A touch of typing class - for both women and men!

DRAMATIC DOUBLE: Great Yarmouth’s Britannia Pier in 1949 where reader John Brooks appeared on its th

DRAMATIC DOUBLE: Great Yarmouth’s Britannia Pier in 1949 where reader John Brooks appeared on its theatre stage in a drama festival. In 1954 the pier was badly damaged by a fire. The pleasure tripper arriving at the pier is the Hotspur.Picture: SUBMITTED - Credit: Archant

THE twin topics of “Tech” and typing lessons, featured here recently, hit the Shift key for readers, taking them back to an era before computers ruled OK. An electric typewriter was high-tec, but it took finger-tip power to punch the keys of a manual machine to produce two or three copies by inserting carbon paper between blank sheets of paper.

Correction facilities were primitive or non-existent, and it was usually the last line at the bottom of the page that needed correcting so, as you rightly wanted a pristine page, the whole sheet had to be retyped the hard way - unbelievable today, when we take correcting facilities, cut-and-paste and other benefits for granted.

Long forgotten are correcting fluids like Tippex and Snowflake that were a boon for typists but were far from perfect.

During my National Service years running the office at RAF Hopton (yes, the one along the A12), one duty included typing and preparing umpteen copies of statements for courts martial, involving wax stencils and a primitive single-sheet copier using a rubber roller and a tray of sticky ink. I learned touch-typing and shorthand at night-school - Yarmouth Technical School which moved from Lichfield Road to Oriel Avenue in 1954. I published a photograph of the Duke of Edinburgh, who opened the new premises, chatting to a girl typing student.

She has been identified by a reader as Maureen Randall, now Mrs Tills.

The member of staff accompanying the Duke was Ray Packard, a familiar name to many both at the school and outside. Ray Packard was spotted by Valerie Jordan, no stranger to this column, who says: “Lovely to see the Tech picture. I was there on the actual day. It was my second year at the Tech.

“When the Duke opened the school, some students were in the assembly hall and the rest of us were in the classrooms - I was in the needlework room when he came round.

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“Mr Packard was a very good teacher. I was later in his class Commercial Five for two years where I learnt shorthand, typing and accounts. I was only one of three who passed her GCE in these subjects.” A student had to pass all three subjects to receive the one certificate.

Mrs Jordan was then Valerie Bowles, living in a prefab on the Shrublands Estate for 22 years from 1946 to 1968 before moving to a brick-built bottom flat on the same Gorleston estate.

From Canada, his home since 1957, ex-Yarmouthian Danny Daniels writes: “I enjoyed your recalling of your early reporter days, especially the buying on the ‘never-never’ - only us older folks know what that meant (hire purchase) - of your own typewriter, and your classes at what used to be the Edward Worlledge School at the top of my road.”

Another old Yarmouthian, retired deputy headmaster John Brooks, from Kent, also learned to type at the Lichfield Road college. Working at Westwood House offices on Southtown Road, he used an L C Smith typewriter. “I was given letters to type that had been recorded on to a cylinder. I wore headphones, and the cylinder was played using a needle. I found it difficult at first as the cylinder was not always very clear!”

He clearly recalls Danny Daniels and his wife, Marjorie. “Danny was a prefect when I started at the grammar school. We youngsters admired him for his running ability and also his pleasant personality. He always had time for us.

“When I was 16 I was in a Noel Coward one-act play, Hands Across the Sea, at a drama festival on the Britannia Pier. Marjorie had the lead and was excellent. I was on stage for most of the play but only had a few lines of dialogue. I was horrified when the adjudicator said I had over-acted!”

As for Mercury chief reporter and music and drama critic Ralph Sherwin-White, whom I mentioned, John says: “After National Service I joined the Shrublands Drama Group. He always came to our productions and we were always nervous when he was present. His critiques were very candid but also knowledgeable and supportive.

“When I was in Flare Path, he said that I skilfully underplayed the role – hence I must have learned something after my debut on the Brit!”

Retired Great Yarmouth registrar Trevor Nicholls remembers learning to touch-type to music on an old manual machine at Lowestoft College of Further Education in 1966-67 but, unlike my experience, the music used for the students to keep in time was not a special staccato march style but...Gerry and the Pacemakers!

“In those days, men in local government pored over ledgers containing long columns of figures which they added up. Women, not men, sat at typewriters. It was clear to me, however, that if I was going to prepare birth and death certificates, the ability to touch-type would be a distinct advantage. So I enrolled for night classes.”

The cost of months of tuition was £1.50 in today’s money - “the best 30 bob I have ever invested.”

Despite computerisation at Ferryside (where the register office was based), his old long-carriage typewriter remained in use for some things until his retirement in 2008 and “since some of Yarmouth’s sons and daughters have gone all over the world, documents prepared on this ever-reliable machine have probably gone with them.”

Reflecting that the manual typewriter was not vulnerable to power cuts and computer system crashes, Trevor says that as the old hand-written registers of births and deaths were discontinued in 2006 after 149 years, he had to turn to his trusty manual typewriter when the original computer system was “down” for several weeks.

Also, he was pleased to read my mention of the late Cleveland Campbell, one of my old shorthand and typing tutors at the Yarmouth night-school in the early Fifties. He remembered him in the mid to late-Sixties as being in charge of the Yarmouth College’s Church Road annexe in Gorleston, and adds: “His son, Michael Campbell, began his career in local government at Ferryside and then became superintendent registrar at Lowestoft and subsequently at Cheltenham.”