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SO Review  – a brief history

As a result of the kindness of fellow hoarders, my collection of SO Reviews  has increased to some 340 editions, spanning the years 1951 to 1986.

The earliest edition to hand is No. 63, dated August 1951. The Editor was JW Jobling (who had joined P&B as a Technical Clerk in 1942). Staff Side chairman was Arthur Barham who joined HMSO in 1936. The editorial begins ‘Appearing in unfamiliar guise as we do, we repeat the words used in the leading article of six-and-a-half years ago when this magazine was revived: We make no apologies for our appearance. We are here. Some readers will like our magazine and some will not. But we do hope that all will read it!’ The main point of concern was that of Equal Pay, which had not at the time come into force. A report of a staff outing to Brighton from Manor Farm Press and a mention that ‘increased costs have necessitated an uplift of one penny in the price — now 1s 2d — of lunches in the Wembley canteen’ filled page 2, then a report of the newly-built Atlantic House — ‘this vast prison-cum-barracks like building . . . dashing about the endless miles of corridors and up and down in the funny lifts which very few even yet thoroughly understand.’ The reporter goes on . . . ’when I was at Edinburgh the other day I found that many of the old inhabitants there were greatly disturbed about their coming move to Sighthill, and what a sight-hill!’ Among a list of social events mentioned was the wedding of Ralph Mills (then EO at Wembley) to Miss Joan Barnard, who worked in Supplies, Keysign House. Jimmy Stokes had just been appointed CSU chairman (messengerial). Ted Herton chaired the warehouse supervisory section, with Lew Ayres secretary. JL Wilkinson chaired SCS, with SCB West secretary.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. The 300th Review, dated March 1972, is a mine of information regarding the history of the magazine. Editor of the day, Bernard O’Brien (working from Tombland in HMSO Computer Division, later hived off to create CCTA) wrote as follows:
‘Three hundred ReviewsSO Reviews  and Just SO.  Nineteen editors, an innumerable legion of contributors and how many more subscribers? Since the bold beginnings in 1938 under Jack Cherns, the magazine has cruised through storms and tempests and even, at times, calms to the present edition. The price of the fiftieth edition, in June 1950, was 3d and the magazine was issued monthly, having been produced every two months up until then. There was a nice picture of Mavis Schofield dressed as a likely looking 18th century moll in the production by the Northern Area Branch Amateur Dramatic Society  of ‘The Beaux Stratagem.’ Elsewhere in the pages was a column of vintage Antrim Glenn (Norman Glenn, Print Belfast) and also a photo of Tom Harris and Roy Pysden at their first conference of the SCS to be held outside London — in Margate. The 100th edition came out in October 1954, when JW Jobling who had been Editor for more than nine years handed over the job to SJ Langdon. Now renamed SO Review  the magazine had a professional look with commercial advertising. A notable feature was an article and critique by the prolific Harry Edwards.

The next Editor was G Austin, followed by RW Bent and it was during his reign, in January 1959, that edition number 150 appeared. The cover carried a photo of goings-on at the Supplies Christmas party and shows three City Gents performing. They are identified inside as Bob Barnard, John Nash and Fred Frogley. Great joy prevailed at the news of a long-awaited pay award. The editorship changed hands more frequently thereafter — DG Lee, C Harkins, RA Butt, FE Grigson and then KH Ranger, who brought out the 200th issue in June 1963, immediately before relinquishing the job to JH Mathews. Dispersal looms and an article on Grimethorpe as the probable destination of many of the London staff sets the mood. But dispersal had already happened to some, as Basil Donne was now sending in New Town News. Bob Dwyer, Jim Richardson and Bill Williamson were successively Editors and it fell to Bill to publish Number 250 in November 1967. Dispersal was now the main theme. The manic ‘Hobbit’ had arrived and Sir Percy Faulkner left — pure coincidence. Gerry Aldus, Tony Olsson, Stuart Mitchell and Bernard O’Brien takes us up to date (1972). The only Editor not mentioned was Frank Davey whose bright idea of reviving Just SO  in the early 1940s undoubtedly saved the magazine from oblivion.’

Subsequent Editors, from 1972-1984, were as follows:

July 1972 – Brian Lambirth
December 1974 – Mrs P Donald   (based in Basildon)
February 1975 Mrs P Campbell   (based in Basildon)
September 1975 KJ Coleman
December 1978 TC Riley and KJ Coleman
June 1979  JG Morgan
August 1980  JG Morgan          Assistant Editor  DL Mears
September 1982 KJ Coleman
December 1984 Brian Watt   (based in Belfast)

Jack Cherns could not remember how he became first editor of Just SO, but recalled that it was officially the organ of the Youth Advisory Committee of HMSO CSCA Branch. There was no editorial committee, and the editor did much as he liked. ‘The keynote was to question, criticise and protest. YACs were a new and live influence; we were just out of school; the Stationery Office was deadly (unimaginably deadly) dull, run by a sort of paternalism not always benevolent. We wanted to make ourselves felt, and to wake things up. Ethel Harker reduced my scribble to a stencilled typescript; Tex Rickard at Shep Walk arranged production, duplicated rather than reprographed, and crudely stapled in one corner.’

Frank Davey recalled that Just SO  folded in June 1939 when Jack Cherns was called up. He had produced seven amusing and literary issues, writing most of them himself. ‘The outbreak of war totally changed the office. From the backwaters of Whitehall it moved to Keysign House: a skyscraper (then) opposite Selfridges. The pre-war clerks had difficulty filling the long hours (10-5). But now we hadn’t a spare minute in the working day, and our nights were given to fire-watching, first aid training, civil defence and Home Guard. These were hard times. The magazine recalls all leave being cut to two weeks and the withdrawal of the office towel service. All the young blood went, and the previous hide-bound autocratic order had to give place to more modern ways. The revised Just SO  set out, from 1941, to weld people together, to support the staff association and above all to act as a link with staff serving in the Forces.’

Jack Green was one of the ‘founder’ contributors. He worked in HQ at Princes Street, Westminster, ‘a musty, gloomy old building which was originally the Royal Mews, later enlarged and occupied by HMSO from 1855 to 1941. At the first retirement presentation I attended as a young CO the retiring Director of Publications, Mr G McIsaac, said he could remember one of the tasks of his first day at the office in the 1890s was to go round and light all the oil lamps in the November dusk. When I started work in January 1935 the entire Establishment Division consisted of eight COs, two HCOs, the Establishment Officer and his deputy. The Controller received a salary of £1953 per annum and my starting salary at 17 was £92 and when I became 18 it rose to £120. CO maximum was £350. The national average wage at the time was 50/- per week. Hours were 10-5 and 10-1 on Saturdays. The most popular sport in the office was table tennis. Lunchtime play was on three desks jammed together and under such mentors as Arthur Long, ‘Bun’ Harding and Harold Dodge. Lunch was obtainable in the waitress service luncheon club, price one shilling. Tea was fetched by our messenger Fred Jackson. Horses and carts were still used by some paper and office supplies contractors.’ Then call-up brought such gentle times to an abrupt halt.

If anyone has early examples of the magazine, we would be interested to borrow them (or receive photocopies/scans). We have also been unable to find out when the last edition was published, and under whose editorship. Any information, comments etc. would be welcomed.

 
 


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