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Happy Days in Bainbridge Street

by Harry Teedon

Harry Teedon has happy memories of his early days in the office — fifty years ago (he joined in 1954). Not many will remember the Bainbridge Street days, around the Tottenham Court Road area. Harry certainly does:

‘Remember the days of the Civil Defence lectures? A fire-fighting lecture series was held: the “lecturers”? that duo of fine officers Alfie Giles and Harry Bakker. Arthur Aldersley, having served in the NFS during the blitz, and I, having attended damage control and fire fighting courses in the Navy, were of the opinion that that the duo could teach us nothing. Our HEO, Miss Emily Beech, thought otherwise. “You, Mr Teedon, and Arthur will attend.” She always called me “Mr Teedon” and Arthur “Arthur” why? (answers on a postcard please). That’s another story.

The lectures were held in the attic — yes, the attic, the boarded floor covered in the dust of years; footprints were a centimetre deep. There was a short flight of stairs down to the area where the lectures were held. Alfie was holding forth about rescue from the scene of a fire. “Never attempt a firemans lift!” he bawled, as only Alfie could (we never told him that we could have had him over our shoulder in a trice). He explained that you tie the hands of the person together, and on your knees straddle the body. Place their tied hands over your head and crawl to safety.

I nudged Arthur: here goes! “Please, Mr Giles, I don’t understand. Can you show us?” In a trice, he had Harry Bakker on his back, and proceeded to demonstrate. “But Mr Giles, you can't get up stairs like that.” “Oh yes you can!” Up the short flight of stairs he went, with Harry Bakker's head banging on each tread. I could not contain myself any longer — I busted my sides laughing. Arthur was shedding tears of laughter, the state of the intrepid duo having been dragged and crawled on that dust-covered floor, to coin a phrase, brought the house down.

Alfie and Harry, realising they had been had, were furious. Up until the last day we saw one another, Alfie was always very reserved with me. I think he thought I would pull another trick given half a chance. As if I would!'

After tea break the lecture became a practical session. We assembled on a flat roof where the intrepid duo set about explaining the application of the water filled extinguisher — you know the type, two gallons of water and a carbon dioxide pressure cartridge. Thump the knob and it squirts or sprays water. After much instruction Alfie thumped the knob. Oh dear! Unfortunately, the darn thing didn't go properly and as Alfie was holding the extinguisher at an unfortunate level he gave a perfect impersonation of the little boy statue in Brussels (the Manekin Pis). The ladies present — about ten in number — disgraced themselves by laughing uproarously. Alfie glared at me; I am sure he thought I had fixed the extinguisher. At this point the lecture ended abruptly; Alfie and Harry departed, and for many a day thereafter the fire-fighting lecture was the topic of conversation. As far as I am aware neither Emily Beech nor Charlie Blundell attended these lectures. They should have, if only to see what their staff were being taught!’
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