by Daniel Bysouth
Starting at a new company is always a scary thing to do; Keith and I both started at M.J. Green’s on the 2nd January in the mid-80s.
For me only the second place I had ever worked, for Keith over 30 years at Mann Egerton’s made the move very difficult and he was to struggle in a big way.
I had a much easier time; I joined a team of 3 in the paint shop. The team comprised Andy, the chief painter who had been with the company for many years and was also taking on managers duties - he was very good at both. Second was Steve AKA ferret, a very good painter indeed, highly skilled and had a wicked sense of humour, and finally Carl, a prepper / painter and a real clever lad. We all just got on so well. I was looking forward to prepping and getting some painting experience.
Our paint shop was an old wartime Nissen hut which was red hot in the summer and like the North Pole in the winter. The panel shop was across the yard and the only access was an electronic ramp; not ideal but the beaters managed. We had an interesting paint store and mixing room. To enter the store you had to unlock a massive heavy duty thick steel door, and the same again to enter the mixing room.
I think I should have said that we were sited on the old WW2 airfield of Martlesham Heath. It was a far cry from Mann Egerton’s but it appealed to me and also had a strange feel to it. The company was owned by two guys called Dave and Mikey, Mikey being the ‘M’ of MJ Green.
He was such a brilliant bloke - we hit it off straight away as we both had the exact same sense of humour, which got us into many sticky situations, more of which later! One Friday I asked him what he was up to at the weekend and he told me that as his Mum's birthday was on the coming Saturday, he would go to see her. Strange thing was, my Mum's birthday was on the Sat too, not only that but both our Mums lived in the same village. Stranger still, they were great mates. I knew Mikey’s Mum well and always spoke to pass the time of day when ever I saw her. Thus, Mikey and me got on like a house on fire.
Now, down the side of our paint shop was a grassy strip of land that at one time was used to store wrecked cars. Towards the far end was an apple tree which had seen better days. Mikey told me that at one time he had an large Alsatian dog which was chained to the tree at night as a guard dog. The dog had free range of the grass strip and could not get run over as his chain only reached to the edge of the grass. If anyone was about he would go mental, enough to scare any one away. At home, he was Mikey’s pet and as meek as a lamb.
Mike had noticed that the dog was really wound up and upset one morning and this went on for a few days. Mike wanted to know why, so one night he bedded down in the paint shop and kept lookout through the side window. He could see the dog and the road and at around 3am he heard a car pull up. He looked out and saw it was the local Bobby on his beat. Thinking the Bobby may have seen his car tucked away, Mikey thought he should explain why he was there.
Before he could get out of the building to speak to him, Mikey was amazed to see the Bobby had started throwing stones and yelling at the poor dog.
The dog flew towards him - teeth bared, growling and barking for all he was worth. He got so far, then came to an abrupt halt at the end of his chain and landed in a heap.
The Bobby laughed loudly, got back into his car and sped away. Now Mike is clever, he wanted evidence, so the next night he was again in the work shop but this time he had his camera.
Again in the wee hours along came Mr. Plod. Once more he picked up a stone and chucked it at the dog, who immediately raced towards him and promptly sank his teeth into the Bobby’s leg.
Mikey howled with laughter as the copper yelped and ran to his car, hopped in and was off like Graham Hill. That six feet of extra chain that Mikey had added was just right! He didn't bother with the photograph; his chain idea was so off-the-cuff. It never happened again and the Bobby never said a word about it - he was seen limping a bit though!
The next 14 out of 17 years were spent pushing the boundaries of technology in body and paint, we had such great time that even the great Gerald Wiley could not have written. Some of these times will be coming soon in future stories I have in mind.
Now I mentioned that it was a strange place. I was alone in the paint shop late one afternoon, it was dark and I saw a face at the door waving for my attention - I was only 4 to 5 feet away. He was in uniform; an officer's cap, white shirt, tie and braided cuffs. I thought it was probably an American from one of the bases nearby.
I opened the door and stepped outside onto the large open square. I was dumbfounded to find there wasn't a soul in sight. As God is my witness, there was nowhere for a person to hide out of sight. I spoke to Mike about it and he said that this sort of thing had happened to him many times. Fact is that it was not the last time something like that would happen.
There are so many adventures that I could tell you about - it would take years. I will select the best and share them with you in future stories. I promise your chuckle muscle will get some exercise, but for now, thank you for reading my little story – I hope you enjoyed it.
by Daniel Bysouth
Working in the stores at Mann Egerton’s, when I look back, was a very light-hearted way to earn a living. At the time I had little to worry about, the wife was working full time, we lived in a nice little one bed room flat and for me I found the work easy.
There were highlights; for instance, opposite our garage was the Afro-Caribbean centre. After being open for only a few months, it was to be officially opened by Prince Charles. Thing was, nobody informed us of certain security measures that were put into place. Each morning, on arriving at work, I would venture out onto the loading bay which overlooked our parked vans and the road in which the Caribbean centre was situated. I opened the door only to be confronted with an armed policeman in full sniper get-up. I looked at him, he looked at me, I stared at the gun, we both said "morning" then I went and checked the state of my underwear. There were a few marksmen dotted around and as quickly as they appeared they left in the same manner.
