Inside Stories 3
Edgar Evans, Kate Williamson
As a direct-entry EO, I crossed the threshold of St Andrew's House (SAH) for the first time on 1 May 1963. The Civil Service Commission had assigned me to the Scottish Home and Health Department, so I was directed to the third floor where SHHD Establishment Division was located.
I had a short interview in Room 364, when I was invited to sign the Official Secrets Act among other things, and I was told that I would be posted temporarily to the Central Registry in Room 26 until a permanent assignment was arranged.
For three weeks I worked in Room 26. I discovered that the registry was "central" only in the sense that it was located in the middle of the ground floor of SAH - it stored only the files for the Health Divisions and not the entire Department. Of course, it was a legacy of the merger between the Department of Health for Scotland (DHS) and the Scottish Home Department (SHD) in 1962.
During those first three weeks I was tasked with clearing out the old Health Circulars in the basement store and keeping six copies of each for the archives. I recall thinking that no-one had reviewed these old papers for a long time, since they went back to the 1930s. In between stints in the basement, I helped the registry staff answer the telephone, which rang constantly, usually Health Division staff asking for a "marking" for a file - in other words, where the file was supposed to be, according to the card index. But the card index worked only if staff told the registry when a file was passed to someone else.
I have warm feelings about SAH in those days, the grand marble washrooms, the dining room with waitress service, the messengers, paperkeepers and the rest. I concur with the vivid descriptions provided by others. However, towards the end of May 1963 I received a letter from Establishment, to tell me that I had been assigned to Finance Division 4, SHHD at Saughton.
In 1968 I was assigned to Establishment Division (Room 365) where I helped to look after the (almost 300) Professional, Technical and Scientific staff in the Department. Solicitors Office and the Scottish Information Office were on the strength of SHHD at that time, despite providing a service to the other departments too.
In 1971 I was assigned to Civil Defence Division at 12-14 Carlton Terrace, Edinburgh - one of many small outstations. That division was also responsible for civil emergency contingency planning. The difficulty then (and at other outstations) was remoteness from Ministers and lack of communications, apart from the telephone and the inter-office van service. I recall that the only fax service existed on a fixed private line from SAH to Dover House, using Muirhead equipment popular with the Meteorological Office. The colloquial term in use then was to send a paper by "mufax". One forgets that compact fax machines, for use on the public telephone network, were not developed until the 1980s. There was also a fixed-line teleprinter link from SAH to DH with ungainly teletype machines at each end, similar to those used by the Post Office telegram service.
Around the time of the first Miners' Strike (Jan-Feb 1972), an "Emergency Duty Room" was established by Civil Defence Division in the basement of SAH in Room 032. The idea was that key staff from the lead Division would be close to Ministers; would have easy access to the "mufax" and teleprinter to Dover House; and would be able to concentrate on the immediate work of any emergency, including the preparation of SITREPs for the Cabinet Office. Each desk in Room 032 was provided with two ten-line "key-and-lamp units", which gave access to three ex-directory telephone lines and seven telephone extensions. To help reduce noise when a call was received, a lamp flashed beside one of the keys instead of a bell ringing. This kit enabled anyone in the room to answer a call on any direct line or any extension, simply by pressing the appropriate key; calls could be transferred within the room; callers could be put on hold; and more than one person could take part in a conversation. With hindsight, it might be described as an early manifestation of the call centre! Apart from that, furnishings were basic and a large blackboard filled the end wall with a clock above.
Among the many industrial disputes in the 1970s, the Duty Room was manned on several occasions, most notably the Oil Crisis and second Miners' Strike (1973-74) which included the "three-day week" when enforced power cuts were introduced to save fuel; and the Fire Service Strike (1976) when the stockpiled Civil Defence water pumps known as "Green Goddesses" were used by the military to provide an emergency fire service. During December 1973, I recall this message written on the Duty Room blackboard "Happy Crisis and Complaints of the Season".
Shortly after the Oil Crisis, the office at Carlton Terrace was closed and Civil Defence Division moved to SAH, at first located in the basement beside the Duty Room but later moved upstairs to the first floor. When the Division was searching for extra storage space, I remember being shown two cells from the former jail, which had been incorporated into the west end of the basement during construction of SAH!
I began my civil service career at the age of 16 on 4 January 1965. I passed an entrance exam for clerical assistant while at school and was offered a post in London which I turned down and was later offered a post in the Labour Exchange in Tranent.
My father wrote to somebody in St Andrew's House and asked if I could be given a job there as it was more convenient for public transport from Dunbar. I received a letter telling me to report to the Establishment Division of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland in SAH. At that time there were four Scottish Departments each operating their own personnel/welfare/pay functions. (The other three departments were - Home and Health (SHHD), Education (SED), and Development (SDD). Willie Ross was Secretary of State for Scotland.
