Schooldays at Thorpe Grammar and Great Yarmouth Grammar
I’ll just cover briefly school, because it’s relevant. I was in the first year of Thorpe Grammar School. This brand new school was established in 1955 and I was one of about 60 children who started Thorpe Grammar School. We only had four masters to start off with and we shared the facilities and teachers with Wymondham College. And we were bussed from Norwich every day – or “coached”, we went on a company called Broadland Coaches – to Wymondham College. We had two nissen huts, because there were two classes, and I was in one class of 30 and there were 30 in the other class. We came from all over Norfolk, but mainly just the suburbs of Norwich, around Thorpe – because the school was going to be at Thorpe, and I’ll come onto that in a minute – Sprowston, Old Catton, Hellesdon, Drayton and Little Melton. That catchment area. The bus used to start at Blue Boar Lane in Sprowston, Wroxham Road, Blue Boar Lane, at seven o’clock in the morning to take us to Wymondham College. It picked me up – I lived in Sprowston, so it was just down the road, and we were then taken – all 60 of us – there were two coaches, each took 30 pupils. One started in Thorpe, one started in Sprowston and we went to Wymondham College. So that was how Thorpe Grammar School started. After three or four years they had finished building the new school at Thorpe, which is now Thorpe St Andrew High School and I think it is called a college nowadays, specialising in games. But that was the start of Thorpe Grammar School. So I felt quite privileged to go there.
My father was a draftsman in Norwich and he applied for a new job in Great Yarmouth at a company called Erie Resistor which was on South Denes in Great Yarmouth which eventually became part of the Decca organisation, the Decca instruments company. Erie Resistor – the founding company was a Canadian company and Great Yarmouth was a subsidiary company. They made a lot of instruments for navigation and so on. My father applied for a job with them and he got the job as a draftsman with Erie Resistor. That meant that I could stay at Thorpe Grammar School if I wanted to but travel every day, which was 20 miles, a bit of a trek from Gorleston where we lived, where my father then bought a house. I could have done that every day, gone on the train or the bus, but my parents decided that I ought to go to Great Yarmouth Grammar School – which was a complete contrast. From a brand new school established in 1955 to a very old-established school, Great Yarmouth Grammar School, which was established in 1551! So 400 years old was this school – very well established, with a Sixth Form and everything. So it was quite different. I then transferred there and I went right through to the Sixth Form. I took A-levels; I took maths, pure maths, applied maths and physics as my A-level subjects, having passed the necessary O-levels to take the A-levels.
Overview of a working life
It is a long story about why I took the job that I did, so I won’t go into all of that, but there is a specific reason why I joined Norwich Union and I became what they call an actuarial student. I had been told that an actuary, a man who works out figures for insurance companies, is paid very well, and I thought, that sounds pretty good! I had applied to be a pilot, and I wanted to be a pilot but I failed, I don’t know whether I failed the exams, but out of 200 who applied they only took 20 on so the odds weren’t that good, so I didn’t become a pilot . I had read that an actuary got paid very well so I would get a reasonable salary. So I applied to Norwich Union, I went for interviews here in Norwich, in Surrey Street where they still are, and they offered me a job and I started in September 1963, having left Great Yarmouth Grammar School in the July. So I did some holiday work – and that is something else which is quite interesting. I’d always wanted to earn money for myself, I didn’t want my parents to pay everything for me, and buying Christmas presents and birthday presents for the family and so on. So I had a work ethic and I liked to work, so all during that summer holiday in 1963 I was working every single day and then started my actual career with Norwich Union.
Were you lucky to get that job? Were there a lot of applicants for that job?
Yes, there were quite a few applied for that job as well to be an actuarial student, because you have to learn a lot about figures and mortality tables and things like that, because you are working out figures for the insurance premiums. So if somebody came along to Norwich Union and said, “I want an insurance policy”, you have to work out how old they are, how long they want the policy to be in force and so on and so forth. So it is quite a complicated thing. And we didn’t have computers in those days. We had slide rules, and there were huge slide rules, about two foot long, with a handle at the bottom and we used to swing them round … Absolutely fabulous machines, I wish I had one now. You could get accurate results for working out the premium because if, say, a 30-year old man wanted a £10,000 policy, for example, you could work it out – oh it would cost £30 a month, something like that, by putting all the figures in.
