When I moved to London in 84, I worked beside a guy who had just made the same move but from Manchester rather than Glasgow. We hit it off straight away, moved to a different company together and then after a few years we decided that we wanted to start up our own business, which we did in 1990.
This meant that for nigh-on 20 years I probably spent more time with Laurence than I did with my own wife and young family. We were constantly travelling, going to see customers all over the UK, Factories in Hong Kong, Cape Town and Morocco. Fabric Suppliers in Italy & France and trade fairs in Europe and the US.
We were different people, but we got on really well, he was a graduate that spoke 3 languages, whilst I was still trying to master English; he loved rugby, I loved football; he drank real ale and red wine, I drank lager & lime.
Still Buddies 37 years on
The one thing we always bonded on apart from work was music, we were a similar age and had grown up listening to the same radio stations and buying the same albums, but Laurence had a unique talent that was even more impressive to me than speaking 3 languages…. he knew the lyrics to any 70s song (and most 60’s songs) that came on the radio!
In the late 80s we worked for a Chinese company and spent a lot of time in Hong Kong just as Karaoke was starting to break through, and before it hit the UK. We used to travel out to HK to meet customers who were visiting our factory… buyers from UK retailers like Top Shop, River Island and Next, and in the evening we’d take them to one of the first Karaoke Bars to open in Kowloon called The Bali Lounge.
Whilst I’d be scrambling to read the words on the monitor to ‘You’re So Vain’ or ‘New Kid in Town’, Laurence would be face-on to the crowd belting out the song without glancing once at the lyrics.
I asked him once if when he was younger he used to study and memorise lyrics from album sleeves or from those pop mags that were around in the 70s, like Disco 45, but he didn’t need to, he just heard songs on the radio and the lyrics stayed with him.
I would test him with obscure songs, and he rarely failed, it didn’t matter if he liked the song or not, if he’d heard it a couple of times the lyrics always stuck.
I thought about his unique talent the other day as I was listening to one of the songs from our 70s playlist and remembered that I’d been singing the wrong lyrics for nigh on 40 years to a song I love.
The song was Tumbling Dice by The Rolling Stones it was released in 1971 and up until a few years ago I always thought Jagger was singing ‘Tommy the tumblin’ dice’. I now know of course that it should be…. ‘Call me the tumblin’ dice’.
I love that song and had belted out “Tommy the tumblin dice” at Stones gigs, any die-hard Stones fans within earshot at Glastonbury in 2013 must have cringed. For nearly half a century I thought the song was about a gambler called Tommy, when in fact it’s a ditty penned by Jagger (riffs by Richards) about love, money and loose women… using gambling metaphors. There was no Tommy in sight!
I also didn’t realise that there’s an official term for this sort of thing.
Mondegreen: a mondegreen is a mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase in a way that gives it a new meaning.
It made me think of other classic mondegreens…. like my friend who will go unnamed, who on hearing the track Ziggy Stardust for the umpteenth time finally cracked and asked why Bowie would be ‘Making love with his Eagle’? When we all know that in fact he was “Making love with his ego’!
Or a girl I knew who genuinely thought Crystal Gale was singing…. ‘Donuts make my brown eyes blue’
I was always big on melodies and never that strong on lyrics when I was younger, so I’ve had a lot of catching up to do with lyrics over the years.
Some lyrics as I knew them didn’t even make sense, but I never stopped to wonder why, for instance why would Kenny Rogers have 400 children, as in…. ‘You picked a fine time to leave me Lucille, with 400 children and a crop in the field’? Of course, on closer inspection I now know that it was only ‘4 hungry children’ the bold Kenny was left with… he may have been a lothario and a favourite of Dolly’s but he wasn’t that prolific!
There are sites and forums dedicated to mis-heard lyrics now and the three mondegreens below seem to be the ones that pop up the most…
Song – Lucy in the sky with diamonds: Lyric – ‘The girl with colitis goes by‘ (should be – The girl with kaleidoscope eyes)
Song – Bad Moon Rising: Lyric – ‘There’s a bathroom on the right‘ (should be – There’s a bad moon on the rise)
Song – Purple Haze: Lyric – ‘Scuse me whilst I kiss this guy‘ (should be – Scuse me whilst I kiss the sky)
Peter Kay did an excellent stand-up routine based on misheard lyrics that you can find the link for below and if you’ve ever been caught out lyrically, then please share and let us know what your mis-heard lyrics were on the comments or the Facebook page….
If you’re a Bowie fan you probably have a selection of his albums, tapes, cd’s and downloads in your music collection…. hit-after-hit stretching across six decades from 1969’s Space Oddity to 2016’s Blackstar.
For a few years though, until his WOW moment on TOTP in 1972, as implausible as it sounds, Bowie was on course to be a one-hit-wonder…. just like Thunderclap Newman with ‘Something in the Air’ or Norman Greenbaum with ‘Spirit in the Sky’
Then along came Ziggy Stardust and the rest as they say is history. Bowie went on to become arguably the most influential artist of the 70s…..continually reinventing his sound and persona and influencing the tastes of a generation along the way.
As an example of the latter, on October 1974 David Live was released, it was a decent album showcasing Bowie’s transition from Glam to Soul with a great version of Eddie Floyd’s ‘Knock on Wood‘, but what captured my attention as much as the music was the DB suit DB wore on the cover.
Up until this point Bowie’s wardrobe had consisted of elaborate Japanese jumpsuits, kimonos and leotards.
Distinctive, perhaps, but not the kind of thing you could buy in Krazy House and wear to Shuffles on a dreich Saturday night in Glasgow!
A cool, smart suit on the other hand was something we could relate to, so on our next pay-day, a few of us went up to Glasgow to Jackson the tailors on Union St to order our own made to measure* version of the double-breasted tin-flute Bowie sported on the record sleeve. *Mark Arbuckle covered the made to measure process brilliantly in this piece. https://onceuponatimeinthe70s.com/2021/04/21/customers-incontinence-and-conga-lines/
After a few weeks the suits were ready and when we went up the town that Saturday night we all felt pretty ‘gallus’ in our high-waisted, loose-fitting trousers, and shorter-length, double breasted jackets, as did half the male population of Glasgow, who all had the same idea!
I was pretty much hooked from the minute I saw Bowie perform Starman on TOTP in 72 and stayed a fan all the way through his career. I loved his 70s personas and in particular the Thin White Duke period which frustratingly he never talked about much… owing to the fact that he had absolutely no recall of recording the Station to Station album!
In fact he was so bonkers and strung out during this period (75-76) that he reportedly kept his own urine in a fridge. This in part was due to a falling out with Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page….. Bowie became paranoid that Page (well known for dabbling in the occult) would engage some form of black-magic against him if he got hold of his bodily fluids.
Based in LA and weighing in at a meagre 7 stone, his diet at the time consisted of milk, peppers and heaps of Colombian marching powder. It’s well documented that Bowie fled this life of excess to regain health and sanity in Europe, specifically Berlin, and by the release of Heroes in 1977 he was in a much better place, both physically and mentally
I actually came into The Starman’s orbit very briefly in 1983.
I was working at Levis and we were developing a campaign to promote our 501 Jeans, which at the time, we couldn’t give away in the UK, in fact the only European country who sold them in any volume was Sweden.
UK retailers didn’t want to stock them as they were more expensive than our regular jeans and they reasoned that consumers didn’t like the American fit (low waist, straight leg).
Nonetheless, our chiefs in San Francisco had planned a global strategy around the 501, it was the original jean, which was the main point of difference for the brand in the US, where Levis was coming under threat from designer brands like Calvin Klein…. so we had no choice but to try and make it work.
I was part of a team tasked with coming up with innovative ideas to support the 501 campaign in Europe and as a first step we came up with the simple, but not so innovative idea of getting contemporary icons to wear 501’s the way James Dean & Brando used to, back in the day.
