Wednesday 31 January 2018

My First Job... In The Best Office I'll Ever Have.

I grew up in Derby and I noticed the other day that Derby Heritage Centre is now, somewhat bizarrely, a ladies hairdressers. This is the same building where I had my first proper all day part time job. It was also my most memorable job and the one I'm fondest of, for reasons entirely unrelated to my actual work.

My mother worked for a press agency in Derby city centre and when I was 14 their Sunday girl left. For £12.50 each Sunday I became a Copy Telephonist, a role that doesn't even exist any more.

It was my job to take the news articles and ring around all of the newspapers, radio and TV stations to see if anyone wanted to run the stories. Sometimes I'd read out the same copy 15 or more times, and often I'd read it to a journalist or editor who would then put me through to one of their copy telephonists, who would type as I dictated.

A single reporter and I would be the only people working, and I opened up in the morning and locked up at the end of the day, although I left the front door downstairs locked. Unless a big story broke the day was fairly monotonous, filled with 2 line local news stories and the odd football fixtures. Occasionally the Photographer would be in his office downstairs editing Wedding photos or something ready for the local papers on Monday, but we rarely even saw or heard him.

None of that is what made the job interesting.

Well, I lie. There was the Sunday when the Edwina Currie 'Salmonella In Eggs' story broke and the world went crazy. The huge offices were suddenly filled with people I didn't know and my quiet Sunday became a haze of noise and shouting, typewriters and grown men running around with red faces, as they tried to make the most of our location and inside knowledge, and earn a few months wages in one day.

Aside from that day though, we were always quiet.

Except we weren't. The Press Agency was based in an old schoolhouse right in the centre of Derby. First founded in 1555, this was a really old building. Even when I was the only one there, it was always noisy. Doors would open and shut, floorboards creaked, draughts would blow through and papers would flutter off tables. I often thought someone was behind me as I worked and would turn, expecting to see the journalist. I rarely sat with my back to the main hall because of the sensation of icy chills down my spine and eyes watching me.

The thick walls of the building had odd shapes and twists, and there were staircases and rooms round corners. There were original wooden features everywhere and not a single one was graffiti free. The schoolchildren who had used the building until the 1860's had left behind their marks.

Those schoolchildren included Rev. John Cotton, a founder of Boston, Massachusetts,  John Flamsteed, the First Astronomer Royal and Joseph Wright, the painter - although I don't believe anyone has ever found their signatures...

The building had more character than any I've ever been in and I loved working there, but as a teenager I never dared take a thorough look around - I was too scared of being caught and having to explain myself, and I admit a bit scared. I used to stare at the names and dates carved into the wood and imagine what those children and young people must have looked like, who they were, what they studied. And often I felt they had left a part of them behind.

Signatures in ridiculously fancy fonts scored deep into ancient door lintels and staircases. Children never change, not really. There were no declarations of love that I saw, no song lyrics or teams, just boys names, wanting never to be forgotten and marking their territory with the year they reigned.

I know I wasn't the only person who gained a lasting impression from hours spent working alone in the old school. The photographer who worked downstairs was named Richard Felix and while he never made his fame as a photographer, he did in a different direction. When the press agency moved, he was instrumental in turning the building into Derby Heritage Centre. Possibly even more poignant than that though, he was history bloke on the telly show Most Haunted...

And at 17 I was made redundant from a job in the best office I'll ever have, because of the introduction of email...


  1. I work in IT and I know how much things have changed. And still ever changing x

    1. Yes - I was actually going to be replaced by the shiny new very expensive Fax Machine, but while I worked my notice that was usurped by email :D

  2. Wow, that's a real blast from the past. I remember it fondly, and the building was fascinating to work in, a real feeling of living history.

    1. Ha yes! I#m glad you found this post, even though I missed your reply for so long. I'd love to go and visit again now :)


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