Old Friends, Old Jobs!

Here’s hoping that you had a great Easter break.

I was delighted on Good Friday to have an old friend, Sharon Thomas, turn up with her husband for a short walk and lunch. Sharon and Clive were friends from my days at Wordplex, which was a horribly long time ago now. We first met in 1981, I think, when the company was expanding in Kingston.

It was a fascinating time. I had been employed in computing for a while, and had been working for a company selling advertising space on Prestel – a truly dreadful information system: slow, cumbersome and horrible to look at. I left that company on the day I saw the sales director and managing director rolling about on the sales floor, each attempting to thump each other in the face or throttle the other with their ties. 

I didn’t feel that company was right for me.

We did escape to the seaside too!

I had also worked for a company in Ludgate Hill, right in front of St Paul’s Cathedral. It was while I was there, working with a self-confessed drug smuggler, that I bought my first decent umbrella. I was a city gent, after all. That company collapsed when the finance director disappeared with all the company’s money and, I believe, the managing director’s wife. I think the two were later found in the Bahamas, probably with very nice suntans.

It was after that interesting interval that I applied to a job advert in the Evening Standard. I read that there was to be a series of opportunities to apply for jobs in a new office automation company: Wordplex.

I went along, and met some pleasant women, and then a tall, aloof man who eyed me austerely, before sending me over to meet Dick Houghton, the Region Manager. He seemed happy enough, and sent me to meet his boss, the UK managing Director.

I was hired, I later learned. I was to have a new car (my first company car: a Ford Cortina Mark 4 1.6 GL – lovely), a massive salary of £16,600 as a trainee salesman, and the potential of a considerable income based on commissions and bonuses.

They were happy times. Under Dick Houghton, I worked for Richard Frost with a team of other salesmen: Martyn Bryant, Peter Sutherland, David Ashworth, Graham Corbould,  Alan Mushett – and the Customer Support Representatives: Sharon, Lyn Downs, Cathy Ellen, Anne Shepherd, Lindsey Whithair … I’m surprised I can remember the names even now – I generally can’t remember people’s names when I’m still talking to them!

Those days don’t seem nearly forty years ago. It’s a shock to realise how much has happened, how much time has passed – and how many friends have died. I think I will have to write a book based on those days. Something to help me remember – and chuckle. Because most of the stories were hilarious. I recall those days with enormous fondness. I felt that I was in control of my life and career, and the world was an exciting place to be working.

But I can’t write that book. Not yet. My agent wants this manuscript completed first, and she’ll break my legs if I don’t crack on with it!

No idea what that Dalmatian was thinking!
5 Responses to “Old Friends, Old Jobs!”
  1. Lindsey Russell says:

    From the expression on your ridgy’s face and the other dog – is a cockadoddle belonging to your friends? – spotty dog has just farted and is trying to kid them it wasn’t her :)


    • Well, to be honest, if one of them was going to make a stink, it would be the Spotty Dog. However, she never winces in appreciation. She just leaves the room quietly before anyone else has noticed! Yes, the pup was Sharon’s. Lovely little thing, only six months old.


  2. Alan Mushett says:

    Mr Jecks, how the devil are you? This is Alan Mushett here, and i reckon I could help you write that book and provide some more names!


  3. Jackie Ring says:

    Jecks!!?? Is this really you writing all this stuff about Kingston in 1981? I was watching Hidden Figures about coloured women and their role in the workplace (that’s a simplified version) and it reminded me of those far-ago times of Wordplex, so I did a Google and came across this blog.

    I, of course, was only a humble Secretary, so I knew my place then, although seemed to keep the place ticking over. I was everyone’s favourite person when they wanted a quote typed up, and especially when there was a bonus or incentive involved. You only had to sell a couple of word processors and won an incentive to Acapulco. Yes, word processors were £7,995 + vat . But when an average typist’s salary was £3,995 (no vat!) it must have taken some doing to justify the cost saving. Also included in my duties, but not in my official job description, was making fancy dress costumes for sales conferences.

    I certainly agree with your comments about management. An excellent salesman shouldn’t necessarily be promoted to sales manager – but Dick Houghton was the exception.

    There was a documentary about the downfall of Wordplex a few years later. Had you left by then?

    I met Claire about 30 years ago as she lives (or at least lived) in Farnham quite near me. But not since. I had a couple of children, got a history degree with OU and then took up teaching adults. And teenagers, which was a challenge but very satisfying. Wordplex taught me all I really needed to know about computers and it has stood me in good stead. I remember it as a very exciting time when we were ahead of the game.

    It’s good to read that you sound as though you are doing things much more suited now.


    • Hiya, Jackie,
      And what a lovely surprise to hear from you! I should just point out that certain, ahem, hard working sales reps did indeed contribute to visiting Acapulco, but I was persuaded to give up my extra few sales so that Al Mushett could go. I was stuck in Kingston entertaining you and CSRs. Which, of course, was infinitely more fun. Astonishing to think we were charging £8,000 for a word processor in those days, and do you remember when the LPS 8 laser printers came out? Now I’ve a 24 inch iMac and 12 PPM laser on my desk – infinitely more powerful than anything we had in the 80s, and a lot cheaper.
      Dear old Dick. He was a lovely guy as well as a brilliant salesman, and one of those who proved that good salesmen weren’t necessarily always the greediest and most unpleasant of characters. He admitted to me once that he hired me (remember the big hiring sessions at the hotel in London?) because he’d never seen a 21 year old salesman turn up to an interview smoking a pipe. Well, it got me the job! That was a fun day – interviewed by two staff, then a branch manager, then a region manager, and finally the MD, I think. It kicked off four and a half years of fun with the company. I’m still in touch with Sharon Thomas (ex-Holroyd), and occasionally Cathy Ellen (now in Oz).
      I can easily understand teaching adults – but teens? I have a teenage son, and trying to help him with homework … well, let’s just say, I’ve given up, and he won’t ask me for help. I’ve already demonstrated adequately that he is brighter than me.
      Thanks for getting in touch – I hope you see this! If you do, I have a “Contact the Author” button on my website at michaeljecks.co.uk for a more confidential correspondence!
      Take care


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