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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:
MrsMoastyToasty · 14/09/2017 18:34

My first job was in a branch of a high street bank. The first job of the day was to reconcile the cheques that had been through clearing (ie paid in at a branch or bank other than the account holders branch). This meant using an adding machine and typing in the amounts on the cheques (average day in our small branch would see 3000-5000 cheques to add up) and tally it against the grand total provided by the clearing house.

BattleaxeGalactica · 14/09/2017 18:37

I worked in a bank.

We spent a lot of time behind the scenes physically sorting paper transaction slips into order using pigeon holes. They were input on a large computer which printed out every transaction onto perforated sheets and debits and credits had to tally at the end of the day or all hell broke loose Grin

We opened and closed accounts by hand using a large book of unallocated account numbers that had to be crossed off once used. If you didn't and one got double allocated, all hell broke loose Grin

Lots of filing, lots of looking up addresses which were filed on card, lots of looking for lost cards Grin

I also used to man the switchboard which was probably my favourite job. At least until some twatty bloke lost his temper when I tried to put a customer through and bellowed down the phone at me at full volume. HTF my eardrums didn't burst is beyond me Angry

FadedRed · 14/09/2017 18:37

I worked in a dental surgery office in the seventies. Everything on paper. All the dental work had to be copied from the patients notes onto massive forms to claim from the NHS. All reminders by post.
All bills on paper by post. Car boned receipts books. Big accounts books. Adding machine like the one shown on earlier post. Appointments made by phone or people coming in. Manual typewriter and carbon paper.
Daily surgery lists copied out by hand and the patient records retrieved from filing cabinets and returned when all the paperwork was done.
Anyone remember those enormous Kalamazoo appointment files?

MilkTrayLimeBarrel · 14/09/2017 18:38

Forgot - when I did work in a Building Society Branch, I regularly had to go to the nearby Banks and cash cheques for at least £1000. Then had to walk back to the BS (on my own) with the cash in my bag! Never even worried about it!

hackmum · 14/09/2017 18:42

In my second job, which I began in 1989, we had internal email, though not external.

But I also remember Gestetner and banda machines, which we used in school and university.

lljkk · 14/09/2017 18:49

We typed and filed a lot.
There were always carbon copies of items to keep track of. Each colour slip went to a different place.

10 key for adding up sums.

Battle with the photocopier (if you had one, nobody understood how to make it behave)

On phone a lot, yes!!

Slightlyperturbedowlagain · 14/09/2017 19:16

I worked for the inland revenue for s couple of years in the late 1980s. The office was filled with smoke and my first job was filing P45s. They were carboned on the back and I used to go home with black hands and smeared over my face if I wasn't careful. Every day we did filing in the big paper files and once a week a file search for all the files that were missing that week. The basic bare essentials of taxpayer records were on a mainframe computer by then, located about 100 miles away. It was always 'going down' and a message would flash up across the top of the screen saying it would be back in 4 hours. The rest of the records were on paper. You could send an 'electronic message' to another tax office by typing it on the computer terminal and it would automatically print out at the receiving office. We had a typing pool, the typists used electric typewriters. We did have a 'Xerox' machine though it was very expensive and we were only allowed to photocopy certain things. The day Margaret Thatcher resigned we were at work and someone heard a rumour when they went out to buy stamps so my colleague spent half an hour trying to phone a telephone news service (I know Grin ) to confirm whether it was true or not. 2 hours later the green line at the top of the computer terminals flashed up to say she had resigned. Everyone cheered and we all went to the pub at lunchtime.
Blimey I feel old Shock

Laska5772 · 14/09/2017 19:26

My first job was for Post Office Telephones (as they were known before BT!.

This was it:

Letter come in to Clerical Assistant's (post person, not me) IN tray . Post got sorted and put into relevant Clerical Officer's IN tray)

The Clerical Officer would look at letter or answer phone to customer and note(handwrite) down what was required on a special docket. Then put it in their OUT tray for Clerical Assistant (filing) (Me) to get the correct file card of the telephone number out of the millions of cards we had filed by

Clerical Assistant (me)would pick up pile of dockets, find all file cards, attach to dockets and put back docket and file card in Clerical Officers IN tray.

