Working Lives

My Odd Jobs (1950s-1960s)

Location: Sprowston, Great Yarmouth, Gorleston

David shares his experiences of earning pocket money prior to his proper job, and even during it! In order to support his interests he sang, he delivered, he waited and much much more.

Church and boy

I had perhaps a dozen boy jobs, or odd jobs, before a proper job. I learned at a very early age if you did or made a performance you were rewarded for it. I was only about three, my parents used to chuck me off to church every Sunday so they could have some time on their own I suppose.

We lived near the church in Rosebery Road in Norwich, just off Angel Road. I went to this church every Sunday morning. At Christmas they had a Christmas party for all the children in Sunday school. They asked the children to do a performance and I distinctly remember mine. I was only about four, one of my aunts had taught me a poem called ‘If I had a donkey’. So I stood on this stool and performed to the audience. At the end, of course, I got some applause and they gave me a present and I thought ‘Oh, well, if I do this …!’ And this followed me all the way through my life until today – sixty odd years.

Then we moved from New Catton to Sprowston and I went to Sprowston Church, on North Walsham Road, and then the parish church St. Cuthbert’s. There was also St. Margaret’s, which is the old parish church, on the edge of Sprowston.

In the main St. Cuthbert’s church we were in age classes, about five or six, with the youngest working around the church. I was six or seven and our class was right at the front near the pulpit. The Vicar, Reverend Aitken, used to come up to the pulpit and just give a little parable or something like that. I loved singing hymns and obviously sang with gusto. He came down after class finished and said ‘David, can you just stay behind, I would like a word with you.’


Reverend Aubrey Aitken was a lovely man – a great Norwich City fan. He became Bishop of Lynn later. He was so involved and committed. He asked if I would like to join the choir. There was no reason why I shouldn’t so I said ‘yes’. I joined the choir as a chorister and it was really my first paid job. I think we used to get something like 6d, 2 ½ pence for a service. We had two services on a Sunday: 11:00am at St. Margaret’s and then 6:00pm or 6.30pm at St. Cuthbert’s. We had practice on Friday night and had a cassock and surplice – the black and purple bottoms, white top and purple frock. Proper choir boys. We did quite a lot of weddings on a Saturday, and we got half a crown for them, which was quite a lot of money in those days. I don’t think I ever sung for a funeral.

I remember Christmas because we used to go round the streets of Sprowston singing Christmas carols. It had been snowing very hard one Christmas and we were walking around the streets in Sprowston, just off Wroxham Road, knocking on doors. I loved the atmosphere of that – from me as a little one right through to the adults. There was a good number in the choir and they used to go round the pubs, because there were lots of pubs in Sprowston in those days. I had never been in a pub before and all these people with fancy hats on and all the Christmas decorations and so on.

I must have had a reasonable soprano voice because I was often asked to sing ‘Once in Royal David City’, ‘Little Town of Bethlehem’ and things like that. In the pub I’m put in front of the microphone. I sang and they went round with the collecting bag. I distinctly remember the Brickmakers Arms, and the Woodman down at the bottom. There were others on School Lane and Mousehold Lane. We would do all the pubs. So I was raising money like that, people would clap and put money in. They would feel particularly generous at Christmas and put half a crown in or something. Then back at church all the money was put on the table and counted out. I would think ‘I contributed to that.’

Memories of grandmother

We used to live half a mile or a mile from the church. Grandmother lived pretty close as well, and I was very close to her. I was a bit of a performer and certainly was an adventurer too.

People will remember a shop called Frank Price in Botolph Street in Norwich; it was a very big shop like Jarrold’s. I was four when I was following the floor polishing machine around because I was fascinated by it. And I got lost. I thought to myself I got to get myself home, and I walked home. My mother or grandmother must have been worried out of their minds, but I used to do things of my own accord.

