Posted: December 12th, 2017
Former Daily Mirror printer TOM RAND takes his own trip down memory lane. He’s pictured here as a Brake Hand, with Sid Taz, putting one of the new plates on the press in Holbom
I always look forward to getting Mirror Pensioner newsletter and reading about people who used to work at the Mirror, so I’d like to add some stories about the men who worked with the black stuff (printing ink) in the Machine Room.
I started work at a printers called Charles & Read in Fetter Lane in Rolls building. I started in newspapers in 1955 by going jobbing – the Union would send you to different papers and you were lucky if you got two or sometimes three nights’ work a week.
By 1958 when I was 25, I was on regular nights, with four nights on the Mirror and a Saturday night on another paper.
I ended up working three floors below ground in Rolls buildings. The lowest job was on the Fly – which was sitting at the side of the machine stacking up the papers in quires as they came off the press. After a night’s work you needed to take a shower to get rid of the smell of ink, but you still went home with a nose full. You had to have breaks during the night because of the ink dust.
Some of the men would play cards. One of the games was a racing game when six cards were placed at the side of a big table to represent the length of the race and four aces at the end for the horses. You were given the odds depending on how many of a suit were on show at the side. Men would be packed round the table having bets. It all came to a stop when one wife complained to the F0C (Father of the Chapel, union official) that some nights her husband came home with no wages.
Other Mirror buildings I worked in were Back Hill in Clerkenwell, and Stamford Street. These weren’t so bad for ink dust because the machines were at ground level. When the Rolls closed and the Holborn site opened, it was back to three floors below ground again.
By then I had worked my way up to loading the reels on to the press, then to the Oil can – loading the heavy lead plates in the machine. Eventually I got to the top job of Brake Hand. Brake Hand was always the best paid because you were in control of the press, making sure the different paper reels were lined up, the speed of the machine was right, and the lead plates were in the right order. By the time I reached Brake Hand all the machine room assistants (Natsopa) were on the same wages.
I ended up doing night work for about 35 years but have a lot of good memories of life at the Mirror. Apart from the good friendship and banter with so many people on nights in the machine room, my best memories are about football. I was (and still am) an Arsenal fan who loved football and I played for the AFC supporters’ club team.
Harry Dorrington, who worked in the Machine Room, ran a team at the Mirror. I was captain and can still remember all the team’s names. Derek Breedon was a very good friend – he was a great goalkeeper. Sadly, I read in the newsletter that Derek had passed away.
Other team mates were Ron Eyles, John Bateman, Ron Gibbons, John Heffi, John Hill, Ron Ashley, Ted Price, Eddie Taylor, Vic Bird, George Symes. Plus Kenny Filkins, Ernie Noaks, Billy Sullivan, and one other – they were all on the day staff.
I am now 84 and very lucky that I can still enjoy life, and hope that some of my old team can too. I hope those that are still with us are keeping healthy and, like me, look back fondly on the good old days.
Read a sumptuous look back at Fleet Street pubs in All Our Yesterdays
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