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

Kenneth Mackenzie, W Kerr Fraser

Kenneth Mackenzie

I first entered St Andrew's House (SAH) on 6th April 1964, the day before I appeared in front of the final Selection Board. As a Scot entirely educated in England. It seemed a good idea to find out at first hand something of the Department of State, which I had selected as my first choice. I was received by Gerald Wilson, then an Assistant Principal in the Scottish Home and Health Department (SHHD) and about to start a stint as Private Secretary to the Minister of State. He showed me the ministerial corridor on the fifth floor-" the Corridor of Power" - and first to be separated by internal doors so that, like the characters in C P Snow's novel recently published at that time, we never actually entered the rooms. Still, I owe Gerald a good deal for assisting me to talk sensibly as to what was distinctive and attractive about the SHHD - often described as a "pantomime horse" of a department. He subsequently became my boss as Principal in the Civil Law Division and finished up as Secretary of another two-headed monster: the Education and Industry Department.

By the time I learned that I had been successful in the competition, I had also been accepted for a graduate degree course at an American university so my entry to the Scottish Office was deferred till 19th July 1965. I then made my second appearance in SAH where I received the usual induction treatment as described by others. This culminated in an audience with Mr Martin Fearn, the SHHD Establishment Officer, formerly of the Indian Civil Service, whose shaggy eyebrows and quizzical expression gave him a strong resemblance to the actor Alastair Sim. He took me to meet the Head of Department, REC Johnson, who sported a beard - not so common in those days - and played the organ in St Columba's-by-the-Castle.

I had been assigned to Division IA which dealt with civil law matters and my principal was one W K Fraser. He shared room 372 with an able HEO and pillar of the Free Kirk, Alastair MacDonald, and there was no separate room or desk for me. I, therefore, spent my first few weeks working at a side table in this cramped little room surrounded by files and legal tomes and occasionally shrouded in tobacco smoke from Kerr's pipe. This meant, however, that I was privy to the performance of their duties of two very gifted colleagues - each in their own way- and I naively thought that the whole Civil Service must be like that.

Some weeks later I was moved to the "horse boxes", a group of glass and hardboard partitioned rooms at the rear of the building. Across the dismal inner courtyard where coal for the boilers was noisily delivered, I could see the windows of the rooms occupied by the Under Secretaries and above of the (then) four departments and speculated what effect a machine gun attack on my part would have on the Scottish Office seniority list. I was restrained from a mass assassination attempt by the fact that Kerr Fraser could see my every move from the window of his new room on the corridor at right angles to mine. Now in those days we did not have dial tone telephones so all internal calls had to be connected by the operator and the tie line to Dover House had to be booked in advance. To avoid delay in summoning me to his room for consultation, therefore, Kerr would catch my eye through the windows and wave his handkerchief. This implied, of course, that I spent my days looking out of the window in expectation of a summons from my superior officer.

Civil Law was a ragbag division which got landed with subjects or cases for which no home could be found anywhere else. One of these cases concerned a poor wretch with mental health problems who fancied himself as official historian to the United Nations to whom he sent a history of the Second World War on two pages of a jotter. Some well meaning but innocent individual in New York sent back a profuse acknowledgement in an envelope bearing several special UN stamps. The "historian" immediately copied the document to the Secretary of State demanding recognition by HMG of his status of a UN official to which I sent a tactful refusal. Undeterred, our correspondent appeared unannounced at the reception desk in SAH one fine day bearing the framed original of his letter and envelope for safe keeping by Mr Secretary Ross. I was sent downstairs to explain to him that in all this vast building the Minister had no wall space to accommodate his generosity. I prevailed on the day but some time later we received an invoice for fees at a nursing home in the Bruntsfield area to which this person had discharged himself after a hospital operation, claiming that, as the recognised official historian of World War Two for the UN, his bill should be sent to the Scottish Home and Health Department. The matter passed swiftly to our Solicitor's Office since he obviously wasn't so daft after all.