When I first started work there we had petrol pumps and a forecourt. I think it was a National Petroleum. It was handy as I used to fill up my fizzy (my little Yamaha FS1-E bike) for around £1.50 and that lasted me all week. After a while it was decided that the pumps weren’t making money so they would close. The tanks were quite full and as I had served fuel for a while, I took charge of taking readings and keeping the parts vans fuelled up. This didn't last long because of the high mileage and they were to shut them down for good. I made sure the Maxi was full to the brim with a good load of four star before we said a fond farewell to another bit of our garage.
We had noticed that we were not very busy for long periods of time and rumours had started. We had a direct rival in town called Henley’s who were also a BL main dealer, plus Unipart who had a large stores and a massive body shop in Ipswich. Their whole setup was much more modern than ours.
They had the advantage of a better site than us too, on the outskirts of the town.
The biggest shock came with the news that the CBR floor was closing down completely. For many years it was the heart of the Majors Corner site and it was such a shame to see it die. The whole floor found work easily - as they should, they were very highly skilled craftsmen. The very same day I started my apprenticeship another lad called Paul started as an apprentice panel beater. He worked with our most skilled guy and as such became a highly skilled beater himself.
We attended college together but he was and is more academic than me. He was top of the class and student of the year. He also married my niece and to this day I consider him not only my mate but my nephew. As the CBR floor started to fold up Paul was approached by an ex-employee called Michael. He was a brilliant panel beater and now had his own body shop on a disused WW2 airfield just outside the town in a place called Martlesham. He asked Paul to go and work for him and his very successful business, he also asked Keith to join him as with success more and more trimming work was being undertaken. Keith was a lifer at Mann Egertons and with some trepidation he agreed to go too.
I asked Paul to ask if there was a place for me. As Paul started a couple of months before Christmas I didn't see him for a week or so but then got a phone call to attend an interview with Dave who was Michaels business partner. They wanted a paint preparation technician - prime it , rub it down and mask it up. I should have mentioned that after the news of the CBR floor shutting, it was announced that British Leyland only wanted to support one garage in town which was to be Henley’s, so at the end of November the whole place would fold.
So I was only too pleased to accept the new job in M J Green’s body shop. John, my parts manager, asked how I got on and when I told him I start on January 2nd he was chuffed to bits. He also asked if I wanted to stay on till Christmas to help him clear out the rest of the vast stock, cash in hand! So I did. It was horrible working in that place in total silence.
One of the plus things was that Henley’s took just about all the parts staff on, so they all did well. Clearing all that stock was depressing but John told me that any Maxi parts I found I could have FOC. I got a complete new carpet, rubber mats, flash new red seat belts, an 8 track quadrophonic stereo and enough service parts to last me months.
I must admit I cried my eyes out on the last day. Mann Egerton’s was the only place I had ever worked and now I had to forge new friendships , something I'm not good at.
As Keith and I started on the 2nd January I had no idea that for the next 17 years I would be having the time of my life, but that's for next time..
by Daniel Bysouth
Doing van deliveries in the summer time is great; windows down, warm sunshine & beautiful countryside to look at. But the winter is another story.
I remember one winter in particular that was very rough, we had massive snowfall and freezing temperatures for weeks on end.
Main road travel was not too bad as Ipswich is on a direct route to the major container port of Felixstowe. The roads are kept clear for the lorries. It was the back roads, where most of my deliveries were, that gave me massive problems. I remember one morning run I had a drop at RAF Wattisham, about 20 miles from Ipswich and of course in the middle of nowhere. I was in the Ital van which was a beast to keep straight on the snow covered icy roads.
About 5 miles from the base the road was down to one lane as the hedgerows were non-existent and drifting snow just gave you a single 10 ft deep channel to drive in. I kept seeing little shiny bits of metal in the snow as I drove along and only realised what they were as I got to the base. They were the door handles of abandoned cars left over night. I found that very scary stuff.
At the base there was a message waiting for me in the guard room from my boss. His instructions were to return to the depot as heavy snow was falling in town and looked to continue for a good while. A lot of Police were escorting traffic towards town and I was glad to get back and spend the rest of the day on the phone lines and sorting orders for the next afternoon. The next morning run was cancelled and just one longer run was organised to get as much delivered as possible.
It had been organised for me to make only three deliveries the next day, two in Hadleigh and an engine, diff and rear axle to Sudbury. That meant I had to take the Luton box can, as it would be the only one available. The road to Hadleigh was completely open to the elements and as such was a complete nightmare. All vans left at 10.30am and we were simply told to do what we could. I knew the engine, diff and axle were wanted badly, I was friendly with all my customers but this guy in Sudbury was a star. I would get it there whatever. It took me 3 hours to get to Hadleigh and that was the easy bit, only about 7 or 8 miles.
We had cars off the road, jack-knifed lorries and such heavy snow you had to stop - but Hadleigh got their parts! The Sudbury road was even worse, such heavy snow had fallen that the Police closed the road to two way traffic. For 15 miles or so around thirty vehicles would follow a snowplough to the main road into the town centre of Sudbury. Luckily for me that was where Queens garage was, and where I had to drop my delivery. My boss had called the owner and asked him how late would someone wait at the garage for me. That was not a problem as the owner lived next door.