My grandmother used to clean a very old, fantastic house in Colegate in Norwich for two elderly spinster teachers. Every Saturday morning she used to go and clean this house, and she would take me with her on several occasions. Behind this house was a little recycling centre called Whites, who are still around today, and they used to collect newspapers and jam jars. As grandmother was cleaning I would take some newspaper. They would put it on the scale and paid for the newspaper. You got a halfpenny for a pound jar, and a penny for a two pound jar. I must have been a junior entrepreneur or something. You used to take back bottles: Corona, Steward and Patterson’s. I got a few extra pennies that way.

Motivation and interests

It was quite amazing it happened but I had an ulterior motive, because I could use the money towards the things I like doing which have been bicycles and cycling. Obviously I used to get pocket money if I helped around the house or whatever. Most children in the class did, but I got to supplement mine. It helped to pay for things for my bike like a new pump, a repair kit, a bell or something like that.

I was also interested in buses, and vehicles generally. I’m involved in the Bressingham Steam Museum and a member of a bus museum as well. These are old buses, preserved buses. I used to buy a lot of bus books. I’ve still got them – a couple of hundred different bus books. People, my wife and family, always buy me a bus book at Christmas. That’s just incidental.

That’s why I had this incentive to do odd jobs on the side – to raise money to do the things I want to do which I couldn’t otherwise. I remember going on a Sunday school outing to Cromer, and my grandfather came along to wave goodbye. He gave me half a crown, 12 ½ p, and said ‘have a nice day in Cromer’. What would I do in Cromer? I would buy a Dinky Toy.


I went to Sprowston Infant School and Junior School, which were in School Lane near the Wroxham Road roundabout, and after school we often used to go to a sweet shop called Kandy Kabin opposite the Brickmakers pub on the other side of Sprowston Road. We would buy penny bubble gum, sherbet lemons, liquorice and all those old fashioned sweets. Father would always go into Kandy Kabin and buy some sweets for the weekend and give them to us on Friday night.

The man in Kandy Kabin also ran an ice-cream manufacturing business – not factory – behind the sweetie shop, called Brown Owl. In the summer we used to go round the back and buy cornets of ice-cream. So I got to know him quite well. One day he said he needed a new boy for his paper round and asked if I was interested. I was still in the choir getting paid for that. So I asked my parents, they said yes, so I became a newspaper boy as well.

Moving to Gorleston-on-Sea

My father started as a draftsman at Laurence Scott’s and designed searchlights and guns for the war. He was a very good artist – good with his hands and pencil and paints. He was working as a lithographic artist for Jarrolds, the publisher, who published hundreds of thousands of books on all sorts of subjects. He used to work on a Saturday morning and sometimes take me down there. He had an artist studio upstairs in a little detached cottage next to the printing press by the river. We would have all these inks and colours and he would retouch paintings.

He wanted to do something else and Erie Resistors advertised a job in Great Yarmouth. So we moved to Great Yarmouth and I gave up the choir. We weren’t affiliated to any particular church in Gorleston, although father was quite a religious man. I went to his church with him but didn’t sing in the choir or anything like that.

Delivery boy

I had to start afresh in Gorleston and went to Great Yarmouth Grammar School. Jimmy who was a bit older than me and was doing a grocery round on a grocery bike with a big pannier at the front. He came up to me in the playground and said ‘I do a delivery round, but I am thinking of giving it up – would you like to do it?’ I said yes as I need to earn some money to make sure my bike is okay, buy bus books and so on. He said he’d take me down to the shop to meet the lady who runs it and see whether I’d like to do it or not.

Jimmy took me to the shop in Cliff Hill in Gorleston-on-Sea, and this little corner shop sold virtually everything. Everybody knew the shop on the corner of Cliff Hill. She was very rotund and very much in charge of the shop. There were two lady assistants. It was like a mini Sainsbury’s: all the vegetables – potatoes, cauliflowers, cabbages, those sort of things – were all stacked outside the shop on shelves; then inside was everything else like jams, marmalades, butter, eggs.

