Michael Dorman

 

The following anecdotes were supplied to me by Michael Dorman, now (2011) aged 67 and living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

In the autumn of 1967 (when Michael was aged about 23years), he and his friend Larry came to England to hitchhike around and do odd jobs to support themselves. In Michael's own words:

The first job was two or three days moving furniture at BBC Broadcasting House, Langham Place. The announcement of choosing the name of the Queen Elizabeth liner was made on the wireless (radio) just as we were having our tea break. The next job I was given, as well as my friend Larry, was at Johnsons of Hendon. We worked there for a while through the Manpower company but then left Manpower at the encouragement of our co-workers, to become full-time employees of Johnsons".

Our job was to work with a crew of about three other people (I guess there were about 4 or 5 of us in the one room) to package dry chemicals used in the development of photographic film. Powders were weighed on a small scale on the work table into plastic bags which we then heat-sealed. The sealer had a treadle or pedal on the floor which we pushed down with our foot after we slipped the open end of the filled plastic bag into a slit that had heating elements in it. After sealing the bags we then applied a label for the contents; I don’t remember if the labels were self-adhesive or if we had to moisten them with a damp sponge or cloth, it is so long ago. Perhaps self-adhesive labels weren’t available at that time. The bags were then packed into boxes, either one to a box or several to a large box. Again, I just don’t remember. It may have been that the small boxes were packed into larger packing boxes for shipment to retailers, etc.

We worked piece work. There was a small minimum hourly wage then a bonus system for volume of work done. A manual ledger was kept by a young woman who was responsible for this and who worked packing with us. At the end of the week (we were paid weekly in cash in a small brown envelope) we got the hourly rate plus the bonus paid. There was a time clock with punch cards outside the main door for staff.

I soon realized we were very inefficient with our method of weighing and packing, so we rearranged the order in which we did things. We moved the various tasks from the location in the room where they were originally and instead lined the various stages of the job in order, side by side, so that every time a bag was filled on the scale it was given to the next person to the right to heat seal, then to their right to apply the label, then again to the person putting the bags into the boxes and applying labels to the boxes. We increased our bonus because our output increased by cutting out the time we were wasting walking back and forth across the room to reach the next station in the production line. Finally, one day two men in suits came down and suggested we were lying about the numbers i.e. that we were "padding" the figures, which of course was untrue.

Instead of taking advantage of our local improvement to increase output so they could supply more customers more quickly, they caused us to go back to the same old inefficient way, which we did. I think in those days management in companies wanted workers to stay in their place and that good ideas from below were unwelcome as they might show up the "big boys" who should have come up with the idea themselves in the first place. Some workers out in the main floor (not our team) were so angry at the bosses they put spoons in the chemical hoppers (that sort of looked like kitchen meat grinders) to jam them up !

There was a staff canteen for lunch and there wasn’t a lot of variety as I recall, but the very simple cold sausage on a bun sandwich, cut in half, was my favourite and I ate that a lot at Johnsons. We had good camaraderie at Johnsons and it was nice to have a regular place to go from Monday to Friday, especially so far from home. There was the security of a regular job, albeit not the best paying, that is so important when one lives in another country. I believe at that time we earned roughly £9 per week. Our rent in the Notting Hill flat in an old Victorian rooming house at 9 Holland Park Avenue was £5 per week, which Larry and I split. The remaining £4-5 pounds we each had left went a long way. Harold Wilson was prime minister then and there were a lot of food price subsidies which made the basics for poorer people a little more affordable.

My daily route to work was the Central Line from Notting Hill station to the Northern Line up through Golders Green to Hendon Central. I like to keep a copy of the London tube map so I can reminisce about the various stations we used during our stay in London. I love to watch "Are You Being Served?" and "On The Buses" as they began production just after I returned to Canada. "Are You Being Served?" reminds me of the months I worked in Selfridges Department store from Dec 1967 to April 1968 and "On The Buses" reminds me of the look of the cloths, cars, buildings etc that were part of my stay in London for the almost one year that I lived there.

This page last modified: 1st September 2011