Liddiard was born on the 8th of August 1922 and, in his youth, lived at Egham, a small place on the River Thames, next to Runnymede. His father worked on the Southern Railway as a Mechanical Lineman and was an active member of the NUR. Frank’s father was also an active member of the local Labour Party, in fact its first candidate to stand in the town in the 1920s, but became disillusioned by the Ramsay MacDonald betrayal and refused to have anything more to do with Labour.
The young Frank won a scholarship when he was eleven, in 1933, and went to the local endowed secondary school, which was called Strode. His first job was as a telegraphist at the Post Office in Staines in November 1938, the start of a 41-year career in the civil service.
He was involved in forming a YCL group in Staines, which had been nurtured by the
Chief Shop Steward at Lagonda Motors, who was also a leading local Communist. The group decided – as there was no such thing in Staines – that it should start agitating for the setting up of a youth club. Deputed to send a letter of protest to the local paper, Lilliard found himself hauled up before the Head Postmaster when it was printed.
Having escaped retribution, Frank’s activity focused on the People’s Convention, which was focused on opposing the character of what would become the Second World War, especially the war profiteering and lack of air raid protection for civilians.
Frank Liddiard joined the Communist Party in 1942 and was a local activist in the Union of Post Office Workers. Later, he moved from the Post Office to work in the Treasury and then the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. He became the president, or national chair, of a civil servant’s union (possibly the Civil Service Union) before being witch-hunted out.
He is still an active branch member in Cambridge of the Communist Party, active in the National Pensioners’ Convention, and an executive member of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign.
Morning Star 14th January 2011
Frank Liddiard, Interviewed:
Q: Frank, would you like to start by describing some of the things in the period running up to the war?
FL: Yes. Of course. First I will say I was born on the eighth of August, 1922. And the town where I was born in and where my parents also lived, worked, and brought me up was called Egham, which was about fifteen thousand people. It was on the Thames, Runnymede, the famous Runnymede, was part of the town. It was about twenty miles southwest of London. And my father worked on the Southern Railway and he was what known as a Mechanical Lineman. He looked after the signals and the points and kept them in order. And his stint of work ran just south of Reading all the way through to Felton. It was one of the longest stints on the railway line, actually. Egham was a very conservative area. It was bounded by Virginia Water, Wentworth, home of the Golf, Sunningdale, also home of the Golf, Windsor, Windsor Forest. There were very many wealthy people living in the district. Large houses of the wealthy people. My grandfather, for example, was a gardener, a jobbing gardener, working in such houses. But for the ordinary working class people there wasn’t really a great deal of choice of jobs. There were a couple of factories in the nearby town called Staines, which were just across the river and was in Middlesex. Egham being in Surrey. A couple of factories there. A lino manufacturing factory, a very big one, Quality Manufacture, and the other one was a motor car company, Lagonda. Lagonda Motors, who built what were, between the wars, very famous motorcars. And for the rest of people, I mean, it was really what you might call service jobs, I suppose. There was a fairly large number of people who commuted up to London to work in offices there, but nothing by today’s standards.
FL: And so really the prospects in the way for young people like myself were somewhat limited, really. I got a scholarship when I was eleven, in 1933, and I went to the local secondary school, which was called [Strode] School. It was an endowed school. And [Strode] being a master of the Cooper’s Company in London, and he’d founded this in 1700 and something. It was only a small school. There was only a hundred and eighty boys there. But it had a very large catchment area because it really took boys for secondary school from the whole of the northwest of Surrey, again stretching from Weybridge, Sunningdale, that I’ve mentioned. And it was run very much on grammar school lines. It had pretensions to be a grammar school. But it wasn’t a grammar school. It was a secondary school. But they had, as I say, they had all the pretensions to be a grammar school. It was a good school, actually, it was a good school from the point of view of education, although it didn’t do me a great deal of good! That wasn’t their fault! At a very early age, because my father in particular, was an active member of the local Labour Party and an active member trade unionist all his life, NUR man, I was brought up with The Daily Herald and Reynold’s News and I was very interested in history anyway — we had a very good history master at school – I therefore became
very interested in politics at a very early age. And because of the kind of school it was, everybody had to do sport of some kind or another, which I wasn’t at all interested in! But I found myself joining the Boat Club and rowing became my sport, and I finished up being Captain of Boats, which was very … the first working class pupil to be Captain of Boats! And there’s another story hanging on that which happened fifty or sixty years later, which I won’t mention now! As I said, the important thing was my interest in politics and so forth and from the period of about 1936 onwards, when I was fourteen, as I said, the big thing that was happening internationally, was of course, the Spanish Civil War. And later on, of course, Munich. But the Spanish Civil War was of a particular interest for two reasons. One was that there was a boy, at least one boy, in my class whose father worked at an aircraft factory which was situated in the middle of Brookland’s Racing Track, which was at Weybridge. And that was, as I said, within our catchment area. But I can’t remember the name of the company now. It was a well-known company. And there were negotiations going on, so I gathered from him, between the union and the workers there. Which was hopefully going to lead to the workers volunteering, not all of them of course, but many of them, volunteering their time to making aircraft for the Spanish government. And this eventually came to nothing, because of course, it caught up by the non- intervention policies of the government at the time, and it just didn’t get anywhere. But I do remember talking about this with this boy. The other thing incidentally, apropos the Spanish Civil War, was really, I suppose the first time that I appeared in a public role, as it were. I was still at school, I was about fourteen, fifteen, or something like this, and in the local, we had a … what was known, very grandly, as a Literary Institute in Egham. It was a hall, with some smaller ones attached. And in the Literary Institute one day there was advertised a meeting on Spain. And it was going to be a talk given by a Surrey Member of Parliament. A Conservative. And he was a member of the family — and this is where my memory goes – who were famous shipbuilders on the Tyne. Triple name. Famous shipbuilders on the Tyne. He was one of that family. And he came and gave this talk. And of course, he was supporting Franco, of course, and he had a … I remember he had a blackboard and it was a map, and he was trying to indicate how much the Nationalist forces had already, how much land they had already acquired, and all the rest of it. And when they asked for questions, I remember I got up and I said: ‘Well, yes, it was very impressive they had all this large area, but did he realise that none of it was industrial? It was all agricultural land!’ And all the industrial areas were still under the control of the government and the Republican forces! And he obviously didn’t welcome that, but it was true. At that time, unfortunately of course, things changed later. But at that time it was true. So that was, I think that was the first time I got to my feet publicly and made an intervention! A whole number of other political things which don’t come easily to me for the moment, but of course, before I actually started work the biggest thing was the Munich Agreement. And that really was something that stuck with me for years. It still does, really. I mean it was such a dreadful sell-out, of course. But there is no doubt about it, people were very worried about the possibility of war. You see, I grew up in the shadow of the First World War and the shadow of the Second World War. And all … my father in particular, had been in the First World War, he’d been
seriously injured, got over it. More seriously for him, his brother was killed next to him in the trenches, which he never got over. And I don’t think he would describe himself as a pacifist, but he certainly was against war. And he wouldn’t, for example, even if I wanted to, he wouldn’t let me join the Scouts, he regarded that as a militaristic organisation, not for people to join. And yet, you see, we were approaching 1938 and those of us, people who had any idea of politics and wanted to see it, could see we were approaching war. My father, who … we didn’t have an awfully good relationship, really, but he didn’t speak a great deal to me, but he particularly approached me in this period and he said in so many words: ‘You know I’ve always been against war, I’ve always argued against war with you, but it seem to me there is a war coming. And we’ve got to fight it.’ Now, I’ve always thought, for somebody like him —
Q: Quite a —
FL: It must have been —
Q: — change.