An amazing machine!
Oh yes, I wish I’d got one now. They then went onto what they called a Brunsviga, which is a German calculating machine, not a computer, but it is a bit like a clockwork torch [which you wind up]. You wound it like this, and then you moved the figures across the top. And of course that was much better. I’ve still got that, fortunately, that was quite nice. That’s where I started my career and I did 45 years in total.
Would you like me to give an overview of what happened after that, and then I can go into the specifics? I stayed with Norwich Union for 15 years until 1978, from ’63 to ’78. I was very happy there and enjoyed my job but I had moved from being an actuarial student. After two years I got absolutely thoroughly bored with doing these calculations and I thought to myself, “Well, if I’m going to be here for the next 45 years, it’s not going to be a very exciting life.” I was quite an extrovert, a gregarious sort of chap, and liked to get out and about. I played in their rugby team, I rowed for Norwich Union as well, I participated in all the things that they did in their social club which was in Pinebanks, in Thorpe St Andrew. I really enjoyed it. In fact I met my wife there, she was working as a secretary for Norwich Union. She did all these things, although she didn’t play rugby! But she played hockey, she did all these things as well, so that’s how we got together.
So I stayed with them for 15 years and eventually I became a manager of one of their branches, the branch in Derby. The branch was in Derby, in a street called Iron Gate, right in the middle of Derby next to the cathedral and the market place. I was the manager of the branch. And we brought in business to the Norwich Union and I had staff working for me. Again I really enjoyed it. I loved being in Derby, I loved working for Norwich Union.
And I came home one day for lunch – we only lived 15 minutes from the office, and after lunch I was reading the Daily Telegraph and in the newspaper – I wasn’t looking for another job -there was a job there advertised saying “manager wanted” with another company in Norwich. And I thought, I wouldn’t mind getting back to Norwich really. My ambition was to be the manager of the Norwich Union branch in Norwich, to come all the way back again. But it would have probably taken me another ten or fifteen years before I ever reached that position. But there was an opportunity there right in front of me and the children were growing up – they were four and six at the time when we were living in Derby – and by that time I had moved four times with Norwich Union and they kept moving me, so every three years I was moving on to somewhere else. I didn’t mind, we didn’t mind, we were young, I was 35, the world was my oyster as it were. I thought, for the children’s sake we’ll come back to Norwich. So I applied for this job with another company, they were called London Life, and they offered me the job and I said, right, we’ll come back to Norwich! So we came back to Norwich and the children were then settled in their education and I have stayed in Norwich ever since.
Then after 15 years with London Life I joined Barratt and Cooke, which is a firm of stockbrokers in Norwich, where I worked for the rest of my career. They are in London Street in Norwich; they are above Barclays Bank in London Street in Norwich and they occupy the old Eastern Evening News and the Eastern Daily Press office, so my room in there was originally part of the Eastern Daily Press. So that took me full circle and at 65, two years ago, I retired from Barratt and Cooke, having worked for 45 years in the investment business really – insurance, investment and stock broking. So that’s an overview of my career.
Norwich Union life in the 1960s
If we go back then to when you started at Norwich Union. You were probably quite pleased to get chosen for that because it was quite competitive. When you first started there, what can you remember about the office you went into, what it looked like, how many people were there, what sort of structure it was, what you did, who you worked for …?
I had of course been there before, because I’d been there for interviews, and there wasn’t just one interview, there were several. And in June or July, let’s say, of 1963, I’d filled in an application form. They’d invited me to go for interviews. I was then interviewed by the staff manager, and another man as well who interviewed me, called an agency manager. And then finally, by the chief of the actuarial departments. There were several actuarial departments in Norwich Union. His name is P.S. He was in charge of all the people working in the actuarial sections. I’ll describe the actuarial sections in a minute. He’s still alive, he lives about 10 minutes from where we are sitting today, and then when he was Chief Actuarial Manager he lived in a house which I can see from my back garden, on the corner of Ipswich Road. And strangely enough my wife was a Sunday School teacher at the time and she taught his three children at Sunday school. Which I didn’t discover until later on, because I hadn’t met my wife at that stage.