When I arrived I got the feeling I was not expected as there did not appear to be a post for me. Probably this was because of my father's letter rather than the usual method of appointing Clerical Assistants (CAs). Anyway instead of being placed in Registry where the majority of CAs started their careers, I was shown into a smoke- filled room on the ground floor which turned out to be Research Branch in Room 53 where the 20 year old incumbent CA had recently been promoted to Clerical Officer (CO) (A3) and was due to take up his new post in a few weeks. They were also surprised to see me but my predecessor was anxious to be away as he was getting married in the near future after a courtship and engagement of several years. The Establishment chap, having found a home for me, departed never to be seen by me in any official capacity again.
The hours were fixed from 8.45am to 5.30pm and 5pm on Friday. Fifteen year olds worked shorter hours and there were special arrangements for starting at 9am for those who had broken their service during the war. There was officially one hour for lunch but I was told I could take up to one and a half hours. Everyone in the branch room had to sign a book with the time they arrived in the morning and left at night. A red line was drawn five minutes after the official starting time and those who were late had to sign below it. The book was sent to Establishment Division every Friday and those who were repeat offenders were reprimanded in some way. I don't recall that employees above the grade of Executive Officer (B1) had to sign in but I may be wrong. After I had been there about a year, the working week was cut by two hours. Staff were canvassed on options for starting and finishing times. The majority opted for 8.30am to 5pm and 4.30pm on Friday. These remain the standard hours to this day.
There was a tea trolley operated by a woman called Mabel which came round all the rooms. There was home baking and filled rolls on the trolley which started at different ends of the building week about. This meant that there was not much left on the trolley on the weeks it started at the other end of the building. However, Mabel had her favourites (I was never one - wrong gender)) for whom she kept special items on the bottom shelf of her trolley so they didn't lose out. Afternoon tea was served in the dining room. Most members of staff left their desks for up to 30 minutes to meet their friends and partake.
Everyone was issued with a towel which was changed fortnightly. The cleaners were all wifie types who rose at 5am to clean the offices before staff arrived and went home in plenty of time to get on with their housework, shopping and making their husband's tea. All offices had a carafe of fresh water and clean glasses supplied by the cleaner every day although nobody drank water in those days. Telephones were disinfected regularly.
Fifteen and sixteen year olds qualified for free luncheon vouchers which were collected every fortnight from a motherly type in the Welfare Branch. They were yellow and worth two shillings and sixpence. Seventeen and eighteen year olds could get pink ones for half price. These vouchers could be used in either the self service canteen in the basement (where the emergency room is today) or the waitress service dining room with white table cloths on the top floor. Pie and chips followed by jelly snow could be bought for the value of the vouchers but if eg roast pork with apple sauce, veg and mash followed by stodge and custard was purchased there was usually something to pay.
Everyone aged between 15 and 17 was obliged to attend day school once a week. My day was Monday when I attended Regent Road Institute and studied subjects such as first aid and ballroom dancing while listening to the weekend exploits of other students and giggling at the bad behaviour of the older police cadets. Academic subjects were on offer but there was no obligation to take them. No-one in Research Branch was the least bit interested in what I was doing there as long as I attended.
CAs were paid weekly in cash. My pay was five pounds eight shillings per week. Two men came from Saughton House every Thursday afternoon to the pay room on the first floor next to the women's lavatories. All the DAFS CAs queued up to get their pay. Sheets of paper were laid out on a desk and everyone had to sign against their name. Then the pay was handed over in a brown envelope from behind a grill. The other departments' CAs did not receive their pay until Friday morning.
Smoking was everywhere. In my room there were four smokers. One of the women EOs smoked so much that her nostrils were orange. People smoked at their desks, in the canteen, in the lavatories, in the lifts, in the corridors. There were no restrictions. Nobody complained in those days
Security was extremely lax. There were no passes. The entrances were manned but anyone could walk into the building and go direct to a room. People often had friends and relatives come in for lunch and they would just turn up in their room.
Women with six or more years established service could opt to take a dowry on marriage. It could amount to quite a substantial sum and most eligible women took this option. However it meant that they became disestablished and if they were above the grade of CO they had to "revert" to CO. This was all to do with "paying the small stamp" which many married women opted to do in those days. Pregnant women left at six months. They usually resigned. There was no provision for keeping their job open for them.
Room 53 contained 4 Executive Officers (EOs) - two men and two women aged from late thirties to late forties. Three COs - one in her fifties, and the other two in their twenties - and me. I was not expected to call anyone by their Christian name.
Room 55 contained Research Branch's two women HEOs (B2s). The younger one who was about forty was formidable and called everyone Mr/Miss. When she first called me Miss Williamson I wondered who she was talking to. Everyone was terrified of her. The other HEO was older. They were both spinsters. The Head of Branch, the Principal C1/2) had an office on the floor above. I was introduced to him when I arrived but he never darkened the door of the Branch Room. The Head of Division, the Assistant Secretary (Deputy Director) was unknown to me.
