Tony worked in quality control in the Colman’s Baby Food Department, and in Moussec. He was Supervisor and Production Manager in the ready drinks department, and later moved to Eastern Counties Newspapers.
Spoilt for choice
I left school in 1967 after I had taken my A levels at the City of Norwich School. I had no intention of going to university as it was shortly after my Dad had died and money was tight so my friend, Goody and I went around to interviews together. As I’d taken chemistry, geography and geology at A-level and always had an interest in science, we looked for laboratory work, doing research, analysis or quality control.
We looked around Birdseye on the coast, the Norwich microbiological laboratories (the public analyst) and we both went to Colman’s to interview for a job in one the quality control laboratories. In those days you had such a choice of jobs that you were really quite spoilt.
Colman’s asked on the application form, “Do you have any relatives who worked at Colman’s?” My Grandad worked there virtually all his working life and because of that I got the job and my friend didn’t, so we went our different ways. I started in September 1967 in the baby foods, quality control laboratory which was in the corner at the top end of the site and close to Carrow Bridge – an area that’s now been developed for flats. I worked in the laboratories for two or three years doing regular analytical work on all the baby foods. I also analysed the flour as we had a flour mill at the time.
Colman’s has moved a long way in 70 years but in the 1960s part of it was still ravaged by the after effects of the war. A lot of the sunken car parks were just the old basements of buildings that had been bombed and then cleared out and by 1967 they were waiting to be redeveloped. Obviously Colman’s was at the heart of German bombing in Norwich as it was opposite Boulton and Paul’s which was a target for the Baedeker raids.
Baby foods and quality control
My job was solely to do with quality control. There was a large research laboratory on site but I didn’t get to work there because I didn’t have the qualifications so I did, what I call, the regular routine quality control of all our manufacturing. The laboratory was removed from the production area and in those days they saw themselves as being a bit separate from the works. We had a satellite lab where we did moisture analysis in the baby food department itself. It was quite an exposure for me to the world of work I have to say.
In those days, Colman’s was still a very paternal business. There was a library there where you could take out books. You used to get 10% off everything if you were in the staff association and you got 10% off a lot of goods also. And when it came to lunchtime we used to go to the staff luncheon club whereas the works had the works canteen – the names gave a clue really.
We were always entitled to one early lunch a week, because hours were fixed then. The idea was that people could go shopping in the city – they could have an early lunch and get away quick and have an extra 10 minutes. But me and a few mates used to play cards at lunch time or go to the pub, until the managing director, Mr Hare, came into the room next to the staff lunch club while we were playing cards and said we shouldn’t be doing it. I didn’t know who he was and tended to be a little bit gobby. I was hauled in and the error of my ways was pointed out – so I didn’t do it again! I thought the staff luncheon club was very sedate – it was for people on monthly pay basically.
My first payslip was £36 – a fortune then. After I started work my A level results came through and because I got A-level geography, they gave me an extra £50 a year. That was the sort of logic they worked on – I had an A level and it didn’t matter what it was in – and so I got a pay rise shortly after I started!
Baby food is obviously quite a sensitive product and you have to be squeaky clean in terms of your quality control. We used to do a lot of routine analysis such as moisture analysis, protein analysis and trace element analysis and I remember we used to make up the flour and test it for consistency and also check that the proper consistency was being used in the products. We also tested the raw materials going into the baby food using the BP test (British Pharmacopoeia) which was a recognised method.
We did this for all the products so that everything was standardised and met the labelling requirement on the packs, so if you declared a protein level of 7.3 you had to make sure it was accurate. That was the sort of work we did, and looking back, it was pretty routine stuff you could have done in your sleep to be honest, once you’d got used to it. The research block tended to do more cutting edge work but our work was straightforward and didn’t offer much of a challenge to a 17 year old.
I spent a couple of years in the laboratories and I learned a lot – I mean there were some real characters in there. There were regular parties because life at Colman’s was very much about a mix of work and the social side, and I suppose when you’re young you don’t really think about your future, you just live for the day. I never really got on with my boss I have to say – I was straight out of school and I used to roll in wearing a leather jacket, so I wasn’t the archetypal Colman employee and after two or three years I think they had enough of me!