And so I’d had these interviews and they’d shown me round the office, and they’d shown me the office I was going to be working in. P.S. was based in what they called the “Marble Hall” – which is still there today. An absolutely beautiful building. And I fell in love with Norwich Union really. It seemed an absolutely fantastic place to be working, with all these people, and all these facilities – the rugby club, the football club, the hockey clubs, the rowing clubs, everything … So they offered me the job and I started in September of 1963. I joined what they call the surrender value department. What we had to do was to work out the value of any insurance policy … the millions of people that had taken out insurance policies with the Norwich Union … we had to work out the value of it if they wanted to stop paying the premiums and they wanted to cash it in and get some money. So that is what this department was spending all of its time doing, working out surrender values. Not only in the UK, they had branches all over the world, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, everywhere. We had to work out all these values for all these organizations. Initially it was very interesting, and I love figures, I love numbers and I love maths. It was ideal, especially with the slide rule, working out all these figures was ideal for me. We didn’t start till nine o’clock in the morning and we didn’t finish after five o’clock at night, so after that my time was my own and I enjoyed myself.
Just coming back to the job: I started in September 1963 and joined the surrender value department and there must have been something like 40 of us working in this particular part of the Norwich Union. It is amazing that just in those two years that I spent in that department I made friends with a lot of people and I still keep in touch with them today. We see each other, we still know each other, even though I was only there for two years. They were great people, they were nice people, they were similar people to me as well. Because all of them had had to take maths, physics and chemistry or something like that for their A-levels, so we all had the same sort of mind to work things out.
I wasn’t there five minutes before M.Y, who was my section leader, said “Somebody’s opted out of the rugby team this weekend, do you play rugby?” I said “Yep, I play rugby.” “Well, come and play.” And so we’d do that. And then, another chap called D.S., he said, “Oh we need some people in the rowing club. Come down to the rowing club on Thursday night”. And I went down there and I joined the rowing club. We started a new crew and life was wonderful! I was enjoying what I was doing during the day and at night I was at Pinebanks, or playing rugby, rowing, there was amateur dramatics as well, which I enjoyed. I performed in various plays at that time as well and I remember coming into the office – boys and girls in the office, a good spread of boys and girls, and I remember saying to the girls one day, “Oh, I’ve got to learn this part … I’ve got to get it right because we start next week.” So I had to practice with them the part that I was playing and they all came along and watched the performance. As I said, we still keep in touch, we have rugby reunions, we have rowing reunions, although virtually everybody is retired now.
So were a lot of them starting like you?
No, there were only four of us, brand new people. They only took four new people every year, so I was one of those. So again, I was really selected for the job, which was great. I was very fortunate.
So there women also selected as well?
Yes, there were, they’d done A-level maths as well. That was one of the pre-requisites.
I didn’t imagine that, for some reason. I just imagined a room full of men …
No, the girls liked to do it too. Quite a lot of them had been to university. They’d got degrees in maths as well. The two that I mentioned already, M.Y. who was head of my section, and D.S., who was in the next section along – we had sections of eight – so there were eight, eight, eight down the room – in the very modern office on Surrey Street which is still there today. The big block, it had just been built. Everything was brand new in the offices as well.
It seems real state of the art …
It was, apart from those slide rules! (Laughs) Of course, later on they went into computers. They’d already installed that year the first computer, which was as big as this room and now today instead of a computer this size it would be the same size as that …[pointing to a small hand-held dictating machine]. They gave me a mentor who would look after me, so day one I started there, wearing my suit, smart shirt, smart tie, polished shoes (you were regarded quite highly in the office structure) they allocated this mentor to me, J.R. Unfortunately he has died. I kept in touch with John for many years. He was an usher at our wedding, we rowed together and so on. We used to go to jazz clubs and things like that together. I was only 19 and he was 24. I thought, oh he is a really old man. (Laughter.) We gelled – we were friends and we remained friends for many years.
