|Thanks to Chris Knight and his correspondents for the information on this page.
|Assistant General Manager
|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.
"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 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
|Instrument Room clerk, main office staff
|Manager / main office staff
|"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."
|"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
"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." !
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
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
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.
|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
|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
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
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
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
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
|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.
|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.
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