Fifty years ago I got my first real job, a real step towards being an adult. Several more followed which I still remember.
My first paid job (1968-69) was as a Saturday boy at the Hounslow (SW London) Co-op department store. I was sent to work in the men’s shoe department, perhaps not the department I would have chosen if I’d been given a chance. But what a great first job. My boss, the inappropriately named Harold Sainsbury, was perhaps the finest boss I ever worked for. He’d served in the navy in WW2, lost a leg and afterwards found employment repairing shoes, then moving to retail.
Mr Sainsbury (never Harold!) set us juniors high standards – no dust, all shoes straight etc – and made it clear to us that he’d rather we sent a customer away empty-handed than sell them a pair of shoes that didn’t fit properly. The Co-op held the local contract for welfare-assisted parents: they’d come in with a voucher asking us to supply a pair of school shoes. He stressed to us that such parents were to be treated no differently than anyone else, an injunction that shouldn’t have been necessary, but the previous warrant holder had lost the contract through treating such clients poorly. He looked after us staff too: on one occasion I used my tea break to go to a local electronics shop. When I returned rather breathless, he told me to go to the staff canteen and get my break. A really great place to work.
[Edit March 2023] A YouTube live chat reminded me that I was working at the Co-op when a key change was made. When I joined, Coop members got a dividend of sixpence in the pound (2½%) on all purchases. When buying something, you gave the assistant your ‘divi number’ which was set on the till by a series of levers. When the sale was rung up the till punched a card with the date, amount and divi number. At the end of the day these cards were collected (across the store there must have been thousands) and sent to the Coop data processing centre so that every member’s account could be credited accordingly.
While I was working there, this system was replaced with Co-op trading stamps, modelled on Green Shield stamps, from memory one small stamp for each 6d spent, one large stamp for each pound. These were stuck in a book, 40 pages, each page taking 40 small or one large stamp. When the book was full it could be used in part payment (£1) for purchases.
Being interested in photography, working in a camera shop appealed to me. So for one summer holiday I got a job at Dixons. Quite different to the Coop. The aim was to sell, with little regard to what was right for the customer. Discontinued and high profit items (e.g. own brand cameras from Macau) carried ‘spiff’ payments – sell one and you got (say) a five-shilling bonus. There was a strict dress code (I was told off for wearing a dark jacket and dark non-matching trousers rather than a suit) and on Thursdays we weren’t allowed to go to lunch until the delivery truck had come, 4.00p.m. one day! On this plus side I did enjoy handling all the camera equipment and the fact that I did know something about it didn’t go unnoticed. And I made good use of the staff discount. But after one summer holiday I had no desire to go back.
Not so much a holiday job, rather filling time between leaving school after resitting A-levels in January and starting university in October. I worked in Revenue Analysis, one of team that handed all the payments coming in from shops and patrolmen. All done with the aid of a hand operated adding machine. Added challenges came from a lengthy postal strike and the introduction of decimal currency. This was a really happy place to work. Frank Hackman and Tony Fanning, both probably in their 50s, exercised a benevolent oversight of us young people (John, Graham, Jill, Pam, I can still picture you) and I was sorry when it was time to leave. And working here paid for my first car!
Roskill Information Services
This was my first university summer holiday job. RIS did an annual survey of new homes – a small team recruited from my fellow students went round the country inspecting three houses a day. I sat in the 14 Great College Street office opposite the Houses of Parliament checking their survey forms before passing them on to our data processing bureau. Building materials manufacturers, suppliers and other firms would buy the consolidated report. For a payment they could have their own questions added to the survey form (e.g. ‘what make is the CH thermostat?’). After this I continued to work for RIS during my university holidays compiling metal trade statistics. This was long before the internet so had to be done the hard way – I remember being sent to Westminster library one Christmas to note daily copper prices from the last year’s FT. It was freezing and I ventured to asked whether the windows could be closed. “No,” came the reply, “if we shut them, the vagrants will come in.” So I sat there all day wearing my coat!
The firm was founded and at that time run by Oliver Wentworth Roskill (1906-1994), the third of the four sons of John Roskill KC, all of whom achieved eminence. His two elder brothers were Sir Ashton Roskill QC (1902-91), chairman of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, and Stephen Roskill (1903-82), a distinguished naval historian. The youngest, Eustace (1911-96), was a Law Lord who chaired the Roskill Commission on the third London airport. Quite extraordinary! Judith Chegwidden, my immediate boss, was then a young recruit who stayed with the firm for her entire working life, becoming its MD. Interestingly, after leaving Roskill, Piers Nicholson, the partner to whom Judith reported, went on to a new career as an expert in sundials. At the end of one project he took Judith and me to lunch, the first time I’d eaten in a ‘posh’ (as it seemed to me) restaurant.
That was the end of casual work – next chapter of my life, working for RB Kingston upon Thames.