It was a classic ‘seeding’ strategy which more or less consisted of giving product away…. to opinion leaders (musicians, actors, sportsmen, models, etc), in order to get the product seen on the right people.
It’s a concept that can work pretty well if all the planets align. As an example…
In early 1983 we sent some Levis denim jackets to an up and coming band coming out of Dublin called U2, Bono cut the sleeves off his jacket and wore it relentlessly. The band released the albums War and Under a Blood Red Sky in 83 and it became U2’s big breakout year, Bono was everywhere… wearing his self-customised, sleeveless Levis jacket
To show how this filters down… I met Charlie Nicholas in the Holiday Inn Glasgow around this time as we had a mutual friend, as soon as Charlie heard I worked for Levis he asked me if I could get him a Levis denim jacket “to cut the sleeves off… just like Bono”.
Within months, retailers started selling out of our denim jackets, sales tripled and we eventually had to increase our jacket production and develop our own sleeveless version.
The other avenue we explored was official sponsorship… ‘let’s get the coolest rock stars and bands to wear and promote Levis by sponsoring their tours’. Everyone does this now but it was a new concept back then.
This was trickier than you’d think… some people in the room actually thought it would be a good idea to approach the gods of double-denim, Status Quo and there were a couple of Gary Numan fans in there as well… however to most of us it was clear we needed someone with gravitas, credibility and a wide appeal.
After some debate and research we discovered that Bowie was scheduled to tour (Serious Moonlighttour) in support of his new album – Let’s Dance, so he became the prime candidate.
To be honest we weren’t very optimistic that he’d go for it but he liked the brand and a few zero’s on a cheque later… the mighty DB was on board.
The concept worked so well that we repeated it over the next few years with tours and one-off events, but the tipping point for the brand in Europe came when we launched the famous 501 Laundrette ad with Nick Kamen in 1985, which also propelled ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine’ to number one in the charts.
Ironically, the same retailers who claimed they couldn’t sell 501’s in 1983 were now begging for as much stock as they could get their hands on….
Bruce Springsteen and the E street band – Wembley 4th July 1985
Sting’s first solo tour 1985
Ultravox’s Lament tour 1984
Of course, guys like Bowie and The Boss were never going to do meet and greets no matter how much money they were paid, but Sting and the Ultravox guys were contracted to come and meet customers and prize winners after the gigs, which they mostly did although Sting’s face was usually tripping him, unlike Midge Ure who was always accommodating.
My brief Bowie moment came when he popped into our London office, he looked incredibly healthy and was extremely friendly and charming, he happily signed a few bits and pieces for some of us including a tour programme and the Let’s Dance album sleeve (pics of both below ) and before we knew it he was whisked away.
In truth, I struggled a bit with the 90’s Bowie, particularly the Tin Machine period but I got back on board in the noughties…. a return to form, spring-boarded by his stellar Glastonbury performance in 2000 when he decided to give the people what they wanted…. a set-list made up of his best songs.
Although I’d been a big fan in the 70s I had never seen Bowie live and the first time I saw him perform was when we took some customers to see his Serious Moonlight gig at Murrayfield in Edinburgh in June 83.
The next time I saw him perform live was the most memorable. It was at the Hammersmith Odeon in October 2002, his first return to that venue since the shock July 1974 retirement announcement when he ‘broke up the band’ live on stage…. to their complete bemusement.
“Not only is it the last show of the tour, but it’s the last show that we’ll ever do. Thank you.”
It helped that we had fantastic tickets for that show, centre stage, six rows from the front. I’ve no idea how long Bowie performed for but it must have been close to 3 hours… he played 33 songs starting with Life on Mars, finishing with Ziggy Stardust and included a song he’d only ever played live once before… the majestic Bewlay Brothers from Hunky Dory.
I also saw Bowie the following year at Wembley arena on his last live date in London. He seemed so fit and healthy at 56 but six months later whilst still on the same gruelling ‘Reality’ tour he had a heart attack on stage in Hamburg and that proved to be his last ever gig.
He released an album in 2013, The Last Day, which raised hopes that he was fit and well but it all went quiet again, and then out of nowhere a new album – Blackstar dropped 3 years later on his 69th birthday, this was the encouraging news we’d all been waiting for… maybe we would even see him play live again?
He died two days after its release on the 10th of January.
There was much outpouring of grief when the news broke, he meant so much to so many people and it’s probably the only celebrity that I’ve ever felt sustained grief over. I had grown up with Bowie from age 13, my kids had grown up listening to him, he’d been a fixture in my life for 45 years, and suddenly he wasn’t there any more.
But even in the end Bowie did the most Bowie thing ever, bowing out on his own terms with an innovative, out-of-the-blue, jazz-based album that nobody knew anything about until the day of its release.
If you listen to the lyrics it’s an album made by a man who wasn’t ready to leave us but knew he wasn’t going to be with us for long. To this day I still find it hard to listen to that album…….
‘Something happened on the day he died Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried’ “I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar”
All hail the Starman…..
My top 12 Bowie songs change all the time, this weeks selection is….
(Post by Andrea Grace Burn of East Yorkshire – May 2021)
Having spent a good deal of my teens frequenting pubs around West Birmingham during the mid 1970s, it seemed perfectly natural to progress to working in them. My ambitions were to go on the stage but a girl has to make a living, right?
As soon as I left school in 1978, and with no particular place to go, I headed for an interview with a new wine bar that had just opened in the city centre – very upmarket! Harpers occupied a large corner site near the police station and Accident and Emergency Hospital, so I figured I’d be safe walking late at night to catch the bus from outside the ‘Back of Rackham’s’.
(Rackham’s was an elegant department store occupying a whole city block on Corporation Street in Birmingham. Rumours abounded that ladies of a certain type frequented the pavements outside the back door and Mom always warned me against hanging around there. I walked many times around the ‘Back of Rackham’s’ as I grew up and never once saw anything improper going on, much to my dismay.)
With Mom’s advice to ‘look smart and mind my manners’ ringing in my ears, I borrowed her fashionable black and white dog-tooth checked suit (shortening the skirt, obviously); teaming it with my white leather cowgirl boots, white cotton lace gloves and an antique parasol.
With the audacity of youth, I strutted into Harpers one sunny October afternoon and stopped in my tracks to gaze in wonder at the fabulous fixtures and fittings. The long mahogany bar was backed by a reclaimed church façade and bevelled mirrors, which reflected the light from the enormous curved, windows. I felt very grown up.
(Opposite: Harpers interior – now Sound Bar.)
Assistant Manager Tristan must have noticed me gawping and bounded over, shook my hand and ushered me to a table. He had a big Zapata moustache and an equally big, bright smile.
“Hello Darling, you must be Andrea?”
“Yes thanks, I am.” (Going well so far)
“So, you’ve come about the position as bar maid and waitress?”
“Yes thanks, I have.”
“Have you had any previous experience?”
“No, but I learn fast!”
Tristan flashed his brilliant smile at me, touching my arm lightly:
“I love your outfit darling – especially the parasol! Wonderful!”
“So, when can you start?”
“Right now.” (Mom had said I should appear ‘keen’.)
“OK darling, I’ll just have to introduce you to the manager.
Tristan trotted away to find said manager; a tall man with a weak handshake which worried me slightly as Dad had always warned me of men with a “limp” hand shake. (“Honey, you know where you stand with a firm grip.”)
“This is Andrea – isn’t she gorgeous? She can start right away and she’s a fast learner.”
“I bet she is,” said the manager as he looked me up and down. My interview was apparently over and I was asked to start work the next morning at 7:30 am to serve continental style breakfast and coffee from eight. I was put to work on the food counter, serving cold meats and cheese, croissants and pastries and the infamous Gaggia espresso machine. This great red and chrome beast occupied the whole length of the food bar, with its hot water spouts, coffee grinders and stacks of white cups and saucers.
