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For those of you who worked in an office in 1960's - 1980's

332 replies

Choccyhobnob · 14/09/2017 11:28

The childhood memories thread reminded me of something I have wondered for years!

I work in an office and have done for the last 12 years. I have never known a time before emails and photocopiers.

My question is this - what did you actually do? I just can't imagine how office life worked back then and I'm really interested!

Thank you for indulging my perhaps naïve questions!

OP posts:
Nakedavenger74 · 14/09/2017 11:36

Emails didn't really start until late 1990s and then it was mainly internal. I tell you what we did, we waited for the post and the fax machine. Use the phone A LOT. The fax machine would run red hot all day and we had a post room of 5 people!

I worked in a govt agency that did investigations.

crumpet · 14/09/2017 11:39


crumpet · 14/09/2017 11:40

Then wait for secretary to type up, then spend time correcting/amending by hand, then wait for it to be typed up again

kittydetective · 14/09/2017 11:41

Phone calls
Pigeon hole post
Take post round
Tea runs
Mail run around 4 times a day
Switch board was actually plugging switches in


Ta1kinPeece · 14/09/2017 11:42

Banda copier
Corded phones
lots of cigarettes

GrockleBocs · 14/09/2017 11:43

Late 80s. Using microfiche to answer invoice queries. Using a PC to type letters. Putting things in envelopes. Using a dial up phone modem to submit orders to head office.

oldsilver · 14/09/2017 11:46

Lots of internal memos, all with a gazillion carbon copies for each of the recipients. All very carefully typed as rubbing out, Tippex liquid/sheets were a pain.

And lots and lots of filing all the replies would bring.

Not forgetting the joys of paper diaries and trying to set up meetings with attendees from all over the country.

Andrewofgg · 14/09/2017 11:46

I started in 1975. Typewriters, telex, carbon paper! We managed.

Ta1kinPeece · 14/09/2017 11:49

One place I worked, the lady who filed copy invoices was made redundant when we moved to microfiche !

The office "runner" who delivered urgent papers around the site

The tannoy for urgent and stupid announcements : as mobile phones were only in cars, pagers were too bulky and walkie talkies did not work in the buildings .....

bluebellation · 14/09/2017 11:51

Opened and stamped the post. Wrote replies in longhand, took them to the typing pool to be typed up.When they came back, called them over with a colleague to ensure no mistakes (lots of columns of figures etc, as was pensions), put in envelopes then in out tray for post person to collect at the end of the day.

I remember the first time I saw a fax machine (around 1982) I was so amazed I went home and raved about it to my DH!

bookwormsforever · 14/09/2017 11:52

I typed letters on a huge typewriter with carbon sheets underneath (instead of copying).

Opened post and put it into pigeon holes.

Made phone calls.

Posted letters at post office.

Did lots of filing.

Typed letters my boss had dictated into a dictaphone - I sat with headphones on.

Went to the bank.

I remember the first time I sent a fax. I couldn't believe the technology!!!

bookwormsforever · 14/09/2017 11:53

X-posted, Bluebell!

Snorktastic · 14/09/2017 11:53

This reply has been deleted

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Snorktastic · 14/09/2017 11:54

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bluebellation · 14/09/2017 11:55

Yes, the fax was obviously just magic! I couldn't get my head round the idea that I could put something in a machine and a copy would appear at the other side of the world at the same time. And now of course, fax machines are just about obsolete.

bluebellation · 14/09/2017 11:58

Oh, and if you wanted the computer to work something out for you, you filled in a sheet in Cobol, took it to the data entry operator, who produced a punched card, which went into the computer overnight and the next day you got a great batch of green paper out of the computer, which had to be split into individual enquiries and given to the person who'd requested it.

And we had Monroe manual calculators. Great fun.

FineSally · 14/09/2017 11:59

I had a job in a building contractors in the late 1970's where I was the wages clerk, general dogsbody & PA to the Company Secretary.

We didn't have a fax machine. We had 10 phone lines which a telephonist/receptionist controlled. When someone phoned, she had to flick certain switches to put the call through to the right person.

Wages: all done manually. I had to fill in a (paper) spreadsheet with the gross wage, then use printed tables supplied by the Tax Office to work out the tax & NI deductions. Total it all up and write the amount of tax & NI in a ledger (so they knew how much to pay over to the tax office).
Then go through the net amounts individually & work out how to make up that amount in cash. Phone that through to the bank & collect it (with the Co. Sec.) the day after. Then make up the wage packets. Money all over the place!
By the time we got to about 50 employees the Co Sec wanted to pay everyone by cheque - weekly! - and a couple of weeks later I set up the system where it all went straight into the bank instead. Everything was still done on paper, by hand, though.