FL: — an enormous decision to make.
Q: Very much so.
FL: To say something —
Q: Very hard.
FL: — like that to me. And of course, I accepted that because I agreed with him. Though I was the last person to be fighting anybody! But I agreed with him, of course. But his view, his concern that he’d earlier expressed about the war, the effects, when he saw the effects of it, I saw the effects of it, I saw the injured and all the rest of it, walking through the streets, singing and playing the bagpipes to raise money in the Twenties. You now, I saw all that. I grew up with it. And there was this general anti-war feeling. But Munich, I think, really was a jolt. It started a lot more people thinking about how wrong things had been and so forth. It was, I think, a major change in the political —
Q: A turning point.
FL: It was a turning point. I think it was, really. And, if I might just say so, as an aside, many, many years later, in fact only about ten, twelve years ago, I was invited to go to Munich by a young man who was in the same business as me, the film business at the time, and he took me around Munich and he actually showed me the building where the Munich Agreement had been signed. I was very interested to see it. And he pointed out where you could still see the marks on the wall where they had taken down the Nazi insignia. And I’m talking about 1990, no, 1986, something like that. So there we are. That was the Munich Agreement. So then of course, we enter this period when, as I said people who half a mind for politics knew we were coming into war and then of course for me, I was coming to the end of my school life. I
had made a complete mess of my academic work. I failed my school certificate. They were preparing to put me up for it again, and my scholarship ran sufficiently long for me to take it again, but whilst I was waiting to take it again, an invitation came to the school from the local Post Office at Staines, which was the head office, saying that they had a vacancy for a sorting clerk and telegraphist, which was the grade at which secondary school boys were put in. And I was asked by our careers master if I would like to take it on. Can I incidentally say, by the way, that although I didn’t have any kind of academic qualification, there was, in those days, a kind of unofficial qualification, which employers recognised, or many of them did, and that was educated to the age of sixteen.
Q: Oh, right.
FL: Because the normal —
Q: Was fourteen.
FL: — was fourteen. And if you were educated to the age of sixteen, you must have gone —
Q: Two more years.
FL: — to a secondary school.
Q: Yes. Oh, that’s interesting.
FL: It was the case. However, I talked this over at home, and the point was this, as I mentioned earlier, was that there wasn’t a great deal of opportunity for working class lads for jobs in the district, so you see, if you went to London, and it was all of twenty miles away, and it was like being a hundred miles away in those days. If you went to London, and went into a business house you were probably paid between twenty-one shillings and twenty-five shillings a week, you see. The job in the Post Office that I was offered was going to pay me twelve and sixpence. That’s sixty-seven and a half pence, but you can’t make these kind of comparisons. It was going to be twelve and sixpence, but, you see, I would have to get my weekly season ticket. And that in those days to Waterloo was ten shillings. So if I went out to London, I was only going to be a couple of bob better off anyway.
Q: Barely, yeah.
FL: Whereas if I went to the Post Office at Staines, I went on my bicycle. Did it in ten minutes, or a quarter of an hour. So I decided to go to the Post Office. And that was the beginning of my Civil Service career! I stayed in the Civil Service for forty-one years! But of course, the Post Office in those days
Q: It was part of the Civil Service.
FL: — part of the Civil Service. Yes. And I think it’s a great pity it still isn’t! Anyway, I started there and the first thing, well, I had an interview. They had seven or eight people applying for the job and they had one post. And I got the job. I was lucky enough. And I was told that I was going to be trained as a telegraphist. That is to say, trained as a teleprinter operator, but they still called them telegraphists. And in those days all the work of sorting letters to go out of the office to go to other parts of the country was undertaken by what was called the indoor staff, of which was I was to be on. Counter work was indoor staff, and of course, telegraphist work was indoor staff. Postmen only did deliveries. And sorted their letters for their deliveries. And that was a big distinction. And it was broadly defined as indoor and outdoor staff. So I was indoor. And I was told – I have the letter, I’ve still got it here somewhere now – my appointment letter, twelve and sixpence. The maximum of the grade was ninety-seven and six. Now in those days, that was four pounds, seventeen and six. Now in those days, you could run a little Austin Seven if you were earning five quid a week, and more particularly, you were outside the scope of the National Insurance Acts. Because the cut-off point, if I remember, was ‘round about ninety shillings, or something like that. So there was this wonderful prospect opening up for me, you see, from twelve and six to all of … It was more than my father ever earned, of course, in a regular wage. The only trouble was, it took you twenty years to get to the maximum! Because they had what they called the incremental scales. Every grade had an incremental scale. It took twenty years to get on the maximum of the scale for the sorting clerk and telegraphist. And I might tell you, this applied throughout the Civil Service. They weren’t necessarily as long as that, it depended upon what grades we were talking about, but I was … It wasn’t until many, many years later, when I was in the Treasury Civil Service, not the Post Office, that I ever got to the maximum grade. I used to get promoted out of the grade into another one before I got on to the maximum! I mean, it was nonsense and it caused a great deal of bad feeling.
FL: Of course, it was all to do with what was considered the right age at which people should get married or not and all this, you know? And so here was this prospect of twenty years on very low wages, but the prize that was opened up before my eyes was that promotion to the next grade, that is to say, an overseer, was possible. Of course, it depended where you were and how much movement there was above you. Now, as I said, I was working at Staines. I was told in all seriousness: ‘Have you heard, Frank, that they’ve just promoted somebody at Harrow to be an overseer, and he’s only forty!’ This is all perfectly true. I’m not exaggerating at all. ‘And there you are, Frank, you keep your nose clean, and you’ve got a chance come forty!’ I was sixteen! And it was true! And it was true that at Harrow there were, if not more, a couple of people who became overseers at that very young age. And why? Well, it was because, as you know, that Harrow was in fact developed
in the 1930s. If you go to Harrow, all the houses were built virtually in the 1930s. And this was reflected in the growth of the Post Office, of course.
