Retouching before Computers (2011)

Location : Norwich

Beginning on the ice-cream van

It's not exactly starting work, it's more a way of life that we started, which was probably about seven or eight years old and I used to go out with my father who was an ice cream man. We had a family ice cream firm and probably one day a week – probably weekends because I was still at school – I would go out and help him, or so-called help him, and then I served my first ice cream outside the watchmakers in Bungay when I was probably about seven, and that was a tuppenny cone, which was quite a large cone in those days, to a chap – I remember him.

And as time went on I then worked every weekend throughout the summer. I never had very much sort of summer holiday from school so I worked there. I worked on a Saturday morning getting all the vans ready and then working through ‘til Saturday lunchtime when we went home and then all day Sunday, so I had to work all day Sunday which was probably a 12 or 14 hour day.

How old were you then?

I was probably … that was up to the age … I'd sort of started senior school then … I was probably about twelve or fourteen. Up until I got married when I was twenty-one I was still doing this. And when I was twenty-one I got the grand total of a pound for a Sunday, one pound for a Sunday! Which then, as I said, was at least 12 hours long, and then probably a bit of Saturday. On school holidays I would also do a Wednesday and a Friday and my father always had Tuesdays off so we had the Tuesday off, which was quite nice. I then got married, but prior to that when I left school which …I was sixteen, I stayed on an extra term which was to get a better Maths mark and I left in 1963.

Apprenticeship at Jarrolds printing works

Second of January, no third of January 1963 I started work at Jarrolds printing works, my uncle was the bindery manager there and he said …. (I had no idea what I wanted to do) so he said ‘Would you like to … you're very interested in art, you are very artistic…,' I said, ‘Yes I love art, painting and drawing,' he said, ‘There is a vacancy for an apprenticeship for a photo litho retoucher – you know litho artist – in the repro department, would you like that?' So I went along – and Jarrolds was very much like Colman's and places like that, it's very much who you knew and it's a family, if your family could get into these things. That was before my GCE results came, I just got offered this job and then I started a five-year apprenticeship as a litho retoucher. Which was fun! It was fun- any given time there was probably five or six other apprentices there, …. and you did everything, you were the sort of the dogsbody.

There was two groups in our department, one was called retouchers and the other was camera operators. To explain printing, colour printing is from a series of dots and it's the size of the dots in colour; there's a cyan, a magenta and a yellow. You had to separate transparencies out into these three colours and then the size of dots of colour when combined makes all the colours. It was your job then to know what combination of sized dots made certain colours. The camera operators separated out these transparencies by means of masks and filters and things, but they were not very good so what you needed to do then was, you got these positives – well, it was glass plates when I first started – so that then went on to a plastic-based one with a gelatine on which could be chemically etched, so what you had to assess was which on the four different colours … [I hope this is not too complicated!]. what you had to assess was what size dot was correct and what sized dot was too big. So the one that was correct – I was doing at that time Jarrolds major calendars – and you would have the sky predominantly cyan with just a small amount of magenta, a fraction of yellow but no black. What we probably started with was probably nearly all the same sized dots, so what you had to do was assess what you had and paint with a thing called BELCO – which was a paint – and you'd just paint it. you held those dots so you could keep those dots, and you chemically etched the others down until reached the correct size. You then had to wash it all off and then start all over again, but this time you then painted out all the stuff that was good. Including all the new stuff that you had, because other stuff still wanted to come down more. So you had a series of these painting-out. Especially things like skies where there were things like trees, what you had to do was paint out every leaf and branch to take the sky down to an acceptable level so that it didn't look grey. And you'd then enhance things – make beaches more yellow and that sort of thing. Grass more green. That was essentially my job.

It was then taken over by electronics and the first thing we had was a machine called a vario-Klischograph which I then worked. This was still in my apprenticeship. It was on two cantilever tables, as you put the original in one side that was scanned electronically and the signal was put through to the other side which held a plastic plate and a needle – a ratcher stichel as it was called. Whatever that read electronically it would actually punch out a dot. So however large or small the dots were the heavier the thing was. So that then went from there to an actual scanner, almost as we know today. We had the second – K.S. Paul – which was the first one – the second one in the world. Because actually the person who was in our R&D, a bloke called Cunnell, invented the first scanner going.

This was probably in the ‘60s, it would be the early ‘60s. he invented so many things. He was extremely good at that. We had an R&D department in Jarrolds at that point. When I came out of my time I was still half way between hand-retouching and working on these scanners. We then upgraded to Crossfield scanners – because there was a chap called Crossfield who did the scanners. So I then worked on scanners until 1977 it would be then, and I finally left.

The Jarrolds family printing firm

What was Jarrolds like to work for?