Fortunately, at that time, Colman’s allowed you to have day-release at the City College so I spent the next five years doing part time day and evening release and studying for an ONC in chemistry (Ordinary National Certificate), then the Higher National Certificate (HNC) in chemistry and finally, a one-year professional course to become a Licentiate of the Royal Institute of Chemists – which I got. Colman’s paid for it all, the books, the time off, everything.
I used to attend either a full day or a full day and an evening from six-to-nine in Ivory House, All Saints Green – it used to be part of the City College. I have some block release as well and ended up getting my diploma in management studies – again financed by Colman’s. That took another three years and included residential courses. So between joining Colman’s and 1975 I’d got all the qualifications I would ever really need.
Robinson’s soft drinks laboratory
About 1970 I was moved out of Baby Foods – I think they were glad to get rid of me – I joined the soft drink laboratory and continued working in quality control. I analysed all aspects of production there such as the Robinson’s soft drinks, the bottles and the raw materials. The laboratory was in the old building in block 204 and was actually part of the manufacturing site and it is still there to this day.
I had two or three memorable years in that laboratory and it was my first experience of the ‘Works’. The baby foods’ laboratory had liked to keep separate from the ‘unclean’ but when I moved into the soft drinks laboratory I was actually in there and mixing with the guys on the manufacturing plant. A couple of the guys who worked in the laboratories were paid hourly and did the basic analysis while we did the more advanced stuff. They were as good as we were but in those days, hourly-paid and monthly-paid tended to be kept separate – in some minds anyway – but in Soft Drinks it was all much more integrated.
There was a really good bunch of people in the laboratories. I remember Jean used to come from West Runton by train and bring crabs in every week which she sold at face price – I remember they were about sixpence or nine pence. She was lovely Jean was.
The soft drinks laboratory was much faster moving than the baby food laboratory. We used to manufacture a thousand gallons of product in those days – high volume – and it was put in a tank and then bottled. The laboratory ran from seven in the morning until ten at night but during the summer peak it operated 24 hours a day because it had to match the manufacturing side – manufacturing couldn’t release a product until it had been tested. It was a very different world.
John Holman used to run the soft drinks laboratory. He was another good guy. And we played football together. He was a very good footballer and a good boss to have. He put up with me, I suppose, and we got on quite well.
In those days all the juice and base material for the drinks came in oak barrels and they were delivered to the Deal ground under the railway bridge, by Crown Point, where the rivers Yare and the Wensum meet. A huge field was reserved exclusively for the storage of our barrels. They had irrigation systems there with pipes sitting upright and spraying water on the barrels to stop them drying out.
One of our jobs was to do a complete analysis on every delivery. The orange was delivered as ‘orange comminute’ which just meant that the juice, the rag and the skin were churned up together. It was delivered as single, double or triple strength depending on how much moisture had been evacuated and looked like a thick sludge of orange, for want of a better word. We tested every barrel. One of my jobs was to take a trolley all the way down the yard from Soft Drinks – about half way down block 204 – and go under the railway bridge through Colman’s tunnel and enter the deal ground to meet Allan Masterson. He used to run the deal ground and was responsible for storage. A guy would open the barrels I needed and I would take a sterile sample from each to take back to the hot room in the laboratory. We tested the samples microbiologically to make sure they hadn’t fermented otherwise there would be problems if fermented juice got into the system, so we did 100% testing. It was good fun because I could do it all fairly fast and in summer I used to go down there, strip to the waist, and get sun tanned while I took the samples. I could get though three or four hundred barrels and then go and have a lie down!
We used to visit other factories and in 1969 I had the opportunity to go to the factory in Newry, Northern Ireland. Colman’s used to make a whole range of foodstuff and one of them was instant mashed potato. The Troubles has started but I was asked if I wanted to spend a few weeks at the potato processing place. I don’t remember the details but I know I flew on a rather primitive plane, landed in what was then Belfast airport and had a chauffeur take me to Newry. I then spent the next three weeks doing various analyses on potatoes and other ingredients.