FL: And so here were these marvellous opportunities for promotion, which opened up before me. Now, when I was appointed as a sorting clerk and telegraphist, I must just say this because I think it’s interesting. I left school on Armistice Day, that is to say, Friday, November the eleventh, 1938, and I started work at Staines Post Office, the next morning, Saturday the twelfth of November. I mean, who starts work on the Saturday? But in those days, of course, Saturday working was common. In the Civil Service. And in the Treasury Civil Service as well. We didn’t get rid of Saturday work until the 1950s. But there was what they call a seamless transfer, I suppose, from being a schoolboy —
Q: Into work, yeah.
FL: — to being into work the next morning. The only thing was, that on that day, that Saturday, I only worked Saturday morning. And what they did with me was to hand me over to a marvellous old man called Bill [Gig], who was the office cleaner. And he was told to show me everything. And he did this, even down to showing me the broom cupboard where he kept all his brooms and all this. But then it was all … Monday morning, the following Monday I was off. And the training in those days as a telegraphist, took place, for us in the southeast of England, took place at the old Central Telegraph Office, which was in the City, near the Post Office Headquarters. And it was a huge telegraph office. I mean, there was staff of five thousand —
Q: Was that at St Paul’s?
FL: Yeah. Near St Paul’s. It was destroyed during the war. It was blitzed. But it was, in 1938, it was the biggest telegraph office in Britain, certainly, and possibly in Western Europe. And they had lines to virtually everywhere in the country. And they had a staff of five thousand. Not at any one time, they were on shift work, but they had a huge staff there. And of course they were not sorting clerks and telegraphists, they were telegraphists. And there was a grade telegraphist.
FL: And there was another grade which was peculiar to London only, of counter clerk and telegraphist. And these were people who worked in the City Post Offices, like Threadneedle Street, places like that, who did counter work but they were also telegraphists. And I must say here, that the standard of these operators was fantastic. They were marvellous operators. And this was a spin-off, I’m digressing, but this was a spin-off from the old days of Morse. Because you see, the teleprinters had been introduced, the telegraph service used teleprinters, ‘round about 1934, ’35, following a special commission was sent across the United States to look at their system. They
already used them. In Britain, they were using Morse, you see. Still. Then the decision was taken to go over to teleprinters. And I knew, I worked with, although they were no longer telegraphists, in Staines, I worked with people who had been telegraphists in the old Morse days. And I heard stories, which were confirmed elsewhere and I know it was true, that some of these telegraphists were so adept at the job they could send and receive at the same time.
FL: They could write down, say with their right hand, and listening to the buzzer and they could use the Morse key with the left hand. It was quite incredible. And other people had the trick of being able to work about two or three messages behind, you know. If they got interrupted or something —
Q: They could still remember!
FL: They could still remember. It was unbelievable, really, because, you know, I eventually had to learn Morse, because of going into the army and having to use it there. I was never really very good at it, I must say. I found it very difficult. It’s like everything else, you have to have a lot of practice, of course. Now with the telegraphy that I had to do, which was operating a teleprinter, it’s unbelievable now, but they gave us six months’ training. That was to say, six months’ training to become a touch typist, because you were a touch typist. I still am. I can still type. And I won’t say for a moment that I was a good telegraphist because I, as I said, I went into the army and I met young chaps my age from different parts of the country who were absolutely superb. And I wasn’t in that class. But nevertheless, it was good enough to pass out, be certificated as it were from the telegraph and teleprint school. Of course it included, the six months included things like instructional procedures, how to deal with things. It wasn’t just learning to type. But it was a very thorough grounding. And in later years, before the telegraph service was done away with, when they were trying to economize, they cut that six months down to no more than three. You know, it was possible to do that, I suppose. So there I was trained as a telegraphist and then immediately after that I went on to have six weeks training as a counter clerk. And that took place at the old Barbican Post Office, which was in that same area, and that was destroyed in the Blitz —
Q: Completely, yeah.
FL: — later on. But it was called the Barbican. It was an —
Q: Oh, yeah!
FL: — old derelict, or semi-derelict group of offices which were used for training purposes. And the word was, well, you’ve done your six weeks and we think you’re good enough so you can go back to your offices and you can work on the counter, the public counter and so on, but you must do it straightaway. On no account must you have a gap between going back to
your offices and starting work. It is vital that you go on the counter immediately. Of course, that didn’t happen with me because they were short of telegraphists in Staines, where I was. So as soon as I got back to the office, they put me on the telegraph circuit. And I didn’t go on the counter for months, which was completely contrary to the … I’d forgotten a lot of stuff. Because it’s the knack of handling money, and you know. Mental arithmetic and all this kind of thing, you see. It had disastrous consequences because I losing money hand over fist! Well, not quite as bad as that, but I did lose money. But my main thing, and what they saw me as, was a telegraphist. And because it was a small office, I was the only male telegraphist who was qualified, so therefore, fine, except I clicked through all the late times because they employ the young women on the —
Q: On the late shift.
FL: — the late shift. And I did late shifts, and that included working until eight o’clock on Saturday night for six months. I had no kind of private life, you might say, for at least six months, and it went on beyond that, as well. It was, you know. That was part of the job. It was interesting, in a way, because you realise what an excellent service it was. You could have a telegram taken over the counter in that post office, any post office, and it could be delivered to practically anywhere in the country – not the outer Hebrides or the islands in Ireland – but it could be delivered within the hour. It was unbelievable really, the service. And that included the delivery time.
Q: That’s incredible.
FL: It really was, and of course … I forget when they did away with the telegraph service … It was in the late fifties or sixties, something like that, wasn’t it? I don’t remember now. But certainly, in those days, they prided themselves, everyone prided themselves on shifting the traffic, you know, so that everything was done. This was all part of your grounding in the job. One very exceptional thing occurred in 1939, just before the war started. Lagonda Motors, as I mentioned earlier, put a team in for the twenty-four hour Le Mans race, which was the big thing, you know. They put three cars in. And as I remember, they got second and third. Or they may have got first and third, I don’t know. They didn’t win the clean sweep, but they had two of the three, which was quite an amazing result, really, anyway, because they were up against all the big names in Europe, you know. And so everyone, obviously, to do with it was very excited. We were told by Lagonda Motors that they wanted to send a telegram to all the people on their customer list. So they provided us with eight hundred names. They wanted eight hundred telegrams to go out to their customer list. And it said something like: ‘Listen to the BBC Thursday, the whenever, at such and such a time. Lagonda at Le Mans.’ Publicity thing. So there was me on my own, by the way, and there were these eight hundred … There was a special way. You didn’t send the same message eight hundred times. You sent the message and then you sent eight hundred addresses. It was all married up later on. There was a procedure to cover these kind of situations, of course. And so there it was, I sent all these off and get involved calling on the … Had to do it under the special guidelines,
the eye of the overseer on duty because it was very unusual. Nobody had ever heard of anything like this happening before, in a little office like ours. So I did it and we had to actually break it up so incoming … I couldn’t do two jobs at once. I couldn’t stick up all the telegrams and send them as well, you know. Something had to go! So the supervisor, the overseer took it on himself to decide how it was to be done. I won’t go into all the details, most of which I’ve forgotten anyway. So it was done. I was very please with myself. So I went home and so on. Then, I think it was the next day, I went back in the office, there was a message from Lagonda Motors saying that the BBC had decided to change the time of the broadcast! So it all had to be sent again!