Gorleston was not far from my house. I could just cycle down when I got home from school at about 4:15pm, take my satchel off, take my school clothes off, put on some other clothes and cycle down to the shop and start delivery. The lady owner had cornered the market of hotels and guest houses when stuff could be delivered. Lots of guest houses and hotels in those days, hundreds, but not so many these days. She paid me 1/3d an hour. Not very much but I used to work for a couple of hours or more on Friday night for when things were happening on Saturday, especially in the summer. So two, three, four shillings soon add up.

I had a really old fashioned delivery bike, huge and heavy and a great big metal pannier on front where you put all the boxes of groceries. I used to have a planned route where I would go so there would be Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Green. They were nearly all Mrs. I can’t remember any men. I used to knock on the door ‘Oh, Hello Mrs Green, I’ve got your groceries here. Shall I bring them in?’ I was really into sort of marketing in a big way! Then she would say ‘Would you like a cup of tea, David?’ I would say ‘I can’t stop very long but I would like a cup of tea if I may.’ They used to tell me their stories, what’s going on in their lives and I used to listen. Then she would have said ‘Here’s 6d, David’ so I would get a tip. So especially at Christmas they used to give me ten shillings and a pound. A ten shilling note was really something. I used to deliver to several doctors as well, so I was always polite, always on time and would always chat with them, give them a smile and butter them up. It literally paid dividends.

Then these poor old little ladies as well. I remember one because she lived half way down the cliff. Gorleston is really on a cliff. You had to go through the gate down all these steps and knock on the day. She would open the door and the stink coming from this place, because she was not well off at all. I used to take a very small box but she would always insist on giving me a tip and then give me a biscuit or something like that.

Throughout my life I’ve sort of had this ability to talk to people. I would listen to her story or help her with something, and got the message if you did something special for somebody they would maybe repay you.

After a year or two I thought I’d been here for some time and she hasn’t put my wages up. So one day I said ‘I would just like to speak to you after we have finished today.’ I had written a letter about my wages. We didn’t talk about inflation in those days, but I said words to the effect that I think I ought to have a bit more and I suggested 1/6d. And she gave me 1/6d an hour from then on. I stayed there for two or three years.

There was a cardboard egg box, about three foot long and two foot wide and deep, that contained a gross of eggs. The shopkeeper would keep these boxes for my deliveries. Customers had a little notebook they used to write down what they wanted the next week. The hotels and guest houses did that as well. There’s a guest house right on the riverside at Gorleston with a lovely view out across the sea and the harbour. It was a huge order on a Friday night for the weekend, I think. I put all this stuff on the front of the bike – it had a little tiny front wheel and a big back wheel because of the big pannier.

So I cycled off with it not tied down which really it should have been. It was dark, and just before I reached this guesthouse I hit this pot hole. The big tray of eggs on top went onto the road. I picked everything up, put back in the box and rode back because obviously I couldn’t take it to the guesthouse in that state. I told the shopkeeper, ‘I hit a hole in the road and the whole lot fell off.’ I didn’t have to pay for the eggs, she thought it was an act of God or whatever and not my fault particularly. So we packed it up again and off I went redelivered.

She would send me out on expeditions if they had run out of something. She would get the order, send me to another shop to buy some bacon and then come back. This was in the days before supermarkets; an old fashioned shop with a bacon slicer and people paying on account. She was very gregarious, knew all her customers and treated them nicely. They came back on a regular basis. She had everything in her shop and if she didn’t she’d get it.

The shopkeeper’s husband was very quiet. I don’t think I heard a word from him at all during the three years I worked there. He used to sort of wander around with his pipe, have this hat on and used to get things from the cold store in the back of the shop. He didn’t have anything to do with the shop itself.

I was probably about 15. I think you had to be 16 to get a National Insurance number before being able to work officially. I don’t suppose anybody was too bothered because that was just an evening job. Other kids probably went home and watched television for a couple of hours but I was on my trade bike. I had been doing it for a long time – rain or shine, winter or summer. It supplemented my income. Other jobs came along and I realised that I wasn’t going be able to continue doing it.

Smith’s crisps

So I was coming onto 16 and in the summer there were hundreds and hundreds of jobs available. It was traditional for virtually all my grammar school friends to find a job in the summer because there was so much around.