It was dark when I got there and after a welcome cuppa and a sarnie I joined the massive queue of traffic waiting to be escorted back in single file to Ipswich. I went straight home, called John my boss and settled down at around 9.30pm. More of the same was planned for the next day, one run leaving a bit earlier and instructions to be careful again. I was chuffed to be back in my Ital van, two drops in Stowmarket, service parts in a little village called Badwell Ash and two drops in Bury St Edmund, one to Anglia Body Works and the last to Mann Egerton’s.
Again heavy snow was falling and the roads were like glass. After yesterday it seemed most people stayed at home as the roads were so quiet. The main road to Stowmarket was not too bad, very slippery but passable, then the next stop was at Badwell Ash. I had to leave the main road to travel a B road to the lane that led to Badwell Ash. The B road was a sow to drive on, and the first 100 yards of the lane to Badwell looked promising. A JCB had cleared a path towards the village but as it started with an incline thick with ice I got nowhere. I turned around at the entrance to the lane and reversed the entire six miles to a wall of snow where the digger was busy at work. It was only one car wide, so that to this day is the longest I have ever reversed.
Good thing was the digger driver was waiting for me and took the bits into the village. The garage owner told him I was coming. Handy for me!
Not being able to cut through the lanes to Bury I had to go back to the main road and that put another 20 miles on the trip.
It was after 3pm when I dropped off some body panels at Anglia Body Works and then only a 10 min drive to Mann Egerton’s.
As it was winter it was now getting dark and heavy snow was falling again. I phoned my boss -there were no mobile phones back then and the only van in the fleet with a cab radio was the local town van driven by Herbie. The boss said if I wanted I could stay in Bury with the boss of their stores dept, but I wanted to get home to the wife.
Thirty miles of sheer terror awaited me and nearly four hours later I arrived home with my van, which wasn't really allowed without permission. I phoned John, the boss, and he said that the van was no problem. In fact he wanted me to pick up a few guys who would struggle with public transport and so make sure they got in to work.
You won't be surprised to hear that ever since then I have hated driving in snow; a Yeti I am not!
Next time; Good days and bad days.
by Daniel Bysouth
Monday morning arrived and I sat nervously in the Parts Managers office alongside his secretary Jean, Assistant Manager Peter and the Manager himself, John.
John told me they all agreed that I had taken to Stores work very well and had good motivation to expand beyond van deliveries to the everyday running of a large BL Unipart stores department. I would still have my normal deliveries to carry out, then if stock orders were in, I could help with the placement of that. If I had collected any orders myself, I could source those and invoice them for delivery the next day and - best of all for me - I could take on the Mann Egerton’s tie line.
As we were a major stockist, we were designated a Parts Library, which involved all the Mann Egerton departments in the country being linked by a separate phone line. If a garage wanted a tailpipe exhaust for a Marina, for example - which I think was part number GEX 3626 - and they did not have one in stock, they would call tieline Ipswich and yours truly would first check to see if we had one. If not, I would go to the closest dept to the Mann Egerton branch that wanted it.
I would arrange to have the part delivered to us on our vast network of vans that criss-crossed the country daily, then dispatched to the branch that requested it in the first place. I could get an exhaust from one end of the country to the other in 24 hours. That was good going in the early 80s. Remember exhaust centres were not as common then as they are now. There was to be no increase in pay for me but I was treated very well by the company in other ways. For instance, if I wanted to borrow a van or car I had no problem at all and also I had access to such places as the radio store and the customer records.
The other van drivers only did their deliveries; they had very little to do with the running of the stores and as such had very little trust put in them. We did at one time have a problem with a driver collecting money from a cash account holder for their parts and putting it straight into his own pocket. He destroyed the invoices and thought he could get off scot-free. He soon got caught as the rounds got swapped around and each one he was on suffered the same fate. It gave drivers that were honest a very bad name.
One morning I had loaded up the Sherpa Luton with my 10am delivery route load. I took the Luton as I had a batch of exhausts and body panels for one of my BL garages I delivered to out in the countryside. That was another perk of my ‘post’; I could choose which vehicle from our fleet I wanted to use. Also this morning I had a delivery to make to the twin US Air Force bases of Bentwaters and Woodbridge. These housed the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing of the United States Air Force.
Today it was Bentwaters that I was due to visit, Building 47 is where the motor vehicle repair shop was and after stopping at the main gate showing the armed guard the printed invoice he gave me a card to display in the front screen of my van. This showed I was a civilian and had clearance to be on the base; he then sent me on my way around little America. I loved the bases and spent many hours watching the planes and also the many massive American cars they loved driving. All in all I loved being on base.
As this was my first delivery of the day, it would put me in a good mood for the rest of the day … or so I thought. I gave the American grease monkey his bits, he thanked me and we chatted for a few minutes then I climbed back into the Luton and drove off towards the main gate again. How to describe the noise of the alarm that made me jump out of my skin, I don't know, it was more like a scream. A jeep went careering past me and skidded to a halt, whereupon two uniformed guards got out. One stood in front of me holding a rifle which was pointed directly at the front of the Sherpa. The second guy opened the driver’s door and asked me to step out of the vehicle. And guess what, I flaming well did just that!
He told me that an American facility had that morning been targeted by terrorists attempting to detonate a bomb. As such all active USAF bases were to be immediately put on complete shutdown. That meant no civilians were allowed to enter or leave the base for the foreseeable future. I had to get in the Jeep after leaving my Sherpa keys with one of the guards and they took me to one of their canteens where there were other people who had also got trapped on base. With two guards on the door another American came in and told us again what had happened. He asked if we had questions about what was going on.