Q: Oh no!
FL: And it wasn’t me this time that had to do it! That was one of those little things, you know. You see, the interesting thing about this, I don’t know if there’s a point to the story, but the thing is, most particularly in those days though I’m sure it happens now in the Post Office, although it’s nothing like it was, is that there was … There was always a procedure. There was everything. There was what was called the Head Postmaster’s Manual. And this was a huge great volume or volumes, you know. And it covered every possible circumstance you can imagine. From the behaviour of people, all the rest of it. And the great thing about the Head Postmaster’s Manual was that, and the fact that it existed, was that if you were faced … Later on I was an overseer, an acting overseer for a time before I left the Post Office. But if something occurred and you wanted to get guidance and you didn’t know, what you had to know was where to look for the advice. You didn’t have to know the advice, you had to know where to look for it. And that was the crucial thing!
Q: The key thing!
FL: The key thing. Was where to look for it. And once you knew where to look for it, your problem was solved, because it was all set out there. And the other thing, which was part of all this, was there was a form for practically everything! There was a form. And some of their forms were absolutely fantastic. They were so convoluted and complicated, you know. But they brought all the information and they set it out in such a way that people could analyse it. People in the head offices and accounts general departments. People could analyse it and find out what they wanted to know. So that was the kind of background. It’s taken a long time to tell you this, but that was the kind of background to the job. And I was in fact, you see, the only – I was only sixteen and a bit. Seventeen, I was seventeen, yes, that’s right, I was sixteen and a bit – when I started work doing this and I was the only male telegraphist, as I mentioned just now, so I was the one who clicked through all the late duties and so on. But I got used to it. And, of course, the Post Office, as we know, that’s how they provided such a wonderful service, because they paid starvation wages, really. They had very, very, extremely strict disciplinary codes.
Q: Yes, I’ve heard.
FL: Very, very strict. Because of the circumstances at the time, we were only just coming out of the big depression, don’t forget. People were only just beginning to … It was in the wake of the re-armament position, of course, but people were just beginning to find it easy to get jobs, but the disciplinary codes remained. I mean, it extended to things … I remember one chap who was on the counter, they were particularly concerned with us dressed on the counter with the dress code, it was very fashionable in those days to wear a canary yellow, very light canary yellow jumper, or pullover, as we’d call it. And I remember this chap, he thought he’d get one of these and he’d go on the counter with it. And he was told he had to take it off. He couldn’t wear it. It was too much.
Q: Too bright.
FL: Too much for the counter! And so it went. All kinds of things like that, you know. And I mentioned the distinction between the so-called outdoor and the indoor staff. We had people that were like me on the indoor staff. But we suffered, I mean we were treated with a little more respect, of course, than the outdoor staff. It was really medieval in many ways! But the working conditions were tough. One of the things the Post Office used frequently and which was a sore, really big bone of contention with us all was what we called the split duties arrangement. And this was, although the normal working day was a total of eight hours a day. It was not provided that it was eight hours on the run. It could be split.
FL: And so you had a situation where you could work, say, from eight o’clock in the morning to midday, and then they’d send you off for four … it was all part of the, it was all written down. All put out on graph paper, all these various shifts. And then you were brought back at four o’clock and you worked until eight o’clock in the evening. So there was a twelve hour coverage and you had four hours off in the middle! What could you do with four hours? I mean, some people lived quite a long way from the office.
FL: And, I mean, they were, you know, they used to hang around for four hours.
FL: In the retiring room or in the town, or something. I mean, it was diabolical, really. And it wasn’t until after the war that they made some progress in reducing those shifts. And then of course, was the problem of Sunday duty. I mean, in those days, there was one collection and one despatch of letters from the office, to all over. But they had to bring staff in to sort them. And you only needed to be there for about an hour and a half, but
it always used to come, ‘round about – I can’t remember the exact hours – but it was something like two o’clock or three o’clock on Sunday afternoon. You had to go over into the office and you weren’t there more than an hour and a half.
FL: And you sorted the letters, and bagged them up and they were all sent off with the postman to take them down to the railway station or whatever it was. And for people like me, on the very low scale of, I know I used to get one and three pence. One shilling and three pence. For coming in, spoiling the whole of my Sunday. You couldn’t do anything, you know, the whole Sunday, for one and three pence. It was a bit much, really. And things like annual leave, for example. That was strictly given. We had a fairly generous annual leave, I have to say. I think we had a month, which was quite generous. But you weren’t allowed to take more than two weeks in the summer. And summer started in the first of April! And it was taken strictly by seniority, and the most senior woman in the, and I remember her very well, she insisted – and it didn’t matter if she was going to go away or not – she insisted on having the first two weeks in August. And that was it! And everybody else had to fit around that! And I had mine, for the first couple of years or so, I had mine, in my working time I took my summer leave for the first two weeks in April! I mean it was … there again. We had our ups and downs. If I can go on …
FL: Can I go on a bit further?
FL: Because things did, I mean with the war … I’ll jump forward to the war. Nearer the war period. There was a great deal of more and more activity was noticeable as we got nearer to what became the outbreak of war. I mean, there were a lot of things being done. It was really the government machine was beginning to get into action, and this was reflected in, for example, a big increase in telegraph traffic, telegrams going to town clerks or people like this. Beginnings of food rationing and their having to set up organisation for it and all this kind of thing. And that was reflected, as I said, and particularly in the telegraph service. And then as we got into the war, it started, I mean obviously, of course, it affected the postal service. Because the fact was, I mean, there were more, thousands and thousands of men, hundreds of thousands of men who were being called up and were living in other parts of the country, they were corresponding with their families and all the rest of it, you see, by letters if not by telegram. This caused a huge increase in the amount of business. And then, later, when it was clear that the City was in danger from bombing and all the rest of it, we had an influx of very well-known and large firms from the City who moved down to Staines or Egham, in fact, where I lived. Who are we talking about? We’re talking about British- American Tobacco, we’re talking about the insurance company [Frissell’s], who at that time were still privately owned. There were others but those two
were particularly big. And of course, when they sent out their twice yearly, I think it was twice annually, letters to shareholders, there were thousands and thousands of extra items going out. Huge amount of traffic. And particularly at Christmas time, when we were already … Christmas is such a —
Q: Extra, lots of extra stuff.
