, make tea, run messages, did the postage, answered the phone, all the things tea boys did. I learnt how to count yards of cloth & sort fents (bits of cloth, less than 4 yards long), they also sold carpets, so I was up to my armpits into Axminster & Wilton. When I swept the warehouse, to keep dust down, they bought a bag of damp sand! You put that down first and swept it all up again, sand, dust & all. Apparently, this came as a safety feature from the cotton mills where cotton dust & fires went hand in hand.

My greatest failure was the balancing of the postage at the end of each week. I was as figure blind, as I was dyslexic. It was just a personal weekly bit of torture. I spent too much time day dreaming, spending too much time in the toilets & walking round Manchester in my lunch hour.

There was a tobacconist on a corner between the Midland hotel & Free Trade Hall. Mr. Baxendale used to buy his own special brand of pipe tobacco. I would go there & see someone else’s world. Everyone smoked then but in my world, you smoked Players or Woodbines; pipe smoking was St. Bruno or Old shag. No one bought “special” anything! They all smoked pipes in the office. It was a smoking culture then, smoking bans were unknown.

In the summer it was the cricket results. A radio was brought in & I had to pass the scores round the office. It sure was a different world, no such thing as casual. "Smart casual" was Oxford brogue shoes, grey slacks with sharp creases & a blazer worn with a tie. Hats were common place but not de rigueur. Children grew up like small versions of their parents. The nearest I got to fashion was wanting a snake belt as a lad. Drainpipe trousers, Teddy Boy jackets & crepe shoes were still some way off. It’s still difficult to believe that it wasn't until 1956, that British Rail had only just ended using their Third class railway compartments. They were all wooden seat affairs, put on early in the mornings, for “workmen”. The class system was alive and well in ever nook & corner.

I can remember how the real world came sneaking up on me. I spent hours at school struggling with maths. Decimal places, fractions & pounds, shillings & pence. (£sd). (Sixpence = two & a half new pence) In the office they used percentages all the time. What would 7.5% of £1773.7s.8d be? (that was the sort of question that would normally strike terror in my heart) In the real world of the office, it was easy! You picked the percentage book up, looked at the appropriate pages to break it down to easy components & added up the all bits! Mr. Harper never told me that! School never explained that in the real world you hadn’t got time to mess about, you needed the right answer & you needed it quickly! I think at school they said you would be sacked for miss-spelling. Not a bit of it, there were no computers with spell checkers then, there were secretaries who did it for you! That was why it was very important for girls to learn to spell ... only to work until they got married & had their first baby of course! P.C. was unknown! A spell checker was a dictionary. There was a slight catch however! You had to have an idea how to spell it, otherwise it was difficult to find. For instance, how many different ways do you think children could spell scissors? They have found over two hundred examples. The commonest way they misspell it is sisors. And if you don't know it start with sc ... it hard work.

Dad collected stamps & an airmail letter was received at work, after being recovered from the crash of the famous first jet airliner, the Comet. (9) (It had suffered from metal fatigue round the windows) Mr. Baxendale gave it to me for dad’s collection. As I was really into aircraft, it was some memento to have.

For some reason, we went in Mr. Baxendale’s Rover car. It would have been a 1953/4 model Rover 75. It was all leather & wood interior. I could not believe how quiet it was! That was as near silent as I had ever been in. Couldn’t wait to tell David Sixsmith!

Once a week I went to a self-service café in Piccadilly, a waitress took a shine to me. I bought a proper meal & she charged me 6d (two & a half pence) or some very small amount. It was ages later, I found out she lived in the next block of houses in Greame St. I remember her as Irish, dark haired & attractive. How sad I can’t remember her name!

I gave mum my wages and then she gave me back my spending money. I think my main objective in life was to buy a bike with this huge sum. I chose a Hercules with 8 gears, in Roman purple (eight gears was a LOT in those days). It seemed to take forever to save up enough. I carried the money around in a purse & constantly checked it. I don’t think I could have bought it without hire purchase at all, but it cost the princely sum of £19.19.11d. (That is less than one old pence under £20). I think I struggled to save up the deposit. To sound an upmarket note, often clothes & exclusive items were still priced in guineas, which was one pound & one shilling. (£1.05). Sort of the same hang over from the class system, where butchers would always have "high class" in their title above the shop. I never did see anyone describe themselves as a low class butcher!

