First let me say a few words about me. I joined the GPO Telephones on the 5th November 1965 as an Installation Engineer, after a few years I went to work at the Shirley Training School as an Instructor Engineering and eventually re-joined Birmingham Area as an Inspector, all together I served just over twenty-nine years.
I could see that BT as the GPO had become, was moving towards being purely a service provider and was rapidly de-skilling installation work, so where did my future lie? At this time BT declared it was shedding the Factories and they would become a stand-alone business. There I thought was the possible future and was why I applied for a post at Fordrough Lane.
Moving to FL brought me into contact with some interesting characters, one of the first was Ozzie Williams. What a great guy he was and I was sorry when he went. My favourite, but uncomfortable memory of Ozzie was one evening when my ‘phone went and I was asked by Tom Brasil to come to Ozzie’s office. Tom and Ozzie were trying to figure out what to do about a certain product and asked my opinion. I started by saying; “I reckon the n…….” and came to a crashing halt as I realised what I was about to say. Tom looked aghast, but Ozzie burst into laughter. “Come on say it” he begged me, “Say it”. Reluctantly I carried on at which Ozzie said; “You’ve made my day. You never considered me to be a black man and that’s great”.
I first worked for David Pickerill a great guy but sometimes he couldn’t take a joke. One day I was down in the demo room which Harry Ward was also using as a temporary office. The door opened and this strange guy walked in, didn’t speak and sat at Harry’s desk. I was just about to speak to this stranger when I realised it was Harry but without his normal beard. Without saying anything I left the room and went back to my desk and David had just come in. I told David there was some strange bloke messing with Harry’s stuff and that I didn’t like the look of him. David strode off, barged into the room and immediately challenged the stranger, what was he doing messing about with other peoples stuff. Harry told him where to go and what to do with himself. David came back and was furious much to every ones amusement. Harry was a dog breeder in his spare time and one evening just as he was about to leave his ‘phone went. It was his wife asking if he had bought some dog bedding as they had run out, he hadn’t and was really worried at his wife’s reaction when he got home. So I suggested he could take some of the shredded waste that was waiting to be collected from the office, Harry was not amused at the suggestion. But, discretion being the better part of valour, he took a couple of bags home, next day I caught him loading up his car with more shredded waste. Reluctantly he told me that the dogs absolutely loved it despite his misgivings. It saved us a bit of money to as we had to pay to have it removed.
By this time I had been promoted and was the same rank. Sometimes I would get into work and the office was busy and silent so often I would announce my arrival with something like; “What a wonderful day it is today. What a shame there only 24 hours to the day. What a shame there only seven days to the week. What a shame there are only 365 days in a year. That used to get everyone going. One day I came in did my spiel and David went barmy, he was on the ‘phone at the time, so I cut the handset off his ‘phone mid conversation. He nearly had a heart attack with rage, meanwhile Erica and the other secretaries nearly fell off their chairs laughing. Erica Steadman was one of the typists, what a girl, she could type a letter faster than you could dictate it. However IT department put a stop to that when they brought in their computer system, it couldn’t cope with her speed and reduced her to being a two fingered typist like me. Erica had a great sense of humour, one day she and the other ladies of the office had been to a seminar with HR. When they came back some hours later Erica addressed the office. “Gentlemen, we have been to a seminar on Sexual Harassment in The Workplace and I have only one thing to say to you”. Every one winced and made themselves a smaller target. “Why aren’t I getting my share?” she yelled and went back to work.
We had some great girls in our office, Sue MacDonald and Sue Sneddon both of them a pleasure to work with. There were some great guys too, Bob Mendonca, Wayne Bull, Keith Sparkes, Hitesh Parekh, Nick Butler, Kevin Glibbery, Kym Soni and several others whose names I forget. One I haven’t forgotten was John Reardon, a fantastically clever and capable person who had a weakness for treading on thin ice. As an example, the first major meeting we had with David Proctor was for all the marketing people not only at FL but all the other factories. Everyone is assembled in the conference room with the exception of Ron Macy from Enfield. David was getting tetchy as he wanted everybody present before he kicked off the meeting. He was grumbling about Ron not being there when John got up from his seat, walked to a pillar that had a small door in it. He knocked loudly on the door, opened it and bellowed; “Ron, are you getting out of bed today or should we start without you ??? " Everybody was too startled to react and just looked at each other, David looked as though he was about to have a heart attack. John was saved in the next instance by the door bursting open and a very hot and bothered Ron Macy shot into the room. “Sorry I’m late he started to say but was drowned out by the roar of laughter from everyone. Ron was nonplussed.