My friend Mike King, also a very keen cyclist, used to help me if I was on holiday or unwell by doing the grocery round for me. We decided we could do a summer job. The first thing we did when school broke up in July is go straight to the unemployment office in Great Yarmouth, registered and got our National Insurance number so we could officially apply for jobs.

Then Monday morning the chap in the employment office said ‘they need some people down there at Smith’s Crisps so off you go’. Smith’s Crisps had a big crisp factory on Caister Road in Great Yarmouth quite near the racetrack. We start on the Monday morning for a 6:00am shift, so we had to be up at 5:00am to get ready and cycle. It was about three miles on bike.

The chap in charge told Mike he was on potatoes, and I was on the weighing machine. So I had a seat with a weighing machine in front of me and this conveyor belt alongside me. Every one in ten crisps bags that went past I had to pick up and weigh it to make sure it was 4oz or whatever it was. You had to pick out any underweight ones and put them in a bag. For eight hours. Obviously you would have a break to go to the toilet or a cup of tea in the canteen or something like that.

At 2:00pm we’d finished work and cycled home. Mike said he didn’t think he could put up with it for six weeks. I said it’s jolly boring, isn’t it? During the night all I could see was this conveyor belt going through my dreams – all these packets of crisps going past. So monotonous. Most of it was dealt with by ladies in white hats and coats. They were packing after me, packing the crisps in a big box, putting the seals on. It’s all automated nowadays.

On the Tuesday we did the same thing. Someone must have been trying to spot whether the little blue salt bags went in as well. After two days we said to each other ‘we can’t stand this anymore.’ So on Wednesday we went in and said ‘sorry, we can’t do this anymore. We’re going somewhere else.’ The cheek of it! The boss must have said okay and we must have been paid for the couple of days work.

Working at Vetesse’s in Great Yarmouth

Mike and I went to the unemployment office and said we’d like a change. This chap said there are jobs for both of us and to report to Mr. Wills. A lot of Italians went to Great Yarmouth in the 1930s and this particular family were very successful. There would be father and mother and all the children. They would all help in the restaurant – Vetesse’s restaurant and ice-cream parlour. So we rode round to Regent Road in Great Yarmouth.

Regent Road is one long straight road from the town centre right through to the beach with Britannia Pier at the other end. It’s full of gift shops, bloater shops, herrings shops. You could post bloaters to friends in Scotland or something from the shop. There were two cinemas in the road and restaurants and ice-cream parlours galore.

Vetesse’s were right at the other end. They had a posh restaurant upstairs with waiters and waitresses, where you had to pay half a crown, I think. Downstairs was the tea rooms with a huge tea urn, which I worked on at one stage. On the front, out on the road, there was a great big ice-cream machine. People used to buy the Mr. Softy type ice-creams as they walked past. They made their own ice-cream on the premises to maximise their profitability.

We turned up and saw Mr. Wills, who was married to one of the Vetesse daughters. He wanted us to fill these tiny empty milk bottles, probably half a pint, with orange juice. There was a great big two foot round drum of concentrated orange juice which we had to add water to it. With the little tap we fill these bottles, and put the supplied tin foil caps on so they could sell the orange juice in the shop.

It was more involving than being on a conveyor belt and we were outside in the yard at the back. We used to ride our bikes around to the back of the premises, went through this gate and just put our bikes to one side and worked. We used to wash the bottles in hot water though, so I suppose it wasn’t too bad. We used to drink some of the orange juice ourselves if we got thirsty, which was allowed.

A big, large lady was in charge of the kitchen for the restaurant – who wore a white apron and uniform. That must have been the trend in those days. They used to have lots of Fray Bentos tinned lunches and you had to put them in the oven. That was all prepared so she didn’t have to prepare all the pies. She would prepare her own vegetables and they used to arrive in the backyard. Sacks of potatoes, cauliflower, carrots and things would be delivered by the local produce market. Helpers in the kitchen would be peeling and doing things like this.

