Office Machinery Repair Service
Distilled by Reg Walker from the original by Charlie Lloyd
I first came into contact with the Office Machinery Repair Service when a Clerical Officer in S6b in 1965. ADS1 was Charlie Lloyd (who was effectively the manager of OMRS until a full-time engineer was recruited) and S6b was Irene Allen. Tommy Taylor and Gordon Stein were fellow COs and John Muir the section’s Clerical Assistant. All three were Scottish and — with Charlie — introduced me to The Castle. And to the awe-inspiring new Manager of OMRS, Keith Beak. He had been involved in secret work during the war, and subsequently with the Post Office, and I dealt with him when we had to arrange for the safety testing of office machinery. I placed orders for photocopiers. The Rank Xerox plain paper machines were just making an impression on a market dominated by the treated paper machines from Smith-Corona, Banda and Copycat. Also available were the Kodak Verifax, 3M Thermofax and the Ellams Flatbed duplicator (which came in well-made wooden cases, usually cannibalised by customers for toolboxes).
One day I had to have a lightbox tested. The report came back from OMRS to the effect that ‘the only way to make this machine safe would be to lock it in a cupboard and throw away the key.’ When pressed by the Company as to why we would not be buying their machine, I thought the truth would be best. Big mistake. They got on to the Manager and later that day I got the ‘phone call. ‘BEAK!’ said a voice. ‘ARE YOU THE PERSON WHO HAS BEEN GIVING OUT OUR CONFIDENTIAL REPORTS?’ I didn’t do it again, and in fact got on well with Keith, staying with him and Mrs Beak in their Cotswolds house after a trip in the mid 1960s to the newly created DVLA Swansea with Dan Farquhar.
By 1968 Charlie Lloyd had been promoted to SEO and moved to Norwich as part of the main dispersal. He was designated ADS4 and had the job of overseeing the move towards metrication and decimalisation (the conversion of all those tills, adding machines etc. in Government service). In his ‘spare time’ he used his experience to write what was introduced as ‘one of a series on certain aspects of Stationery Office policy . . . to outline the factors which have contributed . . . to the making of official policy. The chapter on contracts aspects of the subject was prepared by AW Symons, Deputy Director, Computer Services Division.’
Despite the first line stating that ‘these brief notes are by no means exhaustive’ the job was a thorough one, with nine chapters and fifteen appendices. I am sure that if I make any errors in summarising Les Crawford (the only surviving M/OMTS) will let me know.
Typewriters and duplicators were bread and butter to the early OMRS. No successful typewriter was produced until 1873, but by 1924 there were no fewer than 286 models of various types available. In 1961 the IBM 72 ‘golfball’ machine was introduced, but HMSO, as keeper of the stationery purse, was not to purchase them for Government users for many years after that.
The first flatbed duplicator appeared in 1875, and by the end of the century the ‘rotary neocyclostyle’ (or Roneo) machine had been developed. The first letterpress duplicator followed in 1912, and the first specialist camera for copying — the ‘Photostat’ — was installed in both the Admiralty and the Patent Office by 1914. The growth of small offset-litho in the ten years preceding WW2 also led to an increase in the numbers and types of process cameras used to produce film from which offset plates could be made. By the turn of the century a diversity of adding and calculating machines were available; the plate addressing machine had evolved and punched cards were already in use for census work in 1891. Tabulators came later — the numerical in 1912 and the alphabetical in 1919.
The beginnings of OMRS
In 1885 the Inland Revenue demanded two typewriters and, after reference to the Treasury, this demand was met on the condition that the charge fell on the Inland Revenue vote, HMSO considering that it was not fitted to decide the merits and demerits of the use of ‘copying machines.’ Between 1891 and 1897 about 50 per annum were being purchased, a figure inflated to over 200 per year (then being bought by HMSO) as a result of interest from the Post Office. A Home Office committee reported on the various makes, resulting in purchases being restricted to Remington, Yost, Oliver, Smith-Premier and Barlock.