The only thing most of us wanted was for them to let our bosses or families know where we were. In time he said he would, as we were now guests of the USAF he told us to order from the canteen staff what we liked, as we would be there for some time. To be honest, I loved it! Now there wasn't a gun being pointed at me and I knew what was going on I was going to enjoy myself. Burgers and coke were the order of the day, all on the USAF, happy days! Nearly 6 hours we stayed there, well looked after but glad to get out in the end, when of course I headed straight back to the depot.
The relationship I had with my customers was the best thing about my job. To have an experienced motor engineer was such an advantage because, for example, if a customer was restoring a vehicle and wanted all mouldings and certain clips or a particular body panel I could source it easily and the usual phone conversation of “Well, you know, that curly clip thing that holds that little moulding thing on" would not have to happen. I had massive respect for my customers and I can honestly say that they did for me too.
Some of them really were characters and next time I will tell you about a few of them.
by Daniel Bysouth
On every delivery route you come across characters, and my route was no exception. One that comes to mind was a little garage in the village of Coddenham called Bickers.
Back in the 60s, Dave Bickers was a highly successful motorcycle scramble rider who branched into different enterprises such as garages and coach travel. In later years he also got into supplying period vehicles for film and television. Now you will find that he also ran a very successful stunt business and was responsible for many of the major film stunts all over the world. The small garage he had in Coddenham was manned by about 5 staff the head mechanic being a short thin guy whose overalls were thick with grease and he always wore a beanie hat. A hand-made cigarette was always in the corner of his mouth and when he spoke it was with a broad Suffolk accent.
This particular morning I had called on them as they broke for tea break at 10am. The guys were all sitting on old car seats in the back of the workshop beside an oil burning heater. It was only a few moments later when a very posh lady in her late fifties pulled up on the forecourt in a Mini Metro. She got out and approached the sitting hoard of grease monkeys. “Could someone tell me if I have anti-freeze in my car please?" she asked. Rising from his seat, straightening his beanie hat the little guy rose to his full height of 4 foot nothing saying, "Right away Ma’am, follow me". He took out a piece of filthy old rag from his overall pocket and carefully released the cap on the expansion tank. He promptly put his forefinger in the hot liquid and put it between his lips, turning round he spat the mixture on the floor and turning to the astonished lady said, "That's fine on to about minus 10 Ma’am, you’re fine!".
That summed up just what sort of atmosphere there was in these homely little garages. It’s that kind of friendly personal service that sadly has been lost today in the small hamlets of our countryside. The lady was happy and drove away completely satisfied with her visit. Whether she understood that the sweeter the liquid tasted the more anti-freeze was present I doubt, but it's a fact that it's true; dangerous, but true.
When I was 12 or 13 years old I joined the St. John’s Ambulance service as a cadet. My dad had been in it for many years and he ran the First Aid surgery at the factory where he worked, so I followed in his footsteps. At that time Thursday night was Speedway night at Foxhall Stadium in Ipswich and my dad, myself and some others were on duty in the pits and in the centre green. These were heroes to me and being on duty meant I had access to all the riders.
Two of my favourites were a local chap called Tony Davey, and a young Australian starlet called Billy Sanders - I'm sure some of you will know that name. My most treasured possessions are a breastplate specially made for me and an autographed picture of Billy and Tony (below).
Now, on my delivery route was a garage that offered servicing and also body repairs. On my first visit to this garage, just a mile or so from Bickers, I pulled up on the forecourt of Evergreen garage of Crowfield to deliver a box of service parts. An old guy came out of Reception, looked at the paperwork and told me that his boy had ordered these bits and he would have to check them. "He's in the office mate" he said. Off I went, to find a chap was on the phone in the office marking a wall chart with his back to me. The phone went down and I said, "I have your parts from Mann Egerton’s, mate".
When he turned round you could have knocked me down with a mattress; looking right back at me was Mr Tony Davey, my speedway hero! He recognised me and from then on was a good friend. I was chuffed to bits. He remains a very nice chap and will always be a hero of mine. As much as the job of parts supplying was interesting we had to have a bit of fun too. I liked to play jokes on people and one of the best ones was on another delivery driver, Basil.
Basil was in his late 50s and came from up North. He had a very broad Northern accent, was very jolly and helpful but poor old Basil was completely deaf. He lip read perfectly but could hear nought. One morning, when the vans had finished their morning deliveries, I had an idea. All the vans were due to leave at 11.30am for the afternoon deliveries. Just before Basil came down to the car park to climb into his van - an R reg Marina - I turned on his radio, tuned it to Radio 1 and cranked up the volume to full blast. All afternoon the garages on Basil’s route were phoning in and laughing at the mobile disco with the completely unknowing driver careering around the country side! We all had a good laugh and when Basil returned at 5pm with the radio still blasting I told him what had been going on. He just looked at me and said in his northern drawl "You daft begger". Even the boss had a giggle.
One afternoon I was about 30 miles out of town on my way to Sudbury when a stone from a council mower hit and smashed my windscreen; it was not laminated and just disintegrated. I phoned the firm and they said it was up to me if I carry on or come back. Well I carried on and on my return was covered in flies and dirt. It took me a while longer as I had taken extra time by keeping to the back roads. The boss asked if I was OK then told me to raise a job card, get a screen out of stock and see if the body shop could fit a screen for us today. "What for? I can do that, I'm a coachbuilder remember?” I told him. He replied that if I wanted to, then I could do it and he would be very grateful. From then on, if we had a screen in any of the vans go, I fitted the new ones. I loved it.
