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Mumsnet classics

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:
TooExtraImmatureCheddar · 19/09/2017 12:41

When I started in the local council in 2007 my day's work went: open post and log on ancient database. Hand deliver post around 3 storey building and pick up outgoing letters/printed off emails. Deliver outgoing letters & emails to senior manager for him to sign/amend spelling etc. I was supposed to take any spelling amendments back to the author of the letter and get them to re-type it, but I got so bored of that I just took it downstairs, found the file on the system and re-typed it myself. Then I had to send all the emails from the department email address, post the letters and file all the hard copies. 2007! This went on until there was a big office re-organisation and most of the staff got shifted to different locations and were forced to use email properly.

heron98 · 19/09/2017 16:00

I did an internship in Paris and everyone smoked in the office. It was 2005!

citroenpresse · 25/10/2017 11:16

Worked for a publishers in 80s owned by a US company. Lots of takeovers and staff changes and (in pre-fax days), telex. The absolutely terrifying MD's secretary trained me up. It was located in darkened office next door to her's and felt like being at the desk of a nuclear mission control system. But just being in direct communication with New York, when the teleprinter type thing sprung to life, was very exciting. Can also remember the first PC which our entire editorial team shared for a while. How excited we were that we could instantly make something italic. And there was a tea lady with tea trolley...

thewooster · 27/10/2017 09:47

Absolutely love this thread. I worked in office mid 1980s and can remember the chug-chug-chug noise of the telex machine, early fax machines, olivetti typewriters for us girls who did the men's typing.

We used Snowpake (a kind of tippex) to correct mistakes or typing rubbers for carbon copies. If you forgot to put a bit of paper behind on multi documents you got a massive black smudge on the document corrected.

I also remember back in 1982 going on work experience from college to the local council and being placed in an office where all the men had huge page 3 calendars hanging at their desks.

The following year I went for a job interview for a typist job and the man interviewed me in a room with wall to wall nudie calendars. Never ever forgot that.

I do miss the old days but I'm glad they can no longer allow calendars to appear so dominant in an interview room.

janaus · 28/10/2017 10:46

Remember the Golfball typewriter. spacing wasn’t the same for each letter. Made ‘white out’ a bit of a nightmare.

Fekko · 28/10/2017 10:48

We had a disc fax in the early 90s - when floppy discs were floppy. We thought it was the dogs'!

Fekko · 28/10/2017 10:49

Oh and ashtrays on the desks!

Choccyhobnob · 30/10/2017 15:07

I've just realised this has been moved to Classics! I feel famous or something!! Will go and have another read now!

OP posts:
SilverySurfer · 02/11/2017 13:31

My first job was as a secretary in 1961 to a group manager in a finance company for the princely wage of £6.50 a week. Every morning he had a huge pile of folders on his desk, he would dictate letters to me which would fill at least one side of a shorthand notepad, the files would be transferred to my desk where I would type the letters on a manual typewriter.

No computers, faxes, photocopiers, telex - if multiple copes were required of a document, I would type it on a waxed sheet and ink it off on a Gestetner machine. I also made copious cups of tea, answered phone calls etc.

ToEarlyForDecorations · 02/11/2017 13:46

My first ever office job was in 1988.

I remember telex machines were just going out as fax machines were coming in. It seemed just wow that you could send correspondence anywhere in the world. 'I'll fax you the proforma' is a rejoinder that I remember from those times.

There were Puma telex machines and maybe Lynx or the name of another big cat.

I was working for a leasing company and we also had and, 'OLI' machine. This was an OnLineIndex machine for more credit reports.

I used a green screen computer as I was a Visual Display Unit operator/data entry clerk. I envied the girls in the typing pool with their Wang computers and audio typing machines !

We sent out letters as a batch at the end of the day. I remember the printer was this huge noisy thing that reminded me of the teleprinter that used to print the football scores on Saturday afternoons Q.

We then split the letters up as they would have been printed on continuous paper and we put the letters in envelopes and took them to the post room.

ToEarlyForDecorations · 02/11/2017 13:51

I remember sending credit report requests on the telex and to, 'wait for a message ending in 'G'.

This meant that the batch had successfully been sent. Later that day the telex would spring into life and start spewing a long scroll of paper onto the floor.

This would be collected by a clerk, cut with scissors and stapled to the relevant file so the junior underwriter could see what their credit history was.

cathyclown · 02/11/2017 15:05

Oh the nostalgia!

