Retired phone operator pens tell-all book about Stamford Hill exchange – where ‘no one did any work’
- Credit: Archant
Attempted cannabis cultivation, liquid lunches and a chronic lack of work ethic – oh, what it was like to be a civil servant in the 1960s.
So says a retired telephone exchange worker, who has lifted the handset on the shenanigans at his workplace in a book that will leave his former colleagues squirming.
Please Wipe Your Boots by Stanley George, who has wisely adopted a pen name, is a jaw-dropping account of everyday life as a General Post Office (GPO) employee at Stamford Hill Telephone Exchange.
The yarns come thick and fast in the tell-it-like-it-is book, which has apparently won over BT bosses after their initial concerns about its existence.
“I was in the business for 30 years,” Stanley told the Gazette from his home in Brittany, France.
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“I have a big collection of antique phones and every time I look at them I think what a shame it would be if one day what really happened in that place was all forgotten.
“I wasn’t intending to write a book – I just started making a few notes.”
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Stanley, 65, started as an apprentice aged 16, and by the end of his 30-year career was head of HR.
“Lots of people worked there and hardly any work was done,” he said. “It was unlike the digital world we have now. We had big mechanical machines and 30 or 40 guys operating it.
“It was ageing equipment then. It had been there since 1930. None of these 40 guys would touch anything because if you did it went wrong. So there’s 40 guys in about 300 exchanges across London.”
So what did the workers do to fill their time?
The better question might be what didn’t they do.
Lunch times were filled with table tennis and snooker, which Stanley claims left them with no energy for their afternoon’s “work”.
Some people chose to drink away the time, like Wally, the ex-sailor who could be smelt before seen.
Others attempted and failed for years to grow cannabis in the battery and power rooms and there were regular viewings in a dark room of smuggled-in pornography.
When it came to doing work, corners, and apparently phone cables, were cut without a care in the world.
When asked to fix a problem in the switchboard room on the mysterious third floor, workers would simply file “fault not found” (FNF) or “right when tested” (RWT) – “get out of jail” abbreviations that passed the buck to the next person chosen to deal with the problem.
“They were in charge of equipment that with the wrong touch would take 20,000 subscribers off air, or blow you up,” said Stanley.
“They would shout ‘don’t touch that!’ if you tried to fix something.”
The book doesn’t brag about the “boys’ club” environment, but rather documents it accurately – BT, which at first expressed misgivings about the risque content, has now even requested a copy for its archives.
Funny moments dominate the memoir – for example when Stanley recalls Derek, a “large” external engineer who would get stuck in manhole covers and say government cutbacks had made them smaller.
And there’s the infamous attempted robbery during which three men with stockings over their heads tried to rob the van bringing the men’s wages.
That day “Tiny”, a genuinely small cleaner, had been nominated to guard the courier and did his best, or worst, to stop them.
“Midget hero stands up to robbers,” read the headlines in the Gazette.
There’s no letting up in the book, which Stanley has self-published. But his colleagues will be relieved to know that names have been changed.
Please Wipe Your Boots by Stanley George is available now on Amazon.