Office life in the Seventies - Scottish nostalgia

26 September 2016
un1named-78716.jpg Manual typewriter
Margaret Fisher remembers her first job, in the days before computers, when touch typing, complicated copying machines and correction fluid were part of everyday office life.

Margaret Fisher remembers her first job, in the days before computers, when touch typing, complicated copying machines and correction fluid were part of everyday office life.

When I left university in 1971, my first job was in the Town Clerk’s Office, where I worked as a clerkess in the Planning Section which dealt with legal matters involving multiple compulsory purchase orders of inner city land and buildings which were soon to be demolished to build the M8 motorway through the city. I acted as assistant to an in-house lawyer which meant producing reports to various committees for approval and writing a lot of letters. As desktop computers didn’t yet exist, this work meant dictating documents to be typed up by others. It is a skill that has to be learned and comes with practice.

Dictation was done by speaking into a large hand held device with an on/off switch attached to what looked like a record player on which revolved a large green plastic long-playing record. The whole machine was so heavy it sat on a small trolley you had to wheel beside your desk. The green LP was sent to the typing pool and returned for checking within the following day or two by one of the typists.

The head typist

I remember being scared of the head typist, who ruled the typing pool like an old-fashioned headmistress. She appeared beside my desk one day not long after I had started in the job, to complain in front of everyone about my dictation. Nobody had taught me how to dictate correspondence. I knew you had to say ‘comma’ and ‘full stop’ at the appropriate place in a dictated sentence, as well as saying when a new paragraph was required. My crime had been to dictate place names and other proper names in the wrong order resulting in a typist having to erase.

I suppose it was a testament to how fast the typists were on old manual typewriters, because they would be typing as fast as we could dictate, so if any of us did not dictate correctly, then it gave the girls extra work. The typing pool was probably the busiest section in the whole office, because they typed the work for all departments, except for senior managers who each had their own secretary.

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A visit from the queen

I recall a very special occasion when the Queen visited the City Chambers for a civic lunch. Everyone from all the offices on the various floors within the building was allowed to leave their desks to see Her Majesty arrive. We all lined the marble staircase as she entered, smiling and cheering.

At about 45 years of age, she had unblemished skin and a smooth, clear complexion. Her coat was hung up in the Town Clerk’s private office which was on the same floor as our office and the typing pool. When our bosses, councillors and dignitaries were all at the formal lunch, a couple of the junior typists decided, on a dare, to find out what size the Queen was because many of the typists had remarked on how she appeared to be much more petite than her photographs in magazines indicated.

As we all have the size we wear printed on labels in our clothing, they decided that they would be able to find out the Queen’s size if they looked at the label in her coat, so they sneaked into the Town Clerk’s office when everyone was out to lunch. You didn’t have strict security then like you do now. Fortunately for them, the girls never got caught, but the story went round the offices in our building and everyone laughed when the typists said they couldn’t find a label.

The Queen’s coat, matching her dress, would have been made by Norman Hartnell or some other bespoke dress designer, to Her Majesty’s individual measurements, and not from Marks & Spencer, or the big C & A in Glasgow where ordinary folk like ourselves bought our clothes.

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