First ever job was waaaay back was as a key punch operator. When you reached the magic target of 20,000 keystrokes in a day you covered your machine and sat around with all the others eating, smoking (I didn't) drinking tea and knitting and chatting. We were not allowed to go home in case an emergency input was required.

Once a week at a random time the supervisor would test your accuracy. If you didn't pass you had to do more than the daily target as a punishment. No phones on desks, top dog at a desk on the side overseeing everything.

Before I moved on the first male kpo arrived. The start of equality ha ha.

There was a pub across the road, every Friday lunchtime we got pished. Great times.

I am still friends with many of the girls I worked with back then. That was more than 35 years ago now. Because the work was so boring we made up for it with chat and gossip.

DinaCaliente · 27/11/2017 11:55

I worked for the then DHSS (pre Income Support)
Each claimant had a file called a casepaper which held all their information and payment details.
My first job involved finding casepapers for the Clerical Officers to work on, taking them round the office on a big trolley, to finance for giros to be prepared and picking up others that were finished with from desks and re-filing them.
I was then promoted so I was the one doing all the benefit calculations manually by hand.

Some of the files were huge if people had been claiming for a long time. They also used to go missing all the time.

upaladderagain · 28/11/2017 18:13

Between school and college in the early 70s I worked in the purchasing department of an aircraft manufacturer. There was a female supervisor in charge of 7 or 8 male clerks, and me. She got paid less than the men she was in charge of, but that was fine because she was married and therefore only needed to earn a bit of pin money.

Karatema · 07/12/2017 14:45

I was the junior admin/switchboard operator for a College in the very early 80s. I had learnt shorthand at College but not audio (I'd completed a senior secretary's course and PA's weren't expected to Audio type) and it came as a shock when my boss gave me a tape and told me to transcribe it! I was too scared to say I didn't know how so took it back to my office and begged the switchboard operator to explain how to use the machine. She had been Secretary of the Year in the early 1960s so I had a crash course. It took me all day to type these letters and 2 of them had errors I hadn't noticed so had to type them again (which took me less than 15 minutes) second time. I gradually became more proficient but I was never great at Audio.

The lecturers used to get me to type their handouts on a Gestetner and I remember using the correction fluid when I made an error. The handwriting I had to copy was terrible and few of them could spell.

The extensions couldn't make direct calls out, so every out going call had to come through the switchboard , as well as all incoming calls.

PinkButterfly56 · 05/09/2021 21:29

Love these stories. Even in my first job as an office junior in 2000 the internet wasn't common and was only entrusted to a select few senior members of staf. The only thing people seemed to use it for was to check how much they could borrow on a credit card. I also needed to hand deliver things which I loved as we were central and I could pop into HMV on the way back Smile

NumberTheory · 21/09/2021 01:04

I worked in an office in IT in the mid-late 80s. I did lots of manipulating information into the right format so we could send it over dedicated telephone lines to our satellite offices and on our one hour dedicated phone slot to our suppliers.

I put a lot of numbers into Lotus 1-2-3 and printed out multiple copies of the reports, filing one and sending the others to various department heads.

I came in on a Sunday once a month so I could burn a copy of all the invoices on to a CD-ROM. This replaced a warehouse of dumpsters full of paper invoices that we'd had for the previous 7 years with a small cabinet of 84 neat CDs.

I also used to replace the typewriter ribbon and the golf ball on the typewriter when they wanted to change font for customer mailings (so, what felt like every day!). The office used a lot of carbon paper to make multiple copies but the typewriter could automatically retype the last page, so when they wanted to do multiple copies for a mailing, they typed it once and had the typewriter reprint it another x number of times. Then someone went through each copy to type in the Mr. X and the address. WordPerfect (or possibly WordStar) was around by this time and I spent an age trying to show them how to do a merge so they didn't have to type up the names and addresses each time.

There were photocopiers around in those days (came into offices in the early 60s) and I'd had one at a previous job but were expensive so lots of places didn't have them and in offices I worked in that had them, we used them sparingly and not everyone had access. At one place I worked we had a mimeo machine where you typed what you wanted on a special piece of paper and it could use that to create a sort of die that would reprint it in this weird purpleish ink over and over.

Switchboard was a big deal too. Always had to be staffed. Lots of messages taken on "memo" paper and sent around to the relevent person's desk.

It was much easier to leave your work at work as no one could get hold of you easily if you weren't in the office.

thereisonlyoneofme · 24/09/2021 15:40

Re the Gestetner machines, I always remember if you typed too heavily on the stencil type sheets the Os would come out and when you ran them off you would get a big blotch .
I fondly remember the tea lady coming round twice a day with home made cakes

FaceForRadio1973 · 28/09/2021 10:27

I've been working since 1989, but only in an office since 2000....