Winter was approaching and that was not to be as much fun. That's for next time.
by Daniel Bysouth
Back in Majors Corner as a parts delivery driver, I was now part of a major supplier of Unipart parts and accessories.
We had two floors of merchandise and delivered all over East Anglia. There were four full time drivers and each one did a shorter morning run and then the longer afternoon delivery. I was asked to learn all routes but would in the long run take as my own the whole Suffolk route as it was the one with the biggest accounts.
There were many members of staff in the stores and we will meet them as we go on. The guy showing me the way round was Greg. He was a long service stores man who knew all the routes off by heart. He was a law unto himself though. He taught me where every sweetshop was, all the best cafes and when to turn up at any certain garage so as to be in time for a cuppa. He was a star. His directions were strange, to say the least. One was to take a left turn on the second piece of dual carriageway, then count three lamp posts on the left and turn right at the next hedge! It was spot on. The garage was called Firs Garage Of Uggeshall, Suffolk.
One which I was absolutely sure was a wind up was to take the road to Norwich, then "... when you see a goat on the left hand side of the road, turn left and the garage is slap bang in the middle of the road in the next village". He was spot on with that one, too - Fiveways Garage of Mendlesham, Suffolk. Clever lad Greg, I learned every route with him and enjoyed every minute of it.
Early on I had to visit every garage that we supplied as we had a promotion on Unipart oil. I think the part no was GGL 105. Each box contained 4 x 5 litres. It took me all day to do this, but unbeknown to me some of the garages had called the boss and said how pleased they were with the new driver. I was chuffed.
Once I was getting to know the guys in the garages they got to know that I had been in the bodyshop, done a stint in mechanics and also in the paint shop. They started to ask if I could get them this certain part or that set of plugs, the sort of things they would phone up for or see the rep on the one day a week he called. As one owner told the boss, “It’s great - at last we have someone who knows a spark plug from a sump plug”. This went in my favour too. I found that after a few weeks I could easily complete my route and be back at base by 2.30 to 3.00pm. I knew the other two drivers did not return much before 5pm so they could go straight home. One used to go home and wait there till he could just drop the van and leave, the other one slept in a certain lay-by daily, I know because I drove past him one afternoon.
I had been there around 2 to 3 months when I was told I was getting a brand new van , a Morris Ital 575. regn VGV 389X. It was lovely to drive after humping a Sherpa Luton around, only thing was we had to deliver engines, gold and silver seal. In the Luton - no problem, but a bit awkward in the ITAL. So they gave me a trailer. It slowed me down but it was very useful. With us being an exhaust centre we delivered a lot of them. They were very awkward to load as they mostly had to be bunji strapped to the roof rack. A busy day and you could easily have to load up to the rafters.
As I was known by all at Major’s Corner, bosses included, if anyone’s van broke down and we asked the sales manager to borrow a vehicle it was me who was given the sales car or whatever, and the other driver had my van. That's how, one day I was driving a brand new Range Rover Van Den Plas on my morning delivery run. I was king of the road but felt really chuffed when told only I was to drive it, and the same went for any hire car we had to get to. I did not know it but I was being talked about by certain people and it was for good reasons not bad. When I returned in the afternoons I would get involved with putting away the stock orders. It fascinated me that when you looked for a certain part, if you went to bin ref AS1P the exact part you wanted was there. The part numbers for Unipart started to register in my head, GEX, exhausts, GSP, spark plugs, GLB, bulbs and so on.
I also got to know how to write out invoices to supply a certain customer the part he had ordered. Also as some parts were not kept in stock we ordered them. If it was a part we did not keep in stock at all and the customer no longer required it usually they could not return it, but if they were a good customer we could set it up as a new stock item. With this you had to actually make a new position for the part, I loved doing this and as my writing was liked by the stores secretary, I was the only driver allowed to do it.
I was having the time of my life; I still saw the guys on the CBR floor and all in all, it seemed that things could be no better. I had found a good job at which I could excel as a result of time spent in the body shop. Then one Friday, the boss told me I had to attend a meeting with him and others in his office on Mon morning. That worried me – “What could this be about?”
Find out next time!
by Daniel Bysouth
Looking back it was a fun but sometimes difficult apprenticeship. As well as the daily 8 to 5 there was of course college to attend.
Tuesday was the day, also Tuesday night for night school. I must say I did not like school at all, full stop. It was a generally a good class of students but as always a few were just a pain in the backside. I had no patience for these idiots and regularly was told off by my works manager for non-attendance of night school. I was married at this time and would rather be at home than being stuck in a classroom with a couple of disruptive fools.
Going back a few months when the news of my planned wedding filtered round the firm, the general opinion was it would only last 3 months as according to them, my brains had dropped to my nether regions! They came to this conclusion because I was only 17 and my intended was 25. Now every firm collects for occasions, ours was no different and a lovely lady by the name of Flori did all such things. Flori was the voice of Mann Egerton as she manned the switchboard and the loud speaker system.