I had a lot of dealings with the guys from R&D, John Spanton, Dave Sandercock, Keith Vinning, Mike Knuckey. Mike was the ADEKS guy and he and I had quite a few visits to MOD locations to put in bids for various items. He was annoyed that on our visits, I always got a pass that said “Free to Wander” which was Green and he always got a “To be accompanied in Secure Areas” pass which was Orange. I explained to him that as part of the Vetting process they dug up our grannies and examined their teeth. If they found dental work done by a Russian dentist you were deemed to be a risk. His granny must have had at least one filling that was suspect while my granny’s teeth were OK. He was never happy with that explanation. However if we were ever forced to take our esteemed leader, Dr Rafik Moutran with us, he always got a Red pass which said “To be accompanied At All Times”. On odd trips we had to go with Dr Moutran in his car and there was always competition between us to travel in the back. The reason for this was that his car was an automatic and he had a worrying style of driving, he operated the accelerator pedal with his right foot while using his left foot on the brake at the same time. Neither Mike or I were happy with this style of driving.
There was a guy in R&D who was a very keen cyclist (I forget his name). One day he and I had to go down to Martlesham for a meeting. I arrange that I will provide the car and I will pick him up in Great Barr where he lived with his parents. It was before the days of mobile ‘phones so I gave him my home ‘phone number in case there was a problem, there wasn’t so we did the trip and that was that. A week or so later I am at home on a Saturday when the ‘phone rings, it’s the Police who won’t tell me what they want but want to know why someone should have a piece of paper with my name on it in their possession. When I tell them that It is perhaps this guy thery want to know where he lived, I didn’t know the address but was able to talk them to it via an A to Z. The police then rang off and called me later, the guy in question had been riding his bike at speed down the Newton Road when he ran into the back of a bus that stopped unexpectedly. His head broke through the fibreglass body of the bus and he was hanging by his neck, fortunately a quick thinking passenger took his weight and held him up until the Fire Brigade turned up. They cut the panel out of the bus and sent he and the panel to Dudley Road where they managed to save his life. As far as I know he made a good recovery.
Keith Vinning was an interesting personality with whom I mostly got on well although sometimes we fell out. One such time was over the Edgeley Clock type display. The sales guys came to me asking for us to develop a clock type display to go in the DQ Bureau’s, I went to Keith who came back with a request for £250,000 to develop it. I pointed out we couldn’t sell that many to justify the development cost. Keith wouldn’t budge. About two days later a guy turned up at the factory gate wanting to see someone about something he had designed. Nobody was interested so he ended up at my desk, he had a very nice little box, with a very nice display. We went through the numbers for his idea and I convinced him that there was no future for the idea. As he was about to go I asked him who made the display, “I did” he replied I have the Seiko Event Timing contract for the whole of Western Europe and I have a little manufacturing unit. I got out the sketches for the display we wanted and asked him could he make it. “Piece of cake” he said, I asked him how much a prototype would cost, and in five minutes he came up with a cost of just over £1,000 and further orders at much less. He delivered the first one just over a week later and I set it up on my desk running dummy software. No sooner was it running, than George Ross one of our salesmen, came into the office. He took one look at the display, grabbed a ‘phone and made arrangements to demo it the next day. We set a nice juicy price and the next day George rang me with several orders which I duly placed. Orders flowed in steadily as the displays were a hit with our customers, however several weeks later I get hauled into a meeting with Tim, Dave Sandercock, Keith and Tom, Dick and Harry to explain why I was getting items made outside of the factory. I pointed out that there was a slight difference between £1,000 and £250,000 and that the makers had the Seiko Units and technology that we didn’t have. There was a bit of a Hoo Ha which was cut through by the Finance Director; “How much are you selling them for?”, he asked. “That much” he exclaimed; “Ken you can go”, so I walked out of the meeting and that was the last I heard of that.