I think the price of my bus trips to work was weighing heavy on mum & dad, and eating up a lot of my £2. So one day, mum broke the news that I could go to work on my bike. Then came another family saying. “If you get yourself killed, I’ll never speak to you again!” I didn’t think about the expense. Mind you, I don’t think I thought about very much anyway. Like all young men, that bike was my passport to freedom. I used to be fit enough to talk to Elizabeth Roberts at the bus stop on Alexandra Rd. until the last possible minute, cycle like a mad man to work & if Harry’s lift was full, I’d run up 5 flights of stairs! I don’t think I was any fitter in the R.A.F. Uncle Jimmy said I’d got footballers legs!

Everyone had a bike then. We rode everywhere. I can think of a time when two girls, from youth club, were out with David & me. They dropped behind us, after a time. Sensing something might be wrong, David & I turned back & found that a peddle of one of the girls bike had gone through the spokes of the other. We limped back home worrying how much trouble we’d all be in! David & I felt responsible. In those days, men were still meant to be in charge! Nothing must have happened to her and I don’t remember any irate or worried parents giving us a talking too.

It must have been around this time, I had to pick up Irene from her ballet class. I think the teacher asked me to take off my shoe & point my toes, she said I should take up ballet as I was very good. Blimley, what a life! First of all, it was footballers legs & now its ballet dancing. All too much for an embarrassed lad from Moss Side!

In the next office to Baxendale's, was this older couple who ran a business. He had lost a leg and was often in great pain. At this time, the old heavy gramophones were becoming redundant in the change over to the new Hi Fi equipment that would play the new LPs. Long Playing records that went round at 331/3 rps. This was the new thing, as the records used to turn at 78rps on the huge and heavy two sided discs that we all played then. The old 78s were made of hard plastic & would shatter if you dropped them. Many of these old records ended up as flowerpots, as you could mould them to any shape, once they were heated up in hot water. The couple had bought a new Hi Fi record player & offered me their old gramophone. It was a huge, heavy wooden thing, with shutters. (This was the only way to deaden the sound!) David & I attempted to bring it back on the back of his Bantam motorbike. (Pure madness! You should have seen the enormous thing! It felt like it was made of oak & probably was!). I remember that first record, (who doesn’t remember their first record purchased?) Tennessee Ernie Ford singing “16 tons”.

In 1955 Marilyn Monroe starred with Tom Ewell in the film “Seven Year Itch”. The theme tune from the film was Rachmaninov’s Second Piano concerto. I got that on two big discs. To hear the whole thing took all four sides. The record shops always knew which record that was in vogue. Customers would asked for it, but never knew which classical piece it was. The staff would always say “Can you hum it for me?”. It was the shop’s inside joke to embarrass customers. I was so careful with my platters that invested in thorn needles, instead of the steel ones, to save the wear & tear on records. That gramophone was as portable as a concrete block but I sure tried to take it around.

I guess I was a rich man but didn’t know it. In work, earning money, had a bicycle, a gramophone & some good friends.

I hadn’t been with Baxendale long and my grandma, in Whalley, died. I had to ask for the “Day off for my Grandma’s funeral” Harry Baxendale smiled all over his face. That was the office boys line to get off work every time. I was so naive & stupid; I thought he was smiling because my Gran had died!

The next time I had to see him, mum or dad had told me, because it was my birthday, I should ask for a pay rise. Nervous but not realising how much bottle this took, I did as I was told. Sure enough I got one. £2.2s.6d a week, a rise of twelve and a half pence!

I’d known Malcolm Hatto for some time. (He finally married his girlfriend Margaret Worral from St. Margaret’s). He joined the R.A.F. boy entrants. Think he went in as a radio apprentice, but I’m not sure. He came back with tales of daring do, flying, and excitement. To be honest, I think he was a great romancer. At this time there was National service. (10) You were drafted into the forces with no choice. With my luck, I’d end up in the army or the navy, neither of which I fancied. Aeroplanes had been my life. If I signed on for three years, then I got some sort of choice and more pay. I even thought it might be a good career and basis to think about marrying Elizabeth. Malcolm seemed to make it sound OK anyway.

Next, Life in Betty Windsor's Flying Circus.