Many years later we met up regularly when shopping. Flori was in her 70s by then. Always a fun, mischievous lady, she would call out very loudly, "Hello Danny boy". I would advance towards her and smack her firmly on the bottom replying "Hello sexy!" She was a great friend.
A few days before the wedding, Flori traversed the company with a big envelope and a sheet of paper to collect for a wedding gift. They collected £14 and I bought a coffee table from Woolies. Every person who gave to the collection signed the sheet of paper. 37 years later that piece of paper is framed and hanging on my bedroom wall. I often look at it with fond memories of those happy times.
As the term of my apprenticeship approached, rumours of redundancies were circulating. Everywhere was cutting staff and we knew it had to happen here too. A week before my apprenticeship finished I was called to the works managers office where he and his secretary stood over my apprentice papers. They both signed them, watched as I did too then congratulated me on 4 years of good service.
Unfortunately they were not going to renew my contract, so the following Friday would be my last day at Mann Egerton’s on Majors Corner. I was devastated, and must admit I did shed a tear or two. On the Tuesday of the following week we had been told that the redundancies would be announced that morning. Our Charge Hand – Derek - had collected a sealed envelope and being his usual obnoxious self, gathered us all together on the CBR floor.
I knew I was going, but was still included in all the drama as we all supported each other. Derek opened the envelope and started to read the text, got to the names and .. his was the first name on it! He stormed off. The floor was slimmed down to a skeleton staff; Keith and Toots were OK, but a few of the others went. None had problems getting jobs as they were long service, highly skilled men. I was pleased about that.
So no longer in work, I went on Monday to the Job Centre and started 3 months job hunting, doing housework and enjoying the sun. We had money coming in as Liz was working in Woolies still. I had dole money and although I never paid any tax in 4 years because I didn't earn enough, I received a £40 cheque each of the 3 months I was off. I did check this out and it was right. I had very low wages all the time I was there, the last week the union, TGWU, secured a good wage rise for 4th year apprentices £97 a week. Bit late for me.
Three months down the line, I was in the job centre and saw a card telling of a job for a parts delivery driver for a BL garage in the town centre. I took the card to the assistant and asked if this was Mann Egerton’s? "Yes, but it's written application only" she told me. I went straight to the garage, upstairs to the public stores counter and asked one of the store men, Brian, if John the manager was about. John took me into his office and I asked him for the job. He thought I had a job already; "No mate", I told him. It was 9.30 am and he told me to have a little walk and return after tea break at 10.30am. I did not know till later that he went to ask Keith about my honesty and trustworthiness. Keith gave him a glowing report and at 10.30 I got the job. Honey was back at Mann Egerton’s once again!
The stores were a family within a family and full of some great characters with whom I had some good times. I will relate some of these as well as the interest of BL PARTS.
Next time: find the goat and I lose a tooth!
by Daniel Bysouth
As an apprentice I had to sample the different trades on the CBR floor, so for 2 months I was seconded to the paint shop.
We had 6 full time staff in Paint: Ted, Peter and Kenny the seniors plus Steve and Ian who were apprenticed. They were all looked after by the paint shop foreman Walter, known to all as Dibble, as in Officer Dibble from the Top Cat cartoons.
Dibble was a rotund very jolly chap who took on all the strain of the painters. He would source the colour, check it by spraying out test plates and checking that it was a spot on match, he would know exactly who was at what stage on any job in the shop. We just did our best job to get that perfect finish. Dibble was a creature of habit. Each morning he would arrive (never late), hang his mac in his office - which was smaller than a wardrobe – and put his crash helmet on the chair (he had a Honda 50 moped). Next he would take a pie out of his lunch box and put it in a light box, the size of a biscuit tin with a 100-watt light bulb in it and a hinged door on the front. It was really meant for baking of the paint cards for colour matching, but by 10am it had warmed up Dibble’s pie to perfection.
I was to work first of all with Ted. The success of the CBR floor was known far and wide and as such a yellow P6 Rover arrived from Holland for a colour change re-spray. This was Ted’s job with me assisting. The week running up to my time in Paint was spent with Toots stripping the Rover to a bare shell. Bonnet, boot, doors, front and rear panels, sills and even the roof all came off. We paint stripped each and every panel, sanded them firstly with 180 grit paper discs, then 240. The panels had any small dents repaired, they were in extremely good condition so little panel work was needed.
Etch primer was applied first, then we used a primer called RPF 800. As well as priming the roof we applied colour to the underside and inner edges as the roof panel was to be fitted on the freshly painted rolling shell as it was too flimsy to have on tressels. It must be said at this time that Ted was a most unusual painter. He had been the subject of a school boy prank gone wrong and had lost an eye. It made no difference to him at all. His paintwork was brilliant, he rode a Honda CB175 motor cycle and he was the other golfer on the floor that I mentioned in a previous piece.
With all the panels primed, the painter’s most important piece of equipment after his spray gun came into use - his bucket. Wet flatting was the order of the day back then and your bucket was king. In it was a rubber block, a real leather, a quality sponge and most important, clean cold water. With a square of 800 wet n dry paper on the block and a full sponge we had to carefully block away the black lightly applied black guide coat so as to give a lovely smooth surface to which the cooler could adhere. This took a few days, preparation is king and if the preparation is not good then it doesn't matter who puts the paint on, it won't look good.
