Sunday, 14 September 2008


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
aged fifteen


weechuff said...

I also enjoyed my time as a telephonist in my first two jobs. After that I became a GPO telephonist for a few years!!

granny grimble said...


You were one of the posh ones then! I was a telephonist until I left work before the children were born. If I close my eyes I can still work a switchboard in my head. Can you?

GoldAnne said...

That was super Leeta ||!!!
funnily enough after I left the beauty business I worked for a building company Higgs and Hill,
and I had to do the switchboard
every lunch time and if anyone was ill . I think 50 lines---

GoldAnne said...

leeta omg I meant to say first you were absolutely gorgeous like your mother , see how they mistook you for sisters!!!

granny grimble said...


I shall get quite big headed! But funnily enough I never got upset to be taken for my mum's sister. I looked more grown up than my years and she looked much younger than hers, so it was great!

Babs (Beetle) said...

I was just about to say that you looked much older than fifteen! Strange as the rest of us all looked so much younger than our ages. I could still get away with half fare when I was a working girl of sixteen!

granny grimble said...


I think that it must have been the way I was bought up. I was a 'Little Mum' from early on and I think it made me more mature in some ways

Croom said...

Now I know why you are such a stunner now Leeta, you were so beautiful. I can see Lynne in you.

I also worked on a switch board for a short time, it was so big with so many plugs coming in and out. I must say I managed to cut a few people off, as soon as I pulled the plug I knew I had done wrong!

I just love the dress Leeta, very nice.


Joe Huybens said...

Was that Kay Laboratories in Oxford Road, right near an entrance to Finsbury Park?