Yesterday's Technology . . . Today!

Fleet Street Piecework

I WAS working on an Intertype at the Walthamstow Guardian when I managed to get a 'Grass' on the Sunday Telegraph (this meant working the Saturday as a casual operator) through a fellow operator who put in a word, knowhatimean?

It was a real closed society when I started, no-one told new people anything and bearing in mind that it was piecework and a docket had to be filled out for every slug of type set and there were three separate type of charges this meant you were really in the dark.

Eventually one of the older regular operators took pity on me and showed me how to charge my work, anyway that is what I thought until I found he was copying what I was charging and also charging it himself!

Anyway, I persevered not knowing if I would be called back the next Saturday until last knockings Saturday night. Hardly any of the regulars spoke to us lower forms of life but I needed the money so I kept my head down until out of the blue I was asked if I was interested in a 'spike' on the Daily Telegraph night shift (called the Continunity).

As this trebled my wages from the Walthamstow Guardian I didn't say no. When I told me wife she said that I shouldn't take that amount of money each week as it was too much!

When I started I wasn't allowed to write a piece docket until they felt I was fast enough (and could earn enough) for their pooled piece work. Then they had a Chapel meeting (without me) and decided if they wanted me in. Fortunately they voted me in and I was there for the next 15 years.

When I started I made the mistake of putting up my own ingot and got jumped on by the local Natsopa bloke whose sole job it was to do that. I also learned that the liners mustn't be changed by the operators, although we were allowed to fix the disser stops and splashes. Most of the machines were Linotype 48s with later Intertypes with Mohr saws for the ads in the 'Monkey House' (a small room attached to the Linotype room).

The Chapel ruled the whole area and the Printers kept their heads down, this encouraged the characters of the department (mostly compositors as we were too busy writing our dockets earning money). There were untold 'trots' (I think wind-up would be a contempory analagy) A good one was a reel of toy gun 'caps' strapped round the main drive cog so when a line is sent away a machine gun like effect took place, this almost stopped the operator writing a charge, but in the end we developed a charge specially for this event!

The Father of the Chapel was the King of the whole place and to be truthful he didn't do a lot of work, but he did the negotiating so he was given that privilege. He approved hiring and firing and untold numbers of Chapel Meetings.

I can honestly say that I enjoyed every night I went to work and looking back how privileged we were to be in that position for such a long time. Eventually it all went t*ts up, but these things happen, it certainly gave me a good living for a long period of time and was the best place I have ever 'worked.'

More from the Sunday Telegraph

George Clark sent in another story about working on the Sunday Telegraph in which he takes issue with some of the points raised by Malcolm Gregory.

Click here to read it.




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