Mark Arbuckle: Glasgow, April 2021
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.
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…..