The next room I occupied was room 106 in the east wing when I moved to the health side of SHHD. This I shared with two HEOs quite comfortably apart from Don Ferguson's habit of lighting a cigarette and then leaving it to smoulder on the edge of the ashtray. This seemed to cause the smoke to cling to our clothes more pungently than if he had inhaled it as we encouraged him to do.

During the summer months we could keep the windows open except when drowned out by the Royal High School Pipe band, which practised in the playground across Regent Road. One afternoon I was just getting through on the phone to the Ministry of Health when the band struck up. "This is the Scottish Office", I shouted into the receiver to which my interlocutor replied," You don't need to tell me, mate. I can hear it for myself"

The junior Assistant Principal in the Department was expected to act as treasurer for the SHHD branch of the First Division Association. This was the trade union of the (then) Administrative Class and reputed to be the only union in the country which negotiated wage claims with its own members. The perk from this arrangement was that you did not actually have to join or subscribe to the Association yourself so long as you collected the subs and diary money from those who insisted on paying in cash. As a junior officer it was an embarrassing task to demand money from your seniors most of whom never seemed to have change or had to be reminded several times. By then a new AP had arrived to whom this chore could pass.

A similar role was invented for me by David Bayes, then Controller of Office Services and Chairman of the Departmental Efficiency Committee (sic) and later Director of the Scottish Office training Unit at the Botanic Garden way along Inverleith Row. David was a born enthusiast for anything he touched and cooked up the idea of an SHHD staff magazine to be called "The Grapevine" or unofficially "The Grapefruit" by some of the wags. I was an obvious victim for membership of the editorial board, as we were grandly called, and was dispatched to interview each head of division in SHHD and commission a one-page article on the highlights of current business for their staff.

Establishment Division regarded the Bayes initiative with deep suspicion so this was a fast track to becoming the most unpopular member of staff as many of those who bothered to see me at all treated the interview as akin to the Wailing Wall. When asked by the Head of Police Division what the exercise was in aid of, I foolishly muttered something banal about "improving departmental sprit". He retorted that you could only hope to improve that by a generous application of real spirit with which he may have had some acquaintance.

I still have my copies of the first three editions of "The Grapevine" which did not last for very long. The October 1967 edition carried an article I wrote "Of mice and pigeons" about an invasion of vermin self-inflicted by staff who left snacks and other food items lying on their desks. There had apparently been a complaint from George Pottinger, one of the Assistant Under Secretaries of State, that pigeons fed by staff were fouling the window ledge outside his room on the fifth floor. My researches into this weighty affair of state revealed a long history e.g. that 577 mice were caught in the year 1944 and six rats were caught in one night but not before they had chewed right through several copies of the Post Office telephone directory.

Much of this infestation affected the West Shelter, a storage area in the basement of the West Wing of SAH dating from the prison and then air raid shelter previously on the site. For its last 25 years, the Edinburgh Civil Service Dramatic Society stored its props, furniture and costumes. Free storage and rehearsal accommodation (in conference rooms and the basement coffee lounge) were a great privilege and hidden subsidy to an amateur dramatic society for which we remain very grateful. This arrangement eventually collapsed and, for lack of new members, the Society was wound up in 2005. Before then, however, I had inadvertently precipitated an expensive crisis in the West Shelter. People who are clearing out houses always turn to their local am dram club to take black bags of old furs, morning suits and other "period" costume off their hands and the West Shelter proved a useful, if rather untidy, dumping ground. On one occasion we acquired a clutch of large unwieldy shades for standard lamps for which there was no floor or shelf space. I noticed a rack of heating pipes lagged in what looked like plaster at head height. I pushed the lampshades on top of the pipes leaving some slight scratches on the surface of the lagging. Some time later we were ordered to evacuate the Shelter since traces of asbestos had been found in the air there, which had probably emanated from the lagging material of the overhead pipes. I told Accommodation Branch about the lampshades but they were more concerned with eradication than the blame game.