Getting to grips with the Beast, as it became known, wasn’t easy – it was all in the wrist action. Customers would stand behind the counter and watch as the other girls and I twisted and twirled the mighty coffee grinders and polished the spouts in time to the music; steam hissing into the steel milk jugs. We could pull quite a crowd.
Having to start work so early meant I was often the first person there with the cleaners, one of whom was spooked by rumours that Harpers was haunted. There were stories that the bar stools had been found one morning stacked on top of each other – just like the kitchen chairs in Poltergeist! The lamps behind the bar moved and footsteps could be heard running up from the basement kitchen, where people had died during WW2 as they sheltered from the bombing. I hoped against hope to see a ghost but never did – but the old building certainly had an odd atmosphere.
Reports of hauntings didn’t put punters off, as solicitors from the Law Courts next door poured into Harpers for their ‘working lunches’. I worked the mighty Beast in beige cord jeans so tight I had to lie down and zip them up using a coat hanger. I was voted ‘Gaggia Girl 1979’ – my claim to fame!
As I worked the bar one evening, Andy Gray, – the Villa footballer – came in and asked the other girls and me if we would like to come over to his new night club? I had to think about that for, oh, maybe two seconds. Imagine, the girl from Virginia who didn’t know what the Villa was, now being asked to come check out a night club owned by a Villa player! Ha – what would the lads at the God Awful school think now?
The nightclub was the most fantastic, exotic place I had ever been! Like a dark cave, it went back and back through a series of rooms beneath the railway arches at Snow Hill station. It became a new romantic club in the early ’80s with live bands such as Roxy Music and Duran Duran, but when it opened in ’79 it pumped out disco. TheHarpers staff became regulars after our shift ended; strutting our stuff fired up on Pernod and coke, great music and youth. I crawled home at 2am to sleep it off, get up at five and do it all over again
Back at Harpers the buzz was always at fever pitch as we worked to the heady disco beat on a Bose Sound System: ‘Le Freak’’, ‘Ladies Night’, ‘Instant Replay’, ‘You Make Me Feel, Mighty Real’ beneath the huge mirror balls and innovative laser shows. I loved every minute.
It was in this heady atmosphere, that I first met George Melly when he was booked to play a gig at Harpers with John Chiltern and his Feet Warmers. I was asked to go down into the staff room to serve drinks to the band and was introduced to Mr. Melly, who was sitting with his large frame overextending the rather small chair; resplendent in a snappy pinstriped suit with wide lapels and a large snap brimmed fedora hat. He smiled his languid smile and said something like:
“So, my dear, how kind of you to bring old George a drink.”
As the lights in the bar dimmed to a spotlight, Mr. Melly sashed onto the floor with a wicked gleam in his eye and a whisky in his hand as he belted out Bessie Smith’s ‘Kitchen Man,’ which was rich with lewd innuendo.
I became a big fan, following his gigs from London’s Ronnie Scotts to the Malvern Theatre, where he had to stop the show and tell the be-jewelled, staid audience to clap on the off-beat: “This is Jazz!” he growled.
I saw George Melly several more times, including an appearance he made on BBC Pebble Mill’s ‘Six Fifty-five Special’ – a surreal experience. I was invited to meet him in the Green Room, where he sat in his trade mark Zoot suit and snap brim Fedora before he went on air. Whether he remembered me or not is doubtful, but he spoke to me as though I was his best friend:
“Hello my dear, how kind of you to come to see old George.” He still twinkled.
With him was Kenneth Williams, who was staring up the nostrils of 70s actor and singer David Soul, giving him an impromptu lesson on how to speak with an English accent:
“Enunciate, dear boy, e-nun-ciate.”
I had just witnessed a Master Class.
Before I left Harpers, we had a New Year’s Eve fancy dress party with a ‘Glamorous Hollywood’ theme. All staff were expected to do a ‘turn’ and having recently had my permed hair cut into a short crop, I went along dressed as Liza Minnelli as ‘Sally Bowles’ from “Cabaret” in bowler hat, black waistcoat, fishnets and towering stiletto’s. Grabbing a bar stool, I did my best, although I couldn’t for the life of me bend backwards over that stool! My brother Dale tagged along wearing a full suit of armour. Unable to sit down, he stood all evening with cigarette smoke curling through the grid on his visor.
The drag acts were outstanding that evening, including ‘Fred and Ginger’ who thrilled us with their rendition of ‘Cheek to Cheek’ and ‘Rita Hayworth’ slinking across the floor to ‘Put the Blame on Mame’. We danced until dawn, seeing in 1979 in considerable style and with heavy hangovers!
It was July 1976 and as a brown envelope dropped through the letterbox, in the far reaches of outer space, the last of the planets aligned.
As I stooped to pick up the envelope, a deep, resounding voice boomed in my head:
“Young Jackson! Your grandfather was a Banker. Your father is a Banker. Your destiny has been ordained – so too shall you become a Banker!”
I had remained in school for Sixth Year, principally for another attempt to pass both Higher Maths and Physics, and somehow fluke the entry qualifications for University. However, the contents of that brown envelope metaphorically sprung forth, stuck two fingers up at me and laughed in my face.
That summer, just like the one prior, I had worked as a student in Bank of Scotland’s Foreign Department, as it was then. A full time job was guaranteed, if I wanted it.
I wouldn’t say I particularly ‘wanted’ it, but I definitely needed it. And so, on 16th August 1976, I rocked up, as directed by Head Office, to my local Branch at Bearsden Cross.
This was the branch I used when still at school. I had always hated queueing up to lodge my paper-round / pocket / birthday money feeling the staff displayed a rather aloof and disinterested attitude to youngsters.
But I was now a man. (Eighteen years and eleven days old counts, right?) I wouldn’t become ‘one of them.’ I’d be me. They could like it or lump it. Dressed in my navy blue, double breasted jacket, silk backed waistcoat, baggy trousers with turn-ups and two-inch platform shoes, I was going to revolutionise branch banking. It was going to be relaxed; it was going to be fun; it was going to be filled with happy, smiling faces.
The Manager presumably had many much more important things to do first thing in the morning than greet some cocky little new-start, so after a brief introduction to the Assistant Manager, I was given a seat in a quiet part of the office, facing a blank wall.
“Hmmmn. This might take longer than expected” I mused.
I was then presented with a huge pile of cheques that had been debited against the customers’ accounts. These had to be sorted into eight-digit account number order, and then further sorted into six digit cheque number order. They would then be passed to the Statement Clerks who would file them in large metal cabinets, ready to be inserted in the customers’ Bank Statements.
And that was it. That was my first day. All of it. Nine o’ clock in the morning till four o’clock in the afternoon. Sorting and filing. Oh, and going to the local shops at tea-break and lunchtime to pick up sandwiches, crisps, cakes, fags, matches, newspapers, etc for most of the twenty or so staff.
Oh, I was showing them all right!
I toed the line for a few months, keeping my head down and already counting the days to retiral. But the rebellious streak was never far away. When I was one day told to collect a copy of Penthouse or Mayfair from the newsagent (‘top shelf’ magazines in those days) for the Insurance Clerk, I told him to get lost.
For a start, I’d have to ask someone to reach the top bloody shelf on my behalf. A bit of a row kicked off, but I reasoned he wouldn’t grass me up to The Manager for insubordination, given the nature of the magazine he wanted.
A few months later, I received my first ‘promotion’ – if only because another Office Junior was appointed, a lovely girl called Esmé. This slight rise in my personal status didn’t really amount to much. It simply meant Esmé took over cheque duties, while I manned the rather cumbersome and complicated Branch switchboard.
