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What people did, London Office, 1962

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Thanks to Chris Knight and his correspondents for the information on this page.
Assistant General Manager  
Assistant Superintendent  
Automatic Cable Printer Operator (ACPO) George Coote writes to say that originally this was "ACRO" (automatic cable recorder operator) and was changed with the introduction of Murray code tape (5 holes) replacing the original Morse-encoded two-hole tape.

Chris Knight:
"This title was only to be found at CCC and meant that you worked the overseas cables.

Working on the overseas cables I still remember the leg 'twitch' The leg would be slightly raised at the heel with the toes touching the floor and the leg would then twitch up and down in relation to the speed you were typing! There were also 'slugs' which were small, short pieces of metal containing three letters which belonged to each operator When you were on the sending / receiving circuits you would put your personalised 'slug' into the time stamp to prove that you had dealt with that message."

Check Clerk "Check Clerks were staff who were employed to deal with a variety of jobs. It was seen as a career progression from joining the CCC i.e. starting as a pick up for a short while, becoming a Check Clerk to becoming a Telex operation then ACPO Check Clerks (those above as far as I am aware stayed as Check Clerks) would be involved in the routing/numbering of cables, working for the Service Department (finding cables that had queries on them should they have been filed away), filing duties, copying of cables and office running which meant that one would be going all over the building distributing messages not just in the operational areas."
Delivery dept  
Instrument Room clerk, main office staff  
General Manager  
Manager / main office staff  
Pick Up "Well, they obviously picked up! The pick-up's (PU) were a group of staff who distributed items around the Telephone Dept (TD)/Delivery Dept (DD)/Service Dept (SD)/Instrument Room (IR). They were either retired/disabled people from elsewhere who worked full or part time or they were also where new starters would commence their duties with CCC in London. I was a PU for about a month or so which eased me into how the office worked and where everything was and it was invaluable to understand it all. You would do 8 hours shifts over a 24 hours period. Usually the PU would either work within the TD and DD or the SD and IR but alternating occasionally for breaks etc. The distribution would basically be moving paper items from one area to another by foot or via the pneumatic tubes that linked the TD/DD and IR. There was also an open chute from the IR into the DD where messages were dropped through direct to the appropriate department with a bell/buzzer to indicate when an urgent message was coming down."
Representative  
RQ/BQ "Not 100% sure exactly what they stood for to be honest. When a cable came into the office it was obviously checked by the incoming operator and if there was something wrong with it i.e. part of it was garbled, the check on the figures was incorrect, there was some overprinting etc, then a green label was stuck to the cable (this was the RQ) indicating the problem and it was sent to the RQ/BQ desk. Here it was double checked (and sometimes sorted out) but if not then the RQ was sent to the originating station for clarification. To this end I was always under the impression that RQ stood for Request. Depending on the problem and the content and urgency of the cable it was either forwarded on to the addressee STC (subject to correction) and then returned to the RQ/BQ desk for holding (this was indicated by having a bright orange label pinned to the message) or held on the RQ/BQ desk awaiting a reply. When the reply to the RQ came in from the originating station is was prefixed BQ (from the originating station) and sent to the RQ/BQ desk for appropriate amendment. Now, to be honest I have no idea what the BQ stood for."

Larry in Australia has a suggestion:

"Hey, I know this. RQ was for "I want to RQ you a question". That's easy. Now BQ. There's 2 close meanings that I've been told about since starting as a telegraphist in the year dot but have yet to decide which is the right answer.

1) BQ was taken from the olde English word Boggle-Quest which means to be evasive when confronted with a problem. This is exactly the attitude a service clerk took when trying to work out strangely worded RQs. It probably has roots in the Latin word Bexaltavit which means What the devil are you talking about son and would fit a BQ perfectly.

2) This meaning is the most likely explanation that BQ was really a nickname for the originator ie Antoine Henri Becquerel. He was a physicist and won a Nobel prize in 1903 so was ideally gifted to become a telegraphist and have worldwide praise lavished on him and remembered in history books as being the person who conquered the question of what abbreviation to give to the answer to an RQ." !

The Porthcurno Telegraph Museum & Archive have told Chris that "RQ and BQ were used by ETC and C&W for 'Request' and 'Answer to Request' but again, we don't know why BQ was chosen."

However a definitive (sourced) answer has come from David J. Ring, Jr. ex- Radio Officer and operator at Morse station WSC Tuckerton, NJ:

RQ as you have correctly means "Request"
BQ - you do not have this answer - means "Bequest"

RQ is a request for answer, and BQ is the answer to a request.

