James Sanderson. My First Job. September 1963.
After sitting the last of our GCE’s the following day we were back in class. Our form master, Mr. Puddefoot, asked us why we were there. You’ve finished, he said. You haven’t got to come back anymore. He smiled as he said it. That day was my last at Barnsbury. I did not say goodbye to anyone. Just went home to enjoy the summer. Work was two months away and I was determined to have all the fun I could. And I did; it was a fabulous summer, but that is a story for another time.
I had already been for a couple of interviews and had finally accepted a position as a clerk in an insurance company at Hyde Park Corner. I chose the company, General Accident, because it paid the highest wages; £8.5sh.0d per week, payable monthly. The 19 bus from Upper Street went all the way there. An early start and an early finish, 8.15 am to 4.15 pm. In 1963 we were quite spoilt for choice of jobs. It was not a question of can we get a job, rather which job do we want?
On my first morning, waiting for me just inside the front entrance was a Jobsworth, complete with uniform and cap, who directed me to the lifts, telling me that in future I was to use the staff entrance situated round the corner in Halkin Street. Not one minute on the premises and I was well and truly put in my place.
I was placed in the Endorsements Department, a large office which handled requests from people wanting to borrow money against the value of their policies and in which there was also a section which dealt with policy holders' deaths. Henry Benedetti was the manager and a smashing guy. Too soft for a manager, really. There were two men in their twenties, Mike and Colin, who looked like they were going to be there for life. Another young bloke my age called Keith, who had started just a couple of weeks before me and two teenage girls, Marion and Molly. Making up the number were, I think, four other adults.
Being an insurance company all new employees were given mandatory medical examinations. I was sent to a private practise around the corner in Belgrave Square. I already knew that I had a physical problem down by my right groin and this confirmed by the usual school medical examinations that regularly occurred. Line up, boys. I did. Cough. I did. Oh, we have got a good one here. We've been waiting for someone like you. So after being seen and examined later at the UCH, I was put on their waiting list for an operation. I told the Belgrave Man this and so he did his own examination, and frankly, he hurt me. He must also have had a lot of influence because I was in the University College Hospital having my operation within two weeks of him seeing me.
I was in there about seven days and the food really was awful. My mother brought me in sandwiches every evening. A ward full of men, all ages, I seem to remember having laughs all day long as I recovered. I also remember asking the young doctor on my discharge, when could I resume sexual relations? He just was not prepared for the question and I cannot recall his answer except to say that I had a 'pleasant' dream that first night home which settled that problem for me! Another seven days off recovering and back to work for which they kindly paid me. It appeared that I had chosen a really excellent company to start my working life.
In the office, the woman I worked with was called Dot Blow. She had a ladies' problems and was often absent or in very late, for which she stayed after work to compensate. Dot handled the deaths, and you would not believe the amount of files that had piled up while she was away. There were dozens of them all waiting to be settled and the cheques paid out on them. Enter stage right, one James Sanderson doing his best to make sure all the documentation needed was present (I had a list to refer to) and if it wasn’t, informing the manager of the situation.
In all honesty my time there was great fun. You would not credit the fact that I was actually employed. I got paid for having a laugh all day. I did do some work but I think everyone figured that I would not be staying too long and so I was not troubled to learn too much. I did what I had to and no more.
A couple of real characters in the company were Charles and John. Charles was well into his sixties and worked as the filing clerk down in the basement. He was very dapper, smelt strongly of cologne and was homosexual. He couldn't open his mouth without a double entendre coming out. He also rather liked our Mike who was a nice looking chap and a firm favourite with everyone.
During the run-up to Christmas 1963 both Mike and I were in the filing department having a chat with Charles, and while I cannot remember the build up to it, Charles (who had his arm round Mike's shoulder) decided to give Mike a kiss on the cheek. Mike went bright red and said afterwards that he didn't expect Charles to be so strong, because he could not pull away from him. We gave him hell for weeks after.
John, however, was a completely different kettle of fish. He was the firm's tea boy. Thick pebble spectacles, about 25 years of age, fair complexion and somewhat slow. He too, was homosexual and he too, also liked Mike. Cue James' entrance to have fun at Mike's expense. Comments such as, "hey John, Mike says you make a lovely cup of tea. He really likes you. Why don't you go over and talk to him?" would wind John up something rotten. And so across John would trot with a beaming smile on his gormless face and poor Mike really did not know how to handle him. The next day: "Hey John, Mike loves to be chased,” I would quietly say, standing by the tea trolley, “Why don't you chase him?" Exit Mike from the office as fast as he could run.
It got so bad that whenever John entered the office, Mike would get edgy and watch me to see if I would say anything. Many's the time Keith and I were in stitches at Mike's expense. I must say he took it all very well, but in the end it got too much for him and he threatened me if I didn't stop. The thing was, after that, whenever John came in, Keith and I only had to look at one another and it would set us off! Mike just could not win.
Mike sat next to Colin who was about 5 foot 5 inches high and bull-chested. Brighter than Mike, Colin and I had one or two arguments during my stay, and so while we weren't the best of friends, we parted OK when I left. I remember he got married while I was there. Everyone in the department gave 5 shillings towards his present and I gave ten shillings. The two girl's, Mal and Molly, had the temerity to question me on it! "Thought you weren't too keen on him" and things like that. Maybe so, but I just felt that I was doing the right thing.
Poor Mal could never understand me. I wouldn't buy a charity "picture" when the book of little babies and children came round (remember them?), but gave twice as much to a bloke I didn't really get on with. I think it is fair to say that Mal liked me a little more than would be expected, but nothing was ever done about it except when I left, she gave me one hell of a goodbye kiss.
Mal experienced one of those "cringing" moments that she will probably never forget and neither will I. My Nan had died in February 1964 and I came into the office the following day wearing a black tie. Now Mal knew my Nan was ill but had obviously forgotten about it, because as she saw me she said, "What's the matter Jim? Somebody died then?" I just looked at her without speaking and finally the penny dropped. A look of horror came over her face and she ran out of the office bursting into tears as she did so. Molly followed her into the Ladies which was opposite our office and later called me out into the passage saying that Mal wanted to speak to me. I went out and gave her a cuddle while she, still crying, apologised to me. I liked Mal even if she did give me a hard time most days.
Molly, Mal and myself left the company at the same time. We had a get-together and for our various reasons decided to give our notices in at the same time. Poor Henry, he did not deserve it, losing three members of his department at the same time. I was at the company ten months and in retrospect, they were magic months at a magic time of my life. It really was not like work. I only left because I knew that my future, such as it might be, was not in insurance. I did not want to spend the rest of my life taking exams just to get a decent raise in salary. I remember that Mike had been there about 8 years, had not passed any exams, and was only getting a couple of pounds more than me! No thanks.
I left in spring 1964 and have never again seen any of the people that I worked with in those wonderful, far-off, balmy days. Perhaps I should have written, barmy days. Whatever, I still find it a shame and often wonder what happened to them all.