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Your First Job. Does It Still Exist?

Is the first job you ever had still in existence today?

Telegram boys, lift operators, milkmen, comptometrists, typists, tea ladies, linotype operators, petrol pump attendants, tram conductors, manual switchboard operators and the lavatory man have all disappeared as jobs since the 50s.

I started my first job at 15 working for the PMG delivering telegrams in the late 50’s. Telegrams were phased out (I’m not sure when exactly) replaced by fax machines, emails and texting. I was given two brand new uniforms and a Post Office bike, PMG 262 (I remember it still)! Every day rain, hail or shine I’d be out delivering telegrams, chased by dogs and dodging traffic. Today I have to explain to anybody under 40 just exactly what a telegram was.

Lift operators had the job of opening and closing lift or elevator doors by hand and pushing the right buttons, or levers for the required floors. Some wore formal uniforms and gloves, and in department stores they would call out the merchandise as the elevator reached the floor.

Photo from ARW FB contributor. Female elevator operators ready to go to work

Photo from ARW FB contributor. Female elevator operators ready to go to work

Elevator operators existed in public, private, commercial and retail buildings right up until around the 1970s, when newer buildings were created with more effective lifts that only required the push of a button.

I’ve written before on this blog about home deliveries and the ‘milky’ and the bread man have long since disappeared from suburban streets. The milk bottles and often the money for the order was left outside on the doorstep at night for the milk man to fill. Home deliveries of bread had completely stopped by the late 70s and milk delivery ceased not long after that when people went to the supermarket instead.

There was a time when a lady with a trolley toured the office and brought a cup of tea and a biscuit, a friendly face, a bit of banter and a little bit of gossip. Her job was to make sure office workers weren’t without a cuppa and a biscuit during the day. We had tea ladies until the early 90s at 5DN.

And there was a time, not that long ago, when girls in their teens would get their first office job in the typing pool. Girls were taught at school to do shorthand and typing and how to file. Before computers were widely used, typing was a valuable skill in the workforce. Bigger companies had typing pools and these girls were expected to be quick and accurate.

Another popular job for girls and young ladies was as a comptometrist., adding up figures, processing invoices and acting as a corporate version of a cash register.

Young women would have been given this kind of clerical work in computing sums and processing invoices right up until computers came along and made the job redundant beginning in the 80s.

Connecting telephone users to the correct number by removing and then plugging in telephone lines on large switchboards was the job of the manual switchboard operator. This was back

Photo from Google Images. Manual switchboard operators at work in 1952

Photo from Google Images. Manual switchboard operators at work in 1952

in the day when to make a call, you rang a switchboard operator, who would ask for “number please”? They then connected the call on your behalf and if it was from a public telephone they would interrupt the call after 3 minutes to ask, “are you extending”?

Switchboard operators mainly started to disappear in the late 50s and 60s as self-dial telephones came onto the market.

So, what was your first job….Most importantly, does it still exist?


6 Responses to Your First Job. Does It Still Exist?

  1. Trevor Cleland November 15, 2014 at 7:59 pm #

    Christmas jobs, first one delivering Christmas mail overflow from the regular postie. Second job with Meet, John Martins
    And Harris Scarfe assisting the delive van driver. Saw one of the high roof vans I used to ride in for sale recently.

  2. Mark November 15, 2014 at 10:46 pm #

    Careful not just girls doing typing and shorthand at school! I had my sights set on being a male receptionist when I left school so I did typing and shorthand, the former on manual typewriters just converting to brother electrics as I was leaving. I also worked for a short stint in a typing and word processing pool, the only male so I was in my element, hehe! In the 80’s they had lift operators, there was a department store in Hindley Street I did work experience (Miller Anderson??) and I remember being able to recite each floor’s products by the time I finished there. I reckon Harris Scarfe in the city had lift operators until the 2000’s? I know Ashford Hospital specialist centre had a lift operator greeting people in the early 2000’s. Sadly my first job does not exist any more, when I was 14 I used to do the “paper boy” run, collecting money for newspaper deliveries from private houses around the suburbs. It was a love-hate job, loved talking to the “oldies” and getting some pocket money but riding in hail, heat etc was not fun and the novelty wore off. Back to typing though, the skill I learned at school has been a godsend in this digital age, as now a full time trainer & consultant and former lecturer, it is a skill most others in my field drool and are extremely envious over. So I guess that is something from the bygone era that has somehow never lost its specialty.

  3. Jenni November 16, 2014 at 6:16 pm #

    I worked as a switchboard operator with the PMG when we had already graduated to buttons rather than plug and cord boards. Loved it. Later I worked at Harris Scarfe as a secretary on the mezzanine and when it was sale time we did everything from serving behind counters (yes there were still counters) to operating the lift, which I enjoyed a lot, giving out information on each floor, just like in the movies!

  4. Pamela Cossich November 16, 2014 at 8:02 pm #

    I worked at the Repatriation in a typing pool where about 40 young girls worked. It was like a school room with a female “boss” who sat at the front and distributed the work. She ruled with an iron rod and even followed us to the toilets to make sure we didn’t waste any time. We had to sign on at 8.45 am on we lined up around a large table to sign off at 5.06pm. The signing book was placed on the table 5.06 on the dot by our boss, Miss Beames. Oh dear she was a hard task master.

  5. Andy January 21, 2018 at 8:32 pm #

    I too worked as a PMG telegram boy at the city GPO. That was in 1967-8.
    Did you work out of the basement under the GPO?
    We usually had a different bike each time. They were big heavy red things, some better than others though. The uniforms were grey I think.
    Sometimes we had to deliver telegrams to offices high up in big buildings.

  6. Stephen Jolly February 13, 2021 at 11:20 pm #

    I remember as a kid the lift ladies in Harris Scarfe. The were so down to earth and friendly. Then the ones in David Jones were so prim and proper, that I recall asking my mum why there were all unhappy. I remember tram conductors, and just recall bus conductors too. I hate today’s automated world. To the point where I went into MacDonald’s the other day to grab some breakfast forgetting the had those stupid touch screens and walked straight back out again. Interaction with fellow humans. Nothing beats that.

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