I think I can say, without fear of contradiction, everyone reading this post detests the intrusion on their privacy by the various unsolicited phone-calls received each day from any number of spurious sources.
Grants for cavity wall insulation or loft insulation; claim for damage to your car in an accident that you’re totally unaware of; claim against car manufacturers for selling you a diesel model many years ago; claim against a Bank for incorrectly selling you Payment Protection Insurance in the dim and distant past – all that kind of malarky.
It does my head in, really!
It’s a regrettable consequence of progress in the field of Communication, I fear, but it was never like this back in the day.
Or was it?
Certainly, any attempt at tele-sales would have been pretty futile. Not every household had access to a telephone for a start, and those that did were interminably engaged while Mrs Jones from #10 chatted about her Bert’s lumbago to her sister on the ‘party line.’
No – in those days, the best chance of maximising sales was to get in front of the
intended victim prospective customer.
‘Knock! Knock! Knock!
Oh, give me peace – who the heck is it now?
The most common, persistent and determined visitor would have been the Door-to-Door Salesman. Unlike the tele-sales staff of today, these guys were not always quite so easy to get rid of. They were not easily discouraged by a simple, “Not today, thank you,” and had a reputation for preventing the door being shut on them by sticking their foot in the way.
They would arrive, bringing all manner of items for sale, from the expensive, but miraculous, new vacuum cleaner to shoe-brushes and polish!
Perhaps unfairly, and possibly influenced by the image portrayed in ‘70s TV sitcoms, I recall them as sort of ‘spiv’ type characters, full of themselves … as well as an inordinate amount of BS!
In a similar vein, there was also the Insurance Salesman. He’d offer life and household insurance and would collect policy money which would be recorded in a small receipt book. A forerunner of today’s Financial Planning Consultant, his products would not be so regulated, but they were certainly a lot less complicated and confusing.
At the opposite end of the ‘hard sell’ scale was a visitor more eagerly welcomed by women around the country – The Avon Lady. Though it was dropped some time in The Seventies, Avon is to this day still associated with the tagline of its 1960s TV advert – ‘Ding Dong! Avon calling.’
Similarly greeted with enthusiasm and eternal hope, was the Pools Agent.
My dad and I would sit by the dining table each week, agonising whether Arbroath were likely to get an away win at Stranraer that following weekend; would Stockport County manage a draw with Workington? Get these and a few other results right, and we’d be off to sunny Spain on a family holiday next week!
This was way before the days of The National Lottery and contactless card payments and the agents would walk door to door, even through the dark winter evenings, collecting cash from numerous households. In isolation, the stake monies weren’t vast, but by the end of the evening, the collectors would be weighed down with decent sums, and I’m sure presented easy targets for the neighbourhood’s ne’er-do-wells.
‘Knock! Knock! Knock!’
“What now? It’s dinner time, for goodness sake!”
I could have put my pocket money on it – an interruption at meal times invariably meant a visit by a Jehovah’s Witness or The Salvation Army. This was often a tricky one to handle for my parents. They wouldn’t want to cause any offence by sharply telling the visitors to sling their hook, but at the same time, their corned beef hash was getting cold. Sometimes, it was worth a few coppers donation just to get rid of them.
It wasn’t just hawkers and scroungers that sought our attention though. There were also those providing a service. Remember the Knife Sharpener? Here in Glasgow, the late ‘60s and early ‘70s saw a rise in knife crime, with ‘razor gangs’ terrorizing many areas of the city. Business must have been booming!
I do recall the Knife Sharpener coming down our sedate, suburban street. He always attracted a crowd of us kids watching on, fascinated.
“Look how sharp this is Mum,” we’d say after gleefully running back home with the now sparkling and shiny breadknife in our sweaty and slippery grip.
Chimney sweeps were anther essential service provider, at least in the early Sixties, but with cities in the UK moving to smokeless fuel towards the end of the decade, their visits became less and less frequent.
Others touting for business wouldn’t necessarily knock on residents’ doors. Instead, their presence would be announced by the heavy ‘clip clop’ sound of a horse’s hooves, accompanied by the blowing of whistles, the crashing noise of pots and pans being banged together, and the clarion call of:
“ANY OLD I-I-I-I-R-R-O-O-O-N?!”
Those were the days! The days of ‘The Scrappy.’ No need to complete an online form and pay the council fifty quid or whatever to come and take away your scrap metal some two or three weeks in the future. Just keep it by the house and every week or so, some bloke would come round and take it off your hands for free. Sometimes, he’d even pay you.
Then there was also the good old ‘Rag and Bone Man.’ He too would be assisted on his rounds by an old working horse, and would take away any old tat you had not previously foisted off on the local Boy Scouts Jumble Sale.
Add weekly / daily visits from the fish van; the baker van; the general supplies van; the ‘pop’ van; the ice cream van and the mobile library, and I have to wonder how Jeff Bezos ever managed to get his Amazon business off the ground.
So yes, it was different back in the day, but maybe not as different as we really consider. We were still bombarded by others seeking to make a living.
Certainly, it’s easier to abruptly end any unwanted discourse with those intrusive tele-sales teams of today.
But given the choice of talking to some geezer purporting to be called ‘Andrew’ from a call centre in Mumbai about extending my mobile phone contract, or feeding a sugar lump to a tired looking, flea bitten, poor old nag as its owner loads more weight to the cart it’s expected to pull, and … well I know which I prefer.
(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson from Glasgow – March 2023.)