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The first two weeks

After an interview with Chubb in the early autumn of 1976 I was offered the roll of apprentice intruder alarm engineer and started immediately. 

Chubb had started in 1818 manufacturing burglar resistant safes and progressed as a world leader in the field up to the acquisition of two companies, Rely-A-Bell and Burgot in 1962 which moved the company into electronic security. 

I arrived at the stores on the Monday morning which at that time were located in Park Square in Leeds, the offices/stores were a bit downmarket for a prestigious company, they were also inconvenient as there was no parking reserved, Park Square and all the neighbouring streets were marked out with parking meters on both sides. 

With several managers and supervisors, some dozen service engineers and a similar number of installation engineers, parking was at a premium. 

I was introduced to my supervisor and many of the team of engineers I would be working with on that Monday morning. 

Most of the installation and service teams would congregate in the office to be assigned their work planned for the coming week. 

I was notified that I would be starting college on Thursdays each week and that this coming Thursday would be my first day. It would seem Chubb had pulled some strings with Kitson Technical College and that, despite having missed the first three weeks of the course, I would be permitted to join late.


Meeting the engineers

Meeting the engineers

I was then assigned an engineer to work with for the first three days of the week, told to attend college on Thursday and return to the office on Friday for further instructions. With that I climbed into the car of the engineer I was to work with, and we set off to site. 

The engineer I would be working with, Martin, he owned a Sunbeam Alpine. This was either a classic car or a shed, depending upon your viewpoint. I asked Martin why he was using his own car instead of driving a company vehicle. He told me that traditionally the installation engineers all used to travel by public transport, only the service engineers had company cars, he explained that the company delivered everything needed to site, engineers just carried their tools. 

Service engineers on the other hand, were required to carry ladders and steps, spare parts and consumables and were required to cover call out on a rota basis twenty-four hours per day.

However, over half the installation engineers had their own transport at that time, some had cars and others had motorbikes or scooters.


Eye Opener

We arrived to work at a site in North Yorkshire allied to the water board and I had an awakening as to the difference between my former work for HK, which was mostly small low risk properties i.e. Residential homes, shops and pubs which took one to two days to complete. The site we would be working on was a huge complex and had taken several days of labour prior to my arrival and would take at least six more weeks to complete.

Security on the site was tight as the company was dealing with public water supplies, upon arrival we were met by security personnel who forced us to read a card detailing behaviour on the site. 

We were not allowed to enter buildings marked with restricted access signs without a member of the water board with us, we were not allowed to use soldering irons, blowlamps or welding equipment without written permission, and we were not allowed to bring food or drink onto the site. 

Other restrictions detailed toilet facilities and that we were not allowed to fish anywhere on the site.

It was a daunting and exciting challenge made all the better by the fact that Martin was an incredible character, he was in his late 30’s medium build very fit with a considerable suntan, large yet neat sideburns, piercing brown eyes  and pursed lips, one look at him told you he loved life and could not wait to avail you of his jokes, tales and apocryphal stories. 

He loved his car despite it being in an extremely poor state of repair and would not hear a disparaging word said about her.

That morning we were working in the battery room, I had never seen anything like it, the room was approximately forty metres long by fifteen wide and four metres high and was a building in its own right, detached from the main buildings. 

There were racks of shelving almost reaching the ceiling upon which were installed what looked like car batteries but with glass sides, hundreds of them. The batteries were all connected to each other in series and parallel to provide standby in case of a power cut. 

The room was well ventilated and very cold as a result; the ventilation was required because the batteries give off explosive gasses when being charged. 

We set about cutting, bending, and threading steel conduit and installing this to each point where a device connected to the alarm was to be located. Martin immediately started to show off, setting a 20mm tube into the bending tool, he asked me to bend the tube to 90 degrees, try as I may I could not budge the handle. 

Martin laughed and took over, with one hand and in a quick movement he bent the tube and for an encore he performed push ups on the floor one handed. At each lift he clapped once before lowering himself on one hand again. I could tell this was going to be an interesting day.

As we continued in the battery room, we reached lunchtime at which point Martin and I went to his car and drove off site to a nearby layby. Martin had brought a pack of sandwiches and a flask and started to eat. He looked at me and asked, where’s your lunch, which of course I did not have as I had been accustomed to buying food locally each day at HK, after a while he took pity on me and handed me a sandwich and a cup of tea out of his flask.

The room was well ventilated and very cold as a result; the ventilation was required because the batteries give off explosive gasses when being charged. 