Clerical officer then hand wrote out the order using special shorthand codes on an individually numbered Advice Note which had carbon copy under. Then fill in the file card with the new advice note details then put all that in OUT tray

Clerical Assistant (me) (filing) would collect the cards and put them back into the file and Pick up next batch to do.
.
Clerical Assistant 2 (post and advice notes etc) picked up all Advice notes and took them to small airless room to run them off on Banda machine .. the fumes would make you feel sick.

Each Advice Note had 7 copies for different departments. Post Clerical Assistant would send them to the relevant departments and master copy would be put in a book.

When each department did their bit , they would send their advice note copy back to department.

Clerical assistant (me) would collect each copy, get out file card again and attach it to correct file card and put it in Clerical Officers IN tray.

Clerical officer would mark that that bit had been done and put it back into their OUT tray ,

Clerical Assitant would put card and completed advice note back in file. and pick up next batch to do

This was 1974. I left Grammar school with several good O levels to do that job and it was considered a very good job for an educated 'girl' to have at the time!
.
I still have nightmares about that job!

I went back to do a levels and went to university later on!!

annandale · 14/09/2017 19:32

Lanka, thank you for not sounding nostalgic about it! I started my first office jobs in 1986 and tbh I thought all these procedures were mind numbing. Writing 18 different sets of initials at the top of each memo, copying them, putting them in internal envelopes, addressing them, walking to the post... I suppose we would be grateful for the work.

Pastacube · 14/09/2017 19:34

endless filing

Ta1kinPeece · 14/09/2017 19:40

I'm an accountant and I remember the first spreadsheets that ran on computers that non programmers could have

Lotus 123 v 2 with the expensive WYSIWYG addon .....
I ran it on my Amstrad Luggable that had one 5 1/4 floppy with the operating system and the other drive ran the software

Amstrad Wordstar was a lovely programme, but of course nothing was WYSIWYG so producing documents took ages ...

Laska5772 · 14/09/2017 19:55

The one good thing is that we Clerical Assistants could join the Post Office Telephones pension scheme.

I am just about to pick it up aged 60 (its so old it still matures at age 60 for women) .. at the time I never imagined id still be working full time at this age..

But i do something much more interesting nowadays!

Kazzyhoward · 14/09/2017 19:57

Lotus 123 was awesome. Best day of my life to that day was the day we got it (no I'm not joking).

Before then, I had to do forecasts and cash flows on foolscap paper. Nothing quite like having to do a 3 year forecast including monthly cash flow, monthly P&Ls and monthly balance sheets, for a business with several departments, and having to incorporate VAT, and credit terms to/from customers/suppliers, with a variety of loans and HP accounts and tax provisions/payments. (Only an accountant will understand just how complicated that becomes!). Literally, something like that could easily take a couple of weeks non stop. Every time a minor change is made, it would have a ripple-on effect throughout several sheets, so it was a matter of rubbing out and working it all through again, then you get to the end of it and find it doesn't balance!

With Lotus 1-2-3 I could do one of those in just a few hours. Happy days! I loved to watch how the numbers changed automatically if I changed something in the early months of it - because computers were slower, it was like a kind of mexican wave across the screen! I can honestly say it changed my life.

Even to this day, I prefer Lotus1-2-3 and still have it on an old DOS computer which, yes, I still use as I have some really neat templates. One reason I prefer it is the way it uses keystrokes rather than mouse-clicks which means it's far quicker for design, entering & copying formulae, and data entry. Even today, I can run up a set of forecasts much quicker using the old Dos Lotus 1-2-3 than modern windows based Excel

Lotus was awesome - such a shame it was bought out and scrapped - obviously they didn't want the competition of a better product so bought it out to remove the competition. Same with other Lotus products such as the word processor, database and organiser - they were in a different league.

Kazzyhoward · 14/09/2017 19:58

A3 paper not foolscap

Pizzaexpressreview · 14/09/2017 19:59

index cards with phone numbers on!!!

Ta1kinPeece · 14/09/2017 20:02

Kazzy
Do you use OpenOffice ?
I still cannot get used to Excel and as I have to share files with people, OpenOffice gives me the middle ground
and its free and I'm a tightwad

A3 Analysis pads - extra thick paper because so much rubbing out was done !!

Laska5772 · 14/09/2017 20:03

Pizza ....And each phone number had its own individual index card.. Can you image just how many numbers there are in just one telephone exchange? ..

And our telephone area had over 100 telephone exchanges .