Once mastered, the job was as tedious as that I’d just graduated from. So to lighten my day, I’d imagine myself operating the Transporter Room Console of the Starship Enterprise, seeking out new life and new civilisations while boldly going where no man had gone before.
Hey – I was eighteen. Cut me some slack.
I did actually go one place that no man had been before, as it happens. Though I can’t claim to having used the word, ‘boldly.’
Above the Branch entrance there was a large clock. Three months or so into my career, the new ‘Accountant’ (effectively third in charge of the office) decided we could save money by maintaining the clock ourselves, rather than paying some specialists.
(In those days, Branches were completely distinct cost centres, so effectively the budget on say, toilet rolls, was as important as the lending rates. Anything that could be done to maximise Branch profits, was.)
This new Accountant would become well known in later years for his eccentric behaviour. In some cases, I’m sure he’d now be classed as a ‘bully.’ I worked with him again later in my career, and actually liked him. He was a real loose cannon though, prone to Basil Fawlty type tantrums.
“Go on then, get out there” he told me as he pulled up the sash window that overlooked the bustling Roman Road about twenty feet below.
It was a sunny Friday, towards the end of October, three months into my career. British Summer Time would end that weekend and the clocks would go back.
“Here,” he said, “use this,” and handed me a long window pole. “Just push the small hand back one hour.”
“Are you mental?” I asked earnestly.
“I’ll be holding your jacket vent. You’ll be fine. Now just get out there.”
“Have you seen my shoes?” I drew his attention to my platforms.
“Stop being a *****. They’ll give you more reach. Now move!” he said as he started to prod me with another window pole.
And so, there I was, precariously balanced and attracting the incredulous stares of the town’s shoppers as I edged along the narrow ledge to the clock and reset the time.
Shaking in equal parts fear and rage, I squared up to my office superior: “I am NOT doing that again!”
And I didn’t.
By spring 1977, it was quite apparent The Manager didn’t see me as a good fit for his office and I was transferred to the other office in Bearsden, Kessington Branch.
This was more like it! There was a much more relaxed and welcoming atmosphere to work in, and everyone from the delightful old ‘Mr Pastry’ lookalike Manager to the slightly younger, pretty and completely bonkers Office Junior was up for a laugh.
It was all very childish. We’d do things like teach naughty words to the ‘Mummy’s little darlings’ who were plonked on the counter before us while Mumsie gassed with friends and held up the queue. As Billy Connolly would say, sometimes the best pranks are those where you don’t actually see the end result.
We all so fervently hoped that when dear Mummy invited the local vicar round to discuss the forthcoming Bring-and-Buy sale, that Junior would suddenly remember the word, ‘jobbie.’
Now, this sounds like one of those ‘legend’ tales that is passed down through the generations in any office. But it most definitely did happen at Kessington Branch.
An elderly lady approached the teller with a withdrawal slip for fifty pounds – quite a sum back then. She had completed the form before coming to the Bank, but had done so in pencil. “I can’t take it like that, Mrs Smith,” the teller gently told her. “You’ll have to ink it over.”
Mrs Smith tutted but took the form over to the writing desk.
Five minutes later, she was still sat there.
“Mrs Smith? Are you all right? Is everything OK?” asked the concerned teller.
“Yes dear,” came the reply. “I’ve thought it over, and I’d still like the cash, please.”
Two years later, and I was on the move again – a proper promotion this time. To Jordanhill Branch, in the West End of Glasgow. Now, this was one crazy office!
For a start, it wasn’t uncommon for a few of us to leg it up to the Esquire House pub at Anniesland for a game of pool and a couple of pints at lunchtime! It wasn’t uncommon for the Manager to go on ‘business lunches’ and fall over chairs in the staff room, or fall asleep in his office during the afternoon.
It also wasn’t uncommon for Branch Officials to be independently on the fiddle!
While I was there, the staff had suspicions about the Assistant Manager. After I left for Stirling Branch in the early Eighties, his scam came to light in the most bizarre of circumstances.
The Manager who replaced the poor soul with the drinking habit, had started his own fraud! I was by then distant from the investigation, but understand that a routine Inspection raised some questions of one of them … leading to both packs of cards collapsing.
The Assistant Manager I worked with was given a jail sentence.
That was it for The Seventies, The Bank, and me.
So, what about the title to this piece?
Well, the four years that remained of the decade when I joined Bank of Scotland were terrific fun. We had plenty wild nights out, and I was lucky enough to represent the Bank at athletics, cross country, road racing as well as football. So lots of paid absence on ‘all expenses’ trips to London.
The Eighties in Stirling and Manchester and the bulk of the Nineties back in Glasgow were a riot, with great sets of people.
Then the Noughties. And The Halifax.
I had twenty-eight years’ experience; I had been subjected to threats with dirty needles; I’d had an eighteen inch machete brandished at me and a hand gun pointed at my face from about ten feet away. I’d safely evacuated a staff of thirty from a burning building, checking smoke filled corridors and toilets to ensure everyone was accounted for.
Oh yeah – and I was pretty damned good at my job, if my reports were anything to go by.
But I’ve never really been a ‘follower’ and always believed in my own choices. Dude, I was into Sweet when they were still The Sweet and everyone else was worshipping at the alter of Clapton or Yes.
And so it was, with that wee rebel light still burning bright, I refused to sell PPI in the manner which were all instructed. (Payment Protection Insurance – remember that?)
I had ‘disputes’ with Head Office staff over lending the tried, trusted and customer focused way.
But by 2004, rather than aligning, the planets were colliding. New against Old.
Being a ‘Banker’ counted for nothing. It was no longer even acceptable to be ‘me.’ Individuals and ‘characters’ were considered troublemakers and forced into ‘voluntary redundancy.’
In September 1973 I turned 16 and I was lucky to be offered a Saturday job in Burton’s in Sauchiehall St.
My pal, Pat, was giving it up to go to Jordanhill PE College and he would return to work at Burton’s over the Christmas holiday but more on that later.
I duly turned up on my first day scrubbed clean with a fresh haircut and my best (only) suit on.
The shop at that time had nine full time staff and I was one of five Saturday boys! It was a smallish two floor shop which today would be staffed by 3 or 4 warm bodies.
My first duty, which was to last for the next 8 weeks, was to fill out the Made to Measure forms while Joe the manager, Kit the assistant manager (in his 30’s) and JC in his 50’s did the actual measuring for the endless queue of eager customers.
A Bespoke Two piece suit started at £24.00 and there was credit facilities available.
On the form there were spaces for all the standard measurements required, like… Chest, Shoulder Width, Sleeves, Waist and Inside Leg.
On top of that, there were codes that you had to pick up quickly if you were to last the pace. Things like… DB – Double Breasted STP-Standard Turn Up BF – Button Fly etc
Kit measured the customers really fast and that’s when the fun started.
He’d shout out the standard stuff then throw in a code you hadn’t heard of before….. Inside Leg 29″ NB??
I scribbled it down anyway making a mental note to ask him what NB meant when I got the chance.
Next customer ‘Extra Coloured Stitching round Tulip Lapels!’ (Now don’t pretend you didn’t have a least one jacket with THEM!) Before adding TP!
I presumed the TP stood for Tulip?
This guy was CA, the next one was a largish gentleman… ‘FB’ said Kit All these codes! I was beginning to think I’d never get the hang of it…then the queue eased a bit and I was sent for a 10 min tea break.
I ran to the little staff room for a quick cuppa and took the opportunity to ask Kit what on earth these other codes stood for…. he checked back on my book and said well….
NB means No B*lls! TP means ‘Total Pr*ck!’ CA is Complete Ar**hole FB is ‘Fat B…… Well I think you can work that one out for yourself!
I stood there open mouthed and didn’t know if I should laugh or not! Two other new starts had heard our conversation and were similarly stunned!
