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Old Times

by Mike Breslin



Reg: Thanks for the SO Review  extract.  Alan [Bintley] was the cricketer. I spent the summer break from football in other more leisurely pursuits. However, I was intrigued to see again some of the names in the Controller's Eleven. Stirs a few memories. These were remote figures to us as junior officers in those days, not likely to be encountered officially unless you were in real trouble. I do recall as a young CO being hauled before Mr Legg to answer for my "persistent late attendance" and to show good cause why I should not forfeit a testicle, or lose an increment (which in those cash-strapped days was deemed an even more punitive sanction!). In this context I was pleased to see that the notes on your site include an account by David Roberts about the ludicrous practice of changing the ink colour for the signing-in books in the morning—totally Dickensian. Mr Legg was either the Director or Deputy Director of Establishments at the time and was much feared. Neither before nor since have I been able to understand why he felt it necessary to confront personally junior officers for such trivial offences. In the end I must have put up a reasonably good show as I did not lose the increment!

David Roberts also mentioned that when he applied to join the Civil Service he put HMSO only third in his list of preferences and only then because he had an interest in publishing. I actually put HMSO first in my application for the same reason (there was some talk of my being the first-ever applicant to do so!). My "reward", like his, was never to get even a sniff of Publications Division. It strikes me that psychological researchers would have had a field day among the wilfully perverse denizens of the Establishments Division in those days.

Reg Walker comments: Yes, Mike, you are quite right regarding the ink. Then the signing boards were taken into the HEO room, where really latecomers had to stammer out their excuses to the ogre, sorry officer, in charge. Claude Hingston Legg, OBE, was Assistant Controller in 1950, so you must have been a very bad boy to be summoned to see him. I also put HMSO in my list of 3 Departments when I joined in 1963 because I quite fancied working in a bookshop. Never got near one, of course, other than as an O&M officer. I still see David Roberts on the Norwich streets occasionally. Must prod him for some more memories.


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Postscript to Old Times

By Mike Breslin


Reg: My apologies for "demoting" Mr Legg. It seems he was even more august than I remembered—though I probably knew who and what he was at the time (we are talking 1957/58 here). It makes it even more of a mystery as to why he was involving himself with such low-level disciplinary matters. I was accompanied into my interview by a member of the "Staff Side". I had not asked for this support but he was waiting outside the room when I got there. To the best of my recollection he never uttered a word at the meeting and seemed thoroughly intimidated by Mr L., who was accompanied by at least one other manager. Being young and brash I offered a spirited defence up to the moment when I realised I was going to be spared the loss of an increment at which point I became the model of submissiveness, accepting the harsh strictures about future punctuality with due humility. Back outside the SS man paid me the compliment of asking if I had ever considered becoming a union official. As if I wasn't already in enough trouble!

Looking back, I see no reason to change my youthful assessment that HMSO management was firmly stuck in the 19th century. The colleagues were great and deserved far better of their managers.

Reg Walker comments: I remember such occasions only too well, Mike, and wholeheartedly endorse your comments.

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