Other contributors have mentioned the Staff Dining Room on the sixth floor when it had uniformed waitress service, tablecloths, cake stands and a cupola. - rather reminiscent of the saloons of the "Queen Elizabeth" or the "Queen Mary". Not only could you get afternoon tea there, but you could also order high tea - bacon and eggs, tea and toast, the lot - if you were working late or staying for a play rehearsal. There was even Youngers export on sale at lunchtime. Sad to say, all this was swept away in 1970 when the Dining Room was converted to a self-service canteen with its sixth floor windows permanently boarded up! The then Permanent Under Secretary of State, Sir Douglas Haddow, was quoted as saying that "it wasn't even fit for taking a County Clerk for lunch." However its egalitarian aim was partly achieved after the election of that year when Teddy Taylor, MP lunched upstairs on arrival as Joint Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Health Education and Social Work in the Conservative administration. The preceding Labour ministers had always had sandwiches brought to their rooms.

W Kerr Fraser

I joined the Scottish Home Department in SAH in September 1955 as an Assistant Principal. My recollections of my first ten days are a bit fuzzy now. I signed the Official Secrets Act and various documents about my pension - and I received my towel. I was told I was on two years' probation. Then, or soon after, I was enrolled in the Civil Service Nursing Association which had its own nursing home in Edinburgh. I also joined the Civil Service Guild and was issued with a small card listing the shops in Edinburgh which would give discount to members of the Guild. This privilege was very attractive to someone just about to marry, but not long afterwards it was terminated as a result of a Parliamentary Question. This was before the days of Private Eye.

I was taken to the Registry and shown how to put papers on a file, number them and so on. The lady in charge was very much in charge: she had seen a number of AP's and was not, I suspect, impressed. She put me in the hands of two ladies, the Misses Sangster, who were identical twins and whom I have met a number of times since we all retired. They had no doubt put a number of bemused AP's through this training before me and did not treat me as any more bemused than the others, although I guess I was. They were very kind. It is my recollection that I subsequently learned the hard way that it was not for me to put papers on files but to send them to the Registry for this to be done.

I had a family friend, much older, who was somewhere in the Office, and I had read a few references in memoirs to the conduct of government business, but the mysteries of files, minutes and the passage of papers up, down and across were just that - mysteries. So were the acronyms and the ranks, the latter mystery being passed down to a later generation when, a little later in my career, I moved on promotion from being a Secretary (Private) to be an Assistant Secretary and had some difficulty in assuring young, acute members of the family that my career was not in decline.

When I arrived in SAH no decision had been taken on where I was to work so I was sent to sit for a morning or a full day with other AP's or HEO's to see what they were doing. The only one I recall (and I hope none of the others see this and feel offended) had a mound of dirty old files on his desk to assist him in finding out how to remove a judge - and quite a senior judge at that. I was a lawyer by training so this made a big impression: it suggested that vast powers were being exercised by junior members of staff (the attempt to remove the judge failed). Each AP asked the same question "Do you know where you are going?" and the answer was the same " No". I realised later that the question was not entirely disinterested: AP's were moved around quite a lot, and Establishment Divisions were not always sensitive about letting probationers have advance notice of moves.

I had been in the RAF until a few weeks before I arrived so I was familiar with the idea of rank. I was taken to see some of the more senior people in SHD. One I particularly remember was a handsome, very tall man with whom I subsequently had very little to do because I never worked on Fisheries on which subject he was the great panjandrum - but I remember him because on the table at his back was the biggest bottle of Milk of Magnesia I had ever seen. This gave me cause to think about what I was letting myself in for.

After about ten working days I was taken to a back room on the fifth floor beside the gents' toilet to meet my first Principal, Mr Whipp. I have the kindest recollections of Mr Whipp. He was in his fifties and had come to Edinburgh from London in 1935 when the Scottish Office first opened its premises in Drumsheugh Gardens. He was a man of very regular habits. Each morning he arrived at 9.30, removed hat and coat and sat down to reach into the second top drawer of his desk and extract the cloth with which he polished his glasses. That done he reached for the top file in the in tray. Would that I had learned to emulate his systematic approach. His routine was broached twice a year when he arrived later than usual after a diversion to Jenners' sale.