It was great, we had lunches supplied. Free lunches, and they were good lunches, three course lunches, a starter, a main course, a pudding, and coffee…
Was it quite structured at Norwich Union at that time? You said the actuarial people were well regarded. Did you have your own dining room, or things like that? Did you keep apart?
No, everybody used the dining room. It was a huge dining room, there must have been 5,000 people working there. There was what we called the life insurance side, and the fire insurance side. I worked for the life insurance side – I insured people – and the fire insurance side insured things – like cars and houses, settees and carpets and things like that. There were at least 5,000 people working there. And as I said there were three or four rugby teams, several rowing teams, many football teams, about ten football teams, because there were so many people there. So I remember the first day I arrived in my suit, looking smart, ready for the job, and we went down in the lift – he was another section leader like M.Y. was a section leader – J.K. was a section leader of another section… We walked down to the lift, we were on the fourth floor of this skyscraper building, and the dining room was on the other side of Norwich Union, so we had quite a walk to get to the dining room. We got into the lift – I was very fashion conscious, not so much now but I was then. I used to have all the current fashionable clothes. What I had done was (my mother did this for me): turn-ups were the thing, all the men in their suits had turn-ups but I decided I wasn’t going to have turn-ups, so I had trousers with no turn-ups – but I got my mother to cut a little triangle out at the bottom there [shows trouser legs], because I’d seen it in a fashion magazine that men’s trousers had this little piece cut out at the bottom of the trousers!
I had a pair of Chelsea boots as well – a bit like the shoes I’m wearing now, but coming up high. I’d been to London – I loved London – and bought Chelsea boots. I got my mother to [ ], and I’d bought a leather tie as well – I was “way out”, well, not way, way out, but I was certainly noticeable! We walked into the lift and J.K.said “I like your Chelsea boots, D.” That was 1963, 45, nearly 50 years ago and I can remember that to this day.
You didn’t have your hair long?
No, I didn’t. In all my life I have never had long hair.
That wouldn’t have gone down well at that time would it?
No, probably not. I wasn’t an Elvis fan, I was more a Beatles fan. I used to have my hair … I was just sorting some photographs out and there was a photo of me in the rugby team and I had a Beatles style haircut, because it was the 1960s.
After two years there, as I said, I was absolutely bored out of my mind doing the same thing all day long with this calculator. The morning post arrived: “I want the surrender value of my policy …” all this and that. And so I decided myself to see if I could do something different. So I went to see P.S. – I asked if I could see him. He was even more promoted then – he became Assistant General Manager, General Manager and then Chief General Manager of the Norwich Union. Because he lives just in the next road I see him quite regularly. I went to see him – it was all arranged, all above board, with my head of department – another man that I still keep in touch with, E.C., he is in his nineties now. I still see him. It is amazing really looking back in one’s lifetime. Went to see P.S., and I said, “I love working for the Norwich Union, I love the sports facilities, I love the people I work with, but I am thoroughly bored with what I’m doing. I want to stay here, is there anything else I can do?” He said, “I’ve got two suggestions. We’ve got a very big Estates department …” A property department – it was huge. They had a separate building just for the property department of Norwich Union. Because Norwich Union owned, and still do own, thousands of properties all over the country and all over the world and they rent them out. Income comes in and that income goes towards the value of the insurance policies. That’s how they make a profit on the insurance, they bring in rental income – they rent out a property to Marks & Spencer’s, for example, Marks and Spencer’s pay a rent, the rent goes into a fund of the insurance company. That’s how Norwich Union have been so successful. They are one of the biggest companies in the world now. They’ve taken over various other companies.
Before you move on to that, can I just ask you if the atmosphere in the office when you first started in the sixties, was it sort of old-fashioned? Did you sit down at your desk, get on with your work, meet your targets, there was somebody keeping an eye on your, or did you get up and have chats?
It was quite flexible. In a way it was old-fashioned but in another way it wasn’t.