We all sat at wooden leather topped desks of various designs. The EOs sat at the window. My desk had a midde drawer which meant that I couldn't cross my legs. Some women sellotaped brown paper around the outside of their desks to preserve modesty and prevent draughts. There were various "rules" about what comforts different grades were entitled to, eg bits of carpet for their feet, foot rests, and chairs with arms. Chairs were not adjustable. No-one was concerned about their lumber regions in those days.
There was no such thing as open plan working.
There was no dress code as such but the men all wore suits, shirts and ties. They would sometimes sit at their desks in shirt sleeves but always put their jackets on to go out of the room. Women did not wear trousers and no-one would have dreamt of wearing casual clothes eg tee shirts or jeans. However, during the latter half of the sixties skirts got progressively shorter.. Messengers and doormen had grey uniforms and lift attendants had navy or black uniforms. They all had crowns on the lapels. The paperkeepers wore brown overalls. Most of them were ex servicemen.
The two male EOs had both been in the services during the war. One had been a fighter pilot. He was married with two children. He looked rather like Dennis the Menace's father in the cartoon. The other was a bachelor, a very heavy smoker and hardly spoke to me. He did not get on with the younger HEO and used to say that he was going next door to twang Miss F…..'s suspenders. The two women EOs were in their late thirties and single although one got married to an HEO in Private Office and orange nostrils was engaged for a time. One of the COs was a young chap of twenty six, a born-again Christian with an artificial arm. At the age of nine, his arms had been mangled in a combine harvester while visiting a relative's farm. He had lost one arm and the other was distorted. He coped amazingly well. He sent me to Stationery for verbal agreement slips and I fell for it. The twenty year old CO was recently married to a painter and decorator and they had managed to buy a flat without a mortgage by having no social life, holidays or new clothes for three years.
Research Branch was involved with the administration of the then eight Scottish Agricultural Research Institutes, a post graduate studentship award scheme and was the secretariat for a number of committees.
My job consisted mainly of filing, taking hand written drafts to the typing pool, taking papers to be photocopied, checking type, updating various records, getting files out of registry and getting new files opened. Papers were filed in date order, numbered sequentially and cross referenced. They had had to be punched using a punch guide to ensure that the holes in each paper were a uniform distance apart and the holes had to be reinforced using linen washers to prevent tearing. I only answered the telephone when others were absent. Each EO had a 'phone but everyone else had to share. Men called themselves by their surname when answering the 'phone and women put Miss/Mrs before their surname. Much of my time was spent away from my desk, in registry, at the typing pool, at photocopying etc and getting chatted up in the corridors. Typing pools consisted of girls sitting at rows of desks being overseen by a scary supervisor. It was like being back at school. I was often sent there with urgent typing. The supervisor regularly ignored me as I stood by her desk. When she deigned to acknowledge my existence she invariably said that the typing could not be done urgently and I would have to scuttle back to my room to face the annoyance of my colleagues. If a man asked for urgent typing to be done there was usually no problem. A shorthand writer could be telephoned for to come to one's room to take dictation. Typists used carbon paper to make copies of letters and documents. If three copies of a letter were required "Type 1+3" would be written at the top of the draft.
Papers to be photocopied had to be taken to a CA on the first floor who would fill in a form, attached it to the paper(s) to be copied and send it to a room in the basement where another scary woman reigned. This room also did Roneo which was a process for printing circulars and other documents which required a large number of copies. The circular was typed on a "skin" which was attached to a drum and put through an ink machine to produce the copies. The "skins" were kept in a envelope so that further copies could be run off if required. It was a very messy procedure. Everyone was terrified of the woman in charge. She was an HMSO employee and was therefore answerable to no-one within the Scottish Departments. She had never heard of customer care.
Faxes had to be taken to a special room on the first floor presided over by, guess what - another battleaxe.
The place was full of really scary women. - typing pool supervisors, photocopiers, library assistants, registry managers. It was as if they had been appointed especially to terrorise CAs
Annual reports were never discussed with the reportees. I was not aware of ever having an annual report during my time as a CA. There was never any talk of career development or training needs.
After three years I passed the Civil Service Commission's limited competition exam for Clerical Officer and was posted to the Scottish Office Computer Service (SOCS) at Saughton House. When I reported to the HEO on the Monday, his first words were "they've sent me a wee lassie." "I'm nineteen." I replied indignantly. "Do you have any O levels?" "Yes, of course" I replied. "What? Dressmaking and Cookery?" "Certainly not" I retorted. On the Thursday he asked if I would like a job in SAH as he knew of a chap who had been posted to SAH but who would prefer to remain at Saughton. Establishment, surprisingly agreed to a swap and on the Friday I arrived in Highland Development Branch in Room 180 on the first floor( later Room 66 on the ground floor) where I remained for the next 6 years until I passed the promotion board for Executive Officer.