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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:
BlackPeppercorn · 14/09/2017 12:10

I worked as a PA when the civil service changed from electric typewriters to word processors (Compaqs, using Displaywrite 4, remember?). It was mindblowing.
I remember being really rather scared of Faxes, couldn't get my head around them.
The first computer I came across in the workplace was in the early 80s again civil service, was a large fridge-sized orange thing into which we could put a person's name (after waiting 10 mins for it to warm up) which would then tell us if the person had a file. That's it. If they had a file. We would then go to the indexer and look up the location of the file, walk around the file store till we found the file, collect it, sign it out and take it back to our desk.
It was really useful, that computer.

PerfumeIsAMessage · 14/09/2017 12:10

Microfiche was like screenshots.
You sat on huge machines and turned a little wheel. I remember using the fiche for my dissertation, going through old Spanish newspapers.

Telex- like telegrams- or the thing they used to print the football results on telly on Saturday.

GrumpyOldBag · 14/09/2017 12:10

Used to use microfiche in the library. it was a really tiny photographic image - a bit like a negative - which stored info. You had to put it in front of a machine like a microscope to read it.

Kazzyhoward · 14/09/2017 12:13

Slightly related. It was the early 80's when photocopiers started to become common place. When we got our first in the office, the senior partner insisted that all copies had to be "called over", to check they were copied correctly! (Sad but true!)

SilverySurfer · 14/09/2017 12:13

If we needed to make a few copies of a document, we used carbon paper. Anything for a large number of copies we used a Gestetner machine. You would type on a sheet that had like a waxy front cover, manual typewriter of course. Then transfer to Gestetner machine which had ink in it and spun a handle to run the paper through. In one of my jobs (HQ of very large company) they not only had a subsidised staff restaurant but also a bar - can't imagine that these days.

exexpat · 14/09/2017 12:17

My first office job, in a British insurance company in 1985, involved inputting data from forms into a computer database. The terminals were huge, monochrome and very slow.

Second job, in Germany in 1986, working for a big aerospace firm, involved a lot of typing on an electric typewriter - no word-processing systems, so if you made a mistake you had to go back and correct it manually (the typewriter had a corrector ribbon, but it only worked if you were still on the same line when you spotted the error - anything after that involved starting again...). Also lots of collating forms for expenses manually, answering phones, making coffee etc.

Those were year-off jobs - by the time I graduated and started my real job in the early 90s, there was a computer on every desk, but we still didn't have emails, mobile phones or anything like that. I was loaned a work laptop for business trips, and had to transmit reports back to the main office computer system using a landline phone (often a payphone) and acoustic couplers, which was fun...

SallyOMalley · 14/09/2017 12:20

My first job in 1989 was in a small marketing agency. One of our clients was located in the Falklands Islands. No email then, so all communication was by telex and phone (with really loooooong delays in between speaking and the other person hearing you). I still remember how excited I felt when I first started and the telex machine (the size of a small desk) whirred into life!

GlitterGlue · 14/09/2017 12:21

My first job was a little later (early nineties) but we still had bugger all technology wise. At some point they installed a modem thingy which linked us to a searchable database at hq. I can only remember it being used once. I'm sure they used to turn it off and put a cover over it when not in use. And lunchtime drinking and smoking at desks were completely acceptable.

Snorktastic · 14/09/2017 12:23

This reply has been deleted

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Kazzyhoward · 14/09/2017 12:24

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.

I think the NHS still works on that basis!

Pizzaexpressreview · 14/09/2017 12:30

Oh gosh circulars where there was an information sheet/letter and then everyone had to sign she they'd seen it and pass on to the next person on the list!

And ringing a fax with it's own number and waiting for the fax report, stapling the report to the docume t and giving it back to the person to say it went through.

Post round where mail people came delivering internal mail several times a day.

Everything was so much slower. Pre online banking. I remember telephone banking being a new big thing you had to register for!! Before that you went into a branch.

So much more was done in person or by post. You wrote to the gas/electric people .

No instant replies like emial. Post wait for reply, file reply....

LoniceraJaponica · 14/09/2017 12:32

I remember the Banda machines. We had one at school, and I predate fax machines and computers by several years Grin

In my first job in 1977 we had calculators with a pull down lever - similar to the one in the picture, a microfiche machine and we used the telephone a lot. I used to help with the postage and this was before self seal envelopes. We used a roller damper to moisten the glue to seal them.

I then worked in an office where we had a ticker tape machine – we sent the tape up to the central computer in Darlington to get a printout in return.

In my next job we had a telex machine. After that I worked somewhere where we eventually had computers and a fax machine. Same as bluebellation I remember being amazed by the fact that someone could send a document via the phone and it came out the other end exactly the same.

We relied on the post a lot. When I worked for British Rail in London we used to have a runner who basically spent most of the day going around London carrying urgent documents between the various offices.

I never used a typewriter as I couldn’t touch type. At my school only the “academically challenged” learned to type. I wish I could touch type now, and have tried so many times, but just get gobbledegook.