You were wearing suits and things …
Well, my suit wasn’t (laughs) particularly old fashioned. The girls used to wear nice clothes – not a uniform, they could wear what they liked. Slightly old fashioned because you had to toe the line, you had to be there by 9 o’clock, we left dead on five. Rushed out, you know, to do what we wanted to do. The freedom of rushing out was amazing. Later on in life, when I was working 10 or 12 hour days … but it was flexible, it wasn’t too bad, and as I said, E.C. who was the manager of the department was quite a nice chap, everybody got on with him, everybody seemed to get on well with each other. I can’t remember too many arguments and things like that. All the paperwork and the machines were modern – the dictating machines and so on … we had dictating machines and things like that.
So you dictated things and sent it on to the secretary?
That’s right, and that’s how I met my wife, she was working in the next section. I’ll just tell you about that, if you like.
As well as being a secretary – she was in the typing pool, everything went to the typing pool. You dictated a letter on your machine. It was a bit like a modern disk, a cylindrical one like an old gramophone record. That went through to the typing pool, in a bag. Then it came back again with your typed letter. She did that most of the time, but she also was responsible for people who came to the office late – arrived late, sickness, and accidents and things like that. So she had to go round the whole of the fourth floor (she was on the fourth floor, same as me) and she had to collect the information, go to all the different departments and sections to find out. I used to watch her – she had long blond hair and blue eyes – I was on an inside desk. The corridor went right down the middle of the office – and when she came along I used to sort of peer out from behind the filing cabinet and watch her go down the side. I thought “She’s a nice looking girl.” And then I saw her going to talk to this chap, D.S., who I mentioned before, who had introduced me to the rowing club. She often used to go and chat to this chap D.S. And so I asked – probably J.R. the friend of mine – “who’s that girl? Why’s she talking to D.S.?” That’s his sister, L.” “Mm, she’s quite a stunner!” “Yes”, he said, “I’ve tried to go out with her but she won’t go out with me.” (Laughs.) They were both in the rowing club. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I chatted her up, took her out, we went on our first date to the Maddermarket and strangely enough, you won’t believe this, one, two, three – four bungalows down that’s where I picked her up to take her to the Maddermarket on our first date. She lived there with her parents in that house down there! So she’s come home – she has spent about 40 years of her life in Townsend Road as a girl, we got married from here, then we came back and lived in this house. My mother-in-law still lives in that bungalow down the road. So that’s how I met my wife – it’s a bit longer story than that, but …
Working for the Norwich Union in London and around the country
Anyway, I had gone to see P.S., and he said, “You can go into the Estates Department, you can be a surveyor. You’ve got the qualifications to be a surveyor, and what you would be doing is to go out to all these buildings and survey them and make sure everything is spic and span, you know, they’re not falling down, look at the rents and the rates and make sure everything is good. You can do a job like that.”
It sounded quite good, I thought.
“Or you can go to one of our one hundred and twenty branches …” all over the country, in the UK (there were 120 Norwich Union branches). “You could go to one of the branches and you could see how you like working in the branch, and see how that suits you.”
So I said, “I like the sound of both of them.” So he said, “Right, we’ll arrange for you to spend a day in the Estates Department,” (which I did, it was OK). “… And I’ll send you down …” No, before that, he said, “I will introduce you to Mr M., who is what we call the agency manager.” The agency manager is in charge of all of these 120 branches, he was the man looking after all the branches and the staff in the branches. He would decide who went where, which person would go to which branch. The furthest branch in the South West was Truro, and then Plymouth. There were branches in Lowestoft and Yarmouth, and Norwich of course, Essex, and Scotland – Aberdeen, Ireland – Belfast. A hundred and twenty branches. “You can go and see J.M. and he’ll tell you about the branches.” So I went to see this chap, he was an Irishman, and he’d gone through everything, he’d been Norwich Union all his life and he’d gone all the way through the branches and then come back to Head Office in charge of all the branches, so he had a vast number of years experience. He’d probably spent over 25 years working for Norwich Union in their different branches, moving around the country. He said to me “I think you’ll like working in a branch. What I’ll do, I’ll arrange for you to go down and visit another branch.” I thought he meant Norwich Branch, which was ten minutes walk, in Upper King Street. And he picked up the phone and he said, “Is that G.D? Hello G., this is J.M. from Head Office. I’ve got a chap sitting here opposite me called D.C. I’d like to send him down to see you.” In the West End office of Norwich Union, in Piccadilly! “When can he come down? Next Thursday, fine. I’ll put him on the train and he can come and see what your office is like.” So I went down to see G.D., and this man was absolutely great. He became my mentor then, a terrific man. It brings tears to my eyes, just remembering him.” He interviewed me, because he had a vacancy in the West End office, and he talked to me – we talked to each other – and he said, “I’ll take you round the office.” So he took me round the office and introduced me to all the people in the branch office. There were about 100 people working in this office in Piccadilly – it’s on the first floor, because on the ground floor were all these shops, outfitters and shoemakers – St James’s Street, where royalty buys all their clothes.