The social side – cradle to the grave
The group of people in the laboratory itself was great. We weren’t very far from the Lakenham swimming pool -the open air one that used to be down in Long John Hill – and if we were quick enough we could get out and back in our lunch hour and have a swim. That was the sort of atmosphere we had. You really had to hotfoot it down there although we weren’t that far once we came out the original entrance halfway down Bracondale. If you look, you can see the flint wall that was built to block it up. Now, of course, the entrance is the big one off the Martineau roundabout.
Another tradition was to go to the pub on Fridays, usually to the Jolly Maltsters on King Street right by Carrow Bridge or the Kingsway – neither is there now. Occasionally we went to the Ferry Boat – it’s still there but has been closed down. So every Friday we used to have a pint and a game of darts. We also had a very strong social club, up at Lakenham cricket ground. My family goes back a lot there as my Dad used to umpire for Norfolk and my Uncle was Chairman of the Norfolk Cricket Club, so I knew the area well and it was our playground when I was a kid as I was born near there. We used to play league snooker and I played for Carrow reserves football team on some of the best pitches in Norfolk including Lakenham
Colman’s always encouraged sport and the social club and every year they had a seven-a-side football tournament and inter-departmental cricket. We had darts leagues, snooker leagues and billiards leagues and they all took place up at the social club. They didn’t make you do anything but being young and fairly sporty I got into departmental darts, snooker and even indoor bowls and billiards. The social club was well organised with a bar and at least four full size snooker tables so the provision for employees was brilliant. The actual grounds had two or three full size football pitches and even a hockey pitch and there was a hockey team and tennis team. Of course the whole lot has just been pulled down now and is being redeveloped.
The whole infrastructure, from the very inception of Colman’s, was the importance of the cradle to the grave idea, and although that was dying out a bit when I went there, it was still fairly strong in terms of being quite paternal and looking after their employees. You only have to look at the length of service that a lot of people gave to Colman’s at a time when there was plenty of choice in Norwich in manufacturing and jobs generally – but people stayed. While I was there they had 2200 people working so it was quite a different site from what it is now.
Supervisor in soft drinks
By 1973 I had about five years of work experience, had qualified in chemistry and planned to get married. The Works Convenor in ‘soft drinks’ knew I was looking around for a house and thought the places we looked at were too far away. He put me in touch with my boss’s boss who sold me the house he’d bought for his daughter before her wedding fell through! Ironically enough, it was a former Colman house at the top of Long John Hill. I married in October 1973 and I made it known at work that I was interested in looking for a better paid job. My pay was okay but not brilliant and I’d got as far as I could have gone in the laboratories. I’d been offered a job in Manchester when a new manager, Basil Bridgestock, asked if I wanted a job as a junior supervisor in the soft drinks department on the shop floor. I took the job as I didn’t want to relocate and it was probably my most memorable time at Colman’s.
I was in the ‘soft drinks’ as a supervisor from 1973 to 1978 and that spanned the hot summer of 1976. ‘Soft drinks’ in a hot summer is not the best place to be. At that time Quosh were the market leaders with about 25% of the market share and we had 10% but by the end of the year it was reversed completely, simply because Quosh couldn’t keep up with demand. Some of the stories of how we survived would curl your hair! We also produced soft drinks for Wimbledon, especially Robinson’s barley water. There is a lot of tradition attached to it and it was one of our best sellers.
My job as a junior supervisor was to make sure that everyone worked well and that the output and standards were acceptable. I supervised 20 people to begin with and about 250 when I became a fully-fledged supervisor. It was difficult because it was the first time that somebody from the staff with a laboratory education had moved into what was traditionally a job for guys who had worked on the shop floor. There was quite a bit of resistance to me being there and they let me know it! I survived, and I had the opportunity to earn more money because I could do overtime as well as receive my monthly salary.
