Tag Archives: Sauchiehall Street

Customers, Incontinence and Conga Lines

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.
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?

NEXT!

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.

editor: not this year they’re not!

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.

Model wearing, models own jaiket!

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…..

where the street has no fame

(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson, of Glasgow – March 2021)

Cambridge Street in Glasgow is apparently one of a hundred such named in the UK. On the face of it, there’s nothing special about it; nothing that would set it apart from most of the other ninety-nine. It’s simply a means of accessing the more famous, interesting and vibrant Sauchiehall Street from the Cowcaddens Subway station.

Its appearance is to this day blighted by the typically ugly Seventies-built multi-storeyed car park (opened in 1972 for all you car park anoraks out there.) Overall  though, it’s a lot easier on the eye than it was some forty-five to fifty years ago.

Not one to normally give matters such as this much thought, even I regarded Cambridge Street with a good deal of disdain. It was dirty, and grimy looking; like the keep Britain Tidy campaign budget had not been replenished since the late Sixties.

Yet, for all it lacked the cultural glories of Glasgow’s bustling West End; the classy shopping experience of Buchanan Street and the pubs, clubs and restaurants of Sauchiehall Street, I realised only recently just what a significant contribution Cambridge Street made to my teenage years.

It was a four and half mile, thirty minutes, bus ride (route 110, I think) from my house to the city centre, so there had to be a specific objective in mind for me to make that commitment on my time and bus fare. Even at such an early age ‘shopping’ required ‘purpose.’

Initially, as now, that motivation was the purchase of records. And that’s what first prompted me to this most under-appreciated of Glasgow streets.

It was 1973. I’d have been fifteen years old, in third year at secondary school, and there were bags of changes going on all around me. I mean lots of changes. Including in the ‘bag’ department.

Having been wired from birth to remain steadfastly uncool, I carried my text books to class in an old fashioned, but neatly compartmentalised briefcase type thing. The Great Coat Brigade were using the canvas gas mask bags; but the big change came when more and more kids, predominately male it has to be said, started loading their books into plastic bags. Plastic bags that once carried newly bought records and proudly brandished the legend ‘Cheap & Nasty.’

Now this pre-dated the Punk movement by a good three years, so such a slogan was quite a change from similarly purposed bags that depicted a cute little dog staring down a gramophone trumpet. Or an iconic Roger Dean illustration, featuring a naked set of siamese twins lounging in front of a dead tree, with a dragon by their side, its tail fluttering suggestively between their legs.

These bags had become more and more prevalent in the school playground over the course of the preceding twelve months, so, late to the party as usual, I decided to check out this ‘new’ store, Listen Records.

As it happens, I actually found the shop by accident when I next went for a haircut. I had managed a couple years earlier to dodge being trailed along by my mother to the Maid Marion salon in Drumchapel and had for some reason, like many of my pals,  gravitated to a barber shop called Fusco’s – in Cambridge Street.

The ‘reasonable’ haircut mentioned below! They said this was a popular feathered cut – if it was that popular, I wonder why I was the only one in our school football team sporting this style?!

I must surely have been able to get a reasonable haircut closer to home, but opted instead to travel uptown to what at that time was a very basic and totally unspectacular shop. Maybe it was because they were specialists in the popular feathered cut; maybe because they treated us kids like adults, chatting away and offering ‘something for the weekend,’ (nudge, nudge, wink, wink!) I do remember the guys being really friendly.

However, I have a sneaky suspicion that my / our choice of barber had something to do with the proximity of a delicatessen where the shop assistants were most accommodating of my under-age requests for four cans of Carlsberg Special and two of Newcastle Brown Ale. (I’ll not name the shop because they are now very successfully trading in the same name, but a different form.)

So, for a couple of years, I had my lazy shopping habits perfectly mapped out: bus to Cambridge Street; spend ages sifting through records in Listen; pop along for a haircut, then pick up a bevvy for that evening’s disco at school / local Ski Club. I’d then head back, stopping off in the woods behind my home to secretly stash my illicit alcohol for consumption later that evening.

When I left school in 1976, I was only a couple months short of being legally able to buy alcohol, and passed a trendy ‘unisex’ hairdresser to / from my place of work. For a few months, the only draw Cambridge Street offered was Listen Records, and until the store closed around two years later, they did very well from my wage packet, I can tell you. It will forever remain one of my top records stores.

However, I was ‘big boy’ now (if five foot four can ever be so termed) and with money to burn the lure of the city’s nightlife became an ever increasing influence on my pals and I.

Of course, licencing hours in those days were very restrictive compared to now, and so we’d head up to Glasgow in the early evening for a few hours in our favourite pub, MacIntosh’s Bar.

I’m not entirely sure why a group of four (sometimes five) lads from the suburbs would collectively chose this pub as their pre-Club hangout. The likelihood is that we were just lazy little gits, and the proximity of both the bus station and the bright lights of Sauchiehall Street won the day. Whatever the reason, I have some very fond, if fuzzy memories of evenings spent in there.

Oh yeah – guess where this pub was (still is.) Yup – Cambridge Street!

After a few beers, we’d walk along to Sauchiehall Street, take a left, and head to our favourite Discotheque – coz that’s what they were back then. Not Nightclubs; not Clubs; not even Discos. Discotheques.

The White Elephant was up a long, tight, steep staircase over some shops that faced out into the famous street. It wasn’t the most fancy of Clubs. It didn’t have the latest light show, nor did it have the loudest sound system.

More to the point though – it didn’t have any poseurs. There was no particular dress code that I recall, and no real showboating, dancefloor extroverts. The clientele were, in the main, regulars and we’d see the same faces week after week, which made for a friendly atmosphere. There was very little trouble on an evening at The White Elephant.

Spread over two floors, the upper one was more of a circular balcony that looked down on the dancefloor below. Tables and chairs of a pretty basic nature were spread out here and this is where we’d have our ‘three course supper’ which was included in the admission price. (£1.70 per couple on Couples Night! I’m unsure what we paid – but it must have been value for money.)

Best of all though, and what attracted our disparate wee crew, was the music. This was 1977, and while Glam had more or less faded away, Rock was as big as ever, twee pop still commanded heavy radio airplay, and ‘new’ genres such a s disco and punk vied for attention. And the DJs at The White Elephant would cater for everyone.

Later in 1977, the club was targeted by an arsonist. Fortunately, the evacuation went smoothly and there were no casualties, but thirty firemen were called upon to bring the blaze under control. The venue was badly damaged and required to close for a period.

When it re-opened, it was under the new name of Roseland.

We did return to the new ‘discotheque’ several times, and it did have a similar feel to The White Elephant, but as with everything, times change. Priorities change. By now, two of our group were spending more time with their future wives (whom they met at The White Elephant) an I had been dating a girl I also met there for about ten months.

Gradually, our visits to Roseland and any other clubs became less frequent.

With less reason to head up to Glasgow on a Friday or Saturday night, our visits to MacIntosh’s Bar also dwindled. Listen Records closed their shop at that end of town, and we were happy to let our hair grow.

We were now of an age when we really hoped we’d have our age questioned if buying alcohol, just so we could smugly flash our driving licence, or whatever.

For six years, on and off, and as unlikely as it would seem, the unremarkable Cambridge Street had considerable influence on the shaping of my teenage years.

It’s a little bit sad, I think, that so many things that shape our lives in some way or another, go unappreciated. So I for one, will tonight crack open a can of Special Brew and bottle of Newkie Brown and toast my time spent with company on Cambridge Street, Glasgow…..

…. where the street now at least has a little bit of fame.

😃