Mr. Wills came along and said he’d find somebody else to look after the orange juice and would we help in the kitchen. So we did. We did all sorts of stuff like helping to peel potatoes, which was a pretty boring job, but we were paid something like two shillings, half a crown an hour. More than I was on a trade bike. The hours were reasonable: 9:00am to 5:00pm or 6:00pm with a break for lunch.

All the serving staff in the restaurant were girls; university students who’d come over from Belfast in Northern Ireland. He advertised in the local Belfast paper every year, so all these girls with an Irish accent were serving people in Regent Road in Yarmouth!

They used to find digs, really rundown guesthouses advertised on the back of beyond which was only ten bob a week or something. They all lived and kept together; probably knew each other from Queen’s University in Belfast. They do their six weeks, perhaps more, then they go back having earned themselves quite a bit of extra pocket money.

I got to know the chap behind the bar in the restaurant. He was on his school holidays – bit of a posh bloke, he was the son of a local architect. Mr. Wills came along and said one of the waitresses left and would I like to be a waiter. I said yes because I’d sort of worked my way up from orange juice to potatoes to the kitchen, and this is probably after working a couple of weeks there. So I had to wear a jacket and tie to look smart because Mr. Wills said we have some nice customers coming in who pay good money.

It was good fun waitering. Like my little old ladies, I could butter them up – ‘Here we are sir, here we are madam, how are you today?’ They became regulars and came in every day. We all had a little section of our own. They used to come and sit in my section, gave me tips because I’d look after them. He’d say ‘I’d like a pint of bitter, please’ and then I’d go to the bar and see my friend, get a pint of bitter and give him his drinks and her her Dubonnet or whatever she had.

One day at lunch someone tipped me with a ten shilling note. It was really amazing because it probably took me all day to earn ten shillings. When I got home I told my parents; it was sort of unbelievable. It would be like receiving a £10 note now. I thought ‘wow, this is it!’

I probably helped in the kitchen in the morning with preparing the meals and things like that, then waiter from 12:00pm to 2:30pm. They didn’t do dinner in the evening because these people have a proper meal in the evening. I quite enjoyed it because I got a bit of banter from the girls.

In the afternoon I’d go downstairs and help in the takeaway, tea rooms, ice-cream parlour and help pour out the teas. There’d be a great big tray full of white cups. There’d be thousands and thousands of people coming to Great Yarmouth in the summer of the heydays of the early 1960s. They used to come on their coaches from the Midlands, the North – thousands of coaches all along the Acle Straight. On a Saturday morning these coaches came into Great Yarmouth, full of holiday makers, and the train.

I’d probably worked there for four weeks. Part of the deal was the waitresses, and waiter, had a free lunch and whatever was left over from the lunch to the customers. We sat in the corner and had our lunch. Mr. Wills used to be wandering around all over the place making sure everything was in order. He would have noticed me there having lunch, finished it and handing the plate back in for washing up.

One of the girls didn’t fancy their lunch and asked if I would like it. I’m a great eater, I’ll eat for England, and I was using up all this energy on my bike so I never got fat – I was really quite fit. So I had her lunch. The others finished theirs and trooped off. I was left in the corner eating her meal. Mr. Wills came round and asked what I was doing with another lunch. I said the girl didn’t want it. I wasn’t allowed two lunches, he said. Like Alan Sugar, The Apprentice, ‘You’re fired!’ I explained it was her lunch, but he didn’t care. So I saw Mike in the kitchen and told him I was sacked. They could do that in those days to temporary people, so I had to look for another job.

Bird’s Eye

So I went straight to the unemployment office to ask about other vacancies and they needed someone at Birds Eye’s factory in Great Yarmouth. I was told to see the personnel manager, so I rode to the factory after lunch that day. Birds Eye made shelled peas, frozen peas, beans, fish fingers and that sort of thing. They had a great big factory, but it’s all closed down now. The chap said I could start straight away and an hour later I was working for Birds Eye.

I worked in the pea factory, virtually doing what I was doing at Smith’s Crisps factory. All these peas came down this conveyor belt and I had to pick out the little ones, the tiny ones, brown ones or discoloured ones. Again there were all these girls on this conveyor belt taking all these peas off.

