As the year progressed I began to think once more about Art College. Then ‘Sod’s Law’ struck: Dad became ill again,
This time he was admitted to the North Middlesex Hospital. He had some sort of skin disorder, an allergy to the treatment for his ulcerated legs. Naturally, as Dad was self-employed and the only breadwinner, this created a very serious and worrying situation for us, the family. Daddy was going to be away in hospital for quite a while, so I offered to go out to work. I didn’t expect to earn a fortune, but when you have nothing, anything is acceptable. Of course, I hadn’t planned for, or expected this to happen, but there really wasn’t any alternative. It was a bit scary, as I’d not even thought about a career, other than art,
Sixty years ago, choosing a career, if you were female, was quite unlike today. In general the upper classes went to University and became doctors, lawyers, politicians and the like. The middle classes went to grammar school and became secretaries, librarians, school teachers, bankers and so on. The working classes however, didn’t really have much choice: it was office- work, shop-work or factory-work. Even the working class girls had sub-classes. It was considered ‘proper’ to have an office job, and you were generally a ‘cut above’ the shop-girl. Factory workers were at the very bottom of the pile, and I would rather have died than work there. I opted for office work.
My first job was as a typist at ‘Kay’s Film Laboratories’. This was better than I had hoped for. The office was about 15 minutes walk from home (no bus fares) and meant that I would become involved, albeit in a miniscule way, with the film industry,
Kay’s Laboratories was responsible for developing, printing and editing commercial films. Most of the companies work was concerned with Ministry of Information films.. These films were made for distribution to the public and used for educational purposes. From them we were supposed to learn how to deal with living during, and after, the war. We processed short films put out by the Post Office, The Ministry of Food, Health, Education, and Housing etc. We also processed the Television Newsreel films.
Stan, the motorbike courier, would roar over to the laboratory, pick up the cans of completed newsreels, and roar back to Alexandra Palace in time to transmit that day’s news to the few fortunate people who owned television sets. At that time I had never even seen a television set, let alone watched one!
Occasionally, feature films were printed and copied. When this occurred, we were allowed to watch a private showing in our own theatre. On one memorable occasion, we had the composer Charles Williams visit the Lab. He wrote the background music as he watched the film. I was absolutely fascinated by this procedure. The film was ‘While I Live’ which is now one of those old black- and-white classics, and the theme music ‘The Dream of Olwen’, is still played from time to time on the radio.
I shared my office with three other girls: Molly the telephonist, Brenda the other typist and Dorothy, who was in charge. Molly fascinated me. She was an ex-GPO telephonist who spoke with a GPO telephonist voice and knew all the proper terms and phrases. It was from Molly that I learned the phonetic alphabet, the A-apple B-Bertie C-Charlie version that all telephonists used at that time. My little cog in this big wheel was to type out instructions to the various developing, printing and editing rooms. I also had to make tea and do all the other odd jobs a junior is landed with. Since I’d never even seen a typewriter before, a lot of my time was spent learning to type. I was also expected to learn how to operate the switchboard. This was the part of my job that I liked most of all.
Me in my first job at Kay's