Tea Boy to Rock ‘n Roll

We cannot have been living in Old Windsor for long, it was about August 1956 and just a couple of months from school that my father arranged my first job. As area supervisor for Melias he used to visit the Egham shop on a regular basis.

Next to the shop there was a door marked Westbury Products and up a flight of stairs was a drawing office. He arranged for me to take my first job there on the basis that I had a GCE in Geometrical & Engineering Drawing. I don’t think I  had much say in the matter I turned up and was employed as a junior/trainee draughtsman for the sum of £2 a week.

The name Westbury Products came from the two principals a Mr Weston and a Mr Banbury and the products were jig and tool drawings for the aircraft industry. As subcontractors they obtained work from most of the major aircraft manufacturers.

The office personnel consisted of about half a dozen senior draughtsmen and four or five boys. It was an all male establishment so my zero experience of the opposite sex stayed the same as it had been previously.

The seniors produced the general arrangement drawings and the boys produced the working drawings with all the detailed parts including the assembly drawing. The rule was last in became the tea boy, so I replaced Errol Taylor and made tea for a dozen or so people twice a day. It was tedious but it only lasted a couple of weeks because they soon put Errol back on tea making not because I made lousy tea but because I was a better draughtsman than he was and was worth more to the company.

Part of the employment arrangement was that I did what was called a one day a week “sandwich course” at Maidenhead Technical College for the ONC (ordinary national certificate) in mechanical engineering.

In the early days of this I attempted to travel to Maidenhead every Wednesday by bus but the journey was convoluted and tedious with inconvenient timing so I had no option but to cycle the ten miles or so whatever the weather. I envied the other lads having motorcycles for transport. I did, however have a power assisted bicycle called a “Cyclemaster”.

I bought it just prior to our moving from West Ealing but I don’t ever remember riding it to Maidenhead only the push bike slog. I have some memory of riding it very occasionally across Runnymede to work at Egham. I say very occasionally because it was unreliable, frequently breaking down, usually due to ignition problems.

I ended up doing a swop with the chief draughtsman for an ancient double barrelled shotgun. Licence not needed in those days. At that time I became interested in shooting and guns and made friends with Barry Messer, fellow junior draughtsman, who was also an enthusiastic collector of probably illegal guns such as a Luger pistol, large calibre hunting rifle and various others. I believe he held some legally or he wouldn’t have been able to purchase ammo of all calibres at the Bisley Range gun shop.

My wage of £2 a week stayed the same all the time I was at Westbury Products. It didn’t go far especially as my mother insisted I paid ten shillings a week to her for my board. Not that they needed it and I was hardly rolling in it. Pay day was on a Friday  but it didn’t last long.

We lads were smoking at that time, and purchasing the occasional record. There wasn’t anything left for much else even though the smoking never amounted to more than ten a day if that. I always remember that time as a time of impoverishment which I tried to alleviate by earning ten shillings on a Saturday morning tending to an old couples garden – thus enjoying a Coca Cola and some fags.

Of course when the other one started work they didn’t ask him to contribute towards his board but that’s not surprising in the circumstances because he was to get all the help he needed from them for many years.

During those days of 1956 the rock ‘n roll revolution started. Elvis Presley being the big name with Cliff Richard and his brilliant hit “Move it” it was all happening. There were many others – Crooner Pat Boone was a favourite of mine, I knew the words to all his songs and bought the records, Fats Waller with Blueberry hill, the list goes on, all happening in 1956/57.

Now drawing and singing went together in that office. The seniors would sing songs from earlier, Frankie Lane, Johnny Ray and I would sing the latest hits. That’s when I was given the name “Rock”, a name that stuck for a number of years with my circle of friends that included Errol and Barry.

The oldies got pissed off with my singing so they exiled me to the print room with my drawing board. I suppose that lasted for a couple of weeks before I was returned to the main office.

The aircraft industry was in turmoil. The labour government of the day had decided they wouldn’t need manned fighter planes for the RAF any more, missiles would replace them. I did jig and tool drawings for the TSR2 an advanced fighter and then it was cancelled. I worked on drawings for the luggage racks in the Comet IV but military was where it happened and the Comet was going nowhere as Boeing was to introduce the 707 in 1958. And so it was that Westbury Products went out of business in 1957/8 due to lack of subcontracting – the aircraft companies brought all that work back in house.

I was out of work for a three or four weeks drawing the dole -I don’t remember getting any money – but my work in the aircraft industry was to continue fairly quickly.


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