Then Kit laughed and we all joined in! ‘Ssh’ said JC, who’d obviously witnessed this scene many times before, ‘Here’s more customers!’ I must’ve filled in another 15 Bespoke forms before lunch, fighting back the tears of laughter as Kit entertained us all with his secret coded banter.
I enjoyed my first day at Burton’s immensely and headed to Queen St. Station at 5.30 with my Pink Times under my arm and the princely sum of £2.96 wages in my pocket. Later that evening I was pretend fighting with my sister and broke a lamp! ‘That’ll be your wages gone for a Burton!’ quipped my Dad…hoho
After a few weeks Kit invited myself and a few other staff for a pint (I was quite a mature looking 16 year old) in The Royal Hotel which was above the shop. The Royal or Sammy Dows in Dundas St. became our regular haunts.
At one time I think all the shops at street level had been part of the hotel because there was a warren of corridors, doorways and hidden passageways in Burtons’ basement…. But more on them later.
The Christmas holidays arrived and I was asked to stay on and Pat returned too.
It was maaad busy but we still had time for fun, mainly initiated by Pat.
Joe, Charlie, Pat and I were working in the Ready to Wear department in the basement floor where ‘Crimplene was King!’
We didn’t have a cash register and had to place the cash, cheques and tickets in a cylinder and send it up to the cash office on the ground floor via a pneumatic system called a Lamson.
They used one in Paisleys, Goldbergs and most big department stores back then. The cashier would then write out a receipt and send the change back down. Quite an efficient system unless it was really busy…..which it nearly always was.
On a rare quiet moment Pat would place a previously caught spider (there were some monsters in the aforementioned tunnels) into the Lamson cylinder and press go……then count to 5….A blood curdling scream would be heard from the cash office! Followed by ‘Ya Wee Bassas! from Izzy the fiery redheaded cashier.
Three days before Christmas I had my first experience of an after hours shop party. It was quite a tame event (I would attend much wilder examples in the next 40 years working in retail….but that’s for another blog)
We had sandwiches and sausage rolls. McEwan’s Export and Lager for the guys, a nice malt for the older staff and Blue Nun & Rosé in the wicker basket bottle for the ladies – the ladies were Izzy, her new assistant cashier Kate and her sister and Big Maggie, the full time cleaner, who was as hard as nails but had the proverbial heart of gold.
Maggie lived in Garthamlock, a quaint, picturesque village north of the city. Pat and I actually went to her Hogmanay Party that year! But that story is definitely NOT getting told here!!
The January Sale began and brought lots of returns of unwanted gifts. Burtons didn’t give refunds which led to quite a few disgruntled customers.
One particularly angry and inebriated guy, who’d been in for ages arguing with Izzy and Kit (no contest) asked to use the staff toilet and was refused. The staff stored their coats and personal belongings next to the toilet so requests were always refused. Later, however, he returned when it was really busy and managed to slip unnoticed into the toilet area and peed in the Manager’s hat!! Joe was not amused!….
Around mid February my daily wages went up by £1.00 to £3.96 but they were backdated for 12 weeks. Good old USDAW union!
I was rich! I had £16.00 in my skyrocket! It was time to put a deposit on a new suit! Staff got 40% discount on two suits per year (25% Off thereafter) so I only paid £29.00 instead of £49.00 which was still expensive for 1974.
This is the Jacket from that very suit!
The Executive Range (of course!) with the additional detail of wide lapels, coat buttons and large flap pockets.
The trousers had a wide, three inch high waistband and twenty eight inch flared bottoms!
I always wondered what codes Kit chose for me!?!?
But first things first, off I went to Sammy Dows for a couple of pints!
As soon as my Highers were finished in early May 1974 I worked full time again until August and Pat joined us for the summer.
In the basement there were two fitting rooms with lockable doors, chairs and a shelves with an ashtray. Yes you could smoke in shops in those days! Total madness!
Apart from the obvious risk of fire with all that inflammable crimplene around, you couldn’t get the smell of smoke out of any of the fabrics! But I digress….
One day a guy was trying on trousers in the changing rooms and came back out and said he’d just leave it for now. Nobody went near the cubicle for at least an hour but eventually a customer did go in and cried out in disgust…there was a giant ‘jobbie’ in the ashtray!!
I don’t know if it was the same guy who had urinated in the Manager’s hat? (There was no DNA testing in 1974!) But if Big Maggie had got hold of him there would’ve been ‘A Murdduurr’ nine years before anybody had ever heard of Inspector Jim Taggart!
The shop’s window displays were dressed every week by John. He was a very gentle and artistic man who nowadays would be classed as having learning or social difficulties or ‘On the Spectrum’
The windows were old fashioned and you had to open the lockable panel and step up about 3 foot, onto a platform. When the aforementioned panel was locked, the window was closed off from the sales floor.
One Friday evening Joe the manager was in a hurry to get home so at 5.27 he locked the window panel, switched off the lights, set the alarm and we were all outside by 5.30……or were we?
The window lights were left on at night and John was still in the window working and didn’t realise that everybody else had left. He was trapped! He tried to attract passers-by but everybody was rushing home or more likely, rushing to the pub to kick off the weekend.
Poor John was waving franticly and pressing his face up against the glass trying to get anyone’s attention! Those that did notice him must’ve thought it was some kind of new, arty farty, active window display and kept on walking, shaking their heads.
He was stuck there for hours but eventually managed to convince someone to find a policeman who then phoned his station and tracked down the key holder….cue a very annoyed Joe who had to curtail his Friday night to rescue him.
Poor John! It must’ve been very distressing for him but the next day he pretended to just laugh it off.
In June it was our branch’s turn to host the quarterly Managers Meeting. The meeting would be held in a downstairs room behind the sales floor. Joe was clearly on edge and got Maggie to organise tea, sandwiches and cakes for the eight visitors.
‘It’s an oppurchancity not to be missed!’ Pat declared!
He duly put on an XXL Overcoat left over from Winter and I stuffed the shoulders with thick display felt. He then got the arms from a window dummy and held them so that the hands reached his knees, he topped it off by wearing a stiff platinum blonde wig perched jauntily on his head! Pat is 6 foot tall but the wig added at least another 4″! He looked like Benny Hill’s giant, long lost, deranged great uncle!
The meeting had been going for about 30 minutes when the door burst open and in waltzed Pat to the utter astonishment of the group!
‘Wellhullorerr Guys!’ he said and saluted with his false right arm before quickly crossing the room and disappearing into one of the ‘hidden corridors’ behind racks of stock where I was waiting to ‘disrobe’ him!
We were swiftly back on the sales floor before our puce faced manager raced down the back staircase shouting ‘PAT! FOR F*CKSAKE!’ He glared at the two of us and we knew we were in for it later!
We did indeed get a stern telling off but Joe was laughing as he did it. Turned out he couldn’t stand a couple of the managers and actually told them he’d set it all up to jolt them awake during the endless boredom of Quarterly Reports!
The next big event was The Glasgow Fair Friday! This is the Friday before the last fortnight in July when all the Glasgow factories closed for their holiday! Everybody was in a celebratory mood as the ‘workies’ clocked off at lunchtime and headed to packed pubs with 3 weeks wages burning holes in their pockets.
‘Whit ye gettin’ yer burd fur her FAIRN?’ asked Charlie. This was the first time I’d ever heard that phrase and I needed it explained to me.
Apparently it was customary to buy your partner a gift on Fair Friday. I can’t remember what I bought but it was probably a box of Milk Tray hastily purchased from the kiosk at Queen St. Station!
The pubs closed at 2.30pm but the workies still had to buy their ‘holiday claes’ before going home to pack.
Eight very merry, boiler-suited men came bouncing into Burtons and proceeded to form a Conga Line through the middle of the shop grabbing short sleeve shirts, casuals (polo shirts) and light coloured trousers as they high stepped their way past the racks and rails! It was the funniest thing I’d ever seen!