Jarrolds was very much a family firm. It is run by the family – the Jarrold family. You called them all Mr. and Christian names. So the main man was John Jarrold – who was way ahead of his time in technology. He loved modern technology and he was one of those sort of people who had no interest in money, possessions, his only interest was printing. He loved it. And he had the most modern machinery and everything. His second in command, the one who has taken over was Peter Jarrold (we had to call him Mr Peter – and we called John Jarrold Mr John – Mr Peter and Mr John). He was in the army and was making a very good career in the army and absolutely loved it. but being the oldest son he was then forced to leave the army and come into Jarrolds which I know he didn't enjoy at all.

But that was a good company to work for. They looked after you. You got everything that was going. They did lots of sort of social things. You had a lot of deaf and dumb people working in the factory. You had a lot of physically handicapped people working there. I think Colman's did the same thing, they did look after people as well. They looked after you when you retired. Certainly there was a sort of a pension scheme there and they looked after pensioners. They looked after you, that was in the old days when they looked after you. You could easily talk to all the managers, there was a good relationship between the whole lot. I think we had one very slight dispute once and I think that got almost to a strike situation and they said, ‘That's fine, you can go on strike.' Because I think there were seventeen different countries they could call on to do the work in case of a strike. So we said, ‘Right' and didn't pursue that one.

It was at the time as well where if you were apprenticed at Jarrolds, or worked at Jarrolds, you could possibly get a job anywhere in the world. They were world leaders, won the awards, they were the best. Actually the best printers. Then the Italians took over that mantel and probably the Chinese now. so that was excellent. They looked after you and they looked very much to the future rather than anything else.

I left there in 1977 and I was working shifts then. It was the old days of six to two and two to ten. Which was not exactly very good for my family life. I didn't see very much … I wanted to leave as things had changed slightly. We went to a different department –

One thing aside, as I said there were camera operators and retouchers and they still remained these two separate sections. We did the premium bonds. We all saved up – that was when you could buy them for a pound. You could buy them singly. People put in something like a pound a month into these things. We were in one each, so all the camera operators were in one and the retouchers were in the other. And one year the camera operators won the jackpot. They won £25,000. There were 12 of them and they got £2,000 odd each. Anybody who said they were going to win the lottery and what they would do – they wouldn't! I'd worked for these people for at least 10-15 years and the people who worked with them had been working with them almost all their lives. They won £25,000 – which was the equivalent of at least two and a half million now – they never bought a single drink for anybody, I think it must have been about 1968/69. All the apprentices were getting married roughly about that time and birthdays … we used to go over to the pub with the entire department and that would cost round about £8 to buy everybody a drink for the entire lunchtime. So £25,000 in your hand – that gives you some idea. They never bought a single drink. They had a presentation of the cheque at the Norwood rooms in Norwich and they had a huge cake which they took into work and sliced up and handed out between themselves. Never even gave you a piece of this cake. Not one of them ever bought a drink, or gave anything to anybody. And that was just so surprising. All the people that you thought you knew all your life would be generous. But they weren't.

A new job at East Anglian Engraving

I left in 1977. I went to this up-and-coming company called East Anglian Engraving Company, EAE as it was always called. A very charismatic chap who owned it, who was called Tom Ferguson. He worked for the EDP and they all used to drink at the Festival House, which is now Delaney's in Norwich. One of the people he drank with was Oliver Sears. Oliver Sears owned Snetterton racetrack which he'd just sold. The day he sold it, he came into the Festival House and said ‘I've just made a one and a half million pounds. Does anyone want any money for anything?' This chap Tom Ferguson said, ‘I would, I'd like to set up this repro company. Which he did. And he then proceeded to recruit the best people in repro he could find. I was luckily in a position to be one of those, I was a top class scanner operator by then and a highly qualified retoucher which was reasonably rare at that time. He got a group of people together, probably five or six of us together and we started off almost from the basics again. Which was lovely because there were no longer shifts and you were just one family. Everybody called everybody else by their Christian names. It was a young company, we were all roughly the same age, round about thirty. We just had this wonderful … back to basics again. And he said ‘I'm going to buy a scanner!' ‘No, didn't go down this route, I've just come from there …' he then bought a scanner and obviously I worked that.

He then got a few more people in and the company then moved. We had a place in Cushion's wood yard. Their office block was ours. He was desperate to get out. The place across the road was an old tyre depot so I came back from lunch one day and said, ‘That's for sale. It would be ideal for us to move in there.' So he moved in and made an entirely new – not a factory as such, we did have one printing press and the rest of it was all repro which is the thing you do prior to actually printing. we'd go up to printing plates. He grew then to be the biggest repro house in East Anglia and one time. And then technology gradually took over. Apple Macs came in so retouching was out.

I remember as well, I was still connected with the ice cream, and my cousin wanted some advertising. So I said, ‘Well, if you get these pictures …'. ‘No, my daughter will scan those in'. She was five! And she was scanning. I said, ‘But I could do that.' And my scanner was something like £250,000 at the time. He said, ‘No, we got this free with … this scanner.' I could have done it slightly better but not much.

