70 Years of St Andrew's House

St Andrew's House, headquarters of the Scottish Government, celebrated its 70th birthday on September 4, 2009.

Inside Stories 1

Alison Parkin, Ian Penman, David Dalgetty 

Alison Parkin

Most of what I would say has probably been said by others. I too remember the drawing of the red line on the sign in book at 08:35 prompt. No exceptions! If you were later than that you had to work the equivalent time after 17:00.

In the days of the typing pools, well before computers and the current Help Desks, we had the added burden of having to call in Charlie the mechanic which could take up to a couple of days depending on his workload. You then had to try to find another typewriter (which wasn't easy) until he'd been. Again, instead of simply choosing the type size as we do now, there was only one "small type" typewriter which had to be shared amongst all the typing pools. There was often a queue of people waiting to use it. No fancy photocopiers either - it was a dyeline which would only copy one page at a time and was so slow. Same with the running of PQs which had to be typed on a special "skin" and then put on a special machine which picked up the imprint.

We had a late duty rota as well when you worked late one evening per week and after five weeks you had a week free! On the late working days we would often all meet up and have a "high tea" in the staff restaurant which you ordered at lunchtime.

We could also go to a central store for stationery but you had to produce either your empty pen refill before another was issued or the stub of your typewriter pencil eraser.

Ian Penman

I remember when the fire doors were first introduced in St Andrew's House sometime in the 1980s and there was an almighty row. The staff didn't want them, Historic Scotland objected to having them in the building, but health & safety considerations prevailed and they were installed.

I worked in Jeffrey Street for a while and it was when you moved to another building that you appreciated the job that Tait had done with St Andrew's House and its wide spaces. The stairwells and corridors were all about managing the light and this explained why the fire doors caused such a fuss because they interfered with the design of the building.

I also had an argument with Sir Malcolm Rifkind in the 1980s about what was going to go above the front door. He wanted it to say "Scottish Office" and it was all very political. He moved on shortly afterwards and so "The Scottish Office" prevailed!

David Dalgetty

I endorse all that my old friend Brian Pearson has written about this period - the signing in books, the personal towels, the staff restaurant, putting your jacket on before you went into the corridor and so on. So I need to stretch deeper to add to the colour of the times.

SAH was a very sociable building. Its sheer scale and, in the days before all the internal doors appeared, the openness of all the corridors and the stairways meant that you met lots of people. Much of that society was based on the staff restaurant on the 6th floor and around the food trolleys which made morning and afternoon rounds of the building. In these much more relaxed days most of us would have both a mid morning and mid afternoon break and I made my first lasting friendships from the Service in the sedate surroundings of the staff restaurant during fairly leisurely afternoon teas served by waitresses to linen covered tables.

The openness of the building and its rituals meant that you met people. Mid morning and mid afternoon the corridors teemed with officers of all grades, personal towels folded neatly over their shoulders and cups or mugs held in their hands making their ritual visits to the toilets to wash their cups and attend to more personal needs.

There was an institutional feel from the preponderance of stout brown linoleum covering the corridors of all but the Ministerial floor and most rooms. Sitting at my desk as an EO (BI) with only a small coconut mat beneath my feet how I envied my HEO (B2) who enjoyed a square of carpet which extended about two feet from each side of her desk - not to mention my Principal (C1) who luxuriated in a fitted carpet covering all of her office floor. Almost more than the financial rewards of promotion we longed for the carpets!

At that time, of course, the Scottish Office was not based in the range of substantial buildings now occupied by the Scottish Government. There were really only two large concentrations - SAH and Broomhouse Drive (later grandiosely renamed Saughton House). Many staff were distributed across a range of small offices across Edinburgh including Elder Street just above the bus station staff canteen. But SAH had all the Ministers and all the Secretaries of Departments.

There was the degree of formality as Brian Pearson has noted -you were taken aside if you did not put your jacket on before leaving your room and, as an EO you would never dream of using your HEO's first name - but it was a friendly building full of characters. I would add to Brian's comments on the move to five day a week working that when SAH was open on a Saturday morning that was the only time that the wearing of a suit was not de rigueur - you could wear a sports jacket and flannels!

I have fond memories of Tam the in-house joiner, a wonderful grey haired stocky figure forever on his way to or from some chore his bunnet firmly plated on his head, a pencil behind his ear and a fag hanging from his lip. His greatest joy came from his responsibilities as officer in charge of the mechanism for lowering and raising the walls between the third floor conference rooms.

At that time the Secretary of State chaired meetings of the Scottish Economic Planning Council. These took place in a third floor conference room and lasted all day. I persuaded the then Secretary of State that rather than have members disappear to find lunch wherever they could we should - a first for the time - have the staff restaurant prepare a buffet luncheon. Gordon Campbell agreed and we planned the arrangements with military precision. As the morning session proceeded a sumptuous buffet was set out in the adjoining conference room. Waitresses stood by in the corridor withy trays of drinks. Tam stood further along poised by the wall lowering control. On cue I quietly entered the main conference room at the end of morning business just as the Secretary of State told his visitors that as a departure from previous practice he would be delighted if members could join him for lunch theatrically waving an arm at the wall to his right. As he did so I gave the signal to Tam who lowered the wall. I stood back as the four waitresses swept into the room from the other end trays laden with drinks. There was actually a round of applause from Council members. Tam remembered his part in this bit of theatre to the end of his days.

In those days different arrangements were in place for stationery supplies. When the ink ran out in your ball point pen you did not just go to the cupboard and take out a new one. You had to go to the store in the basement to see Jock Wynn. You would nervously approach the serving counter at the door of his domain and wait For Jock to appear. This first hint was a strong whiff of his Condor tobacco and he would appear sucking on his pipe surrounded by a halo of smoke. He would examine the pen in question to be sure that there was not a drop of ink left and reluctantly issue you with a refill. He was grumpy and colourful in his language but had a heart of gold.

Not only did you have to leave your office to get stationery but you had to do so also to access typing, fax, telex and copying facilities. Each typing pool had a new dye line copier - hailed as a wonderful technological advance on carbon copies made by placing a piece of carbon paper in between two sheets of blank paper before typing. To make copies the modern way you had to place the original on top of a paper coated with yellow chemicals. You then passed both into a slot where they were scanned by a very bright light. The copy page was then treated in bath of chemicals before being spewed out damp and soggy. That page was then placed on a heater on top of the machine as you repeated the process for each additional copy or additional page. If safely contained in files copies made in this way were relatively safe but if you left one out on your desk for any time ambient light faded them beyond recognition. No wonder some people continued to use carbon copies for some years!

A great tradition which survived into the 1970s was the delivery of Christmas chickens and turkeys from the West of Scotland Agricultural College Poultry Unit at Auchincruive. For three years I was the officer responsible for taking orders from all over the building, taking payment and remitting it to the College. Deliveries were made in a van driven by the Professor of Poultry himself.

Back to top