After a few days rubbing, sore fingers and many buckets of water later, Ted checked each panel for imperfections. He would stopper these and they would be flatted also. Each panel would be individually hung on stands to be rolled into the spray booth for Ted to work his magic. I didn't get to paint till much later, my last bit of help was to put on plastic gloves and to wipe each panel with spirit wipe to give a clinical surface for paint. Ted spent a solid 4 to 5 hours painting that day, applying the beautiful new silver finish that the customer requested. Each completed batch of panels when painted was pushed through sliding doors in the spray booth to the oven on the other side, and these baked while Ted painted some more. They were called combi ovens.
Of course just like the Roller I had worked on before, we had to flat and polish the Rover. It was back breaking and made your arm ache, but a wet 1200 careful flat and then a machine polish gave us a glass finish and when rebuilt and detailed it looked a million dollars. I did not know it then, but 3 years later I would start a refinishing career that would last me the next 30 years or so. So Ted, if you’re listening up there in that great paint shop in the sky, thanks mate!
Now Christmas was a good time at Mann Egerton’s and their Christmas box to us every year was a frozen turkey. The last day before we finished for the break there was no work to do. We all had some drinks in the various offices, we crashed other people's parties as they crashed ours and it was always in good humour. After collecting our Christmas kisses from the secretaries, at lunchtime we all went up the road to the pub, it was only 30 yards away which was just as well when you consider the state some of us got in!
Round about 4 to 4.30pm we all had to line up in the garage downstairs and a large refrigerated truck pulled up. One by one we advanced to the front of the queue, once there a turkey would fly out of the back of the truck and that was your Christmas box, first come first served. Mine came out and nearly killed me - it was massive. We measured the weight in the stores and it was 26 lbs in weight. Big enough to feed a small army!
I had a problem now, slightly drunk, moped and 26 lb turkey. I don't advocate drinking and driving but hey, I was 17 and wild. The guys dressed me in my helmet and duffle coat and they sat me on my trusty Yamaha FS1-e, then they strapped the turkey to my back with loads of masking tape, round and round they wound it around me and then sent me off in the direction of home. I made it safely and as Mum had a turkey already my girlfriend’s family and I enjoyed the big bird over that wonderful time.
Next time: rumours worry us all, and the writings on the wall.
by Daniel Bysouth
One morning, not long after we started work at 8am, in through the door from the lower mechanical floor walked David.
He was a master of his trade, a mechanic of immense skill and a flamboyant character. He had long hair and shuffled across the CBR floor to take up position at the stores counter. The counter was tucked away in the corner behind the CBR office and manned by Alfie, one of the best parts men I have ever known. We all shouted a hearty ‘Hello’ as he walked by, but all we got in return was a slight wave, which was strange because he was usually very ,very talkative and happily shared his witty banter to anyone who would listen. Of course, no one called him David because nearly everybody at Mann Egerton had a nick name. His was ‘Brassy’ (as in the metal).
The stores counter was a good place to hide up for a while and many of the guys from downstairs made use of it daily. We had our own hiding places but of course, we never skived away from our work! *wink*. We got to 10am – tea break time - and Brassy was still at the counter. After tea, Alfie came across the floor to use the loos and on his return we asked what was up with the Brass. "Don't know Honey, he hasn't said a word apart from hello".
Now Mann Egerton’s was like a big family and from time to time some people would have a problem or be having trouble at home or just having a bad day. If we saw this, we knew that we should give that person space and time. It was a fact that if anyone wanted any help with anything at all the whole of the workforce was there for them, it was that close there. It seemed that Brassy wanted to be left alone, and we all did just that. His mates on the line downstairs covered for him and we all kept an eye out for the bosses in case one of them stuck their nose in. At midday the buzzer sounded for lunch, and as it was a hot day nearly everyone who usually sat on the benches on the CBR floor went outside to sit in the sun on the roof looking down on the lunchtime shoppers in the busy town centre.
I went across the road to the chip shop and returned to eat my hot chips sitting on my bench. About 12.30 the main door to the floor opened and a chap in a long trench coat and hat came in. He looked a bit suspicious; for one thing it was a hot day to be dressed up like that, and for another he walked past the CBR office towards the stores. Well, I didn't like people just wandering in, so I put aside my bag of chips and hurried over to approach him asking if I could help at all? He turned and faced me and I got such a shock I nearly did something very childish; it was Brassy!
“Hold on” I thought, “if you’re Brassy, who the hell is that at the counter?” The chap at the counter came over and as he got closer I could hardly believe my eyes. No-one knew that Brassy had an identical twin, and when I say identical, he was just that. The only other person there was Alfie and he was as dumbstruck as me.
Taking care not to be overheard, they quickly explained to us that Brassy had an appointment that would take up the whole morning and he could not afford to lose a mornings pay, so he had persuaded his brother - who knew nothing about cars - to stand in for him. They both had more front than Tesco’s. No one, apart from Alfie and me, ever worked it out. Good bloke, was Brassy.
It was around this time that we had a front screen to replace on a SD1 Rover, which was quite a new model at the time. It was the first one we had had to do and Keith was asked to take it on. He wanted to have me with him as it would be a good idea to have me learn from him how to fit one, plus it was a two man job in any case. According to the workshop report on these screens they had to be 'cooked' on removal and on installation.