New technology changing ways of working – for the worse?

How did you feel about all this new technology coming in?

It's something which didn't interest me I think. I am not that way inclined. You had to work a Mac and I worked it for years. I worked computers for years, but you only work in a very small field and I was OK with that. The other 99 percent of it was … it didn't really interest me. I was more practical. I think I should really, thinking back, I would quite like to have done something more physical than that. More creative. It got to the point… it was nice when I was a retoucher because that was my skill. One colour would probably take four hours to paint and then ten seconds to etch it and things. And when they came back, I would think, I created that. Because that was my creation. Now a machine has created it. I was sort of still useful because to set up a scanner you had to set up colour correction, so you knew full well that a basic colour correction (what you got with a usual scanner it was a basic colour correct) I could then fine-tune it to something which every time would come out as near perfect as you could get. Somebody just buying a scanner wouldn't be able to do that and would be lost. Up until then. Then it got to the point when that wasn't so, you can actually do it. so that was a case of lighter, darker, this and that.

I think then, obviously the writing was on the wall, and round about the turn of the millennium more and more people got made redundant. I got to the point where I would very much like it to be me. I got totally disillusioned. The chap was Scottish Canadian and had this sort of Celtic temper. I was Irish Italian and I had the same temper. We got on very well, and we still do, I still see him. But we had these nose to nose rows and he actually took a back seat and his son took over. His son came from the City and lost his job on Black Wednesday, or whatever it was called, and was just not my type. ‘Let's get all the ducks in a row.' You know. It got to the point where I was extremely unhappy. I think my saddest bit was two weeks before my … I'd been there 25 years.

What would you say were the highlights?

The highlights were probably the first 10 years when we worked as a small group all together and we made that into the best repro house in East Anglia. It was all down to you, I think that was it. As soon as technology took over your job went with it. one of the things that spoiled it as well – Tom F. who owned it, was always called Tom and he always called you ‘Mick' or whatever it was. He always treated you as a colleague never as somebody who worked for him. We then got a General Manager in. He said ‘Oh yes, I'm middle management.' ‘We haven't got management here, we've got people in charge of themselves and you all worked together. We'd got somebody there, I imagine he was called a manager, but he collated all the work and organised the work. I suppose he was the manager but he was just Brian who did that. This other chap came in and that changed – the whole thing changed. And we went into a more professional thing – it spoils it all, technology spoils it all.

Again, when we worked for Jarrolds we had fun. People had time. There was not these deadlines. We had fun. At Christmas time they had Christmas parties in the departments. We all worked at these benches. They had hoods over the top and a light desk in front and lights overhead. You were almost in your own world there. but they were all in a row. Then somebody had the idea to make them into a train. They were all artists in their own right these people. So they would paint carriages. And you had doors, and you had a guard's van at the back. There was a chimney stack at the front. They were not exactly in a row, and everyone was individual. And when I worked for EAE after a while everything was put in a row so everything was absolutely dead straight. I couldn't stand it, I had to move mine slightly out – that sort of went downhill. It got so bad, we took over two other companies actually. It was a different way of thinking when these other people came in. I don't think I'd ever had a day off work through illness or things like that. These new people came in ‘oh I've just got a headache, I won't be in for the rest of the week.' They spoilt it. And with more technology there were one or two people there who made life uncomfortable for the rest. All in all it was just not enjoyable.

[Then the contributor was made redundant.]

Back to the ice cream business

I got the minimum amount of redundancy money that you could get, which paid off the credit card bill. So I then went from there, thinking ‘I've no idea what I am going to do now.' Because I am so highly qualified in such a small area of expertise which has now been taken over by a machine. So I'm not qualified to do anything. This saying ‘You've got a degree in Life' is rubbish.

Two days later my cousin, who by this time had taken over the ice cream company phoned up and said, ‘We're doing an event' … it was after my father died and he was struggling for drivers. He said, ‘We're doing an event to celebrate the centenary of the ice cream company. Could you come and help?' So I said ‘Yes!' He said, ‘Are you free?' ‘Yes,' I said, ‘As a matter of fact I am FREE …' (Laughter) He said, ‘I can't believe it, I am so busy – I am doing it on my own, myself …' and his father, my uncle. ‘We're just making all the ice cream on our own, and going out and I'm desperate to get somebody to help.'

So I started there and, having been associated with ice cream all my life, having worked with my father, as I said, each Saturday morning. We used to make the ice cream as well. We made it all by hand. So I knew what the recipe was as well.

Did you place orders or something like that, or did you have someone to do that for you?