Then on their return journey, rather than queueing at the cash desk they started lobbing scrunched up fivers and tenners at the cash desk’s glass partition. Izzy was far from happy! The manager was delighted though as Pat, Charlie and I scooped up the cash and tried to tally it to the assorted clothes each dancer was carrying. Most of them paid more than they should have but they were all very happy and without breaking stride handed us tips before Conga-ing down a sun lit Sauchiehall St.
I continued to work Saturdays and all available holidays even after I left school and then went to Glasgow Tech to study Accountancy. There was a lot more Burtons’ laughs and nights out and in!
I left Glasgow Tech after a year and started full time in Burtons Buchanan St, before transferring to the trendy, new, shiny Top Man branch in 1978…..
(Post by John Allan, from Bridgetown, Western Australia –April 2021)
It was May 1975, I had just turned 17 and finished my highers and I couldn’t get out of school quick enough. It was time to make my way in the world…………… and become vegetarian (the reason why has escaped me over the ensuing years). I did have a paperback “1000 Vegetarian Meals” and I was up for a challenge.
My mother knew the lady round the corner whose husband Old Malky (or Callum as his wife called him) was the head greenkeeper at the Bearsden Golf Club and before you could prize the sheets off a surly teenager at noon, I had a job as assistant to the assistant greenkeeper.
Now why Old Malky should be Old Malky to us and Callum to his wife remains a mystery as Old Malky only spoke in monosyllables on alternate days. Come to think of it, I have been known by both ‘Snookums’ and ‘Hey Fat Arse’ on differing occasions by my wife.
The job was very task orientated which suited me fine. My first job at sparrow’s fart was to ‘switch’ the greens. Switching involved a large bamboo pole with a tapering fibre class rod attached which, when moved in a sideways motion, flicked off dew, leaves and other detritus such as beer cans and smouldering cars bodies. (I’m not being judgemental but Drumchapel was just through the woods !) I took to the task like a Zen Buddhist monk often standing on one leg and muttering to myself in a fake oriental accent like David Carridine (Aah, Grass Lopper – get it?
I quickly adapted to the routine. Monday, Wednesday and Friday I would mow the greens. Getting the straight striped effect is trickier than it looks. I tried to convince Old Malky my first attempt was my interpretation of a Rennie Mackintosh design but he wasn’t buying it.
Tuesdays and Thursday was time to trim the tees. If a player came on, we were supposed to move to the back of the tee and idle the lawnmower until they had tee-ed off but many a time we just carried on, hastening a panicked swing as spinning blades came perilously close to shaving the tassels off many a two tone golf shoe.
Friday was hole changing day. There was a special spade device for puncturing and removing turf and soil and woe betide anyone with the temerity to chip and put onto our green until the job was completed and the last bit of stubborn grass was expertly trimmed from around the new hole with the designated scissors. Strict quality control was then adhered to. A bucket full of balls and 3 putters were distributed to each greenkeeper and intense putting from all angles ensued. Then and only then could the club member follow through. Any disregard to this unwritten rule meant your ball was hosed off the green. I seem to remember this important ritual was accompanied by several bottles of beer and pay packets were collected. Friday was a good day.
The only thing I took umbrage to was the toileting arrangements. Greenkeeper HQ was a large corrugated hanger which housed all the tractors, mowers and sundry equipment. I don’t even think it had power. The toilet consisted of an old gallon oil container with the top crudely removed. Not only did you have to pee in full view of your fellow workers you had to hold a rusty jagged tin close enough to circumcise yourself with one wayward shake. As for other bodily functions, the only time I got caught short I juked through some gardens and trotted adroitly home to the luxury of plumbed in sanitation. Does a Bear(sden boy) shit in the woods ? Not this one !
So this was the balmy summer of ’75. I had a healthy outdoor working life and a healthy meat free diet. NB Take it from me. Tofu is only there to bulk up your plate. It doesn’t taste or smell of anything and the texture is a bit disconcerting too. It’s only there so that when people see your meagre plate of vegetables and bean sprouts they don’t say “Is that all you’re having”. Polystyrene would have much the same effect.
Unfortunately, summer changed to late autumn. Crisp summer dawns turned into dark foggy morns. Although I had waterproofs, they were not a match for the torrents of rain constantly soaking into my bones as I went about my daily chores.
Some days when the course was waterlogged I would have to stay in the shelter of the icy cold hanger and ‘riddle’. For reasons I could not comprehend, there was a large pile of dirt in one corner of the shed. My job was to scoop shovels of it into a large sieve and create a pile of finer dirt hour after sodding hour. I never ever saw what the purpose of my handiwork was as it just remained a bigger pile of finer dirt. Yesterday’s nut rissoles weren’t giving me the sustenance that I needed either. That and my mother talking about a turkey roast with all the trimmings for Xmas, I was beginning to crack.
I think I lasted until about October when I turned my back on the noble craft of the keeper of greens (all 9 holes of them) and succumbed again to the flesh of farmed animals and foul.
“Turn up the central heating will you Mum and pass me the chipolatas please !”
“We’re ready for your close-up now”…the words any telly wannabe longs to hear.
And, as it turns out, the very phrase that was NEVER uttered in my direction thanks to two monumental cock-ups.
I’m holding my hands up for one of them, it was my bad. But I was totally blameless for the other.
To get the first one out the way, I was offered the chance to do a screen test at Scottish Television for a continuity announcer.
Remember them? They were the on-screen presenters who sat there, usually late at night, and gave you the cheesy link between one programme and another.
The date for the screen test, my golden ticket to the big time, came through the post – but it clashed with a midweek cup tie I was due to play in.
There was only one thing for it. I called them up, explained about the game and said I could come along another time – as long as it didn’t interfere with my football, obviously. Forty years later and I’m still waiting on them calling me back.
So, yeah, lesson learned with that opportunity being knocked out the park. But the other epic fail wasn’t down to me, not in the slightest.
The chance came during my eight-week journalism block-release course at Edinburgh’s Napier College in 1978 when we teamed up with the students who were studying TV and film.
The idea, I seem to remember, was to mix both classes in “a positive way to showcase the respective skill sets”. In reality, we were thrown together for two back-to-back projects more in hope than expectation.
We had a scenario where would-be reporters were asking questions of would-be drama students while being filmed by would-be camera operators.
There were two drama students – one male, one female – who posed as police inspectors to read out statements about imaginary crimes and then we got to question them about it.
Readers of Part 1 of this post will be somehow reassured to know that these make-believe offences also took place in poor old Oxgangs, the crime capital of the western world.
It’s fair to say there was a lukewarm response to this shiny, bright initiative so the college hierarchy fell back on the one thing guaranteed to get everyone’s attention – a juicy bribe.
We were told the videos of the top two interviews would be sent away to be assessed by STV and the best one would be…cue drum roll here…selected for a screen test.
That did the trick. You couldn’t get near the mirror in the toilets as everyone got ready for their big interviews.
When it came to mine, I found myself face to face with a Juliet Bravo-type who was pretty confident with the cameras rolling a few feet away.
She read out the bare statement – about a drugs bust in Oxgangs – in a professional manner and stepped back, in character, to await my questions.
Okay, Juliet, there’s something you’re not telling me here. “You say a quantity of drugs were recovered from the house,” I venture, “What kind of drugs and what was the quantity?”
“It was 10 kg of heroin,” she replies.
Now we’re motoring. “And what’s the street value for that amount,” I ask.
“You must be pleased. Now, you mentioned the two arrests made at the scene came at the end of a lengthy operation. How long?”
“It was nine months.”
“Would it be fair to say there was an undercover element to the operation?”
There was a flicker across Juliet’s face before she replied: “Yes, that’s correct.”