I remember one day faxing a document over to the other side of the (Huge) site. As it disappeared into the machine, I thought how great this technology was, and how much easier it was than a half hour plus walk to deliver it by hand!


Then as I went back to my desk and my next task, it struck me:

In the old days,

  1. I would have got half an hour's exercise.
  2. I would have been out in the fresh air.
  3. There's a good chance that on the way there I would have bumped into someone I knew, and had a chat.
  4. Once I got there, I could have had a chat with the buyer, and maybe a cup of tea.
  5. Another half hour back, again with a possible meeting on the way back.



Was this machine making my life easier, or was it just letting me work harder in the time saved?
PfizerMinnelli · 05/10/2021 00:28

In the print industry, early 70s, we had handwritten job sheets that detailed each process a job had to go through, with an estimate of time and materials to be used. The origination dept would do the artwork and they'd sign it off and say how long the job took, then off to the camera room and platemaking. Then on to the print machines and any finishing necessary - guilotining, binding etc.

This worked well. Then we got computerised. With hand held scanners to log on and off each department's work. These never worked. And pages and pages of print out for each process.

On one memorable occasion the computer produced a job sheet that stretched from one end of the print shop to the other. For a tiny job twice the size of a business card.

The admin side came close to collapse. We hated the computer. In the end we ran a dual system with people filling in the reality of the job by hand and amending the computer record to match as it was so inflexible to set up.

Elsewhere on site we had a typing pool, and individual secretaries for higher management, all with dictaphones.

There was a warehouse with a goods inwards department and the depatch side. Everything was done by hand processed files and notes. The print shop produced a lot of NCR (Non Carbon Reproducing) books with multiple copies in many colours to be processed by different departments and one to the customer. A different world.

Messages went round in reuseable internal messenger envelopes. You'd cross your name and department off the cover and put the next recipient in the next box. We did move to an internal email system that seemed to work well.

Sorry to jump on a zombie thread but I saw recent posts and this has fascinated me. My youth.

simitra · 05/10/2021 01:13

When I left school at 16 (1960) I worked in what was then Pensions and National Insurance (Now DSS).

Benefits were worked out manually by clarical officers using mechanical adding machines with big handles. Payments were made on something called a "postal draft" which was written out by hand (by clerical assistants) and sent to the claiment via the post. They took it to the post office for payment and they were only able to cash it in one post office.

Every claiment had a paper folder and these were filed manually at the end of the day and extracted at the beginning of the day by clerical assistants. The office was very hierarchical with strict divisions between the grades of staff. If you worked in the office there was no contact with the public or claiments.

I enjoyed the teamwork and the colleagues but hated the work as I have never been attracted to working with numbers. I went into the library service where at least you saw the public and there were a variety of different jobs.

Our head of branch in the civil service was a woman. That was very unusual in those days. Many women got to deputy but rose no further.

Pacidove · 04/12/2021 19:10

This thread has reminded me of two fantastic books I must reread

Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert
Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers

Can thoroughly recommend for a trip down 30s and 50s office memory lane

bendmeoverbackwards · 08/12/2021 15:26

@Ecclesiastes

Work used to be fun, back in the day. Best of all was no targets, no appraisals, no fecking competencies. You just did what you were paid to do and no one expected you to endlessly analyse it. I remember the horror of my more senior colleagues when appraisals were introduced, in about 1991.

This x 1000!

I know this is an old thread but it's fascinating. My (much older) sister had a temporary office job one summer in the late 70s. For some reason I went into work with her one day, I must have been about 6 or 7. I remember the fog of smoke!

@elkiedee do you have any book recommendations on this topic please? They sound really interesting.
elkiedee · 08/12/2021 16:03

I will have to do a bit of searching - I reviewed one but it must be more than 10 years ago now (gulp) as I wrote my last review for that site in January 2012. I can probably find the review and the title of the book but it will take ma a bit of searching, and I've got to go out to a library now.

Thanks for reviving this zombie thread - I want to reread/read it all now. Sorry to anyone who disapproves but as it's so historical anyway....

FangsForTheMemory · 19/12/2021 22:07

I started working full time in 1985. No fax machine for first two years, no computer unless you were in accounts. Electronic typewriter, which was a luxury item. You spent at least 50% of your time on the phone, and 40% of your time writing memos. If there was a dispute the memos used to go backwards and forwards. Only as internal post only came round twice a day, a real row took a week to build.

If the photocopier died, it was a Major Incident.

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