Sometime later Keith was showing the BT guys around who were responsible for DQ Bureau’s nationally, he brought them down to look around our display room. While they were looking around they came up with the concept that they would like a terminal that operators could record a message on. As it so happened I had a little box that contained one of the first 1Meg chips and you could record to it. I explained how in theory this could be built into a console to do the job they wanted. A bit later Keith came to see me because they had asked him to very quickly price up a console. Between us we constructed a pricing model which took several hours and was very flaky, as there were several unknowns, and Keith duly presented his costing to BT. Several weeks later Keith appeared at my desk, “You were way out with that costing”, he said. “By how much”, I asked. “10p” , he said with delight, because the customer had just placed a large order for the new terminals and he got the credit for it. In this case we got the business but often people like Mike and I would spend hours and days working out how we could respond to a tender only to find in the end that we didn’t get the job. Talk about frustrating.
Several times odd bods suddenly appeared in Marketing, Bill Powell was one of these. He asked me one day if I knew why he had been employed as no one had given him anything worthwhile to do since he started. I surmised that he must have some knowledge that we wanted to keep out of the hands of competitors, which was a feasible but unlikely explaination.
Another odd character was a guy who I think was called Malcom Rose. He appeared in our office when we were moved to K Block under Dr Moutran. He was with us for a few months and during that time he had confrontational arguments with nearly everyone, usually reducing his opponent to tears. Mike and I just couldn’t fathom out what his role was. One day he came into my office and began to shower me with praise, “Ohh, Ohh” I thought my turn this time I suppose. “You know Ken”, he said “You have one fatal flaw, you lack the killer instinct. Every time you get Rafik on the ropes you let him off ‘cos you feel sorry for him, next time you get in a fight with him, when I give you the nod let me deal with him”. About a week later we have a staff meeting and Rafik and I come to blows, so to speak. Malcom muscles in and within a few minutes Rafik gets up and leaves the room, the meeting ends in chaos. After a while Malcom is summoned to Tim’s office, a long while later he appears in his office, clears his desk and walks into my office. “Thanks Ken, you have been a great help to me”, he says. I reckon he has just been sacked and am about to ask him when he takes a cheque from his pocket, looks at it and says; “this will keep me going for a couple of years, Bye”. That was the last we saw of him, Mike and I never did find out what his job was supposed to be.
One of the great guys I had some dealings with was Reg Fox of Boxer fame. His desk was next to mine in our office and he had been worrying if he would be able to get out on redundancy/retirement grounds. Eventually he managed to get it and shortly before he went he had a meeting with the staff on the Boxer project. After the meeting they took their leave and Reg sat despondently at his desk, he let out a large sigh. “Stop it Reg”, I said, he turned and asked what did I mean. I told him feeling sorry for yourself now you are not essential to the project any more. “You’re right”, he replied I was feeling a bit like a spare part, I want to go but I don’t.
Human Resources were always somehow a problem for me, I suppose they started when HR were doing some retirement seminars and they borrowed Marketing’s Projection TV, a monster of a thing with three different colour tubes in it. They were about to show a video to a room full of retirees when the colour went all to pot. Muggins gets called to fix it when all the engineers present hadn’t managed to do so. I walked into the room, stood in front of the TV, gave it a long hard stare. The audience sat with bated breath as they waited for me to fix it. I gave it a really hard kick the colour went back to normal and the room erupted into howls of laughter. “It’s easy when you know how”, I said to the audience and left sharply. For some reason HR were not amused.
