Monday, 30 August 2010

Design and Travel Ephemera 1968

It was said on the cover of LIFE magazine that 1968 was an "incredible year" filled with events of immense historic significance. I have a CBS record celebrating the same. In hindsight, Western history had reached a tipping point. 

I have been going through a suitcase of my fathers' papers lately. In it there is a file on a conference on Teamwork in Design sponsored by the Council on Industrial Design [now the Design Council] that he attended, held in Edinburgh on Friday June 28, 1968.

Design, the journal of the CoID, said back then: "the conference is aimed at management executives, designers and educationalists...  Speakers will include representatives from each of the six companies which have won this year's capital goods awards, who will talk about the design problems in their particular industry; and plenty of time is to be left for discussion. The chairman is A. R. Miller, who was also chairman of the ColD Awards capital goods panel."

In the file there are several rounds of correspondence between bureaucrats at County Hall and my father about his claim for travel expenses which had been initially agreed to be limited to £20 but when all overnight trains were cancelled because of a national railway work-to-rule, he was forced to fly to Edinburgh. The extra costs, including airport parking - which he could only claim reimbursement at the equivalent of the bus fare to Heathrow - had exceeded the stipulated budget by £4 which he was not willing to bear.

I wonder if there is any database of UK industrial action; of who and when and for how long particular companies or whole industries were on strike? 

The following weekend was my seventh birthday party where I got an 'Action Man' figure and discussion about the cost of it was the first inkling I had my parents were worried about money. Perhaps my dad was feeling rather short, being considerably out of pocket because some other working stiff felt they deserved more money for their labour too.

A topic of conversation my father was fond of then is still unresolved now: there is little point in innovation of the machinery of production unless we also innovate the role of 'man' in such production. I don't recall who said it but I heard on Radio 4 recently that there hasn't been a major step change in management since Taylorism.

What might be fascinating to the casual web-surfer landing here is the travel ephemera I also found in the file. There are certainly many people who collect this, the BEA timetable below is already on the web. 

Flicking through the 'Official Accommodation Register 1968' of Edinburgh gives an insight into the lost world of theatrical landladies and rooms for rent in private houses for working men and commercial travellers along with two establishments styling themselves with the novel Americanism of 'motel'. 

I imagine such things are invaluable to anyone writing historical fact - a thesis on the history of travel promotion? - or say crime fiction set in Edinburgh at this time. 

There was a landlady on Clarence Street called Mrs I. Love, I wonder if that caused a titter? The Misses M and K Canning of 94 Lothian Road sound like genteel respectability, were they middle-aged spinster sisters forced to take in lodgers?

Although much too tedious for me to do, plotting the location of every hotel and room with its prices in the city (and if other registers can be found; over several decades) might produce some interesting economic insight. 

I wonder at the cause of disparity of prices for bed and breakfast in private houses. In 1968 Mrs Fleming of 3 Grindlay Street officially offered the cheapest B+B in Edinburgh offering her two rooms for 12/- per night low season when only three other establishments went as low as 12/6.  At the other end, Mrs Maran of 24 Kingsburgh Road presumably got the 25/- she asked for one room B+B year-round when good hotels offered full amenities for 22/6. Was Mrs Fleming's neighbourhood at the foot of the castle a den of inequity? Mrs Maran's was presumably then a leafy well-to-do neighbourhood like it is today. Do travellers to Edinburgh have more beds to sleep in now? Are they cheaper and more conveniently located? What has happened to those houses since and where are these people now?

If you think your ancestors might be listed, you can get in touch with me to look them up or even better, suggest to your local media they follow this up as a feature. I don't know where else could you find any lists of Edinburgh's landlords and landladies. It seems you have to go to Australia to access another copy of this register and subsequent editions.

The 18-room Dunraven (proprietress Mrs Caldwell, high season rate 20/- per night) doesn't appear to be a guest house today and there is now a fence between number 5 and 7, the two halves of the semi-detached property.

The Forth Bridge Motel was part of the Watney brewing empire but apart from being a popular stop, no trace remains (or does it?)

The Sixties were called a 'sexual revolution' where the role of women in society was redefined (somewhat) towards equality. Then the gender semiotics of the BEA timetable invites discourse; here the female is placed in a subservient position to the male, who has a surfeit of authority and status symbols, while she is symbolically loaded for both nurturing and protection? 

Old time-tables are a great resource for transport historians/enthusiasts looking to say when a particular service or aircraft was introduced. Real price inflation data is hard to come by so these can be a resource for this too. I know that in 1968 my mother was a very junior draughtsman earning £14 per week, so a round-trip flight on a standby ticket exceeded a week's wages. I don't think a draughtsman in an architect's office would need to spend a week's wages on a flight to Edinburgh today however, if a room in a decent B+B was 20 shillings (that's £1 in new money), then I reckon at £60 today, they are more expensive now than they were then.

Just for the sake of posterity, my father's expenses claim was:

Conference fee                                                  £  8  8s 
Fare from NW1 to Victoria: West London Air Terminal                   1s 6d
WLAT to Heathrow                                                      7s 6d
Heathrow to Edinburgh - standby fare                            £  7 10s
Edinburgh airport to Edinburgh AT                                     2s 6d
Edinburgh AT to Edinburgh airport                                     2s 6d
Edinburgh to Heathrow - standby fare                            £  7 10s
Heathrow to WLAT                                                      7s 6d
WLAT to NW1                                                           1s 6d
Dinner at Edinburgh Airport                                           8s 6d
Total                                                                                          £ 24 19s
I remember seeing these BEA airport buses towing their luggage trailers passing our house so on this evidence their fare was 7s 6d. When BEA and BOAC later merged to form British Airways, they reasonably had no need for two London terminals (BOAC's was opposite Victoria Coach Station) for passengers to check-in. The debate that followed when BA then tried to close BOTH terminals occupies reams of Hansard. It seems road congestion would delay the buses and so the aircraft departure because its passengers were already checked-in. BA moved to have everyone check-in at Heathrow. The opposition cited the already congested facilities at Heathrow and the common sense behind being able to conveniently check-in luggage in central London when there was no rail link to Heathrow then. The terminal on the Cromwell Road is listed and has been converted into Sainsbury's supermarket.

This BUA timetable invites comparison to the BEA one. While the fares were exactly the same, BUA was at an interesting time in its history, being thought of as the second tier after the flag-carrying BEA and BOAC. By 1968 its original MD, Freddie Laker, had moved on to form his own airline and BUA was in financial trouble after investing too much since his departure in improving service, reliability and promotion which had improved their share of the market but not improved their profitability.

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