Angela started work in 1950. Her father had come home one day and said “It is about time you got a job”. She was still at school at this point and had dreams of joining the Womens’ Royal Naval Service (WRENS) or attending the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). He would not allow her to do either of these. Having spoken to a friend who was a postmaster he got her a job as a GPO telephonist at the Taunton Post Office Exchange. She never thought to go against her father’s wishes. As part of the job she had to sign the Official Secrets Act. She was sent on a 10 week training course in Plymouth. She liked the responsibility. Angela also did relief at Highbridge Exchange as well. Highbridge was an old exchange as was Burnham-on-Sea where she also worked. She earned £3 a week and an allowance on top for board and lodging. The shifts were 8 a.m. – 6.00 p.m. or the less-popular split shift of 8 a.m.- 12 noon and then 4 p.m. – 10 p.m.
An interesting example of what she did in her first job.
“Please may I have Directory Enquiries?
“Yes, Of course”
Angela would wait a short time and then answer in a different voice
“Directory Enquiries, Can I help you?”
Reason: The exchange wasn’t large enough to pay someone to do Directory Enquires full-time so the telephonists did both jobs.
If anyone wanted to call another phone number they had to pick up their phone and wait. At the local telephone exchange a flap went down on the socket connected to their phone number (and also several other phone numbers). The telephone operator saw this happen and put one of her (or his) ten plugs in the socket and asked the phone customer “Number please?”. If it was a number was local to the exchange the operator could just connect the phone’s socket to the other line via a cable. At any one time there could be a maximum of 10 cords running. If the call request was for outside that exchange then there was a book listing the numbers to connect to exchanges all over the UK. If very rarely the person wanted an international number (very expensive call rates) then the International operator had to be called. Once called the person making the call was connected to the next exchange in the chain they spoke to the next operator to tell them which number they wanted and so on. A single call could go through several exchanges.
Ending a call
Once a call was over the first one red light and then the other red light came on for that socket. If one stayed on then the phone might be off the hook. If the phone was off the hook then a noise could be played down it so the owner knew to put the phone back on the cradle/ hook. By flipping a switch the telephonist could listen in to any call to check if the caller had finished. If there was silence they could ask if caller had finished and if OK unplug the socket to disconnect the call. The flap would then return to its default position and cover the socket. Occasionally the cat would knock the flaps down and you wouldn’t know who had called. Every socket had to be plugged into and checked to see if someone was there.
In the exchanges she worked in the men earned twice what the women worked which meant they earned four times the women’s regular rate for overtime work. The men also had a more laid back approach to their work and would rarely have more than three cords active at any one time.
One Saturday she was by herself and she had to deal with an emergency call related to a terrible road accident. She had to record everything the caller said to the police so there was a backup of the important information being shared.
In 1954 Angela got married and so had to leave her job as women traditionally left work when they married. Before the Second World War in many jobs/professions there was often a marriage bar which prevented women from choosing to stay on at work after they married. Angela did remember a married woman with children still working at an exchange but that was very much the exception.During the late 1950s while they lived in Blackpool and she was able to secure work as a telephonist on the 8 p.m. to midnight shift while her next door neighbour or mother baby sat. Her husband was posted to Christmas Island as part of the nuclear testing operation. They then moved to Upavon and the family bought a house in Corsham. They owned one car which her husband took to his job at RAF Lyneham. Angela learnt to drive so she too could eventually buy a car of her own.
In the 1968 they were on their way back from Australia via New Zealand and Fiji and they arrived in Tahiti. They rode an army van as a way of travelling around the island. Angela noticed as each person climbed off the bus at the end of their journey they kissed a large sarong-clad man. It was explained to them that this person was Gauguin’s son and it considered good luck to kiss him as you left.
Returning to Corsham in 1969 Angela started working as a driving instructor as her local female friends who often didn’t drive. When she asked them why they did not drive they said their husband or the driving instructor shouted at them when teaching them. Angela completed her advanced driver in Devizes and took the exam in Swindon. The exam took the form of an essay about how you would teach someone to drive. There was then a two hour driving test where you had to teach someone else to drive who had never been in a car before. The instructor spent his time fiddling with the car keys and other things. Angela just took the keys out of the ignition and told him “To relax”. She passed.
She decided to set up her own driving school and to do that she needed a suitable car. There was a dual control Vauxhall Viva for sale costing £300. Angela made an appointment with her Bank Manager taking the only collateral she had -£200 in premium bonds which had been bought for her children. The Manager laughed and said he would have a think about it. He decided that Angela could open a business account and lent her £1000.00. She bought her car and paid the money back within 6 months. So “The Ladies School of Driving” began. One day Pebble at One ( a lunchtime topical news programme) came to interview Angela about how she taught driving. They took lots of photographs through the windows of the car.
She has written three books on Driving Instruction focussing on how to pass your driving test and how to teach someone else to drive.
Memory contributed by Angela Oatridge from Burghead
The Story of Burghead– written by Angela and available online
The story of someone using a switchboard similar to the one which Angela describes.
The development of a post-war exchange in Newmarket with some interesting photographs of the exchanges that were in use during the 1950s.