So I did that for a couple of days and, of course, had dreams of this conveyor belt going past me and didn’t get any sleep at all. I said to the chap the next day I can’t do this anymore, and he said there’s another job vacant I could do. It was actually much better. What I had to do was check the peas at all stages within the factory. The peas came from the pea-vining station at Upton, at Acle, on a lorry. The peas used to be in a big container and I had to start there and test the peas for freshness. They had a machine called a tenderometer – sounds a bit like Bruce Forsyth’s generation joke!

Someone would check the freshness of the peas at the pea-vining station, and I would take a handful of peas in a cup to test their freshness and how ready they were to be frozen. I put it through the tenderometer and a little arrow would go around and show you how tender and fresh these peas were. Amazing, isn’t it? If it was over the line it was fine. You’d be able to put a ticket on there.

I had to go around with a clipboard and tick all the times, dates and measurements. Then I had to go to the next section in the factory and still make sure. So for every hour, every day I was working, I went around with my clipboard from when the peas came in to the time they go into the freezing department to make sure they were okay. If they weren’t I had to reject them and tell my boss why I rejected them.

It wasn’t boring and wasn’t a conveyor belt job. I could chat to people as I went around. More Irish people would be there at Birds Eye as well. They’d all come over and a lot were men. They used to tease me and I got to know them really well. A lot of them were from Queens University in Dublin as well. I got to know a chap very well, Gerry, who was studying to be a doctor. He liked reading and used to recommend books to me, I liked reading too.

Collecting dues

During the first week at Birds Eye I told my father about my sacking and I hadn’t been paid for those few days of work. I asked him to come with me to see Mr. Wills in case I had a problem with him. My father was very protective of me and got me out of lots of scrapes – nothing serious or illegal. I was cycling along on the inside lane on my bike in Great Yarmouth, and I didn’t notice this Jaguar turning left. So I hit the side of the Jaguar and damaged it. My father escaped me from that one.

We went down there and dad parked behind the restaurant. I went in and said I wanted to see Mr. Wills. He said to go into his office, so I did. I said I’d come to collect my wages. I was only 16. Quite nervous as this chap was in his forties, I suppose, and ran a restaurant. He said ‘how much do I owe you?’ I told him four pounds, ten shillings or something. He opened a drawer and gave it to me. I was amazed! I was happy as Larry and went down to my father and told him he gave it to me with no trouble at all. And I told him I got a new job at Birds Eye.

Back at Birds Eye

I did this job in the factory for a while and my boss said there’s a vacancy at the pea-vining station in Upton. He said it was slightly different, a good half an hour’s journey and there’s a bus that takes all the workers out there. Shifts were six to two and two to whatever. They would be pea-vining day and night. Lots of people at Birds Eye and those who worked at the factories along the South Denes, as it was called, caught the ferry boat across the river. So I used to cycle down to the ferry boat station, catch the ferry boat and then the bus to Upton.

I was doing a very similar job at Upton but out in the open – we had a little hut. We had to collect the peas still in their pods as they came in from the fields, and put them through the machinery every hour. I had my own tenderometer in the shed and write it all down on the sheet of paper. It was very good because I was paid more because we were out in the country working seven days a week. No breaks or days off. You got double time if you worked during the day at the weekends, and triple time if you worked during the night at weekends. So I used to do 10:00pm to 6:00am. It enabled me to buy my first car. I was actually earning more at the pea-vining station than when I joined Norwich Union as an actuarial student.

It was a super car and I kept it until it died a death; great machine. I gave it to my grandfather because his car conked out and I had a company car when I was an inspector at Norwich Union. Eventually my car gave up and it languished at the side of his house for years until the scrap metal man came round to pick it up.