Mr Whipp was at the head of a small team which dealt with matters concerning the rating and valuation of property, not normally a subject to set the blood racing. But at that time the Government had decided to implement some or all of the recommendations of a major report on the subject, so I found myself involved in the creation and passage of a major Bill, quite a rare event for a Scottish Department in these days. This meant attendance at meetings with the draftsmen (in London of course), sessions of the Standing Committee in the House of Commons and involvement with briefing Ministers. It also meant contact from time to time with the Head of the Department who took a close interest in the Bill. This was Sir Charles Cunningham who lived in Room 413(?) on the Fourth Floor. I had a high respect for my seniors at that time, but with Cunningham it was awe, and I was not the only one.

At that time there were four Departments which operated with their own Finance Divisions and Establishment Divisions. Each Head of Department ranked as a Deputy Secretary and sooner or later became a knight. The Permanent Under Secretary (who ranked as a Permanent Secretary but had 'Under' in his title because the Scottish Office had a Secretary of State) lived on the Fifth Floor alongside the Secretary of State. I do not think I ever formally met Sir David Milne who was there when I arrived. All the Heads of Department were equal but we in S H D believed one was more equal than the others and that was Cunningham. Everyone seemed to assume that when Milne retired Cunningham would move to the Fifth Floor, but what happened was sensational - he became Permanent Under Secretary at the Home Office.

From early on Mr Whipp gave me first 'go' at drafting most of the replies on Green Folders, the Ministerial correspondence. Most of these referred to the Bill which dominated our lives. From him they went to the Assistant Secretary (later the Head of Department) who was the real expert on the Bill, having been secretary to the Committee which wrote the report on which the Bill was based. The Under Secretary from time to time put amendments on the draft in green ink, and we then all waited to see to what extent the version sent forward to the Minister by Cunningham (who dealt with all Green Folders unless he was on holiday) bore any resemblance to what he had been given. To me it always seemed to be better; but for a rather different assessment of Cunningham reference might be made to the memoirs of Roy Jenkins.

It was early in my time with Mr Whipp that the Office regained possession of Dover House which had been badly damaged by a landmine which, we were told, landed on the Cabinet Office next door during the war.

This heady experience of major legislation came to an end after 18 months with a move to the part of the Office where I always felt most at home, Police Division. By that time I had become familiar with some, but not all, of the geography of St Andrews House. From an early stage the windows in SAH gave trouble. In addition to the draughts there was a noise problem. I think the trams which used to go down Regent Road had stopped by the time I arrived but even without them the traffic noise was a nuisance. Even where the windows in the conference rooms fitted reasonably well it was a choice between noise and stuffiness. And for those of us working high up at the back the regular arrival and movement of the coal could be a rowdy distraction.

Every day I ate in the dining room on the top floor and watched with interest the (limited) variations of casual dress of my superiors at Saturday lunch time. No watch was required on the other days of the week as we all (save the ladies) wore suits.

As far as I can recall it was some time before I took a deep breath and asked for the services of a lady from the typing pool. Otherwise letters to be typed were written out by hand and sent to the pool. There were no dictating machines and no fax - and when at last the fax came it had to be very carefully adjusted. If the machine was too hot, the product disintegrated like confetti as soon as it was touched. Bags of papers moved each night between SAH and Dover House, and if the deadline was missed for something of importance the sleeper list was consulted to see if anyone on it would agree to take the tardy product.

And there were the Office Dances. Here my recollections are even more vague, perhaps because I deliberately put them out of my mind. I have drawn on the recollections of two or three ladies whose memories of these occasions are quite clear. The location was the Charlotte Rooms at the corner of Princes Street and South Charlotte Street. Later dances were held at the Grosvenor Hotel at Haymarket. Wedding dresses, adapted or unadapted, were rare but remembered. Black tie was required and I have a half recollection of senior (and very handsome) male colleagues in full evening dress with gloves. It was the occasion for the AP's (and still more the AP's new wives) to identify the senior people. That was as far as it went: those I have consulted remember how very rank conscious the whole affair was. On this I add the comment of the father of one of these young wives, namely that this was typical of the Home Department: he was of the more down to earth, unstuffy lot in the Department of Agriculture.

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