Growing up, Bob wanted to work in print, but being fatherless, it was not easy to become an apprentice without a print connection, as many printers operated a closed shop.
Bob says: “It’s been ten years since the last time I was on the shop floor of a printers and 55 years since I first walked along the cobblestone alleyway of Hollybush Place in Bethnal Green, East London, to start my apprenticeship at C. Attfield & Son, in a converted stable.”
He recalls that when he went for his interview at the printing company in January 1962, the building was freezing cold, but when he saw the printing machines, he really wanted the job. He was offered and accepted a seven-year apprenticeship, starting on £4.00 for a 50-hour, 4 ½ day week. He was also paid to attend printing college one day a week, but his evening classes were unpaid.
Bob reminisces: “We had to break off the ice that formed on the outside cold water tap to make tea over an old upright oil stove for the printers. The toilet was outside with a stick for the first user of the day to break the ice, the only newspaper that went in there was hung up on a nail, but that was the good old days.
“The building backed onto a café’s kitchen, where unhappily cockroaches dined, then entered the printing works and bred in the paper racks. Overnight, the cockroaches would dive-bomb into the water left in the oil stove and drown. They must have been thirsty.”
As well as being the tea boy and gofer in his first year, he was taught monotype composing by an elderly gentleman, who often wore a top hat, saying that he was “a learned gentleman because he was with high education and spelling”. Bob was fond of him and his teaching methods.
Every Saturday morning, Bob cleaned the printing presses and sometimes operated them if the company was short of machine minders.
While other apprentices at college were not allowed to operate any presses until their third year, Bob was already doing so and running jobs in his second year, albeit still the designated tea boy.
In his third year, he was trusted to work on his own, undertaking some composing, proofing, plate making, and operating presses.
By the fourth year, he was a fully rounded jobbing printer, but still on an apprentice’s money of £11.00 per week. He was also still making the tea, as the others seemed to conveniently forget to take a turn.
His fifth year saw him doing well at college and enjoying working with new technology. In his sixth and seventh years, he progressed further and, now married with a child, he decided to move on and took a printing job in Suffolk.