Moving to Great Yarmouth

I worked the whole six weeks on one of the piers in Great Yarmouth: Britannia Pier. It has the Britannia Theatre, which operates in the summer with all the shows – Morecambe and Wise, Tommy Trinder, singing groups as well. The unemployment office said there were two jobs on the pier: the dodgems and the Tunnel of Love. Being on the pier you can look down through the planks and see the sea underneath. The chap who ran it said I’d be on the dodgems and Mike on the snails.

You had a little hut where you took the money, but I didn’t work that way. It would have driven me up the wall if I sat in my hut all day. So I used to jump on the back of the dodgems and take the money, and then chat up the girl that used to come on; whereas poor old Mike was stuck in his hut all day.

I remember one instance when it was pouring with rain and got no customers at all. We used to have a float to start us off in the morning, probably something like £5, so you had enough money to give them some change. You took your money and put it in a box. I left all my money in my cabin and I think Mike left his in his, and we went over to see the chap on the ghost train. When I got back all my money had gone. Someone had pinched it! I went to see the boss and told him. He said we’d have to pay it back. Luckily he only asked we pay back the float and not the takings. We had £1 deducted from our wages. So that was a lesson learned and I never took my eyes off the float again. On the other hand several people would give you a little more, or ride again, so it didn’t turn out to be that bad.

The Post Office

What do they need at Christmas because of the Christmas holidays? They need more postmen. So Mike and I went down to the Post Office and said we’re available to Christmas Eve and we did a couple of weeks on the Christmas card post rounds. I actually got my own road in Gorleston as the round. It would be very early in the morning starting at 6:00 am. The cards would be semi-divided up already by somebody else in the post office.

The main post office was near the town hall in Great Yarmouth, so we had to report there. We had these wooden pigeon holes on the wall, and you had to divide up all the cards into the roads – Middleton Road, Elmhurst Road, Elm Avenue and all the rest of them. The postcards would go into the racks, then you’d get them all in order, then subdivide them so you’d start at one and finish at 99 Middleton Road and so on. Your bag would be absolutely full of cards and you got a bus pass. The bus stopped outside the post office, you caught the bus to Middleton Road, the bus stopped in Middleton Road and you start your round.

Of course, there was a mess there as well with Christmas cards. People gave the postman a Christmas box like they still do today. Middleton Road was quite a rich road, so I used to knock on the door and ‘Hello, Mrs. Smith, I brought you your Christmas cards, you see!’ And then you’d get a tip in due course.

There were so many that we had to do a double shift. We did one and then went back to the post office and did another delivery on the same day. I don’t remember doing parcels because cards were bad enough. We did it for three years. One particular year I remember tramping through quite thick snow.

Doozle dogs

The lure of £5 called me, if you like, and my father. He liked working as well and earning a little bit extra. He found himself a summer job on Marine Parade, outside one of the theatres on the main strip in Great Yarmouth, running a burger stall! He did it for a few evenings a week, then for some reason he asked me if I’d stand in for him. So I went along to this beef burger stall.

We had a couple of stoves there, and cooked the sausages there and had rolls. These were special because they were a foot long. They were called doozle dogs instead of hot dogs. So on the stand it said ‘Doozle Dogs Store’. And from 6:00pm until 10:00pm my father and I used to be on this stall earning a little bit more pocket money. I was working at Norwich Union then, so I’d get home from Norwich Union and straight off to the store to sell doozle dogs.

Doozle dogs were so unusual – I think they were German sausages. They had all the mustards, tomato sauce, and if we felt hungry… I think we sold other things as well but it was mainly doozle dogs. We had queues of people.


Another year father found a job in the Gorleston Pavilion Theatre. Every year they had an old time music hall where they had all these old time songs and dances like the good old days. They had a chairman, a big, fat man with a top hat, sitting at a desk on top announcing the next feature. Instead of rows of seats, people sat at tables of eight or ten. They had a bar and waiters. So my father and I became waiters for the summer season where we had our own section of tables. There were different people every night.

We used to go along to the table, write down their order on our little pad, get the drinks from the bar, bring it back and ask for payment. They gave you £5 and you’d say you don’t have change, go back to the bar to get change. The tray would be a bit wet, you put it on the tray along with the odd drink and rather than pick up their change he’d say keep the change. You get your tip that way! All the waiters did it, it was a common thing.