We set about cutting, bending, and threading steel conduit and installing this to each point where a device connected to the alarm was to be located. Martin immediately started to show off, setting a 20mm tube into the bending tool, he asked me to bend the tube to 90 degrees, try as I may I could not budge the handle. 

Martin laughed and took over, with one hand and in a quick movement he bent the tube and for an encore he performed push ups on the floor one handed. At each lift he clapped once before lowering himself on one hand again. I could tell this was going to be an interesting day.

As we continued in the battery room, we reached lunchtime at which point Martin and I went to his car and drove off site to a nearby layby. Martin had brought a pack of sandwiches and a flask and started to eat. He looked at me and asked, where’s your lunch, which of course I did not have as I had been accustomed to buying food locally each day at HK, after a while he took pity on me and handed me a sandwich and a cup of tea out of his flask.


Shocking moment

shocking moment

That afternoon, Martin and I watched in horror as an electrician, also working in the battery room, dropped a length of metal trunking lid which shorted across several of the batteries. 

The resulting explosion of sparks, white hot metal, smoke and heat was intense and we all quickly left the building by any available exit. 

Fortunately, the metal lid did not get lodged shorting the batteries but bounced off and continued to fall into a safe position and the event was over in seconds. 

After the air cleared, we continued the work, I noticed Martin took his metal strapped wrist watch off which I thought was an excellent decision.


Distracted driver

distracted driver

The following day I met up with Martin for a lift to work, whilst he drove down a leafy residential street of very posh detached houses in North Leeds, he suddenly stopped and asked, did you see that? 

I replied, what, he turned his car around and we drove slowly back along the street, that he said pointing to a house. In the upstairs window was a mid-twenties blonde lady ironing, not exceptional, however she was ironing naked in the window on full view of the street. 

Martin drove his car up and down the street and after about nine passes, she noticed us, Martin said “quick duck” and we both bowed down In the car, as if this would make any difference, however she then closed the curtains which meant it was time to go to work.

The first week went quickly, two more days with Martin seemed to be over in no time at all.


First day in College

first day in college

On Thursday, a day in college which turned out to be a twelve hour day 09:00 to 21:00, The first two lessons were held in the main eleven storey building, the prestigious part of Kitson Technical College I had studied in previously. 

After lunch, lessons were to be held in the old Blenheim primary school building, this building was not prestigious, it was cold, damp and smelly and plaster was falling off the walls and ceilings, only half the classrooms were able to be used and some lessons were to be held in portacabins in what had been the school playground. 

The building was no longer fit to use as a primary school and had been condemned, however it had been lightly refurbished, i.e. broken windows replaced or boarded up, electricity circuits tested and half repaired hence many circuits were not in use. Old desks and chairs had been located and placed in the classrooms, none of which matched, and some black boards had been brought out of retirement.

The lecturer apologised for the state of the building and assured us all the tenure was temporary. The first lesson we had was closed early due to a piece of plaster some three feet by two feet falling from the ceiling narrowly missing two of the students.


A day in the training room

a day in the training school

On Friday, I reported to the office and was assigned a day in the training room getting to know about the equipment I would ultimately be working on, and making copious cups of tea which seemed to be the apprentices lot at most companies in the day.

I had been used to working with small electronic control panels at HK, the training room was full of the equipment I would now be working with. 

There was a Burgot panel, a beautiful polished wooden box with a lockable front door, opening this revealed several switches, lights and a knob which looked a bit like the control of a gas hob, this turned from Day, to Test, to On, fixed to the back of the door was a bronze rod, this hit the knob when it was in the Test position making it impossible to close the door in this mode, simple but effective.

Next to this was a Burgot frame, a cast metal wall mounted frame approximately five feet tall and two feet wide, this was the system deployed in bank vaults, the frame had approximately nine recessed holes with lugs and tapped fixing holes, these were designed to hold up to nine metal boxes such as the control panel, the battery box, the signalling equipment, the indicator panel and the timer units. It was a sign of what was to come.

Alongside these there was a Rely-A Bell control panel, a CA3 commercial grade panel, the current model, approximately twenty inches tall by fourteen inches wide, steel box with a hinged lid locked with a key utilising seven relays and had over ninety connections for cables for various purposes. 

Then, last but not least, the CA6 which was the current system for bank vaults and high security sites, this was again a steel enclosure, this time approximately four feet tall by two feet six inches wide.

My first reaction to my exposure to the equipment was to think to myself, if only the engineers I worked with at HK could see this equipment, they would have been seriously impressed.