FL: Yes. That’s right. So this was a reflection which was so obvious, and of course it made … People were working harder than they were before. And the other thing, on a more personal level about this time, was we started getting evacuees coming down from London. As I say, it was only twenty miles from London, but it was considered to be outside the danger area. And there were one or two schools who were evacuated in total. The whole schools were evacuated down to places like Egham, where I lived. In fact, my mother had a couple of evacuees. You know, their arms were twisted to take people.
FL: And many of these, in fact the schools that had come to Egham, had come from the East End. Schools that were in the East End. And I remember that was the first time that I ever knowingly knew a Jew. Never … We’d only read about Jews, you see. Sounds silly, but it’s perfectly true. And it wasn’t until we actually saw the evacuation of people happening that this became a factor, if you like. And it was the beginning, as far as I was concerned, it was very much to do with my development of my political life because, although I wasn’t a member of the Communist Party, we did form, I don’t know how we got together, I’m sure I don’t know, we did form a YCL.
Q: Did you?
FL: And I was a member of this —
Q: In Staines?
FL: In Staines. That’s right. And possibly partly to do with members of the Communist Party. For example, the Chief Shop Steward at Lagonda Motors, when it was fully on war production, was a communist. And I think that he probably had to do with setting up things like the YCL. So here we are, there was this little group of YCL meeting together, and I was one of them. I worked in the Post Office, what to do? What kind of big campaign were we going to set in motion, you know? So I can’t remember the detail of it, but what it amounted to was that we decided, as there was no such thing in Staines, we should start agitating for the setting up of a youth club. A very revolutionary thought! Because there wasn’t one, as I said.
Q: No, no.
FL: Anyway, so yes, how do we go about this then? So we talked about the different way we decided we would approach this person, that person, but the
crucial thing, it was thought, was to be a letter in the local paper. To start it all off. And who should send this letter but me! So I said yes, yes, OK, I accepted the job of sending a letter to the local paper. Which I did and which was duly printed. Letters came out on Friday. The paper came out on Friday. And I think it was on the following Monday when I went in to work. Everyone said: ‘Frank, the Head Postmaster wants to see you.’ This was like a call from highest heaven, this was. The Head Postmaster was like a little god. So I went up to his office upstairs, and there was the Head Postmaster, flanked by his senior superintendent and another overseer. And he said: ‘I see you’ve got a letter in the local paper. What’s all this about?’ And whilst it was not forbidden to do this, nobody had ever done such a thing before. And I think he probably hadn’t been able to find his way through the Head Postmaster’s Manual! Anyway, the thing was he was extremely annoyed about it, I mean, here was one of his staff, counter staff as well, and that’s the point, you see. In public view, this was the theory, if you like, behind his thinking, as I realised. Here was somebody in public view who was writing to the press! And he didn’t like it at all.
FL: And although he couldn’t do anything about it, and I can’t remember exactly what the outcome was, all I know was that I had a pretty uncomfortable ten minutes! And he made it very clear that he didn’t like this at all.
FL: And I had to, I mean, I didn’t need to write another one, but I had to make up my mind about what I was going to do about these kind of situations in the future!
Q: Yeah, yeah. This kind of pressure!
FL: You see, I was hoping to become an overseer when I was forty!
Q: Put paid to that, wouldn’t it?
FL: Put paid to that. Yes, exactly. So there we were. And, of course, that wasn’t the only, well, that was the first run-in that we had but it wasn’t the only one. Just an indication, I think, of how reactionary, if you like, these people were, and —
Q: And how tightly they tried to control you.
FL: Oh, yes! Certainly. I mean, it wasn’t as though … A man like him, he’d been through the mill. He’d started like I’d started. He was a Scot as it happened, but I mean he’d started in Scotland as a probationary sorting clerk and telegraphist as I had and he’d got through the mill, you see. But, of course, he’d made sure by his actions, obviously, that he didn’t upset the apple cart or upset anybody, and I mean he finished up being a Head
Postmaster, which was the top of his little tree, and you know, I’m not knocking that, but I mean he was rather shaken by what had happened. It was the point of having these other two with him!
Q: Yes, yes.
FL: I was very much at a disadvantage, of course!
FL: I had already joined the … as soon as I got there virtually, I had joined the Union of Post Office Workers, and I can’t remember exactly when it was, but I did later on become a representative, a Union Rep, you know, for the indoor staff. Because at that time, it was a combined branch. We had the postmen and the indoor staff in one —
Q: Right, right. Branch.
FL: — branch. A little bit unusual, in a way, these days, no, I won’t say these days —
FL: But later it would have been a bit different. So I did become a representative then, and of course I suppose, in a way, that was the first representative function that I had. I later became, I did later become the National Chair of my union. Later on, in the Treasury, when I went over to the Treasury side.
Q: Did they have meetings in, not in work time, presumably.
FL: Not in work time, oh no. Yes, we had meetings. They weren’t very frequent. They were usually held on Sunday morning, when most people were available.
FL: In fact, virtually everybody was available. Aside from these poor unfortunates who might be later thinking about going on the Sunday duty. Virtually most of them. They were held in a pub room.
Q: And were most people in the union?
FL: Yes, there was always a very high percentage of membership. I can’t tell you exactly but I think we’re talking about seventy-five, eighty percent. Something like that.
Q: Oh, right.
FL: I think, yes. The UPW has had a very proud history, if you like. It really
was the beginning of trade unionism in the Civil Service, was in the Union of Post Office Workers.
Q: Very interesting.
FL: Going way back to the middle of the nineteenth century, or the latter part —
Q: Yeah, yeah.
FL: — latter quarter of the nineteenth century. And, of course, the famous system which was evolved, called Whitleyism —
FL: — which you are familiar with —
Q: It spread quite widely.
FL: — the person who developed that and argued most strongly for it, and was given huge credit for it, was a postman from Oxford. And I can’t remember his name. A double barrelled name, as it happened.
Q: Oh, yes!
FL: He was very much associated with the idea of Whitleyism because it hadn’t, you see, I’m going on, you see, Whitleyism developed out of the First World War’s labour relations —
Q: Yes, there was a kind of Treasury agreement —
FL: — It was all to do with munitions production. In order to try to avoid the stoppages that they were getting, and all the rest of it, they set up a kind of works council, in a way. The unions and management were brought together. And there was pressure on the unions not to strike or whatever, of course, but there was also pressure on the management.
FL: It worked, in a way, it worked. I mean, there was a … I remember having arguments over the years on the theoretical basis with people in the service, of this and from a political point of view who would say: ‘Oh, Whitleyism is the boss’s arrangement, what do we get out of it’, you know. But that was not entirely the story. And I’ve been involved with Whitleyism for donkey’s years. And there is no doubt in my mind that a great deal could be got out of it if you were prepared to work the system properly!