Where the Royal Academy is, and St James’s Church?
Exactly. I looked out of the window and all these Routemaster buses were going up and down Piccadilly, and all the black London taxis and it was so vibrant – all the people walking along the pavements. He introduced me to all these people in the West End branch and we went to his office and he said, “When can you start?” And I said, “As soon as you want me to start.” So he said, “Right, OK.” And within a few weeks I was down in the London branch of Norwich Union. And never looked back.
I know it sound a silly question, but why did they need different branches? Why couldn’t they do everything from Norwich?
Because – and that’s what I became eventually when I was the manager of the Derby Office, I was a Sales Manager, not only running a team of sales people – sales men they were in those days – I was a Sales Manager and I was expected to bring in new business to Norwich Union in Derby. In London I became what they call an Inspector, in due course. This is moving on from the time I started at the West End office. I became what they call “an inspector of agents”. We had appointed agents all over the UK, thousands of them, and they all used to introduce business to Norwich Union. Because they liked Norwich Union for one reason or another – because the rates were competitive; that they gave a good policy; that they had good premiums, all of these things were in their favour and compared with other companies, Norwich Union was the best. But you had to convince these agents to introduce business to the Norwich Union. So every town where there were people living, they had a branch. This was why they had 120 branches.
So, you were dealing with the agents in the London area.
Yes. They were mainly banks, building societies, surveyors, estate agents, solicitors, accountants – organisations like that that came face to face with the customer. If I was the agent and you were my customer I could say to you, “You’ve come in here today for a policy to cover your mortgage. I can recommend Norwich Union. Here’s the form, fill it up.” And you’d give it to the agent and he’d give it to the Inspector, who’d take it back to the branch, and that’s how they worked. And you did thousands and thousands of pieces of business like that all the time.
I spent two years training at the West End office to be an Inspector, it wasn’t guaranteed. But I was training, I went round all the departments, I learnt about dealing with agents on the phone. I learnt how to work out quotations and illustrations for insurance. I learnt all about pensions. I learnt everything about the life insurance industry. I became a member of the Chartered Insurance Institute, and recently they’ve made me an honorary member, which is quite an accolade for me, having been a member for 45 years. As inspectors, we brought in lots of business for the Norwich Union. And if you were successful, and I really enjoyed the job, you just brought in more business. And I got to know these agents very well, and I used to butter them up, take them out to lunch – we were given a luncheon expense. In the West End of London, again the world was your oyster. It was wonderful, because everything was there. All the theatres, the cinemas, the concerts, you know. I used to go to the Albert Hall for the Proms, the Wigmore Hall, Festival Hall, and all the theatres. I absolutely enjoyed myself rotten. It was such a fantastic time. And in the meantime, in Norwich before I left I’d got engaged to L.S. of Townsend Road. So we knew we were going to get married in a couple of years or so. We got married …
That office in London, it sounds as though it was more dynamic, there was a lot more going on.
What a contrast! Absolutely! It was right up my street. We had an hour for lunch and I could do anything I liked during that hour. And then when I clocked off at five o’clock in the evening I could do anything I liked in London!
So they put you up in London?
Well, I had a flat. They put me in a hotel for a fortnight when I first went there until I found lodgings. And then I had a flat until we got married. Then we had a flat ourselves.