No, to start with, I went in and just made the ice cream. You get the milk in in the mornings and you make it fresh every day. You make the basic mix every day. And then in the afternoons you would make all the ice cream, actually physically make all the ice cream and freeze it all down and the next day you would do the same thing. So I did all that. And then weekends we would go out and do events. So you would go out in a van in the middle of a field and sell ice cream.

How many vans did you have?

At that time we had six vans. So two went out and four were for weekend events only. What you had to do as well was to make ice cream for the vans, which was reasonably easy. That was quite straightforward.

But then we went into wholesale because the van sales went down. So we then started selling to restaurants and things like that. So the production went up and then we went into cakes and patisserie which we didn't make but bought in. It was frozen, anything that was frozen we could sell, because we had a freezer van which we used to make deliveries. It was just about the year 2000, I was doing things like making it in it he morning, going out delivering orders, coming back in the afternoon and then making ice cream during the day. So there was probably again back to the 12 to 14 hours a day. But it was every day, between round about April to the end of September it is seven days a week twelve hours a day. You did events and you probably left the yard at six in the morning and got back at nine o'clock at night. Then loaded up all the things again and went out at six o'clock the following morning and got back Sunday night round about nine or ten o'clock, unloaded everything and six o'clock Monday morning you were back in again making ice cream. That did get to the point, I think about two, two and a half years ago now, I got to the point where I physically couldn't do it any more. I worked 98 hours one week. I think I did the Norfolk Show, which was huge for us, which was over three – four days really, you'd set up, two days work and then you took down. The following day I did Poringland fete which doesn't sound very much but was huge. That was an all day event. I came back from there and then on the Sunday we did Heveningham, which is near Halesworth – a huge country fair. You were there from six in the morning and then I got back about 11 o'clock at night and started again the following morning. I thought, I can't do this! I think I collapsed on the Saturday in the van and had to be helped from the van. You got no help whatsoever, you were on there for twelve hours solid, you couldn't leave it.

Just yourself?

Just myself.

Why didn't you get help?

Exactly! Because it is working for family, working for my cousin. The thing is … I'm not sure if it is working for an Italian family … My grandfather started the company. He died very young and the company was taken over by his wife who then gave it to the eldest son and he then owned the company and the rest of the family worked for him and then he got to the point, he was probably in his mid-eighties, that he gave it up and my cousin then took it over, and he then was the company. And we all worked for him. My son still works for him. But we worked for him. As I said, about two years ago now, I just couldn't go on. So they then got me an assistant, somebody to help, and they got me this assistant in September – well, between September and March there is not much to do. So I had someone trailing round after me all the wintertime with nothing to do. You could go for weeks without doing very much really, if you wanted to. And then about six months ago we go another chap in as well to help him, he is like – not exactly a labourer – he is very good. He took two people to do my job, which was quite satisfying!

And then I got to the point at 65 and that was it, really. It was just, goodbye, thank you, on your way. I suppose I could have carried on working but through a series of things, physically I couldn't do it any more.

Did you eat the ice cream yourself?

Well, we were always eating ice cream! I think when you grew up in a family like that it was just a natural thing to do. You ate ice cream.

Did you experiment with different types?

Yes, we had 40-something flavours, which we made in the kitchen. So you go into the kitchen and you have a small ice cream maker there and then we all used to sit round as a family, then, and say ‘What do you think of this one? What do you think of that?' Unfortunately, now we've got two virtual strangers making it, so they haven't got that experience. Some things you think, ‘Oh, that's lovely, that's gorgeous', and it won't sell.'


You're in business, it has to be commercial. We're doing at the moment bubblegum ice cream, which is extremely good for children. It's extremely bright blue colour, which children would like. We did liquorice ice cream, which if you like liquorice would be lovely – we couldn't give it away! We did a whisky one, all sorts of ones… we did one, ‘fruits of the forest' that was called – frutti del bosco – we bought everything in from Italy. It was called frutti del bosco which was obviously fruits of the forest, and couldn't sell it. So we did a new one called ‘blackberry and blueberry'. But the basis of fruits of the forest is blackberry, it's blackberry with just a few bits in! Blackberry and blueberry, that's blackberries, and we can't make enough of it! it's exactly the same. We had a plum, and it had a beautiful flavour because it was made from plums. And nobody would buy it because it was plums. We called it damson and everybody bought it. The same ice cream. (Laughs)

There was another one which we called gianduia, which is hazelnut chocolate. Nobody would pronounce it, and it you can't pronounce it, especially them knowing that you are Italians, they don't want to make a fool of themselves and you can't sell it. So you have to think of names that sell!

A note on salaries

Some further information from the contributor:

I started work at Jarrolds in 1963 as an apprentice on £4-9-11 (old money) rising to £14-10-0 in year 5 (1968).

I came out of my time on £24-0-0 per week.

I started work at E.A.E. in 1977 on £80.00 per week and finished in 2003 on £350.00 per week.

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