I remember the old carbon copy letters, and having to have an entire leter retyped because the typist had used the word NOT instead of NOW, which completely changed the meaning.

PerfumeIsAMessage · 14/09/2017 12:01

I worked for British Telecom after university in their "mobile communications" department- which was pagers. It was like another hi-tech planet at the time, but looking back it was funny- people would order a pager, (presumably by cutting an ad out of the paper or something) then their pager would be sent out to them, by our office, then they'd have to ring the office and have their pager set up over the phone.
I was in charge of the fax machine which was a massive responsibility and I still don't understand to this day how they work Grin

Then I became a civil servant and we had mahoosive files on our cases, everything done with pen and paper except for very basic file info which was done by the admin guys on big clunky grey computers. While I was there they introduced the innovation of a telephone enquiry service which was manned in turn because prior to that, all enquiries had to be done by letter. When letters were sent out, they had to be sent to the typing pool.

My Mum worked in admin all her life so we always had an upmarket typewriter at home- I remember the neighbours coming in to look at her "golf ball" typewriter, then her "dot matrix" and her word processor.

user1468483366 · 14/09/2017 12:02

A Gestentner machine (at least that is what I think it was called). I worked for a national charity who used this instead of a photocopier. Total nightmare if you typed something wrong as you needed a special red plasticy type tippex to correct it. Then you attatched it to a drum and turned handle to get the copies.

This makes me feel really old - I'm only 50 !

soontobeanana · 14/09/2017 12:04

Worked in sales service - answered the phone a lot!! Made a lot of phone calls. Answered a lot of letters - wrote a lot of letters. Used a machine where you typed out a letter and it transferred it onto a long piece of tape with holes in it which you then dialled through to another office and it came out as the letter - magic! Was that telex? Spoke to visitors who arrived in person. Very much as an office runs today but just using different forms of communication.

Firenight · 14/09/2017 12:05

Even when I started in the civil service in 2000 everything was on paper files and they had only had personal computers for a couple of years. But we would print everything off and treasury tag it into the file.

Even draft ministerial letters and PQs went up to private office in a file and came back red penned by the ministers by hand.

Choccyhobnob · 14/09/2017 12:06

This is all fascinating! Thank you for all answering sensibly and not thinking I'm a knob Grin

FineSally your answer is particularly fascinating as it is a similar job to what I do nowadays (or at least the kind of job I know stuff about) and I just copy and paste/download account details/put formulas in a spreadsheet and what probably took you days and days takes me minutes. This is also the reason I am bored shitless at work today and am starting threads on MN as I completed all my work by 10am...

A couple more questions:

Were multilocation businesses unusual? As I can understand the carbon copying and the runner delivering messages to multiple people over one site but what if you had offices up and down the country? Just phone loads of people and give the same message over and over or was there conference calling?

I need to know what the following things are:
banda copier
tarzan slips...

OP posts:

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GrumpyOldBag · 14/09/2017 12:07

We communicated internally by written memos.

These were copied and distributed either by internal mail or by hand ... you might get 20 in a day, and would often have to reply in the same way.

This was pre-email, but post-photocopiers. There was always an intern whose job it was to keep the photocopier stocked with paper, and fix it when it went wrong or there was a paper jam. Which was frequently.

PerfumeIsAMessage · 14/09/2017 12:08

Oh we had a Gestetner at school! Did the school magazine on it. I think they are the same thing as Banda machines mentioned upthread.

Firenight- oh yes, the Red Pen. Grin And the "walking through" of files deemed too important to go in the trolley that the postroom men came round with every so often.

I fondly remember my first week, when me and another whippersnapper were put onto filing and couldn't work out the alpha-numeric system so just bunged them in anywhere. I often wonder if they ever came to light ever again or if there is still some poor sod ringing them desperately every week to see if his case has been decided. Blush

GrumpyOldBag · 14/09/2017 12:09

OP I used to use a telex machine. It sent abbreviated messages on ticker tape. You typed the message in at one end, and it would come out at the other end (another office) as a long piece of tape. You had to keep it short. Mistakes were common. It was quite a big machine if I remember right.

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