A little later in my time at FL, I was interviewed for a job promotion by Bill Robinson. After a few minutes of questioning by Bil it became apparent to me that it was a non-interview. He suddenly came up with what I call a ‘Duck Quacker off a question, by that I mean if the plaster ducks on your living room wall start to quack, you are at liberty to get the shotgun out and let them have it. The question was this; “Is there any time since you came to FL that you have thought we are a Load of Cowboys?” I thought about it for a few seconds and said; “You know Bill since I came here I have always found everyone to be the most hardworking, friendly and competent people I have ever worked with, but there has been just one incident that made think that”. “Really”, he said with the first flicker of interest since the interview started. “Tell me about it” - “Well”, I said; “It was on my Induction Course, and I and several others had gone through a day of training with some great people when the final person came in to talk to us. He sat at the table, put his feet on the table and talked to us with fag ash dangling from his fag, clasping his hands behind his head as he spoke. We all looked at the cowboy boots he was wearing and thought so this is one of the cowboys. Interview over I think Bill”, I said and left the room.
Another guy I had problems with was Jonathon Whittaker, a really nice guy when he wasn’t wearing his HR hat. I get called to HR one day for a meeting with him. He wanted me to sign a new personal contract with the company. I asked him what kind of contract it was and he told me it was for one year, included a pay rise, company car, health insurance etc.. I told him I wasn’t interested it wasn’t the kind of contract I wanted, so he asked me to say what I wanted. I told him I didn’t want a company car or the other goodies I wanted a three year rolling contract, they could give me one month’s notice of dismissal, and they would pay me three year’s salary. Meeting over as far as he was concerned. A few days later I get called to another meeting with him, where he asks me what would I do if I came into work one day and there was no job for me. No problem I told him, I will just find an empty desk, ask people if they want me to help them. If they don’t after a month I will leave and sue the company for Constructive Dismissal. Interview over once again.
David Pickerill came to my desk one day in a right huff because he had applied for a job outside and they wanted a copy of his current appraisal with the application. He wanted to know when I hadlast been appraised and I told him you did it Dave just after I started at FL. But that isn’t right he said, we are supposed to have one every two years and neither of us have had one in five years.
It doesn’t matter I said, of course it does was his reply how do I know if I am doing my job right? So I asked him if anyone had told him he was a total dummy who should be sacked, or had they said he was the best thing since sliced bread and should run BT, because if they hadn’t why should he worry. But I need an appraisement for this job was his reply and I pointed out to him that was why he hadn’t had one because when asked to provide one for him it would be written to suit if they wanted to keep him or let him go. David was staggered at this bit of info and went away muttering and shaking his head. He did get out eventually.
By this time it was obvious Fujitsu were on the verge of taking over completely, the last round of redundancy /retirement was nearly closed and I have been told that I cannot go I am too valuable. How the dickens am I going to get released, because I don’t want to work for Fujitsu, so I hatch a cunning plot. Tim is very friendly with AT&T who supply us with Cosmic, and while I am down in their London office the chance comes up to perhaps escape. They ask me of my opinion of Tim as an MD, I tell them I think he is out of his depth but, he would make an excellent Sales Manager. Meanwhile I go back to Brum and take a load of bags in for clearing my desk. I say nothing to anyone, and two days later I get a call to go to Tim’s office pronto. When I get there Tim is in a right lather. He accuses me of gross insubordination and treachery and I can see he is on the verge of giving me the sack. It’s All or Nothing time, I go for him verbally and we have a real shouting match. Eventually he says he doesn’t know what to do with me and I take the opportunity to suggest he sends me on gardening leave and lets me go on redundancy and retirement terms. To my surprise and relief he agrees. “Clear your desk and get out”, he says, and I go. I went back to the office cleared my desk and was gone within twenty minutes. As I drove away from FL I was filled both with sadness and relief. Sad that my twenty-nine years of service were at an end, sad because I guessed that the place would be closed once Fujitsu fully owned it, and sad that those remaining would get a raw deal. There was relief that I had managed to escape and that I hadn’t been sacked, but it was a near thing.
Sometime later at the retirement do, John Reardon and several others said they were amazed that I had managed to get released. One or two of those staying told me that I was an idiot not to have signed a personal contract and stayed, but a year or so later I get several ‘phone calls from people who had just been told they were not needed and on very unfavourable terms.
So that’s it, five years or so of my time at Fordrough Lane in a few words. I really enjoyed my time there, met some lovely people and had some good laughs. I would do it all again tomorrow if that was possible.
Best regards – Ken Pitt