I now used a desktop PC with multiple software and a multifunction printer.

For those of you who worked in an office in 1960's - 1980's
Choccyhobnob · 14/09/2017 12:40

I think the key thing here is not expecting things to happen instantly like they do now! Our office has introduced a 5 minute delay on outgoing emails after a few monumental cock ups of emails being sent to the wrong people. The uproar it has caused is unbelievable! Same as we now no longer have autofill on the email address bar so we can't accidentally send something to someone with a similar name, we have to type out the whole email address.

Most people are furious about it and it's like being back in the dark ages Grin

OP posts:
Alwaysreadyforablether · 14/09/2017 12:40

I started working in a bank in the late 80s. We didn't have a fax machine when I first started.
Memos used to arrive every day from head office and there was an internal mail system that we used to send information to other branches.
There was a typing pool for all customer letters. We had a book full of standard templates so we just filled in a form telling them that we wanted letter 1a and giving them the information they needed to fill in the blanks on the template.
Also used microfiche - always remember someone trying to read it by holding it up to the light rather than putting it in the machine!

FrancisCrawford · 14/09/2017 12:45

This reply has been deleted

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Cedar03 · 14/09/2017 12:47

My dad worked for a multinational and they had a subsidised 5p lunch in the 1980s. They also had an internal messaging system introduced in the late 80s/early 90s which was a forerunner of email.

In one of my first jobs in the early 1990s I was astonished to find that my line manager didn't have his own pc. In fact none of the senior managers did. It seemed really backward for the time.

magicstar1 · 14/09/2017 13:01

The lady I work with has been in this office for 51 years!!! She still fills in a handwritten ledger for wages records, even though we have it all on Excel too.

AuraofDora · 14/09/2017 13:12

My Mum worked in a news agency and worked the telex machine, it was super impressive

Banda machine, was that the one where the printouts always had that weird smell and in squidgy purple ink?

Learned to type on an Imperial Typewriter, though there were electric ones, I preferred it.
Early office was for research work, so on the phone, and off out to visit. One computer, database, and it took 30 mins to warm up
Memo's, phone calls, internal messages in brown envelopes, letters. Once got one from Turkey and the front of the envelope apart from the address was covered in stamps

Ta1kinPeece · 14/09/2017 13:22

At my first proper job the computers were on an IBM mainframe - we each had dumb terminals. The clever bit was at HQ abroad.

Each month I had to generate a massive printed report
(on the old wide green/white paper with holes down both sides)
that was too much for our printer so I'd print it on the London printer and they would post it down to our branch office a week later.

One month I generated the report but London could not see it.
So I sent it again.
And again.
Until I got a VERY angry phone call from HQ in Italy as my 200 page report was coming out again on their high speed printer !

Kazzyhoward · 14/09/2017 13:25

In my first job in 1977 we had calculators with a pull down lever

We still had those in a firm I worked at in the early 1990's! Some firms took a lot more time to make progress than others.

TheSquatLobster · 14/09/2017 13:29

I started in accountancy & auditing in the early 70s. Used calculators with a handle like PP's pic, and wrote up cashbooks & ledgers by hand.

First bank I audited, there was a separate air-conditioned room for the computers - a bank of huge machines - and only the operators were allowed in there. They worked overnight and fed information in by punch-cards, then we got reports next day on huge green sheets.

Separate department of typists & secretaries and juniors like me had to wait for someone to get round to typing our letters. I never learned to touch type because I was 'accounts staff' and still struggle with not much more than 2 fingers now Grin

My dad was a journalist & typed up his stories on an Imperial typewriter like this

Now you've made me feel really old OP Grin

Kbear · 14/09/2017 13:37

Luncheon Vouchers - we had those back in 1986 when I started work. Meant when you had spent all your money on rum and cokes at the weekend you could still eat at lunchtime.

Ta1kinPeece · 14/09/2017 13:41

Yup, £5 of luncheon vouchers at the Co op bought a bottle of wine, a baguette, a box of mushrooms and a bag of frozen spinach = lush meal for two Grin

DontCallMeCharlotte · 14/09/2017 14:02

I've been a legal secretary since the early 80s. The main difference is that technology means you don't do any more work now, you just do the same work several times. Very little amending back then as bosses and secretaries generally got it right first time. I love tech but the way the younger tech-savvy lawyers work these days gives me the vapours.

Kazzyhoward · 14/09/2017 14:07

Very little amending back then as bosses and secretaries generally got it right first time.

Indeed: I think technology and the ease of corrections has made people less careful. Worst thing these days is that professionals/managers etc have a tendency to do their own "typing" and send stuff out to clients etc which included glaring errors. At least in the old days, most documents would be checked. The typist would highlight any obvious errors made by the drafter, and the person signing the letter would check for errors made by the typist, and if the signer was a third person, that means 3 different sets of eyes on the same letter. I cringe these days when I see some of the crap purporting to be professional documents.

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