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That early job of mine was not with ICI, but with the Anchor Chemical Co, a Manchester firm that specialised in chemicals for the rubber industry. I nursed ambitions to become a rubber technologist at this time; however, when I got back from India, was demobbed, and returned to the job I decided that the wartime developments in synthetic rubbers and changes in the industry meant I had more than a lot to catch up with.
As it happened, I came back to the job just when they were having trouble over costs with the London advertising agencythe firm, as a matter of prestige, had front-cover contracts with the two leading rubber-industry journalswhen I submitted some economical typeset layouts for ads, I found my talent in that direction was greatly appreciated and apparently just what was needed.
So that relieved me of any worries about restarting my technical education from scratch; instead I found myself busy forming a publicity department, with the responsibility of producing and distributing technical literature and other printed matter.
The director behind these activities, Tom Martin, was friendly with Tom Redfern, of Redfern's Rubber Works of Hyde, one of Anchor's leading customers. He arranged for me to visit Redferns and look at the printing section they ran, to pick up any useful ideas. So the publicity department acquired a Multilith machine, and we were soon happily churning out reports and printing most of the company stationery...
As it happened, a few years later, Redfern's were looking for an advertising manager. While I was relatively happy with my job at Anchor, I was not enjoying the Manchester atmosphereafter a year and more in the fresh air of the Western Ghats, I found the stench of the industrial "park" (occupied by British Steel and a variety of chemical companies), somewhat oppressive.
The prospect of moving away from Manchester to the cleaner atmosphere of the foothills of the Pennines had its attractionsfor years I'd been an enthusiastic Youth-hosteller and weekend visitor to the Peak. So I applied for the jobI met Tom Redfern during the interviews, who grinned and asked what he could say to Tom Martin if I was appointed... Fortunately Tom Martin also grinned when I raised the matter and wished me well. So that was how the Turner family came to live in Romiley in the early '50s.
Redferns had five departmentssole & heels, dealing with shoe-repairers, and footwear companies; a range of domestic products; industrial mouldings; protective linings; and advertising matsall under the control of the marketing manager. So I found myself dabbling in pretty well all aspects of advertisingpoint-of-sale activities, print and catalogues, mailing promotions, and exhibition work.
I got to London frequently either visiting the agency or supervising stand erection and arrangements. It kept me busy and was a great experience... until Tom Redfern decided to retire, and called in consultants to plan the future of the company and they decreed that each of the departments should be reformed as separate companies, which introduced a large element of chaos into my job.
And that's when I wrote out an ad for insertion in the Guardian...
Am sure you must have seen "point-of-sale" fascias and bills for Redferns plastered all over the place in the '50sI forget the marketing statistics of that "pre-trainer" era, but there were thousands of shoe repairers in business dedicated to prolonging the life of leather footwear.
We had a team of thirty or more sales reps in the footwear department calling on 'em nationwide. As we supplied "stick-on soles" (our main competitor was Phillips, as I recall) for the folk that hankered to economise and do their own repairs.
Memories came flooding back after I sent that last letter, I recall that as a junior, my appearance in court over the matter of the Manchester Interplanetary Society met with the strong disapproval of the sales manager at Anchor; he was a WW1 veteran and a leading light at the local branch of BLESMA (British Limbless Ex-Servicemen's Association), having lost a leg in France.
However, things changed after WW2whenever I had occasion to visit his office, I was inevitably introduced to visitors as a wayward genius who had foreseen flying bombs and. V2s, and more-or-less invented space-flight...
So far as my career swing is concerned, I've always had an abiding interest in both science and art. At the Central School I attended in the thirties, the art master left me to my own devices most of the time, and. my efforts were prominently displayed on the walls. Then in the third year we switched to School Cert/Matriculation subjects, and I concentrated on maths and science.
Always seemed to do well in exams and finished up my time by winning some prize or other, and choosing a pile of books. (In a mood of cheery optimism one I selected. was Relativity Physics by W.H. McCrea, but I soon decided that I'd bitten off more than I could chew with that one. It still lingers on the shelf, but is not consulted very often!).
Did better when I attended Newton Heath Tech and won the Herbert Birley medal in 1937, plus more books, coming out top in the Rubber Course exams. Sensibly, I went in for subjects I could cope with this timelike David Lasser's The Conquest of Space and Charles Philp's Stratosphere & Rocket Flight, both still in the library...
Then just before the war, a couple of British science-fiction mags appeared and I managed to get some illustrations accepted, and began to dream of a possible spare-time career as a commercial artist, though the rewards were not very high then! So I fitted. in at Anchor Chemical, being able to flit comfortably between sales and laboratory departments, and then at Redferns coping with both the areas of general and technical advertising,
Guess I was pretty lucky with my job applications. When I decided to leave Redferns, there didn't seem to be any jobs with the same wide scope that I was enjoying, covering most aspects of advertising. So I designed a display ad, setting out my qualifications and experience, and. sent it in to the Guardian for insertion.
I received a note from the ad manager giving me a quote but asking me to contact Bill McMillan, the advertisement director before insertion. When I spoke to him, he told me that I seemed to be just the man the Guardian & News happened to be looking for, and would I come in for an interview.
This was the time when newsprint rationing had just ended, and a general scramble for circulation was under way, while Laurence Scott nursed ambitions to convert the Guardian from a leading regional paper to a national daily.
So I went in, displayed my wares and told my story, and found that the job of organising a marketing & statistics studio, serving both the Guardian & News was mine for the taking. At that time the Guardian was largely subsidised by advertising income from the Newsunder rationing the ad reps had become accustomed to rationing available space for advertisers in the paper: now they had to sell it, in the face of strong competition from the Chronicle and other local papers.
So I provided a back-up service for them in the expectation that mounting ad income would be available to carry through long-term plans for the Guardian to settle in Fleet Street as well as Cross Street... Quite a demanding job, but I revelled in it; my staff expanded to meet the demands, and the sixties, importantly, were the years when the Sports Guild Jazz Cellar and Club 43 came into their own, attracting US jazzmen over to play here, and the Free Trade Hall featured frequent jazz concerts.
It all seemed to good to be true. Which is why I stayed with the Guardian until my retirement! ■
Letters to Peter Ashford, June 2003.
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