I was on to something, I just didn’t know what, so I asked: “How many officers were involved in that?”
“There was one at our end.” Now the flicker on Juliet’s face has been replaced by a deep red beamer.
I’m all over it now. “You say ‘our end’…where was the other end and how many were undercover there?”
“Erm, it was in Amsterdam and two officers were involved there. But I’m not at liberty…”
“How many arrests were made in Holland?”
“There were three, at two different locations, but I can’t really…”
“So it would be fair to say this joint operation has smashed an international drugs ring?”
“Erm, yes it would.”
Boom! Job done. A few more questions for Juliet and then I went off to write my story.
It turned out I was the only one to get the scoop on the Holland angle and was told on the QT that I was in pole position for the screen test prize if I did a decent job in the second assignment. Bring it on. But if I caught a break with Inspector Bravo helping me with my enquiries for the first interview, then my luck ran out when I landed an Inspector Clouseau clone for the second one.
Inept doesn’t begin to cover it. The hungover drama student forgot to bring his crib sheet with him, so there was no further information forthcoming about an imaginary armed bank robbery in Oxgangs.
I tried my damndest with a scatter-gun interrogation technique which started with me asking: “Was it sawn-off shotguns or revolvers?”
“I just know it was guns.”
“Okay, how much was taken in the robbery?”
“Err, I don’t know…I mean, I can’t say.”
“What about the make and colour of the getaway car?”
“Erm, it was light – or maybe dark – and probably foreign. Or not.”
“How many robbers were involved?”
“Just what I told you earlier in the statement.”
“You didn’t give a number.”
“Ah, well, there you go.”
I gave up right there. I’d been left with a story which had all the clarity of a man puffing on a giant Castella in the middle of a pea-souper and, needless to say, there was no screen test prize for me.
Probably for the best. You know what they say about having the perfect face for radio…
Almost three years after leaving school to learn how to be a journalist in a local newspaper some bright spark thought it would be a good idea if I went to college to learn how to be…a journalist.
We were the generation that had slipped through the net, the ones who had gone straight into the job from school, and they wanted to teach us a lesson.
Well, lots of lessons as it turned out. The zealots at the National Council for the Training of Journalists clearly thought our minds had wandered off after two to three years of doing the job, rounded us all up and sent us to the concentration campus at Edinburgh’s Napier College.
It was an eight-week block-release course designed to make sure we attained the, ahem, high standards set by the full-time course.
But we all knew what it was…a jolly. Word had been passed down the line that the block-release course was a box-ticking exercise which served only to teach us the journalistic basics we’d already mastered.
It meant our college experience was always going to be more public house than Animal House but, hey, there’s worse ways to spend two months away from home – and work.
We were paid our full wages – plus a few extra quid in expenses – to be taught how to do what we already did every day. No wonder we went to the boozer.
Yep, you couldn’t make it up – except that’s exactly what we did. In our newspaper practice class we made up stories, lots of them.
And if you ever wondered where the majority of life’s dramas happened in the spring of 1978, I can exclusively reveal it was the Edinburgh suburb of Oxgangs.
The make-believe bank robberies, gun sieges, train crashes, high-rise fires, bomb-squad call-outs, hostage-taking and car smashes we wrote about all took place in EH13.
That was the “where” of our stories to go alongside the “who, what, why, how and when” you always need for any news tale.
Mind you, I often wondered what the good residents of Oxgangs would make of all these dramas on their doorstep. Those house prices would take a right dunt, that’s for sure.
The sleepy suburb was turned into something of a war zone as we wrote up our dramatic stories after being fed the imaginary information.
There was a siege at Oxgangs library after a gunman walked in and threatened to kill the staff. Presumably he wasn’t happy with having to pay charges on his overdue book A Beginner’s Guide On How To Be A Gun Nut.
Then we had a blaze at the high-rise flats in Oxgangs which would have given the Towering Inferno movie a run for its money considering all the dramatic goings-on. There were brave firemen, brave neighbours and brave policemen all around.
Oxgangs Primary School was the setting for a full-scale evacuation after the janny discovered an explosive device in the boiler room. The bomb squad were called in as the kids were moved to a nearby football pitch to carry on their singing lessons. Another Hollywood influence there, methinks
We also had a train crash in Oxgangs which made the movie Runaway Train look like an episode of Thomas the Tank Engine. In our fictitious story the train – with dangerous chemicals on board – derails just before the station and ploughs into the school playground. That train story caused a bit of a stushie for three of us in the class after we took advantage of our lecturer Bill’s easy-going nature
Bill, who made his name covering the murder trial of serial killer Peter Manuel for the Daily Express in 1958, was a free spirit who insisted on treating his classroom like a newsroom.
This meant you could come and go as you please so long as you did the work. And it also meant a large window of opportunity opened up for the Three Amigos.
Our newspaper practice class lasted four hours from 1pm and the assignment for the train crash scenario was two-fold. Firstly, we had to hand in a 150-word story by 2pm and, secondly, a 250-word story by close of play.
We were given the information at the start of class to write up the first part – for an evening paper story – and were told we would be drip-fed other details for the second one.
It didn’t take a genius to work out we would have the best part of two hours after handing in the first story before we would even have to think about writing the second one.
What to do? A few surreptitious looks and nods between the three of us led us to the nearest pub which happened to be beside a Ladbroke’s bookies.
We had a wee racing syndicate going where I was the silent partner, entrusting the other two to make some wise investments on my behalf in the 2.30 at Plumpton and a few others to boot.
A good few pints and punts later, we headed back to college – richer for the experience in every way.
Our classmates were looking a bit frazzled and, judging by the amount of info slips on their desks, the drip-feed had become a torrent.
As we took our seats at 4pm, right on cue another slip was handed out telling us the train driver had died. A quick flick through the red-herring slips that had dropped while we were in the boozer didn’t change anything. Driver dies after train plunges into school playground kind of writes itself.
Anyway, the next day Bill takes the three of us aside before class to tell us we have the top marks for the train story.
Only thing is, he says, when I read them out in class you won’t be top three because it was pretty obvious you guys went to the pub and it’s not fair on the rest of them.
So much for Bill’s free spirit. But at least we got a free afternoon in the boozer thanks to our winnings.
Innocent until proven guilty – the revered cornerstone of our legal system. And it’s closely followed by every accused having the right to a fair defence.
Unless, of course, you get landed with a legal aid lawyer who doesn’t seem to understand what you’re saying.
Let me explain. I used to cover the courts in my days as a cub reporter for the Clydebank Press in the 1970s and sat in on some bizarre cases.
One that sticks out involved a district court trial of a guy accused of assault and his shoot-yourself-in-the-foot lawyer.
The prosecution case, backed up by two independent witnesses, was that Mr X had swung a couple of punches at Mr Y after an argument outside a boozer.
The defence lawyer, who had barely landed a blow of his own in the first part of the trial, put Mr X on the stand for his version of events.
Clearly, this was a brief who hadn’t done much briefing. After asking his client a few predictable questions about the night, he said: “What about the polemics with Mr Y?”
The accused seemed unsure how to answer and there was a slight satellite delay before he replied: “I lamped him.”
“I see,” said the lawyer, “And would it be fair to say this altercation was the root of the problem?”
Another delay before Mr X says: “No’ really, it was a dull yin.”
It was clear neither of them knew what the other was saying, but the lawyer pressed on regardless.
He asked: “So there was an element of wanton provocation involved?”
Mr X replied: “Aye, wan punch!”
The lawyer, who seemed to model himself on mealy-mouthed TV character Rumpole of the Bailey, looked across at the smirking procurator fiscal and knew something had gone wrong. He just didn’t know what.
There was no realisation, no light-bulb moment that he’d stuck his client in it by letting him say what he did. He had a glance towards the Justice of the Peace for a steer.
