Yesterday's Technology . . . Today!

George Clark, who wrote this story, also sent in some pictures of the Sunday Telegraph. They can be seen here.

Sunday Telegraph Grass Ship

MALCOLM GREGORY paints a very black picture of the S.T. Grass Ship, as one who served on this Ship from April 1964 retiring as a "Regular" on 29th March 1986 I feel I should give a clearer picture.

To go back somewhat earlier. I was invited to Oversee the installation of the first two 42-em Intertype C4s and take charge of the resulting Ship at Burrup Mathieson (now known as "Burrups"), in 1958. The Ship grew at a phenomenal rate to become eight Intertype machines with 16 Operators under my charge eight on Days and eight on Nights.

My qualifications for this amounted to a two-year Evening Course at the London School of Printing as Operator/Mechanic and having "done the rounds" of various single installations in the General Trade. Around the early 1960s I was learning from some of my operators about a List of Grasshands which was compiled by the NGA (I had been a member since the days of the London Society of Compositors). I thought I would try it out and applied to "The House" to be placed on the List.

An explanation of Grass Ships may be useful here. There existed in those days a number of "Solo Sundays", i.e. Newspapers located in Fleet Street and surrounding areas which were not tied to a "Daily", to the best of my knowledge now, they were the Sunday Telegraph, Sunday Times, People, Observer and News of the World. Most had small Grass Ships ranging from four to six or eight Operators, the Sunday Telegraph was the largest with 20 Operators.

I count myself as fortunate in that I was selected for the S.T. Malcolm Gregory is correct in stating that one started in a casual capacity, covering for Operators sick or on holiday. As members left the regular 20 for various reasons the senior "casual" was promoted to the regular 20, my opportunity arose after about six months.

On my first day I met up with an old colleague, Les Mervish, who had been an Operator at Burrups but moved on. I do not think this helped me particularly but I found both the fellow Grasshands and Regulars a very friendly bunch who never hesitated to educate me on the intricacies of the S.T.'s particular brand of charging. Also I would point out that there was always the Tracker who would analise our Dockets during the passing week and "beard" us the following Saturday over any overcharging which he suspected.

Around lunchtime, Les came around to me and asked how I was getting on. I remarked, "Fine, I am enjoying myself very well." His reply was "it'll 'get you' you know." How right he was, there is a certain atmosphere on a "National" which does not exist in the General Trade. So far as the "Society" was concerned, Fleet Street Newspapers came under a separate heading known as the News Department, this did not apply to Weekly Newspapers who were part of the General Trade.

At the time of my completing my Apprenticeship around 1949 Apprentices were encouraged to leave and move on around the General Trade. No two Printing Offices functioned exactly the same and some specialised in a particular class of work. Moving around undoubtedly improved one's knowledge and broadened one's experience. It was as a result of this that I learnt a lot about Piecework although I never actually experienced it. I certainly never had problems with Charging when I joined the S.T. and there were always both Grasshands and Regulars ready to "take me under their wing".

On the point of charging Piece in relation to the Grass Ship there were a number of "fat takes", by this I mean, with those particular "takes", tabular work for which one made extra charges, for changes of fount or mould size which although done for you by the Engineer carried charges for the time taken, etc.

Fat Takes

One received such "fat takes" in order of seniotity, moving from one to another as your seniority changed. This generally meant moving to a different regular machine which was dedicated to a particular task. A few machines carried a 9pt. fount and mould. If you were moved to one of these machines you got the 9 x 1 intros with extra charges for Drop Initials, Byline, and in my earlier days the Dateline, plus the normal "take and change". One lucky Operator eventually got on the machine carrying 12 x 2, this would cover double-column intros, if you got a 12 x 2 into 12 x 1 this would give one an extra charge for turning in the Vice Jaws to single column, the Random Hand cut the slugs down to single column on a Slug Saw.

In particular, I remember not only the aforementioned Les Mervish but Ernie Haswell, at that time both had a Mon.-Fri. job at the Stratford Express. Later Ernie moved on I believe to a National Daily which ruled him out from grassing. Les moved on to a Mon.-Fri. job at the Radio Times which meant that he could still continue grassing.

Over the years I made many friends of most of the Grasshands and Regulars alike whom I still consider as good friends today although I have lost touch with most. I recall, on the last day of Hot Metal, when we knew most of the machines were going for scrap I took the liberty of removing the plate off the distributor-beam on one of the Model 78s, it is still a treasured possession. Soon after the cessation of Hot Metal, arrangements were made for an annual Reunion, these were held at the "Cartoonist" in Shoe Lane on the first week in December each year.

Whilst I continued to live in South Lambeth I attended every one, it was sad to see faces disappear each year as the older members passed away but we all enjoyed meeting up again. I moved North in September 1995 to South West Scotland. Unfortunately the first week in December has turned out to be busy for me locally so I am unable to attend the Reunions if they still continue.

Malcolm Gregory seems to give an equally dark picture of the Chapel situation at the S.T., I would also dispute this. We had a Grasshands Chapel, my first FOC was Tony Crichton Smith, his name may have been more familiar to Comps. and Operators as A. R. Smith, whose name cropped up on a lot of Society matter around the early 1960s. The Lino FOC was Eric Gregory, another old friend now sadly deceased. He was later elected to the post of Imperial FOC and Derek Chapman succeeded him as Lino FOC, all very approachable people.

Malcolm Gregory also bewails the fact that he was "pulled up" for hanging up his Ingots, changing up Moulds, etc. I respectfully suggest that if he had moved around the General Trade a bit more he would have been fully aware of these things. That happened on all large Installations where they had Lino Assistants (his Natsopas), and Linotype Engineers.

In my comparatively small Installation at Burrups the Operators did quite a number of jobs forbidden in the larger Installations. Namely cleaning Pots, Plungers and Spacebands before starting a shift. For these tasks they were generally allowed one hour on their Dockets. Even at the Kentish Times where I did nine months off the Casual List after redundancy, we did our own work on our machines and that was an Installation of 20 machines with no Lino Assistants or Engineers, just an Operator/Mechanic in charge.

Of life on the Daily Telegraph I can say little. In the days of Hot Metal the two papers were completely separate entities although I believe they were merged upon the move to West Ferry Road and Canada Wharf. One particularly good friend that I left behind at Peterborough Court was Doug Allen, Engineer. We first met when he came from Intertype, Slough, to install the first Intertype C4 which I had installed for me after numerous frustrating years with a 6SM Linotype at the firm where I served my Apprenticeship, where I returned as an Operator for about seven years.

From then on I think every Intertype wherever I worked was installed by Doug. It included the initial two machines at Burrups. They were two of the first three 42-em machines built after WW2 and they caused a lot of teething troubles due to the fact that all the engineers who had worked on the pre-war 42-em machines were no longer working at Intertype. Doug and I worked hard to iron out the faults and we must have succeeded since the later 42-em machines (the Grey machines), were an absolute pleasure to work.

As the "New Tech" revolution gained pace Intertype passed dealings with their Hot Metal machines to Linotype & Machinery to concentrate on New Tech. As a result Doug, in company with the other Engineers became redundant. Imagine my surprise when he arrived at the Sunday Telegraph to work as an Engineer there. He was a great asset since I think it is fair to say that the Linotype-trained Engineers never really came to terms with the subtle differences of the Intertypes. The Intertypes never worked so well as they did after Doug's arrival.

I have not said a lot on how we did things at Peterborough Court but I feel I should not hog too much space. Perhaps I will return to tell some of the more intimate side of the Sunday Telegraph Linotypes and Intertypes at a later date.

Copyright © Dave Hughes 2000-2015. All rights reserved.