26 June 2024 – From John Barker

Dear Reg, One of my favourite programmes on BBC TV these days is The Repair Shop. What they achieve on that programme is incredible. They take in worn out objects of all shapes and sizes. It might be a clock  that doesn’t work, worn out pair of shoes, a teddy bear that has seen better days, a book that is falling to pieces etc, etc.

Nothing appears to be beyond them. Coming from the printing and binding industry as I knew it many years ago. Not only has HMSO gone but also a great deal of the industry. That is what they call progress.

What may be of interest is the chap who repairs books, paper documents and similar items. It reminds me of when I dealt with our bindery at the British Museum, and also the Victoria and Albert Museum. The V & A wasn’t under our control but in the early days when I worked with Arthur Phillips, Fred Pymm, Arthur Barham and others in Works HQ in the early 60’s What good times they were.

All the presses and binderies had a yearly budget to spend on new equipment. This was agreed by the Director of Works. Coming from the printing side it was of special interest to me in the binding area.

The staff there could in many instances completely rebuild a page where a piece or a corner may be missing or it was torn, and you couldn’t see the repair. Just as they do in The Repair Shop on TV.

I used to visit the binderies  Which were of particular interest to me, and marvel at what they achieved.

A number of years later when I was in Tech Services Division headed up by Ken Allen, the Director. He called me into his room one day and said that he had got a photographer from COI to go round the country taking photographs of our presses and binderies and turn them into a booklet. The photographer and I went round the lot, from Edinburgh, Gateshead, Manchester, all the London Presses and the binderies.

At the British Museum, with in those days Tim Pointer as the Manager, two ladies were about to retire after working there for many years. I told the photographer that they must both be in the photographs after giving so much service to the Museum. He took other photos as well, but instead of showing the two old ladies he showed the two young girls that were taking their place. I wasn’t best pleased, but by the time I saw the finished book, it was too late.

The book was published within HMSO, but it may have finished in the Controller’s Library or it might have been got rid of. Now sadly, just part of history, like most of HMSO.

I hope that this is some interest, and may well see you later this year if I feel like coming to Norwich, which isn’t easy as I will be 86 soon. But still going.

All the very best, John Barker


Hello John, Excellent to hear from you. It has been a while. The world has changed somewhat since last we met in Norwich. Thank you for your thoughtful memory-jogging reminiscences from The Good Times. I am sure that they will ring many a bell among many ex-HMSO. I remember visiting the V&A Section when I was in Management Services. A whole different world, long gone now. When I joined HMSO in 1963, we were over the corridor from Bob de Cleyn’s bindery section on the second floor of Cornwall House. I see, by the way, that last week – 18 June 2024 – marks the date of Bob’s 100th birthday.

I trust all is well with you, Angela and the family. With luck we will meet again – but, as you say, travelling even down to London takes much more effort these days!

Best wishes, Reg.