By 1910 there were some 3000 typewriters and 100 duplicators in use by Government offices in the London area alone. Problems regarding repairs caused Controller R Bailey to recommend to the Treasury that HMSO ‘engage the services of a skilled typewriter mechanic at wages of 50s to 60s per week, with a sum not exceeding £100 to be expended on tools and fitting for a repair shop.’ This was approved, and the first mechanic (Claude Edmund Healey) was appointed on 7 November 1910. He was an ex-Underwood man, and took up his duty at £2.10s per week in an unestablished capacity, working 9 to 6 with 12 days leave p.a. he was a good mechanic, carrying out 252 minor repairs and 43 overhauls in the four months ending April1912.
HMSO Duplicating Section was set up in Underwood Street (Shepherdess Walk) in 1912, and in the same year the OMRS workshop in Princes Street was described as ‘a small stone-floored room . . . windows dirty and cracked . . . large meat-tin containing a quart of paraffin which was the washing machine. Along the opposite wall were the stores which consisted of two orange boxes fitted with shelves containing cigar boxes holding screws, springs etc. The blank wall opposite the window bore the words of The Red Flag written in crayon.’
1916 saw the opening of Manchester RO and in 1917 Finance Branch set up an office machinery index (which was to last into the 1980s in card form, when anyone taking or misfiling a card had Glyn Hughes to answer to). By the end of 1920 the London shop had repaired 2000 typewriters and 600 duplicators, and the Manchester shop 400 typewriters. By 1921 the London staff had been increased to six and Manchester reduced to one mechanic and one boy. Edinburgh appointed one man, and in 1922 the London shop moved to Great Suffolk Street. In those days the Foreman earned £5 10s per week and a First Grade Mechanic £4 7s 6d Boys could earn 26/- or more according to age.
The Years of Growth 1936-1960 and beyond
Staff was increased slowly until in 1940 it reached two mechanics in Edinburgh, two in Manchester and twenty-one in London, plus Foreman, Deputy and learners. In 1945 the Bristol shop opened (by mid 1947 they had seven staff). In 1950 control of the repair shop in Shepherdess Walk (40+ staff) passed from Supplies Division to Duplicating Division. In 1951 the Birmingham RB opened, bringing OMRS to 80 staff nationwide. At the end of the year the Leake Street shop moved to Cornwall House. The highest grade mechanic was then earning £8 10s 6d per week.
In 1957 the first Xerography Unit was purchased from the Premium Bonds Office, but no attempt was made by OMRS to service it. They were more interested in the new electronically operated dictation machines, which were taking over from the old wax cylinder models.
By 1960 the total strength of OMRS was over 100, and serious thought was given to the question of management and administration. The direct responsibility for overall control in London was vested in a Supplies Division HEO, S6 who was allocated 10% of his time for the task. This was obviously unsatisfactory, and eventually a search for a suitable engineer to manage the unit was instituted. On 1 January 1961, KL Beak, C.Eng., AMI Mech E., Assoc.IEE., AMIWM was appointed by Director of Supplies ACA Taylor.
The new M/OMRS made the necessary changes and introduced a Testing Section whereby a sample of every new machine purchased was tested for electrical and mechanical safety before installation. 1962 was a year of expansion, and in 1963 the first van — together with a mechanic — was provided for the Cheltenham area. Total staff reached 150. The Service progressed over the years, with a Deputy Manager (Dan Farquhar) recruited from REME in 1966. He was subsequently to become Manager, followed by Les Crawford and Dave Eaglestone, both of whom had come up through the ranks in the days of Ron Towersey, Albert Rose, Jock Barton, Arthur Pannell, Bob Tooley, Don Nash, John Bunce, Ted Pritchard, Stan Garwood, Tom Roberts, Albert Smith, Harry Waites, George Payne, Dave Hill, John Cannon, Ron George, Fred Trowse, and in the Admin. section Dave Davison, George Redman and many others, not forgetting young Judy Cotton.
OMRS (or OMTS as it became — a ‘technical’ service) is no more. But I bet that someone, somewhere around the world, will be using a machine repaired by one of their mechanics for many a year to come.