The idea was that a long round strip of sealant with a wire running through it would be placed around the aperture and with a low current passed through it , it would soften and adhere to the glass and the aperture, whilst securing the screen mouldings at the same time. We dug around the bottom left of the screen and we did find two wires. Connecting the machine that we specially purchased for these jobs, the current soon warmed up the sealer and after disconnecting the machine we gently prized out the mouldings. We didn't have to worry too much as we had new ones anyway. But it was good practice. Next we pierced a small hole from inside to out, so we could pass piano wire through and attach each end to a 'T' bar.
With a slow steady sawing motion, we cut around the screen and lifted it out. We then had to fully clean the screen aperture and apply a black primer which was in the fitting kit along with the new coil of sealant. This was applied with a foam swab. This had to fully dry and then we had to offer up the screen to the car, mark it top and bottom in four places as we would get only one chance to attach the screen to the sealant. It would do the sealant no good to unstick the glass once it was in. This done, the black primer was applied to the glass as well and the electrodes were connected to the coil of sealer for approximately 10 mins.
This made it pliable, and after disconnecting the wires we could lower the glass into place. The wires were connected back up but not turned on; we had to push the mouldings into place at the same time. When we were satisfied with all we had done the machine was switched on and cooked as per recommended factory times. Turning off the machine, we tucked away the wire ends in the bottom left of the screen and left it overnight. The next morning we water tested for leaks and as all was well, released the car to the main reception for customer collection. We immediately became the screen fitting team and boy, did we do a few of them! We loved it though.
Next time: a Dutch P6 re-spray, and Honey gets a big bird.
by Daniel Bysouth
This instalment of my memoirs is subtitled, "Her Majesty vs. the Honey Monster". 1977 was a very important year in my life; I started work as an apprentice coachbuilder. My Dad told me I had a choice of being an employee or getting an apprenticeship. If I took the apprenticeship, he would fund me with upcoming expenses. It made sense and to have a trade as well was what Dad wanted for me. Also that year I made a decision that surprised a lot of people - I got engaged!
My young lady worked in Woolworths which was only 100 yards away from the garage. My mum worked there and Elizabeth was a friend of hers. A Woolworth staff coach trip was organised to Blackpool and we met on the coach. I was 15 when that happened and as we got on we fell in love and, with all parents blessings, planned to marry on Aug 26th 1978. All this time it was quite stressful at work, but Mann Egertons was a family and everyone was supportive and they got me through.
Accident repair work was our main stay of regular days graft. My apprenticeship was very strict and I had someone more experienced with me in all circumstances. The odd bumper removal was OK and I was fitting in well. Pretty soon the whole firm soon knew me as the Honey Monster!
So, back to the cars. The Rolls Royce had now had its ladder chassis straightened and we were tasked with putting the body back on, so the complete refurb could be carried out and passed to paint. Hunting through bags and bags of fittings, we found the bolts, washers and packers we needed and I drew from the stores new bolts and mud wing washers. I then had to tap out the threads of the captive nuts on the chassis so easy fixing could be achieved.
First a tapper tap, then a plug tap. I was learning a lot on this build and I was loving it. Putting the body back on was just the reverse of taking it off; four jacks and as many guys as we could find to make it easier. I placed the right amount of packers in the right places and glued them into place. Carefully lowering the body down it went quite well and everything was tightened down. We had little else to do with the roller for quite a few weeks but I will return to it later.
At certain times, instead of having the aroma of body filler, petrol and paint the CBR floor smelt like your bathroom before a big night out. It was " like a tarts bedroom" was how Toots put it. Apparently two of the guys on the floor were golfers as was our company Director Mr Moore, or 'RFM' as he was known.
Neil, a panel beater, and Ted our one eyed painter(!), would get the call , tart themselves up (hence the smell) and off they would go for an afternoons golf. There was no animosity about this - we all took the rise out of them both and it summed up the way Mann Egerton ran the operation
Of course 1977 was a big year for Her Majesty the Queen too as the whole nation celebrated her Silver Jubilee, and as such she was due to visit Ipswich. Better yet - she would pass our garage twice on that day!
Toots was the most upright royalist anyone could meet and was over the moon with the chance of seeing Her Majesty. The front of our garage had large areas of flat roof and on the day work was at the back of anybody’s mind as pride of place was sought for the best view of the Queen & Prince Philip. Toots was at the front and as the crowd started cheering we all waved as she glided past. No work was being done; the different departments had their little get togethers and a good time was had by all.
Late in the afternoon we heard she had left the Town Hall and was due to pass the back of the garage on her way out of town. We all set off to line the road but Toots grabbed my arm saying "Come on Daniel, follow me". After everyone had gone downstairs, Toots and me climbed onto a small roof which had no rail and a 40 foot drop to the road below.
The roof creaked and we lay still on our somewhat large bellies. I was a bit worried that the roof wasn't safe but Toots just laughed and said "Keep a stout heart Daniel, never grieve". We did not have to wait long as we soon saw the Royal limo making its way towards us. We waved like a couple of overgrown school kids and as God is my witness, the Queen said something to Philip. Then they both looked up through the glass roof of the limo directly at us, smiling and waving!
Afterwards I climbed down off the roof just as our manager passed and he gave me a right telling off for being on such a dangerous roof. When he had left Toots came down and the first thing he did was to wipe his eyes, he was so moved to have had the Queen waving to him. Bless his heart, he was a lovely guy.
Another day of my apprenticeship I shall never forget.
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