Source is ITU Appendex B - Addendex for Manual Morse by aural reception - both for wired and radio Morse. 73

(12/7/2010)

Service Dept The Service Department was manned by regular staff and it was their jobs to resolve any issues that may arise regarding queries on any of the cables that came through the London office - a wide remit indeed.   The ACPO staff would man the Service Department from time to time should their be shortages.  
Supervisor / traffic chief / office engineer / supervising technician The Supervisor was the duty member of staff who ran the office and oversaw any problems relating to staffing, liasing with senior management or being the first port of call in an emerency when they would work alongside other staff members from other departments.
The Traffic Chief was responsible for making sure that the incoming/outgoing cables were filed away ready for transmission, the ACPO's were 'fed' with enough work to keep them busy and the circuits running efficiently and that any outstanding items were fed into the system i.e. urgent cables, in a way not to delay them.
"The Office Engineer and Supervising Technician were, as far as I can recall, the same job but why they had different titles I cannot recall" [Chris Knight]. These guys were responsible for the technical aspects of the circuits - if a circuit crashed these guys would make sure the test tapes were run, contact other areas outside of the office, stop circuits and basically try everything to get us back on line as quickly as possible.
Support Staff  
Telephone dept  
Teleprinter mechanic Teleprinter Mechanics were housed in the basement and, as their name suggests, were the first port of call in case of equipment failure i.e. the teleprinters, the perforators or the typewriters.
Teleprinter Operator Inland telegrams
The office in the 1960s In the London office there was one big room (Instrument Room) which contained all the incoming circuits, all the outgoing circuits, the service dept, the telex / teleprinter section with both incoming and outgoing messages, some switchboards for sending items through to Dublin (that was unique as you typed the message 'blind' without actually seeing what you were typing and then had to sign on and sign off with a printed code on a thin gummed tape which you had to stick on the cable, time-stamp and sign)

On that circuit we had to make sure that everything that appeared on the cable was sent but we all made sure that whatever routing instructions were there strangely 'disappeared' and were substituted by 'Via Commercial'.

There were also lines to our other London offices as well as PQ and Great Northern. Then there were also the 'Eastward' and 'Westward' filing systems and lockers full of bundles of messages which were held there for about a month before they went to the bundle room in the basement.

There was also the Traffic Chiefs desk, Supervisors desk, Adrema (which was a big metal framed unit that you more or less sat in with it around about 50% of you disappearing from view and it contained probably about a thousand small metal plates that slotted into a metal stamp. Upon receipt of a cable, and if you knew the telegraphic address was filed on the Adrema, you would slot in the appropriate plate and bang it down onto the cable and that printed all the details of the telegraphic address onto the cable itself i.e. name of firm, telegraphic address, phone, telex no's and any form of special delivery instructions. So imagine all that going on and the noise being created and on top of that there were people talking, shouting and generally making mayhem.

Later CCC installed what became referred to as 'the organ' which was a desk whereby the operator could sit down and look after four incoming circuits through glass panes and actually switch the messages through to whatever area he wanted to i.e. the printers for the South East area or trip them through to the offices in other parts of the country. These incoming messages were also stored on a tape loop in a Perspex container and you had to keep an eye on the length of the loop to make sure that you didn't erase some of the incoming cables if the backlog became too much as it would overprint others.

All in all I spent about 11 years in the London offices of CCC both at the Wormwood Street and Bastwick Street locations but for me the Wormwood Street offices had the character and the 'lived in' appeal from the depths of the Bundle Room in the basement all the way to the top of the building where the canteen was housed. It was, without doubt, one of the happiest periods of my working life.

CODE WORDS Some of many RAFSO (2nd request)
RATEB (3rd request)
UCSEX (give special attn)
WAPUC (reply urgently)
POMZO (forwarded subject to correction)
WAPEZ (endeavour to get prompt reply)
POFIH (correct if nec)
POMDU (delete CTF [Correction To Follow ?] in service instructions)
CABLE LINE PREFIXs NEW YORK Westward AIA, BIB, CIC, DID
NEW YORK Eastward IAA, IBB, ICC, IDD
TORONTO Westward LON
TORONTO Eastward TOR
MONTREAL Westward L
MONTREAL Westward (arbitrage traffic) LZ
MONTREAL Eastward LRA
NEWFOUNDLAND Westward (trip signal on the Montreal circuit) LNNF
AZORES slow circuit ticking over very slowly Eastward only AZ
ROTTERDAM Eastward only RM
ANTWERP ACL
BRUSSELS BCL
ATLANTA Westward A ACRA
ATLANTA Eastward - CRA

On the New York circuits all outgoing (Westward - WWD) circuits had the 'I' in the middle i.e. AIA, BIB with the incoming (Eastward - EWD) circuits had the 'I' at the beginning i.e. IAA, IBB.