On a regular day the lines started at eight o’clock and finished at ten past five but the guys were in at seven to prepare it and they had an hour of cleaning till ten past six, so a supervisor had to be in from seven to ten past six. On top of that, once a week, I’d do a four hour evening stint with the part-time workers from six till ten o’clock. Colman’s also had part time girls who worked during the day from 9.30 to 3.30 while their kids went to school.
When we had shifts the guys on the shop floor tended to work six to two, two to ten and in summer from ten till six. However, Supervisors just stretched their hours and if it got really busy we’d do 12 hour shifts. At times we would also work Saturdays and Sundays. In the summer it could get pretty difficult because more people were needed and we used to get students in – that was a challenge! We could have upwards of forty or fifty students working in the soft drinks alone and you had to show them the ropes. Most students didn’t want to be there, they didn’t particularly want to work, they just wanted the money.
I’ll describe the process on the packing line. At one end you had plastic bottles brought up from Fibrenyl where Colman’s made their own bottles in-house. Next, we had cardboard boxes which were delivered flat and three teams of girls known as Stitcher Girls who worked with four or five main production lines. Three Stitcher Girls used to open up the cases, put them on a giant stitcher or stapler and staple the box carefully before putting it on a conveyor to go across the bridge and into the packing side. The girls had to do about 4000 cases in a shift – and to watch them work! On the bottling we had the filler, the labeller and sometimes the case packer to automatically pack the bottles. Barley water was usually hand-packed by girls on number one line – the barley water line. It was always done by girls because they were the best. We reckoned six girls could shift about 20 tonnes every shift – 200 bottles a minute – and send them down the automatic palletiser.
Health and safety – the Company and the Union roles
Health and safety was a major issue for us. We used to have safety drives and at the entrance of Colman’s they had a big board up saying how many days it was since we last had a lost-time accident. Aches and strains were the most common problems; when you’ve got guys palletising 4000 cases of bottles for eight hours, they’re going to have problems. But if you had a lost-time accident where someone was off the day after their accident then the factory inspectors would come in. We had a good relationship with them mainly because we didn’t see them too often, because when it came to machine guarding from the 1960s on, we were probably top notch. Because we had money and were a big company we tended to go over the top on safety.
In earlier times, the old Morgan Fairhurst labellers didn’t have guards and with things whirring round they were lethal pieces of equipment. But it wasn’t long before they were completely guarded and would stop automatically if they were opened. However, that didn’t stop people trying to work around it all! So safety was an issue for us although not as much as it is today but we were certainly careful.
I remember one accident in particular. A guy in the trades department was killed when a crane toppled over and fell on him. We had one death and it’s one too many but it’s the only one I remember in the time I was there. In soft drinks we had a lot of minor accidents. One of the worst I remember was when a stitcher girl was making up boxes for the big two litre and three litre bottles of drinks. Somehow, instead of stapling the case she put a big staple right through a bone in her hand – it was horrible. As the supervisor at the time I had to take her across to the medical centre where we had a nurse and doctor and they whisked her off to hospital. She was alright in the end but there was a lot of paperwork to do, a lot of investigation to be done and it was logged as a lost-time accident. Although it happened over forty years ago, I genuinely think we took it very seriously. The company was very strong both on the investigation of accidents and what had to be done and would always pay for whatever needed to be improved.
In those days we had a Closed Entry Closed Shop Union, which meant that anyone on hourly pay had to be in the Union within a month of joining Colman’s. They didn’t have a choice but had to join the GMW – General and Municipal Worker’s Union. The Union was quite good. I worked alongside the Work’s Convenor (the boss of all shop stewards across the site); he was old school but very good. So we had a strong Union presence and the Union was very keen on safety, which forced the management to do what was needed.
We had the annual pay rounds which were quite bloody affairs. As you can imagine, the soft drinks department could easily be held to ransom if there was a wage negotiation going on at the beginning of summer. You would have a problem if there was a strike or a work to rule or an overtime ban. Fortunately we rarely had problems and I think we had one strike by the trades department while I was there – we actually got on quite well with the unions.