Q: Yeah, yeah.
FL: And however, here it was, we’re going back now to the First World War
period, with the setting up of Whitleyism. Whitley, by the way, was the name of the speaker of the House of Commons —
Q: Yes, yes.
FL: — Just before the First World War —
Q: Yes, yes.
FL: — He was a Liberal. And these Post Office boys were arguing for Whitleyism, and there’s this famous man, as I said, from Oxford who was a postman. And they finished up with a famous deputation to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who I think was Joe Chamberlain. It wasn’t Neville. And he said, the story goes: ‘What do you want? You people?’ And they said: ‘We want one of Mr Whitley’s councils!’ ‘Cause Whitley was still alive. So after a lot of hemming and hawing, they did eventually get one. And of course it did put certain obligations on the official side, no question about it. And —
Q: A framework —
Q: — of negotiation. And a national framework.
FL: Presumably —
Q: So called.
FL: — That’s right. And one of the first things that had to happen when they set up the National Health Service was to discuss industrial relations.
FL: How was it going to be done? So they imported the Whitley system —
Q: National Conditions of Service —
FL: That’s right. They imported the Whitley system from the Civil Service. Nothing’s perfect, but as I said just now, and it’s true, because I’ve been involved in this myself, it’s a question of how do you work it. Now then. Coming back, you see, to my local Post office, this was why I had one or two run-ins with the Head Postmaster at Staines, this man in particular, because he really hated the idea. You see, you were equals. You were across the table and you could claim equality.
FL: Whatever the real point was, you could claim equality. And some of these old timers hated it. They really hated it.
Q: Yeah. Yeah. I can imagine.
FL: They thought you should be …
FL: And I mean, I’ve been involved with Whitley councils where the Chairman was the permanent secretary of the department. I’ve been involved in them when the Chairman was the head of the Civil Service, you see. And just to show you what can be done, if you like, it might sound irrelevant, but it was in fact very important. We were having, during the very serious and difficult pay negotiations which, in 1978, which led to the so-called Winter of Discontent in the Civil Service side of it, we had very difficult times. In order to try to get the official side to move, they were being very obstinate and so forth, and they couldn’t move, wouldn’t move, the question of how to get them to do something, to get things going. And somebody, it wasn’t my union, she was a real reactionary old dear, she was the – I shouldn’t say that, of course – she was the President of the Civil Service Clerical Association. She said suddenly, because we were having a joint meeting: ‘Let’s call for a meeting of the National Whitley Council.’ The National Whitley Council. We all said: ‘All right. Let’s.’ Now what did this mean? This meant that all the fifty-three departments of State had to have a representative at the meeting! Virtually all the permanent secretaries had to turn up. And on the other side of the table, were the representatives of the five or six trade unions in the Civil Service. At that time I was the Chair of my own union. So, of course, it was a very unusual thing, and I can imagine all these backwoodsmen mumbling in their beards about this, you know, wasting their time, and all this, you see. So it was set for a particular day, and then I was told by my General Secretary: ‘Oh, here’s the seating plan, Frank, for the meeting.’ And they’d had the cheek to put people like me, elected lay members, at the side, away from our General Secretaries. The General Secretaries were all seated in the front, you might say, around the table, fifty-odd officials all sat around the other side of it, and us, elected people, who were considered by somebody in the Treasury to be below the salt, were shoved to one side! Well, when I saw this, I said: ‘I’m not having that!’ ‘Why, what was so…?’ ‘Jerry,’ I said, ‘I want to sit next to you! I want to talk to you, I want to be able to discuss things as the meeting goes on!’
Q: Yeah, yeah.
FL: ‘I want to be next to you!’ ‘Well, fair enough, Frank,’ he said. And of course I let it be known that I wasn’t having it and then of course, my fellow lay members picked the point up —
Q: They did the same.
FL: — and the Treasury was very miffed because they had to reorganise the whole set-up! Now, it might sound silly, but it was in fact a matter of principle. I mean, you know, the idea that in some way, the leading officers of the union … I mean, in my union the elected members were rated above the General
Secretary because they were what they were. They were elected people, lay people elected by —
FL: And the idea that they should be shoved to one side and that the representatives of the government would only talk to the General Secretaries, was nonsense. But we forced it, you see. I know that’s just a small occasion, but that’s the kind of thing that —
Q: Yeah, yeah.
FL: So eventually the Whitley system became the cornerstone of industrial relations in the service, and I think with all the weaknesses, with all the weakness, unbalances, no doubt that unions gained by it.
Q: Would you say it was enhanced by the wartime period? Would you say it developed … Because in lots of places, like in … more in the private sector, like factories, you’ve got these joint, these councils —
FL: Yes, that’s right.
Q: — Production Committees.
FL: Yes, they did.
Q: Would you say that the Whitley —
FL: Well, we already had it, you see.
Q: You already had it.
FL: We already had it, yes.
Q: So it maintained itself during the war? It kind of maintained a …
FL: Yes —
FL: Yes, I mean, everything … The war changed a lot of things. Corners were cut. By joint agreements, corners were cut or whatever.
FL: You know, because there was a war on! That was seen as the over- riding … Nevertheless, on the other hand, positions had to be maintained!
Q: That’s right.
FL: You had to whatever it was. No. No. I mean, we worked hard graft on this to set these things up, but it took place in the inter-war years, particularly in the Twenties, as I said.
FL: And I think, as I repeat, I will stand by this, I think that with all the weaknesses, the unions by and large, it was a benefit, by and large, for the unions. And if they didn’t … If it wasn’t, it was probably because of the unions. You know.
Q: Yeah, yeah.
FL: Can I tell you a story?
Q: Yeah, go on.