At a particular time in the evening I had to get the chairman’s pint of beer. He had a special glass. Within the glass was a little extra piece which made his glass half a pint. He would drink the lot in one go and people were going ‘fantastic’ and clap.

I actually spent my 21st birthday in an old time music hall as a waiter. My father and grandfather came down, and we went just across the road to the Pier Hotel into the bar and had a celebratory drink. My grandfather gave me a watch which I’ve still got today – something I treasure.

Dinky Toys and beyond

People know I like Dinky Toys. If I’ve got surplus Dinky Toys I sell them to other people. People come here with a big box full of Dinky Toys offering to sell them to me. I buy them, take the ones I want and sell the ones I don’t want. I set up a little business to buy and sell Dinky Toys. The money I made enabled me to pay the school fees to send our children to private school. I used to go off at weekends and set up a stall at toy fairs and places like that and sell stuff at auction.

I liked Dinky Toys, Corgi Toys and other toys so much I’ve written books. Those have given me some pocket money as well, because I sell about a thousand books a year. So altogether the Dinky Toys one has sold more than 15000 copies and the Corgi Toy is a bestseller as well. I get some royalties and if your book is in the library and it’s taken out you get a payment every time the book is borrowed. Last week I got a cheque for £10 because 200 people had taken my book out of the library.

Just before Christmas I was reading the newspaper for ideas for fundraising for my charity. I turned over the final news page to the sport and jobs pages at the back, which I don’t normally read as I’m not interested in sports or another job. Right in the middle of the jobs vacancies was ‘Collector consultant required for auction house.’ It sounded interesting so I read it, and everything applied to me. It was part time in Aylsham, not too far away, dealing with toys, models, dolls, teddy bears and memorabilia and working with the experts there. You’d go out and about and find people with collections they want to sell.

They said to ring for an application form which arrived the next day. I filled it in and sent it off because the closing date was 24th December. I got a letter back just before Christmas saying they’d like to interview me. I went to the interview, got on really well with them and them with me, I told them all my background and everything and they said they’d be in touch. I got a second letter for a second interview. So I did and they showed me around the auction house and all the stuff they’d got. They said they wanted me to start next week. I had questions which I needed to ask them, and so I went back for another interview to interview them. They answered all my questions satisfactorily and I said I’d like to join. So I started the next Tuesday.

Last week they said ‘We got, we need – we must get the catalogue out by Friday because it needs to go onto the Internet this weekend – the auction is on the 15th, which is next week. So can you come in for an extra day to do some more stuff so we can finish off?’ So I came in on the Thursday and Friday – three days last week. Friday night we finished it, put it to bed. I loved everything I was doing.

It’s a challenge. He said we’re selling this lot in this huge room and there were fur coats. I looked at them and there were labels in the back. I have a friend who used to work for the Norwich Fur Company, so if I got stuck I could give him a ring. I was learning considerable amounts. Last Friday they said ‘you’ll come up on the roster with us, won’t you?’ I wasn’t expecting it that quickly, but he said I can if I want. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. So I’m sure I shall be hitting the gavel in due course.

And finally…

I’ve come full circle. From the time I was four doing my little nursery rhyme at Sunday school I was hooked. Sixty odd years later I’m now working again for pocket money to keep my bike on the road. And I loved cycling. I saved up £15 for my Claude Butler racing bike – the crème de la crème, it was the Rolls Royce of bicycles. It was a fantastic bike and I used to cycle all over the country on it. I used to take pride in keeping my bike up to date. I think I spent most of the money on my bike rather than other things. I’ve still got it today.

My parents were pretty generous. I was quite indulged really as a boy. I was the oldest grandchild out of about seven grandchildren so I had a lot of doting upon me. Not only did they give me pocket money but they used to buy me bus magazines, car magazines, comics, sweets and things like that. We were thinking of school fees for my grandchildren now.

David Cooke (b. 1943) talking to WISEArchive on 7th February 2011 in Norwich.

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