As a supervisor in soft drinks I was involved with joint training for supervisors and shop stewards up at Lakenham in the social club. It was quite ground breaking in that there was a sense of genuinely working together with the unions on matters of mutual concern and interest. And we had a very good factory manager in Rod Spokes who was quite enlightened in terms of working with the unions. It wasn’t easy but it worked quite well.
Changes in the structure of the business
While I was there it was still Colman’s of Norwich but the influence of the Colman family was over. Timothy Colman wasn’t involved with it as he was more interested in other things like the Eastern Counties Newspapers where I worked later on. I once showed Sir Michael Colman round the mustard on one of his tours of inspection but he was more a figurehead – they’re the only two I remember. However, despite the link with the Colman family having ended, the ethos and culture was still that of the Colman’s.
Colman’s of Norwich amalgamated in the 1950s and early 1960s with Reckitt’s, a big household pharmaceutical business based primarily in Hull and we became Reckitt and Colman, although Colman’s of Norwich maintained itself as a fairly autonomous unit. We dealt worldwide in household goods and toiletries but there was little food manufacturing in Reckitt and Colman outside of Colman’s of Norwich. They kept us on for many years within Reckitt and Colman simply because of the amount of money we could generate quickly in the summer months, particularly with soft drinks, and it’s one of the reasons why Colman’s of Norwich wasn’t sold until just after I left in the mid- 1990s. We were an absolute godsend to them. [Colman’s became part of Unilever’s Van Den Bergh Foods in 1995 – Unilever acquired the Colman brand name for the dry sauces, condiments and mustards].
Colman’s had a wine division in Westwick Street known as Coleman’s (with an E) and when I left the soft drinks department in 1977 I moved into a business that hadn’t been in Colman’s of Norwich for very long. We’d bought a company called Moussec which was based in Rickmansworth but had moved up here in the mid-1970s and they asked me if I wanted a job as the winery supervisor.
Moussec wine is made with grape concentrate brought from France and other places with a controlled amount of yeast added to start the fermentation. It’s then stored in gigantic 5000 gallon tanks of which we had about sixty at Colman’s. After an initial fermentation, we chilled it right down, filtered it and did a secondary fermentation. It was bottled as a sparkling wine which was the equivalent of a more upmarket Babycham.
We had a team of about four or five guys in the winery who were responsible for all the manufacturing. By the late 1970s, it was quite an automated, high volume process which didn’t need many people.
The packing line was a three-hundred-a-minute line that ran normal hours in an environment that was a bit quieter than the soft drinks. I was responsible for directing the work in the winery which meant a lot of planning. The time cycle from when you start the fermentation to when it’s ready for bottling is about thirty days so I had to ensure that the planning was in tune with demand for the product. We didn’t have a big product range; we made either a sweet or a dry in either the small Babycham or full wine bottle size – wine was a fairly small part of the overall business.
I was there for two or three years. Someone had to go in every day of the year, because at different times, tanks needed to be chilled down or shut off. We used to go in on Christmas Day for 30 minutes to make sure everything was alright.
We had what was called the holiday fund at Colman’s, and if you could demonstrate that your holiday had something to do with your work, they would offer a grant towards your holiday. It was a throwback to the old Colman ethic. So in 1978 my family planned to visit my brother and sister-in-law in a mobile home in the South of France and we decided to stop off at various wineries in the Côtes du Rhône all the way down to Chateauneuf. I applied successfully and received £50 – quite a bit of money then. The one condition was writing a report, which I still have. We made contact with all the wineries going down to the South of France and they treated us like royalty because Colman’s wine division was fairly well known in France at the time. So the Moussec department was a very different environment to soft drinks. It was interesting and it wasn’t so fast paced.
I left the Moussec at the end of 1970 and moved into the factory coordination centre where I had various jobs to do with material control – the supply of materials to all the production lines. At one stage I coordinated the manufacturing budget for the whole of Colman’s manufacturing production which, even then, was about £20 million. My job was to get the production budget from the manager of each department, make sure it worked and convince Accounts that it was a fair budget to have.
