My three years at BTC were mainly very happy. I had spent several years at boarding school and found the lifestyle, although rigorous, much more grown up as one would expect. I had no problem settling in.
Life at BTC is very well described in the articles by Gordon Brooks and Bernard Butler, but I have one or two additional memories. Our dining room on the first floor of the Hotel was ‘managed’ by a lovely little lady called Dot, who fed us well but would stand no nonsense. She also looked after our own ‘tea break’ room, within the factory grounds, where we were allowed all of 10 minutes to leave our place of work, get there, have a drink and a cake, and get back .
Also on one of the upper floors of the Hotel (the top I think) there was a Gymnasium, and we were regularly required to keep ourselves fit, jumping, climbing and whatever else under the supervision of an Instructor.
I chose to be one of the Administration Students. However in my first year we were required to work in both Factories to learn the rudimentaries of footwear manufacture.
Twice a week we attended the Cordwainers College in London, which I always enjoyed. In the second year my inhouse time was spent in Stockrooms and offices, and I struggle to remember exact details. During this year we attended a college in Dagenham, where we studied Business and Commerce, taking examinations set by the Royal Society of Arts.
In my final year I was working in the Export Department and attended night school at a College in the City learning economics etc. On these two days we (another Student) were allowed to stay in at BTC during the day, to study and chat up the cleaning ladies. I have to say that my time in the Export Dept. was pretty boring as I spent most of my time typing Bills of Lading, 8/10 copies, loads of carbon paper, and just using two fingers as I had never been taught to type. These were for the export of goods to the West Indies.
At the weekends there was of course the monthly Shop Duty, and for a couple of years I went to Stanford le Hope to play hockey with one of their teams when I was able. Generally at weekends we entertained ourselves with sport and hobbies etc.
Once in a while, on a Saturday evening, a few of us would have a pub crawl in Grays, which was always great fun. The Salvation Army always caught us with their collecting tin.
When I joined the College, Mr Hughes was the Principal, but he was very ill and not at work. I only met him at the interview process. Sadly he died during my first year.
Denys Bacon was the resident Warden along with his wife, and he ran the College himself very competently. I remember him as a nice man who was disappointed when he was not given the Principal’s job officially. Instead a military man was brought in, by the name of Brigadier Hopton-Scott, and I have to say that I don’t know what he really did, other than advise us about our forthcoming National Service. Perhaps the management thought a ‘high profile’ Principal was necessary. However, I see in a later picture of the College group, Denys appears to be sitting where the Brigadier sat a year or two earlier, so perhaps he got the job after all. I do hope so.
The concept of a complete working village at East Tilbury followed the likes of Port Sunlight and Bournville in the UK, and clearly had much merit, and had obviously proved successful in Zlin. However I certainly got the feeling from many of the Community that they would have liked to get away from it all after work if they had been able to afford their own place, and not have to live so close to their bosses, or indeed those who they managed.
I did feel that the top management, who were mainly Czech at that time, ruled with an iron grip, particularly the MD John Tusa. When Mr Tusa went walkabout with his entourage scurrying behind, trouble would be always on the agenda. The Export Dept. was on the ground floor of the Admin. Building separated from the Buying Dept. by a corridor created with low filing cabinets, so it was all open plan. At the end of the corridor was a fully fitted high street shop, windows et al. which was used to train new shop managers.
Adjacent to this, on each side, was a private but glassed office for the head Buyer on the right, and Export Manager(EM) on the left. If the EM had been summoned to Mr Tusa’s office when something was not right, he would return to his office, red faced and call all his section managers into his office. The shouting would begin, we could all hear it and indeed see it through the glass.
Although the EM was always polite to me (the Student) he was not so kind to one or two of his section managers. He had a bell call system to summon a manager, two buzzes or three buzzes etc. I have an abiding memory of being in his office one day and he buzzed the section manager who I was working for. This quite mild man (a Czech) sat right outside his office, and always appeared terrified of the EM. He would always respond quickly. On this occasion Mr M’s feet never touched the ground and he was in the office before the sound of the buzzer had faded.
The EM said, in his broken English, “ So, M, why you take so long ?” This was so humiliating for poor Mr M , who just spluttered and apologised.
This is how things were done in some departments and I must say it was putting doubts into my head about whether this Organisation was really for me.
When I returned from National Service, it was back to typing Bills of Lading, before I was sent up to Huddersfield to manage the shop there, as part of my continued training, the idea being that I could be sent abroad to be involved in the management of retail operations. In those days shop managers had to take a full stock inventory after closing on every other Saturday, and then extend all the values on a calculator, of the type you pulled a handle and it printed onto a paper roll. This job took up most of Sunday as well, not a particularly exciting prospect for a young man in his early 20’s.
At the same time I reflected that shop/retail work was not what I had started off to do, and was not something I had wanted to do. Time to move on, so I did. Another story