That must have been fantastic – having your own flat, your own place. The 1960s and all that.
Absolutely. We got married in 1967. We had our honeymoon in Paris and we came back from Paris in my car on the Sunday night and I was going back to work on the Monday morning. We’d just got married, we’d been on honeymoon, we had 10 shillings – 50 pence! – that’s all we had in the whole world until my wife then went out to work in London and earned her first pay packet and then I got my regular pay packet. We came home from honeymoon straight into our new flat in Chiswick in London. Again, a fantastic time we had together before the children arrived. (Laughs)
So you were taking clients out and about. What sort of places did you take them to?
You couldn’t spend the earth, certainly.
I was paid £1,000 a year working in London. More than what I was earning in Norwich as an actuarial student. Then talking about actuarial students, I cast all that aside then. I gave all that up because I didn’t have time to study and I’d fallen on my feet with this new job and that completely satisfied me. I was paid £700 in Norwich. When I first joined Norwich Union, my salary was £375. A year – £30 a month! And then it went up to about £800. When I went to London it was £1000. Then when I “went out on the road” – you were given a company car, and you worked from the branch but you went out and met your agents in your car; from 9 o’clock Monday morning to 5 o’clock Friday night you were seeing your agents and persuading them to do business with you. Sometimes taking them out to lunch – maybe as a “thank you”.
So you were like a salesman?
Yes, I was a salesman. We weren’t paid on results, we just had a salary, but we had to go out and keep these chaps happy because if they didn’t give business to Norwich Union they’d give it to Standard Life, Commercial Union or Sun Alliance, or all the other companies. So you had to keep them happy and you had to be very efficient, you had to do what they told – or asked – you to do, to keep them on your side.
Did you have a sort of spiel, a kind of …
Were you trained in that, or did you kind of develop your own?
No, we had to go on courses. There was always a new course every year that we had to go on. Maybe more than that. But we had to learn – they gave you all the spiel, I’ve been on so many courses in my lifetime …. But what I did, I manipulated it so that was my own. So I found out what was successful, how I was succeeding whereas other people weren’t succeeding necessarily, and I worked along that route and brought in business. I was being promoted quite regularly, this is why in the 15 years I worked for Norwich Union I had five moves so I was only three years in each branch because I got to the top of the previous job.
It wasn’t that they told you, you’ve got to move.
No, I got promoted. My first sales job was a very lowly branch miles from anywhere and I gradually moved up the ladder.
So what did work – or is that giving away your trade secrets?!
Not at all. Because I then became the sales manager for Norwich Union with a team. I became a regional manager for London Life, the company I then joined and I had 50 people working for me then.
So you were teaching them?
Yes, I was teaching them. I was explaining to them how things worked. That you were smartly dressed, that you had tidy hair, that you spoke intelligently, you knew what you were talking about, you knew your business, you could quote your figures to them. You would almost know them off by heart. You could look people in the eye and say “Look, this is a policy that will suit you. Not one of those … and this is why I would recommend this.” And so on and so forth. Be on time and deliver the goods and everything like that. Instead of just spieling it off, learning it parrot fashion as they would teach you on these courses, I would try and be more natural with people. I found that it worked. I was bringing in the business and I was enjoying what I was doing and it was working.
So you would talk to them, you’d get to know them, you’d be friendly and just interested in them.
I used to meet them socially – not every week necessarily, because I would have probably – in the first area – we were allocated areas like the West End of London – had a particular area to look after. My Derbyshire branch had the whole of Derbyshire to look after. So we were allocated a particular area. I used to get to know these people very well, we were allowed, let’s say the equivalent today of probably a fiver for a pub lunch, something like that, just to get to know them personally, get to know their families. That was another trick of mine, to try and remember people’s names.
That’s a big thing isn’t it. I’d be terrible at that.
If you are able to do that – I seemed to have the knack of doing it – then that scored points for me. Anyway, I loved what I was doing.
When you were in the West End did you come across sort of eminent people as clients?