It doesn’t sound much but it was quite a tough job and a huge responsibility and, although I wasn’t on my own, I did have the responsibility of coordinating it all and acting as the middle man between the production managers who wanted to get away with as much as they could, and the finance people who wanted to screw them down as much as possible. So there was a lot of toing and froing to produce a budget for every department for which they could be held accountable. I had to establish good relations with the production managers and build on it over the years and I had to be respected by finance who, to be honest, didn’t trust many people – with some justification I have to say!
Some painful changes
The biggest single change at Colman’s in my time was in the mid-1980s when we decided to bring in Proudfoot, a consultant company, to look at what we did and decide if it was the right way to run the business. The long and short of it was that they made drastic proposals for change which meant about three hundred redundancies. Obviously I was involved with a lot of the redundancies in departments. It was a real culture shock for Colman’s but it was necessary because we’d become quite flabby. The environment we operated in had become very competitive; there was the rise of supermarkets and hypermarkets and we sold to people like Marks and Spencer’s, Sainsbury’s, International Stores and a host of others so we needed to be competitive.
The consultants worked with us but many of the changes were very painful. Many of us had to reapply for our own jobs and go through an assessment. I survived and was given various senior production roles and was called an area production manager; at one time I had responsibility for soft drinks, mustard and baby foods. Instead of managers I had superintendents working for me and with slimmed down lines of management it was quite a tough environment to be in and it meant a major change to the culture.
There were more changes and I ended up as production manager for ready drinks around 1992. By that time the soft drinks building had been shut down and production moved to a new facility on the site. It had a high speed, highly automated, 24 hour production line which only needed forty or fifty people instead of 150 to 200 people.
In the early 1990s we used cartons with straws on top but we were going through a tough time because we were making the wrong type of product and then not marketing it very well. The guys on the shop floor could see it; they were quite a brave bunch of guys. [Britvic acquired the soft drinks production in 1995].
So in my last two years I was responsible for the ready drinks until the day came when they no longer required me either. I’d been the one responsible for a lot of the change, the interviewing, the de-manning and all the pain that went with it and then ended up on the receiving end. I’d got on very well with the production director, Tim Vernon, until he was promoted elsewhere in Reckitts and they brought in a finance guy who wheeled me in and within two minutes said they didn’t want me anymore.
In fairness they managed me out of the business quite well. I had to sign a gagging clause and they topped up my pension. An external consultant worked with me for six months while I worked out my notice so in that sense they were very good. I left at the end of 1994 and my final salary pension from Colman’s was very good, even now.
In the early 1990s we used to have performance related pay and because I was doing very well, I was selected with a dozen others to visit various businesses in Japan for three or four weeks, to see how they worked. Thanks to Colman’s I saw Honda and other businesses first hand and got involved with kaizan which meant ‘continuous improvement’. Ironically, when I was looking for another job, it stood me in good stead as a door opener as most businesses around Norfolk hadn’t heard of it.
From 1967 when I started working in Colman’s there were 2200 workers on site until Proudfoot changed structures and manning levels to bring the number down to about 800. When I left in 1994 there were less than 500, and within two years Colman’s was sold to Unilever and Britvic to become the split factory site it is today.
Continuous improvement at ECN
I worked from 1995 to 2004 at what was called ECNG (Eastern Counties Newspapers Group) or ECN when I first started but became Archant in 2002.
When I joined Eastern Counties Newspapers it had gone through many changes, surprise, surprise and had been heavily criticised for the way they dealt with people from a personnel, or human resource point of view. They were setting up a new human resources department with its own director and Robin Derrett, who got the job, was looking for people to join his department. He wanted some of the existing personnel people but he also wanted a training manager and a ‘continuous improvement’ manager – someone who could look at what they were doing and see if there were better ways to move into the 21st century.
I got an interview with Robin who was wonderful, completely mad, and one of the best bosses I ever worked for! To give you an idea…. half way through the interview – an interview about my future – he decided he was dying for a cigarette but didn’t have any matches. He suggested we continue the interview as we walked from the top of Rouen Road to the newsagents at the top of Timberhill where he could get some fags and a box of matches – that was my interview.
