A Stationery, but not stationary career - My time with BMB
by Brenda Harvey (formerly Brenda Hayter)
I joined BMB in August 1978 when I transferred from the Marketing Dept of Mid-Lancs and Merseyside TSB. Prior to the move I had spent a lot of my working hours out of the office - the most enjoyable days being those spent helping schoolchildren to set up and run "School Banks". Less enjoyable times were those spent in bus depots trying to persuade bus drivers and conductors to sign up for regular deductions from their weekly pay packets to be transferred into "Savings Accounts" - a misnomer if ever there was one as the "savings" were generally withdrawn less than 6 days after they had reached the accounts. The schools were always warm and welcoming with a ready supply of tea and biscuits. The bus depots were cold and draughty places, their only redeeming feature being that the Liverpudlians who worked on the buses had the most amazing sense of humour and an outlook on life that is completely unique to them.
But I found that Brummies, too, have a certain way of looking at the world, and subsequently commenting on what they see, that is not found anywhere else! My first role in Birmingham was in the Stationery Department where I had a team of two trusty colleagues, namely Betty Pountney and Russell "Mac" McMahon. Betty could truss and tie a large box, stuffed full of stationery, in the wink of an eye, securing the string with a knot that was so tight you could play a tune on it, and a work of art in its own right. Mac, a retired fireman, despite being incredibly thin, was very strong and could unload the heavy orders of goods that arrived several times each day at a speed that astonished, and put to shame, the delivery drivers that were half his age.
We always knew when a "rookie" youngster had arrived to work in one of the offices in Broad Street as they were invariably sent down to the Stationery Dept on a fool's errand with instructions to ask for "a long weight". Betty would slowly eye them up and down, tell them in a very serious voice to "just stand over there me laddie" and then go back to them 15 minutes later and say "right you are, I think you have "weighted" long enough, off you go back to your desk and mind you don't fall for that little lark again!" Other similarly interesting instructions included requests for "a tall stand", "a left-handed hole punch" and "a lost document file".
The stationery department, being tucked away in the basement at the back of the building, was somewhere that people would visit to get away from the office for a break, on the pretext of needing a vital item of stationery. The kettle was always on and we dispensed steaming hot mugs of tea, plus biscuits and sympathy on a daily basis. In return Betty in particular was always very up-to -date on what was happening, not a gossip - but a very good listener! Our department was filled with a steady stream of visitors, from the newest recruits to the most senior members of staff, all were welcome, but all were treated alike, nobody stood on ceremony.
My line manager for those first few years was Norman Worwood, we got on like a house on fire as he reminded me so much of my father, sitting at a large desk piled high with files that at times looked chaotic, but he knew exactly where everything was. I had been tasked with reducing the expenditure on stationery, which necessitated the introduction of a budget and a careful appraisal of where the money was being spent. With Betty and Mac's help I began to inspect carefully the orders that were being submitted and, having had permission from Mr Worwood to visit a few branches and seen the large quantities of stock just sitting unused in the store rooms, it soon became obvious where we could introduce some savings. It wasn't uncommon for branches to request two years supply of a form that they only needed once a day. The job of filling in the stationery requisition was often given to the most inexperienced member of staff, who hated the task and filled in the order as quickly as possible so they could move onto something more interesting to do.
I have to admit that Betty, Mac and I did find some of the requisitions very amusing as the quantities requested were often wildly inaccurate. We had to reduce the over-ordered items, which often led to irate telephone calls from the branches, but, strangely, we never got thanked for increasing the quantities for items that had been under-ordered. Betty's repertoire included a number of very amusing one-liners in response to what she called "a bloomin' stupid request" for ridiculously large quantities of new date stamps, ink-pads, pencils etc. but I really shouldn't repeat them here!
When BMB joined with Coventry, Walsall and Wolverhampton Trustee Savings Banks to become TSB of Birmingham and the Midlands, the Broad Street Stationery Dept was expanded to service the additional branches and we were given a new member of staff to help with the increased workload. Bill Hamilton was a recently retired policeman, a gentle giant of a man who immediately settled into the job and evened up the boy/girl ratio of our tiny team, much to Mac's relief. Bill had a wonderful sense of humour and, like Mac, a ready supply of funny stories about life in uniform.
I left Birmingham in 1986 to work at TSB's head office in London and was relocated back to Birmingham 5 years later when the bank's new headquarters were under construction in Victoria Square. Five years later came the merger with Lloyds and I was on the move again, this time to Bristol. I retired at the Millennium, my last official working day being 31st December 1999. Having joined Leicester Trustee Savings Bank in 1970 and transferred to Liverpool in 1973, I have certainly worked in many varied locations. The Stationery Store in Broad Street was one of the gloomiest office locations that I ever worked in, with no windows and constant draughts from the wind that whistled through the garage doors, but the few years I spent there were some of the happiest of my working life, thanks to Betty, Mac, Bill and my mentor and line manager, Norman Worwood.