FL: This is after the war, when I was in the Treasury Civil Service, I was working in the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. And it was in the Fifties, and the Minister we had, for goodness sake, I can’t remember his name … The Minister we had was Churchill’s son-in-law … He’d come from … I always forget his name. It’s ridiculous. It’ll come to me presently, I think. And he’d been appointed to Minister of Housing and Local Government by Macmillan, who, himself, earlier had been the Minister. When Macmillan became the Prime Minister he appointed this chap and he came to us. And he was hated immediately. He got there and he was so arrogant and overbearing. He was hated by all the top brass. I mean, the likes of us didn’t have any dealings with him, day to day. But we heard through the trade union and Whitley machine, we heard, we knew what was going on. We knew that he was not liked. One day, the director of establishment, who was an under- secretary, a very senior grade, called the representatives of the five unions, representative heads, called them together, called us together, and he was very, very uncomfortable. And he said … Apologised for calling us at short notice and he said: ‘You know that the Minister we have, he was Winston Churchill’s son-in-law, and he seems to think he is Winston Churchill. And this man,’ he called him ‘this man’, someone who … I’ve never heard a top brass Civil Servant calling his Minister ‘this man’ to the union reps! Anyway, what had happened was that ‘this man’ had come from … He was one of the earliest representatives of Britain to what was then the Island Steel Community in Strasbourg, and he’d come from there, as I said, and been appointed Minister of Housing, and when he was in Strasbourg, he had a secretary. And he brought this woman with him to the Ministry of Housing. And he installed her as a temporary … I mean, she wasn’t permanent, she was only temporary, but she was installed as a temporary … what was it? A temporary typist. Supervising typist of some kind. I can’t remember the exact grade. And in order to overcome the problems, because she couldn’t get that job officially —
FL: He made up the difference out of his pocket on her salary. You see? This was all explained to us by the under-secretary, and he said: ‘Now, the thing is, this man wants her to be promoted so that he won’t have to pay out this money and he also wants her to have more leave, which will go with the job to which she’s promoted. Well, we had just signed with them a promotion procedure. Before then promotions had been … there was no procedures as such and all kinds of things happened. It was a very big step forward from the union’s point of view, we were very pleased with ourselves. We’d got this promotion procedure operating and across the board, for all grades. And one of the things that it provided for, was of course, was that if people weren’t immediately promoted they were left on a kind of waiting list until a job came up and then they were put into it. So when he said this man, the Minister, wants to promote this young woman into this job, I said to him: ‘Well, I don’t see a need for that,’ I said, ‘We’ve already got half a dozen people on the waiting list from the last promotion board. Why can’t they have it?’ ‘Oh, well, you see, Liddiard, they’re all men!’ So I said: ‘Yes!’ He said: ‘Well, I don’t quite think that’s what the Minister has in mind,’ he said. Of course the penny had dropped a long time before this —
Q: Yeah, yeah.
FL: But I was stringing him along a bit.
FL: Because I’m saying I said this because it fell to me because it was my grade, that I represented, who were being talked about and discussed here. The others, it was nothing to do with them, really, we were all brought together as part of the Whitley thing. So he said: ‘Well, there it is. I’ll be very pleased to know whether you agree to this proposal.’ So I said to him: ‘Well, you know, it’s asking quite a lot, I shall have to go back to my committee and report this to them, but I will let you know as soon as you can, and I said: ‘well, perhaps you can tell the Minister we’ll do what we can.’ See? And so, thank you and that’s that. I went back and talked it over with my mates and I told them what I was proposing to do and they gave me the OK. So we had another meeting in two or three days’ time, and he said: ‘I’m pleased you have come back so quickly,’ and I said: ‘Yes, I discussed it with my colleagues,’ and I said: ‘It’s a very difficult situation, you appreciate that, especially as we’ve just formalized the promotion procedure,’ he said: ‘Oh, yes.’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘We’re very anxious to help the Minister and what we propose to do,’ I said, ‘I propose to call a General Meeting of our members, and there are seven hundred and fifty of them, in Whitehall, I propose to call a General Meeting of my members and explain the whole thing to them. And let them make the decision.’ He said: ‘Well, thank you very much!’ And he went back. Not another word was said! Not another word was said. Until he got moved to the Ministry of Defence and they were soft enough to let him get away with it! You know, if you like, that’s the point about Whitley working!
Q: Yes, yes. That’s a very good point.
FL: I dined out for a long time on that story!
Q: Taking you back to the war, there was one question I wanted to ask, on the eve of the war —
Q: — when you were getting involved with political —
Q: Why was it the YCL? Why not, say, the Labour Party? Why were you drawn to that particular … rather than the Labour Party?
FL: Well, I think that it probably goes back to my father. As I said to you, he’d been a very active member of the Labour Party. He had, in fact, been the first Labour Party candidate in the local election, in the town, in the Twenties. Somebody had to be the first one and it was him.
FL: He was very, very enthusiastic and so forth. But he was completely disillusioned by the Ramsay MacDonald sell-out. And he never had anything to do with them since.
Q: Right. Right.
FL: Trade Union-wise, he continued to be an active Trade Union. He was an officer in his branch. But, no.
Q: So you were affected by that.
FL: And I was affected by that. And also, you know, I was aware, you know, of the left and right tensions and I realised that the Labour leadership was really not for me. And of course, I mentioned the Civil War, the Spanish Civil War earlier —
Q: Yes, of course.
FL: — and that was another factor I think. I can’t tell you what specifically —
FL: — led me to that point of view.
FL: But I never joined the Communist Party then. I did later, but not then.
FL: I joined the YCL. As a kind of a spin-off from that, when the war started, and when the bombing in London had started, of course, although we never got any … I don’t think there were any bombs dropped on Staines. There might have been an odd one, because there were … I think the German aircraft used to follow the river, you know.
FL: The Thames, and of course Staines and Egham were both on the Thames.
Q: That’s right, yeah.
FL: But there was never anything serious. But, of course, as you’d expect, there were instructions issued by the Post Office to cover the eventuality of what happened when the sirens went. When the air raid warnings were set off. And the instruction was perfectly clear, and that was that all staff on duty should go down to the air raid shelters. They had built air raid shelters down in the cellars under the Post Office. I don’t know whether they were very effective if anything had happened, but there they were. So that was the instruction, that everybody should go down when the siren blew. Well, by this time, I had become a member of the People’s Convention.
Q: Oh, yeah.
FL: I did have second thoughts about it some time afterward, but at the time I was a member of the People’s Convention. I was very young member, and a member of the YCL. And of course, the People’s Convention’s line, as you probably know, was certainly against the war.
FL: And implicitly, I can’t remember that I ever saw it in black and white, it probably was, but implicitly, you really weren’t supposed to do anything to help the war effort. So when the sirens went off when I was on duty in Staines Post Office, I used to go down to the air raid shelter. Immediately. And I was the only one who did! Because everybody else: ‘What’s up with young Frank?’ And it was a very invidious and difficult position to be in, to be perfectly honest.
FL: But I did. I stuck it and I did go down. And of course, on one or two occasions, circumstances got worse, air craft were getting clearer, and others came down because they could hear all around them. But as far as I was concerned, I was always the first one down there. And I was literally following the party line, if you like, I was really following the People’s Convention line, although, as I say, I can not remember any specific, explicit view about that.
FL: So that was it. And of course, everything changed in 1941. I remember I was on duty in the Post Office when we heard about the invasion of the Soviet Union. And everything changed. That’s how it was.
Q: What was other people’s view of the Soviet Union? And Hitler’s attack on … you know, in your workplace. What had people’s attitudes been before?
FL: I can’t remember, to be honest with you. There wasn’t a lot of political discussion —
Q: No, no, no.