All he got back was: “Is that the case for the defence?”
“Yes, your Honour. The defence rests,” the lawyer said in his best Rumpole manner.
The JP, doing well to keep a grin off his face after witnessing such a legal own goal, then turned to the fiscal to ask: “Any cross-examination?”
“I think that’s already been done for me,” he replied.
“Indeed,” replied the JP, “There’s no need to retire to consider the verdict…I find the accused guilty.”
No great surprise there, but I was completely taken aback another time when I found myself dragged into the court proceedings.
As a reporter, you’re told not to put yourself in the middle of the story – but sometimes that option is taken out your hands.
And that’s what happened when a shopkeeper was on trial for serving alcohol to someone under-age.
The prosecution evidence revealed that two plain-clothes police officers watched from outside the shop as the boy – who turned out to be 16 – went in and bought a half bottle of vodka and four cans of Carlsberg Special Brew.
He was stopped coming out and, after establishing his age, the police officers charged the shopkeeper.
It seemed a bit harsh, but the fiscal said the stake-out operation had been authorised because there had been a bit of previous involving kids as young as 14 buying booze.
The prosecution case tied everything up in a big bow before handing over to the defence lawyer.
It wasn’t an easy gig. All the evidence suggested the crime had been committed, so the only option left was a legal smokescreen.
Lawyer: “Did you know the boy was under 18?”
Shopkeeper: “Of course not. I’d asked his age and he said he was 19.”
Lawyer: “And you believed him?”
Shopkeeper: “Yeah, I would have been suspicious if he’d said 18 – but he told me he was 19.”
Lawyer: “So at that stage, because he identified himself as someone over 18, there was absolutely no reason to think you were the one breaking the law?”
At this point the fiscal clears his threat and rolls his eyes to get the Justice of the Peace’s attention.
The JP – let’s call him John – knows a theatrical prompt when he sees one and springs into action.
He explains that’s not a legitimate defence in a case like this as the smokescreen blows away in front of the lawyer’s eyes.
JP John then asks the shopkeeper if he has difficulty judging people’s ages.
“Err..no,” he replies with little conviction.
John scans the courtroom and my sixth sense tells me something’s about to go down – and it’s going to involve me.
True enough. John rests his eyes on me, aims a flat palm in my direction and asks the shopkeeper: “For instance, what age would you say this gentleman is?”
All eyes are on me as he replies: “About 21.”
John, who seems to be enjoying this little parlour game a bit much, then asks me: “And can the gentleman of the press reveal his age to the court?”
“I’m 17, your Honour.”
“Thought so, this doesn’t reflect well on you,” he tells the shopkeeper before finding him guilty and fining him.
The story doesn’t end there, though. I left court, went back to the office to find everyone had gone to the pub next door so I decided to join them.
I got myself a pint of Tennent’s, took a huge sip, turned round to see the others…and bumped slap-bang into John.
That’s John the JP, upholder of law and order in these parts, and the man I’ve just told in a court of law that I’m only 17.
I’m standing there with a pint in my hand and froth all over my top lip. But before I get the chance to say it’s a fair cop guv, John asks: “Can I get you another? I owe you one for getting you to help out there.”
She was going to have her day in court, there was no question about that.
Dressed up to the nines, her hair piled high and her heels even higher, Linda McCaffrey click-clacked her way across the wooden floor to the witness box at Clydebank District Court.
She looked a nailed-on cert to win any Bet Lynch-lookalike contest – right down to the leopard-print jacket that the Coronation Street star used to wear.
Mrs McCaffrey, looking slightly miffed her big moment was taking place in front of an audience of less than ten, promised to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
She was in court – which sat in Clydebank Town Hall – to give her account of the night her husband was arrested for some street rammy or other.
And what an account…she delivered her lines to perfection during a gentle interrogation by her husband’s solicitor. But guess what? Her version didn’t tally with what the police officers had said previously.
Step forward the procurator fiscal – no stranger to a bit of showboating himself – and he went after her like a man possessed.
But Mrs McCaffrey refused to buckle under the pressure and stuck resolutely to her story.
Time for a bit of gamesmanship. “So, Mrs McCaffrey, it’s your evidence that your husband was merely making his way home and had absolutely nothing to do with the disturbance?”
“Aye, that’s how I remember it, love.”
“And you don’t recall seeing your husband having an altercation with the police officers?”
“Aye, that’s right, love.”
“Mrs McCaffrey…I’m not in love with you, I never have been in love with you and I have no intention of ever being in love with you, so don’t call me love. Is that clear?”
“Your honour, I must ask you to warn this witness about her conduct here today.”
At this point the Justice of the Peace looked up sternly from the bench to say: “Mrs McCaffrey, you have to be mindful that this is a court of law and behave accordingly.”
“Right you are, doll…”
This was the kind of exchange that brightened up the dull tedium of covering district court cases in the late 1970s for The Clydebank Press.
I had a ringside seat to see justice dispensed at the fag end of Scotland’s legal system – a window into the small-potato court cases which are the lifeblood of any local newspaper.
And if you had characters like Mrs McCaffrey in court, then it made sifting through the minutiae that little bit more enjoyable.
If not, you played courtroom bingo. This involved certain words or phrases to be mentally ticked off during a police officer’s evidence.
You were looking for all the usual contenders – “locus”, “proceeded”, “disorderly manner”, “fear and alarm”, “refused to desist” and “arrested”.
Sometimes you could get a full house without the officer pausing for breath.
That was the thing about police evidence, the officers always seemed so well prepped and gave their version of events using exactly the same phrases. Funny that, eh?
However, I was there once when two policemen went completely off script. Or, more accurately, one of them did.
PC 1 regaled us with a tale of how he and PC 2 were on patrol when they saw the accused acting in a disorderly manner (tick) and then hurl a bottle towards two youths and challenge them to fight. He identified the accused in the dock by pointing at him.
Bang to rights, I’d say. The defending solicitor poked around a bit, trying to spot any weakness, before asking PC 1 if he remembers what arm the accused used to chuck the bottle.
The officer doesn’t miss a beat before saying: “His right.”
The solicitor was obviously hoping to plant a seed of doubt in the prosecution case if somehow PC 2 answered differently. In the end, he got far more than he could have hoped for.
Up stepped PC 2, who also identified the accused, to tell us how he was on patrol with PC 1 when he saw the accused at the locus (tick) arguing with a woman, pushing her onto the road before punching her on the face.
Eh? The fiscal tried to pass it off as a mix-up and asked PC 2 if he’d like to refer to his notebook – code for you’ve made a boo-boo – but the defence lawyer was all over it and immediately asked the Justice of the Peace to acquit his client on the grounds that PC 2’s evidence clearly couldn’t be trusted.
The sitting JP agreed. He threw the case out, told the accused he was free to go and gave PC 2 a withering look before saying, rather caustically: “Maybe you’ll learn your lines a bit better next time.”
I suppose that’s what the court was – a stage for performers like police officers, fiscals, JPs, witnesses and the accused to strut their stuff as they delivered their lines.
And, believe me, there was a lot of over-acting going on.
I remember one fiscal used to ham it up big time when he was questioning police officers, making sure the JPs knew their evidence was sacrosanct.
To labour the point, he would invariably ask the officer if they were on duty that day, knowing full well they weren’t. And he’d follow up the inevitable reply with: “Ah, the court thanks you for coming here on your day off.”
The implication being that the officer was clearly the most credible of witnesses, if he was willing to give up his own precious free time just to be there.
This little act was repeated time after time and, as an unwritten rule, remained unchallenged by the defence lawyers – until one of them finally cracked.
Standing before an officer who had just been thanked for coming there that day, he told him: “So it’s your day off..well, in that case, you’ll be getting paid overtime. Maybe you should be thanking us.”
Lawyer exits stage left with a satisfied grin on his face.