This is how it worked all over the country Smile

RolfNotRudolf · 14/09/2017 20:06

I remember my dad coming home one day in the early 70's and telling us about a new machine called a photocopier, we were amazed.
I worked in offices in the early 80's. We had a telex machine - the messages typed out at the other end but they also produced a punched tape and telex operators could decipher the messages from those tapes.
We had a fax machine and it was my job to fax 3 pages to another office once a day. Each sheet took about 15 minutes -on a good day- and invariably was followed by a conversation with the other office who were unable to read everything on the papers. Faxes were received on a roll of shiny paper.
Computer print outs were on wide green-lined sheets with perforated holes on either side.
And does anyone remember the addressograph?

Laska5772 · 14/09/2017 20:08

Oh and guess what happened if the customer then phoned or wrote to change their order?

Maybe they were moving on a different date than they first said, or wanted a different colour phone after all, or wanted to cancel..

if it wasnt so boring it would make a good sitcom
or book

SwirlyWallPaper · 14/09/2017 20:15

We had a typing pool. I used to dictate my letters on a little Dictaphone with little cassettes inside. I used to leave the cassettes in the typing pool in tray and at the same time look in the out tray for my already typed letters.
I would then sign or pp the letters, attach any attachments needed and pop it in an envelope and then place in the post tray (we had first Class, 2nd Class and Internal mail trays.
Someone from out postal department would come by X amount of times a day and take the post.
The people in the post room would then frank the letters accordingly and put into a bag until a Royal Mail/Post Office Van would swing by and collect.
As for internal mail there was 2 types. 1 being internal as in the same building - for which we used X colour envelope and internal meaning same company but different office/city etc. We used recycleable envelopes with lots of squares on the front. You would cross out the old name and put the new name and address in the next box/square.
The post room people would also sort all post and deliver it to each department/section accordingly, usually twice a day as we tended to have a 2nd post around midday.

Phones were hand held but we had message note pads. We spent ALOT of time on the phone and faxing stuff or chasing up faxes.

We also had filing rooms - rooms floor to ceiling with filing cabinets full of files and ladders attached to them. We had filing clerks to file used files and help locate missing ones. We could put in requests and the filing clerk would come along with a huge heavy trolley that would probably be in breach of every health and safety rule today. The filing clerks would deliver an take back used files. They did this because we were usually glued to our hand held phones all day long.

thecatfromjapan · 14/09/2017 20:17

Laska and PerfumeIsAMessage I was working for pre-BT BT, too. Grin

In the second office I worked in, we worked with a lot of switchboard advisors (? - my memory is a little hazy). They would cycle around, helping out with problems and training in hotels and offices that had installed big, internal switchboards.

They would tell me stories of their careers and they were interesting women - building careers at a time when, I suppose, a lot of women didn't. They'd show me photos of camping and cycling holidays that the teams (mainly of women) had organised and been on in the 50s and 60s, and told me about how they started in the old telephone exchanges.

I do wish I'd written those stories down.

Laska5772 · 14/09/2017 20:28

ah another old telephone c person!! Lots of us came from'telephone' families also .. My dad was a telephone engineer.

I do remember those women Cat... and do you remember the operators in the 'Trunk' exchange putting calls through with those big old switchboards with cords? with the scary Telephone operator supervisors ? They were so regulated and were not allowed to leave their posts for more than 5 mins to use the loo!

Later on I worked in the 'exhibitions' team.. that was fun.,. Those were the 'Busby' days.. Luckily I never had to wear the (smelly) costume!!

Then I did all the 'secret' line stuff no one is supposed to know about!!

Chestervase1 · 14/09/2017 20:31

The good old days in the 70s of coffee in the morning and afternoon tea courtesy of the tea lady. Also staff restaurants looking into the Thames. Commissionaires and doormen. Nurse available at all times. Travel department and Reprographic department. I was spoiled rotten.

Laska5772 · 14/09/2017 20:32

We had to sign the Official Secrets Act as well (even for my first job as a clerical assistant!) ..so I cant tell you about the 'secret stuff' or ill be shot by firing squad at dawn. Wink

gingergenius · 14/09/2017 20:35

We had electric typewriters with tipped functions, had to use carbon paper to create duplicate copies and had to send urgent messages via telex. I remember using one of the first applemacs that came out in around 1988. Email didn't exist. The internet didn't exist. It was fax, phone or telex.

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