WESTERN REGION MANAGEMENT TRAINING - 1960s STYLE

Following college vacations spent at Old Oak Common in 1957 and 1958, I graduated from London University in 1960 with a degree in Modern Languages (specialising in twelfth century German poetry - the Arthurian legends in comic verse and psychological drama !) and began to seek a career on the railway.  I had anticipated an interruption through an obligation to undertake my delayed two years’ National Service in the armed forces, but during my Finals I had received a letter informing me of the abolition of this requirement.  I framed the letter and hung it in my bedroom and began to seek employment.

In 1956, when I was a school sixth former, I had spent a week along with seven other applicants on a short work experience course with British Railways.  This involved staying in a hotel in Bath and each day visiting some operations activities of the Western Region’s Bristol Division under the guidance of Rodney Meadows, the District Operations Officer.  A final day was spent at Swindon Works including a surreptitious visit to the “Stock Shed” where a number of Dean Goods and Dukedogs were in store along with 4003 “Lode Star”, the latter awaiting preparation for preservation.  During that week I was introduced to the concept of “Traffic Apprenticeship”, the railway’s management training scheme for non engineering graduates, the basis of the career of a number of well known railway characters, such as Gerry Fiennes.

However, by the time I had left college in June 1960 I had missed that year’s intake into the Traffic Apprenticeship scheme and therefore, with the help  of contacts made earlier, joined the Western Region London Division’s Passenger Train Office as a “Class 4 clerk” - the junior grade.  Perhaps as an omen of things to come, I was made redundant within two weeks of my induction, and filled the post of an “Office Junior” without any apparent change in my pay or role - which was sorting Guards’ Journals, a document prepared for each journey indicating the locomotive number, train formation, number of passengers and time gained and lost by the engine, signal checks, speed restrictions, station overtime etc.  Part of my job was to refer any significant signal delays to the District Signalling Inspector for explanation - an activity that was not well received by experienced time served Inspectors from the hands of enthusiastic young new entrants to the service !

After three months I regained my status as a class 4 clerk, being put in charge of the production of the “Daily Manuscript Notice” - a document that was compiled, roneo’d and distributed each day to stations and depots in the Division, indicating last minute changes to the timetable, the schedule for specials and relief trains and formation strengthening to accommodate surges in traffic and special parties - a need I would identify through scrutiny of train loadings from the Guards’ Journal records and the details of bookings from the Party Section.  The culture of the day can best be illustrated by one incident I remember vividly - I was summoned before an angry General Manager (Keith Grand) one day to explain why, during his morning promenade along Paddington’s platform 1, he had seen the chocolate and cream formation of the Cornish Riviera despoiled by one maroon coach at the back.  Apparently I should have required Old Oak depot, in my Notice, to attach a suitably liveried vehicle or leave the train short-formed !

In September 1961 I was appointed as one of six Western Region Traffic Apprentices (known in later years as Management Trainees).  I had an unfair advantage in the selection process.  Normally around 20 young men (there was little encouragement for potential women managers in those days) would be selected throughout BR by examination and interview - but after negotiation with the clerical Trade Union, TSSA, it had been agreed that 50% should come from the ranks of railway staff and not be recruited directly from university.  Because of my year’s service, I counted as a staff entrant and therefore the railways got the bonus of an additional graduate entrant !  At that time, the scheme consisted of 3 years’ training, the first year being basic training in railway operating activities at ground level.  Managers in those days had a belief that it would be useful for managers of the future to have an understanding of what their staff were meant to do (and did do!).

So I was sent for my first six weeks’ basic training to Maidenhead station to learn the roles of booking clerk, parcels clerk,  how to wield a shunting pole in the small goods yard and to watch activity in the signalbox.  

 

For the first few months of training I had been advised that I would be travelling throughout the London Division, so I had obtained digs with an elderly lady in Reading. 

My next stint was at Slough Goods Depot.  I moved on for the winter period to Oxford which purported to be my “large station” training although I’m not really sure that this was truly representative.  It seemed to be just “more of the same” though possibly on a bigger scale than Maidenhead. 

In the Spring of 1962 I was allocated to Old Oak Common for my depot and footplate training - the highlight of most Traffic Apprentices’ three year stint.  The intention was to ensure management trainees had an understanding of operations from a driver’s perspective and the normal arrangement was the provision of a Divisional footplate pass for three weeks of the depot training.  As I had been at Old Oak during my college years and Ray Sims, the Shedmaster, knew of my interest in locomotive matters, he handed me a Driver’s all stations route learning footplate pass (covering Paddington - Penzance, Fishguard, Chester and all stations between) on my first day, only to be returned on my last.  My official pass had got “lost” somewhere between the Superintendent’s Office in Paddington and Old Oak Common in the railway internal postal system !

I had been surprised to be sent to Old Oak for this part of my training for two reasons. Normally one avoided locations where one had previously worked and also Old Oak had been known to ask Head Office not to send trainees there as there was a certain amount of hostility towards future bosses in that somewhat militant location.  Traffic Apprentices had to be sensitive to the feelings of many ordinary railwaymen and women who sometimes resented the “fast track” promotion that would follow our training and not all Traffic Apprentices were the most tactful of individuals.  In this case, apparently, because I had worked at Old Oak previously and had got on well with most staff (apart from the guy whose overtime I had usurped in 1958 !), I was warmly accepted as “one of them” and received full co-operation.

In fact, I was later censored as being too uncritical of my time at Old Oak, by the senior management whose job it was to evaluate the reports I had to write after each period of training.   I was, as a “bright young thing”, expected to produce reports full of criticism of the way things were done and come up with lots of new ideas and suggestions which the local management would be expected to implement or explain why not - a practice which did not endear Traffic Apprentices to many of the local managers.  By this time, the Traffic Apprentices’ mentor at Paddington, Assistant General Manager, George Bowles (an avuncular figure reputed to be a scoutmaster, who actually encouraged trainees to be interested in railways) had been replaced by the Stanley Raymond/Lance Ibbotson era to “degreat westernise” the Region and bring about a more appropriate management culture.

At the end of this particular period of my training I’m sure my supervisory managers felt that I had been much too much the “enthusiast” rather than management trainee and had spent too much of my time at Old Oak sampling obsolete steam trains rather than the new traction.  In due course, though, I had plenty of opportunity living with new traction as it flooded the Western Region over the next couple of years.  In retrospect, because of my intense interest in all that was going on, I realised just how much I had picked up of value that stayed with me throughout my working life.  Supremely, the lesson was one of sensitivity to people, their interests and concerns, and a respect for the knowledge and experience of many who would not count themselves as managers but whose opinions and views were well worth the effort of canvassing through both formal and informal contacts.

I look back at my training in the old London Division of BR’s Western Region with great affection and gratitude to the managers and men who gave me the opportunities, enabled me to develop my potential and allowed me to have a lot of fun in the process. I now moved on to the South Wales Division to complete my basic training at Margam as the London Division had no major freight yard (Acton, apparently, did not count), spend months “sitting next to Nellie” as it was known - learning by watching clerks do their job and reading files ! - in the Swansea District and Cardiff Divisional Offices and ultimately becoming a stationmaster in a Welsh valley.