During the afternoon the Montreal LZ stamp was taken to the TD and when an arbitrage message had to go out the operator switched a green light on which also shoed in the IR on the Montreal circuit and the operator there let the TD operator in. After transmitting the LZ the operator in the TD switched out and the Montreal WWD operator in the IR carried on.

TD / TDN

R & SR (Arbitrage) tripped in on the AIA circuit from the TD J (Telex traffic) and P (eastward provincial traffic) went to New York traffic for operators in New York to switch into their telex room just as we received P on eastwards for operators in London to switch to provincials.

MM (Arbitrage)

Trip ins and outs SSS and FFF

More on the offices The main office was always at Wormwood Street which was a narrow, one way, street about five minutes walk away from Liverpool Street station and, like a lot of streets in the City, was close to the shops, offices on the opposite side of the street. Nowadays I gather there is nothing left as it was all bulldozed down and is a wide road and with nothing to remind you of what was there. The building was 'timeless' as far as I was concerned and have no idea as to it's age. Looking back I would take a wild guess and say that it must have been built sometime during the 1800's but to put an exact date on it would be impossible. Earlier or mid century I would take a guess at! The biggest thing that we would probably always remember from that building outside would be at the front where a huge clock stood out over the street (black with gold lettering and numbers) proclaiming The Commercial Cable Company - where did that go I would like to know?

Later when we had to move to Bastwick Street it was the end of an era as the new office had no character and was really an 'office box' which we fitted into. Gone were the nooks and crannies, back stairways, architectural quirks and the general feel of an old building that we had, to some extent, grown to love as many of us had grown up there during our working lives. Above all, Wormwood Street had character written all over it and that was something that could not be replaced.

The building consisted of a small sub basement, basement, and, if memory serves me correctly four further floors and atop that another narrow stairway led to the canteen facilities.

The sub-basement contained the locker room and the bundle room where all the previous messages from heaven knows when were stored.

The basement contained toilets, rest room for the messengers who would be out hand delivering the messages around the City during the day, a larger rest room for all staff to use, the mechanics room where all the repairs to the equipment were made plus the engineering rooms that delivered the services to the rest of the building.

I always remember that both the sub basement and the basement was always shrouded in gloom as there never seemed to be enough lighting down there.

A small lift with sliding, open gate style doors, ran between the basement to the fourth floor and, if not mistaken, when I joined there was a liftman employed as well.

The front entrance to the building was up a few steps into the vestibule area where the main counter was to your right, the lift being to your left, the main stairs in front of you and a smaller set of stairs next to the lift which led down to the rear entrance and the basement areas. If you followed these small stairs you would be led out into a small parking area at the back and then access to a small, narrow walk through to the main streets of the area.

Turning right past the counter there were some small offices on your left (one of them was taken over by the Union and editorial staff of the CCC in house magazine "The Venture") and at the end of the short corridor you would enter the telephone and delivery departments. Leading from the delivery department was a set of gloomy stairs that would lead up to the next floor.

Going up the main stairs they would bring you to all the main floors.

On the First Floor was the Superintendents office, the Superintendents staff office and the Instrument Room

On the Second Floor was (from memory) all the offices belonging to Management.

On the Third Floor was the accounts, more toilets and staff rest rooms.

Perched above this floor was a narrow set of stairs which led to a small rest room and the canteen.

Arbitrage Messages Arbitrage messages were to do with our banking customers and had high priority. These were indicated (for an example) by an LZ prefix which, in this case, originated in the TD. At certain times of the day another circuit was opened up for Westward traffic i.e. Canada (WWD) and this circuit was run exclusively from the TD. When an Arbitrage message was phoned in to the TD instead of it going upstairs to the IR for transmission (thus causing delays) it went on the circuit in the TD. The operator would type up the message immediately, (putting the SSS trip in on the tape and later the FFF trip out on the tape) and, at the same time requesting access to the Montreal circuit by switching the green light on which showed up on the main Montreal circuit in the IR. When the light showed in the IR the Montreal circuit operator would stop his tape at the end of the current message to allow access to the TD and the Arbitrage message onto the circuit for transmission and when the TD operator finished the message the light went out and the messages were again sent from the IR.
"SKINS" These were some paperwork issued to the staff of our companies which bore the nickname of 'skins'. Their correct title was 'Investigation of Service Irregularities' and were issued to staff if they made errors in some form relating to their work.   My grandfather (who worked for the Post Office) remembered 'skins' being issued in his day as do all my contacts who worked in the telegraph industry during the above period but no one actually knows where this nick-name originated.

The Porthcurno Telegraph Museum & Archive have told Chris that "two of our expert volunteers who worked for C&W in the 1960s [say] that the term SKINS was originated and used by the Eastern Telegraph Company but they don't know why they were called SKINS."

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