Absolutely! Because that was the crème de la crème there. They were insuring themselves for very large amounts of money and there were some very famous people … because it was large amounts of money, we needed to know what sort of health they were in. Because if they were not in good health, they could die tomorrow and we’d pay out a million pounds … and they’d only paid £1000 in premiums, or something like that. So they used to arrive … – in the West End office we actually had a doctor on call who came into the office to do the medicals. He had his own surgery as it were, in the office and people used to come in from the film industry, from Carnaby Street, Soho, all of those areas around Regent Street and Oxford Street in London. They used to come into the office – it was only a short taxi ride for them – have their medicals and the doctor would say, he’s OK, or she’s OK, you know. Interesting people used to come in all the time.
Did you have people actually insuring their voices?
Yes, although I wasn’t on that side. I was just insuring bodies – the people – so that we paid out if they died. We weren’t paying out if they lost an arm, or a voice, or … that was done by the General Insurance side of the business.
Nevertheless, you had to find out about their health. I don’t suppose they always wanted that. But they had to if they needed the insurance cover.
I had David … he used to do a programme, he is still around, he does “Through the Keyhole” on television, or used to. “That Was The Week That Was”, in the 1960s.
Oh, David Frost!
Yes, we insured David Frost. We had others. He’s still going! Lots of film stars used to come in.
And did you meet them?
Yes, because it used to be an open plan office. We had a counter. They used to come to the counter; the receptionist was at the counter. We’d be there, we could see everybody who was coming in … David Frost and … there were those horror films, we seemed to have a lot of people who acted in horror films come in as well! It wasn’t that exciting really, they just used to come in. Thinking back, we could have got them to give autographs, but we didn’t even think about it really. We didn’t have – but we could have had – the Beatles coming in, because they would have been insuring themselves. Eventually, I moved from the West End office to the Slough office, strangely enough. Of course, that’s where the programme “The Office” was based, in Slough! This David [the contributor] was working in an office in Slough!
Did it bear some resemblance to that office?
Not really, no. That was a bit exaggerated!
As I said, I continued until I had been with them for 15 years, until 1978. That’s Norwich Union.
And you were gradually getting more responsibility. And you insured people. How did you find that? Did you find it generally … took it as it came?
If you accepted the job. I was working in Plymouth in Devon in 1976, and I was the senior inspector of agencies then, in the Plymouth office, an office of about 40 people. The manager called me in and said, “How’d you like to go to Derbyshire, David?” I said, “That seems really good.” He said, “Head Office have offered you a job in Derbyshire, to be the manager of the Derby office. Do you think you might like it?” “I think that sounds great, thank you.” So I went off to Derby and met the existing manager in Derby.
So what was the difference between being an inspector and the manager?
As an Inspector, you’re on your own. You do your own thing. You’re your own boss really. The Manager runs a sales team.
You’ve got your sales team but …
You’re part of the sales team, but I am covering my area. In Plymouth we had half a dozen areas and half a dozen inspectors, and I had the choice area then. I’d reached that position. So the next rung up was to be a manager of a small branch, and Derby was one of the smaller branches.
So you’d be like the person who was your mentor when you went to the West End. You’d be in charge of the whole thing.
Yes. I had a sales team.
And I enjoyed that, too.
So you were more based in the office, dealing with everything, keeping an eye on everything, troubleshooting, interviewing?
Yes, responsible for the office, the general state of everything, putting the burglar alarm on… it was my business in a way. I liked that as well.
So it was a new challenge.
It was. Something I’d been aiming for, to be honest. I thought, that’s what I want to do.
So how many people would you have had, roughly, under you.
In Derby? Just half a dozen. I had three salesmen covering the three Derby areas, north, south, east, west, that sort of thing. And three girls working in the office and me.
You liked Derby?
What did you like about it? Was it the first time you’d been up north – to the Midlands?
Yes, it was great. We liked the people. We still go back, we made friends in Derby and we still go and see these friends in Derby, even though it was 30 years ago when we left. We enjoyed it. We liked Derbyshire, the Peak district. In a way, sad to leave. But I was then going for this job in Norwich; come back home where I was born, where my wife lived, and it was a terrific opportunity really.
Now read on in Part 2 …
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