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Valerie Grose: Further Reminiscences
I have read the fascinating article (that mentions Nigella [Lawson]). Actually her grandfather Mr Felix Salmon was our “in-line direct director” [at Lyons] with secretary, Miss Patterson. One of my colleague’s father was Mr Felix’s chauffeur and when a child she played with Vanessa, Nigella’s mother. As previously stated, other than Mr Frank Land I knew most of the other ‘names’ (Messrs Simmons, Pinkerton, Thompson, Caminer). I believe Mr Oliver Standingford had just left the company prior to my joining but I knew Mr Geoffrey Mills with whom he co-wrote “Office Practice” I certainly cannot claim to have known them well (being considerably younger) but my office was in the same corridor so saw them all frequently. To measure their success is difficult: obviously, as things eventually panned out I suppose wrong decisions were made but they were surely the “brains” of the time. By way of comparison, “medical” knowledge extended to patients having leeches set upon them to draw out blood but as time passed with newer developments this soon become consigned to history. Mobile phones were the size of bricks, became very small but curiously are now larger (albeit slim and lightweight) but have the capacity to offer many more functions. Life has changed beyond all recognition over the past half century with so many new inventions, and all new technology in the future will surely pale into insignificance with yet more inventions. Fax machines and music cassettes for instance, (good inventions that were relatively short-lived). LEO though was of great significance and I feel very privileged to have been an employee at J Lyons during those early years. Even the style of dress of those gentlemen would not suit modern times: grey suits, short back and sides hair, most smoked. Most certainly Miss Margery Slack, secretary to Mr Simmons did, and Mrs Maureen Henley, secretary to TRT. When entering their offices you could barely see them through the smoke! I recall walking through the bakery department once with trolleys of bread rolls open to the elements; people walking past coughing. Swiss rolls, as I recall were all rolled by hand as no machine had been put together that could roll them without cracking. Imagine what Health and Safety would say about that nowadays.
The internal telephone exchange was fascinating, headed by Mr Calder. Each call had to be individually connected. The two dozen or so telephonists sat at terminals with thick flex to insert into the connecting plug. When lifting the receiver to make a call, the telephonists were trained to ask by name “Which number, Mr Simmons” but ‘ordinary staff’ were greeted with ‘number please’ to which you replied ‘extension 645’. Daily office life was very labour intensive with reports and minutes of meetings having to be typed using carbon paper to produce extra copies. I was a very light typist, only being able to produce about four readable reports so, if ten were required I would have to type each set three times which was very time-consuming. How different my life would have been with a modern computer/keyboard, email facility and the holiday entitlement of today. Ten days only, plus Bank Holidays and New Year’s Day was a working one at the time.
Mr Samuel Salmon gave a New Year address over the tannoy, “Hello and good morning, Cadby” and thanking all for their contribution to this great company. It was just that at the time and I am pleased that aspects will have historical significance. I rather suspect those in LEO had their heads down busily engaged in developing the new machinery and knew rather less of what happened on a day to day basis, as described above.
Mr Simmons, to me, was the epitome of the perfect gentleman and always addressed me as Valerie (no others did so)*. Geoffrey Mills smoked a pipe, as you may recall, and somewhat amazingly lived less than five minutes from where my son and daughter in law now reside. His address sounded so romantic (Beechcroft was the name of his house) and to me it sounded so far away (Claygate, Surrey). * my own boss of course used my Christian name and, to my total amazement, announced one day that as he used mine, then I should use his. I found that extremely difficult. It just was "not done". Mr Simmons' address, Hyde Park Gate. A quick Google now shows today's asking price, £13,000,000 but perhaps modest against the £40m of the Beckhams!
Holidays: one year my boss went to a Butlins Holiday camp (!) as felt suitable for his two young children. Upon return he reported the children had loved it whilst he and his wife grinned and bore it. My colleagues and I - Torquay, Isle of Wight, Camber Sands. Miss Slack, secretary to Mr Simmons went to Tangier. We considered either she, or the rest of us, were on another planet. I have no recollection of the destinations of the LEO gentlemen...
Looking back over the years, at the time everything, everyday was so normal but now seems.....yes, like life on some other planet. Oh yes, just thought of this. We girls wore gloves to work, even in summer! In winter, obviously for warmth but in summer, lacy decorative items and as for being bare-legged: never. Nylon stockings with nice straight seams and I never saw the gentlemen wearing casual clothes as on "dress down Fridays" in offices nowadays. Grey suits, black shoes, shirt and tie was their 'uniform'.
I can clearly picture the vast LEO and wish I had paid rather more attention. Opening my Daily Telegraph one day, on the Obituaries page sadly was Mr Pinkerton. I recognised him straightaway before even seeing his name. Then Mr Caminer. May they all rest in peace after giving valuable service to that once great company but more particularly that wonderful invention, the Lyons Electronic Office.Date : 2021
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