FL: — in the Post Office. Amongst Post Office workers. I can’t recall. I can only say that I’m sure, that when the Nazis did attack in 1941, that people in the Post Office shared the general view, you know, that here at last was an ally, if you like, and so on. And later, when it developed, they would have been supporting the Soviet Union. But I can’t really remember.
Q: No. No.
FL: It’s interesting that there was … I said that there were two factories in Staines. There was another one, a third one, that didn’t employ a lot of people. But it was of a very, very high quality. It had been built about 1935. It was said to be American-owned, and they were specialists in high-quality gear cutting. And making high quality machines for the workshop. And they were selling stuff to the Soviet Union before the war broke out. Because we used to get telegrams in from the Soviet buying organisation, whose name I can’t remember now. I ought to because I used to have dealings with them myself in those years. Sending good wishes for Christmas, or New Year, rather.
Q: Oh, right.
FL: But they used to, the Russians used to order gears from them and they used to get them sent. How long that lasted —
Q: Yes, when the war started.
FL: — when the war came, I can’t remember.
Q: Yeah, yeah. And did the … You said about the linoleum factory.
FL: I think they must have done. I can’t recall. With Lagonda, there was absolutely no question about it. They just completely closed down their
motorcar production. They hired a, if they didn’t already own it, they took a warehouse, a small warehouse, in the other part of the town. And put their spare parts in it. Stocks of spare parts, things like that in it, you know, and then changed over to war production. Whatever it was. But again, you see, they would probably be producing precision stuff because they were making … parts, anyway, of high quality motorcars. I can’t say about the lino company.
FL: I can’t remember. After all, you were still able to buy lino during the war, as far as I know. There might have been restrictions. What I’m getting at is they probably were still making some.
Q: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
FL: Yeah. I’ve got a story about Lagonda Motors. After the war, but before the Americans came into the war —
Q: Oh, yeah.
FL: I was working in the sorting office and there was a big buzz going on at the counter. I went around to see what was going on. And the representative, the chap from Lagonda Motors had just come in and he had posted a parcel which was about a foot cubed, just ten inches cubed, and it was addressed to Cary Grant, in Hollywood. To go by air. Well, the Americans were still running … they had an air service across the Atlantic, you know, it used to go via the Azores. It was Pan American. They ran that, I believe, until, of course, they entered the war. It was to go to Cary Grant and it cost over a hundred pounds! Now, a hundred pounds in 1939 —
Q: That’s a lot of money!
FL: — We’re probably talking about three thousand quid! It was a huge amount of money! I know they had great difficulty in finding where to stick the stamps on this thing! You can imagine, a small office like that, we’d talk about it for quite some time. Jump forward now, until about 1980-something, 1989 or something, I happened to be watching a television programme. Oh, there’s a film on I haven’t seen. Cary Grant, oh yes. ‘Suspicion.’ I’ve never sent that. I watched this, and of course, you see, I looked it up and it was made in 1941, ’42. I think it was actually made in ’41 and released in ’42. Of course, there are several shots … You know roughly the story. Cary Grant is under suspicion from his wife for trying to kill her. And he’s got this beautiful, open top Lagonda sportscar. Roadster. And he’s driving at great speed along the coastline and his wife thinks he’s trying to chuck her over, you know. Well, of course, the penny dropped. That was obviously the car. I know I’m making a bit of an assumption, but I think it’s pretty sound, that was the car that this one hundred pound parcel was all about. And I have no doubt that part of the deal with getting Cary Grant to appear in that picture was that they’d put his car in order! What would you do?
Q: Yeah, that’s a good deal!
FL: But it took over forty years before that penny dropped.
Q: You saw the connection.
FL: I saw the connection. I had never seen the film before. Yes, it was interesting, isn’t it? You see, there was also, from another point of view, an example of the status of the Lagonda motorcar. So there we are.
Q: Can I ask you a bit about before you were called up —
Q: — and you were in Staines.
Q: You were working. Did you go into London much in the period —
FL: After my training period —
FL: At the Barbican counter —
Q: Yeah, yeah.
FL: No. The answer to that is no.
FL: But I did go, I did take advantage of the … they gave me a season ticket, of course, to travel up and down to my training —
Q: Oh, yes.
FL: — in London. And one meeting I’ve always remembered – I used to go to meetings, you see, political meetings.
Q: Oh, yes.
FL: When I could. I didn’t have to pay the fare! And there was one meeting in particular that I have always remembered. And that was to hear Willie Gallagher —
Q: Oh, right.
FL: — speaking at the old Holborn Town Hall, which is in —
Q: I know the one.
FL: You know the one I mean?
Q: I know the one very well.
FL: And it was a most moving occasion because it was the night that the Spanish government had finally given up.
Q: Was that ’38?
FL: Well, it must have been after November ’38, because that’s when I started work.
FL: It was in that period. Now, there was a bit of confusion in my mind about this. I’m not sure what the … how the events run. It could have been the formal ending of the war or it could have been the point at which members of the government, members of the forces and all the rest of it were trying to get across into France. There was a terrible problem about that.
FL: Anyway, the thing was that Willie … some of these, many of these people were known to him. Of course, he was out in Spain, as you know. And that was really the first time that I had seen him speaking at a public meeting. Indoors.
FL: So it was quite something for me, but it was the occasion —
Q: So it was a big meeting as well.
FL: Oh! It was absolutely packed, yes. But the old Holborn Town Hall was a very regular left wing meeting centre. A popular place.
Q: Yes. I think it’s flats now.
FL: No, it isn’t!
FL: No, no. It’s High Holborn, isn’t it?
Q: Yeah, yeah, but —
FL: It’s not flats! No. No. Maybe flats next door, because I’ve been along there in the last … this year.
FL: Because the Cuban Embassy’s just the other side of the road, a bit further along. But there’s been a lot of scaffolding up there, so I think there’s been some redevelopment. Possibly on the side. I don’t know what’s going on behind the façade, of course! That was it!
Q: In those years, up to the war —
FL: Something’s just come to me. I didn’t do meetings, I didn’t go to meetings in London, but when I was in the army, when we had to be learning Morse and all the procedures about Morse messages, signals, and for this purpose we were transferred, we were posted down to Bristol, where we put into civilian digs, and we had instruction from, would you believe it, from ex- Post Office operators. And while I was down there I went to one or two meetings and I remember particularly going to a meeting of the India League which was addressed by … who was the famous Indian leader … became the War Minister in the Indian government … after Independence. Oh, goodness me, I’m afraid I lose names now, he was famous.
Q: Not [Menan]?
FL: Yes, Krishna [Menan].
Q: It was Krishna [Menan].
FL: Yes, it was Krishna [Menan]. Because he was doing meetings all over the place.
Q: He was, yes.
FL: And I believe it was the old [Colston] Hall before it was bombed. Huge great place. I remember that one.