I think he used to throw in fast balls like that to see how you reacted. Anyway, we became very good friends and I joined the personnel department, later called the human resources department – or human remains department as people liked to call it.
CNG operated UK wide making newspapers and magazines with companies in Scotland down to the West Country and I had relatively free reign to work with them and look for opportunities for improvement. Much of my work was in Norwich and Ipswich where we had the East Anglian Daily Times and the Evening Star. I had pretty much an open door because I came from HQ. It was a cultural thing; if you came from HQ and from HR (Human Resources) you must be important, so they tended to treat you with some respect., With my boss, I also had the chance to look at many of the other printing presses and printing works across the UK, like the Yorkshire Post, to see how our competitors were operating.
When I started at ECN in Prospect House on Rouen Road, we printed everything in- house. Later we moved the printing to Thorpe St Andrew and it’s still there today. It was a difficult transition and part of my role was to help work things out. There were two challenging interfaces – the first one was working with the printers. I’d seen a lot of radical union people but none quite like them. They wouldn’t trust me because, if you hadn’t been in the printing business for sixty years, you didn’t know anything about it! When I tried to explain that an outsider might be able to make suggestions on how they could operate differently and make life easier, they couldn’t see it. Some I got on well with, others (and I include chargehands and supervisors) were a real challenge.
The other challenge was the editorial staff – lovely guys – and I got on well with many of them. Editorial was full of very bright, intelligent people who had come up through the ranks as journalists. They were very articulate but didn’t want to change, rather like the printers! The problem was getting people to want to change, and see the need for change.
One thing I did was run a series of training courses on appraisal across the UK. Setting objectives when used properly, can be a really powerful means for change but used wrongly, they can be a complete waste of time. So I ran workshops for editorial and production staff but you could see there wasn’t a willingness to take on board that level of change. I suspect a lot of it has been taken on since but it’s been a painful process for such an ultra-conservative and resistant business.
Printing has been described as a closed shop and when I worked at Colman’s we had our own printing works and people were employed only if the Unions agreed. We had a similar situation at ECN which was another closed shop. Workers had to join a Union such as NGA (National Graphical association), editorial joined The National Union of Journalists and SOGAT (The Society of Graphical and Allied trades). They were all quite militant.
The Wapping Dispute of 1984 broke the print unions, it was a tough period but in the end they had to face the changes in technology. It was a bit like Canute – they had moats and trenches and JCBs to stop the change but at the end of the day they really couldn’t.
One of the last things I did at ECN was being involved in the steering group that changed the name from Eastern Counties Newspapers to Archant. It doesn’t sound much but it was a horrendous job and needed an awful lot of organization. I was involved with it right the way through and found it a good experience.
Another good job I had at ECN was being involved in staff surveys and the annual prize giving. We had various categories and every year we bused everyone down to Alexandra Palace to an awards evening. It was all free. I had to organise the buses and helped with judging the entries in each category. It was a big job but the idea was to help people celebrate what they were good at – because Norfolk people aren’t very good at doing that and publishing and printing people are even worse. They just got with the job and they didn’t like to think about being put forward as photographer of the year. They did get used to it and the business, all credit to them, spent a lot of money on the celebrations. There were meals, hotels and transport for about five or six hundred people to organise. We used to have various celebrities come to Alexandra Palace to compere the evening. People didn’t have to go and many didn’t want to but others saw it as a freebie so they did. We called them ‘The Archant Oscars’!
I got to know many people around Norfolk and I learned about a very different world to that of making soft drinks at Colman’s or analysing baby foods. However, my own personal attitude towards work changed around 1994. I was 54 and was able to take my pension early – at a price. So I made it known at ECN that if there was a bit of a package for me I could afford to go. I got it and did some consultancy work for them for a year or two afterwards, but nothing of any note.
My Colman’s final salary pension was very good and still is, even now, and I have a smaller ECN one which is fine. I’m as happy as Larry.
Tony Moore was interviewed in Norwich for WISEArchive on March 18th 2015
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