Entertaining the troops

The following week, Monday morning at 08:30 we were all outside the stores and could not gain access, the storeman had the key and was late arriving for work. Martin, ever the character, decided to cheer everyone up so related a story.

A cowboy was riding out in the desert in the wild west, he was alert and aware that he was crossing native Indian territory and had his rifle ready and loaded just in case. He rode through the baking sun with little provisions, his face and hands had become like leather after many years of being in the saddle, he camped out each night under the stars and shivered with the cold having little warmth from his meagre camp fire. 

In the mornings he awoke to find himself cold and wet with dew, he rekindled the fire and made a cup of coffee which was so black it could have been mistaken for tar. 

Another full day’s ride was ahead of him and he knew that to survive he would need to pause his journey at some point to catch fish for food, an arduous and cold task, tickling fish from the river as he had no fishing line. After ten days the scenery changed from sand and cacti to rolling plains, he was out of native territory now but still alert, the terrain was softer, there were small animals he could catch for food and plenty of water so he was more comfortable now. 

Eventually he reached the end of the plain and started to travel through the foothills of the mountains, once again native lands. After another two days' travel, he was nearing his destination, he rode through trees and woodland always alert for any signs of danger, either from native Indian ambush or wild bears and mountain lions. 

Eventually he reached a clearing, which was full of tepees and he was now in the native encampment, children were playing and women were working washing clothes and cooking, he felt that all eyes were on him as he rode up to the largest of the tepees and dismounted from his horse. 

Just as he was about to announce his presence, a native Indian chief, resplendent in a huge feather headdress almost to the floor and wearing handmade leather clothes with hand stitched coloured beads all over them, opened the door flap, stepped out and looked sternly at him, in a gruff voice he said, you fix um bell or me take um scalp. 

At this the other engineers all groaned, and the storeman arrived with the key. 

Martin watched them all disappear into the stores then said to me, what a load of miserable git’s, I kept them all entertained for 20 minutes and they did not appreciate it one bit.


Working with Clancy

man on ladder

In my second week I was sent to assist another engineer, Richard, in a bank in Bradford. I asked how to get there and was told to catch the bus.

I had never been to Bradford before in my life, so set off and walked to Leeds bus station at the diagonally opposite corner of Leeds City Centre. Leeds had no joined up transport policy, hence a tiny bus station and the massive railway station were over a mile apart, coaches were departing from another small bus station, and parking was wherever you could find it in the centre. 

Arriving at the station, I enquired how I might reach the bank at the address I had been given, I was told to catch the bus to the Bradford interchange, then change to another bus to reach the bank at the far side of Bradford town centre. I wondered how I would know when I reached Bradford Interchange, however I need not have, the interchange was huge, it incorporated multi storey car parking with the railway station and both bus and coach stations. Recently completed in 1971 it was incredible by comparison with Leeds. 

I managed to find the bank, but some two hours had elapsed, and I knew I would need to retrace the steps and catch a third bus to my home that evening. It was clear to me that I should start to use my motorcycle from now on to go to work.

Upon arriving at the bank, Richard was already at work. He was to say the least an unusual character, short and in his mid-40’s with long scruffy black hair, receding at the front, thick black stubble, missing front teeth, thick framed glasses which were held together across the bridge with sticking plaster and wearing a grubby cap t shirt with holes in it, he capped this look off with shorts, brown sandals and black socks. What Richard lacked in stature he made up for in muscle, he had arms like Popeye and looked more like you would imagine a bank robber on a film set, than a security engineer. 

He had recently had his eyebrows shaved, he claimed for charity, but we all suspected it was done whilst he was drunk, this made him look a real fright, the supervisors were used to receiving calls from worried banks, building societies etc. checking if the company actually had an engineer who looked like him. 

Richard was a self-confessed communist who went by the nickname Clancy and my first encounter working with him did not go so well, the first job of the day was to install the external sounder on the front of the bank, this involved Clancy climbing a ladder with a drill etc. 

He took one look at me and said in a stern voice, your job is to foot these ladders, should I fall off them, you should finish me off making absolutely sure I am dead before I can get up, otherwise I will kill you. 

Installing sounders on high security sites was a tedious and long job, the delta bell sounders had multiple parts, a triangular backplate attached to the wall, a large round bell, a printed circuit board, a rechargeable battery, an inner triangular cover and a second outer triangular cover making the unit double skinned. 

In addition, the cable used was four core mineral insulated which required special glands and tools to terminate it. Half way through the installation Clancy, realising I was getting bored, tested me and asked me to pass him something whilst he was up the ladder, I went to get the item and was robustly told that I was not footing the ladder, and reminded of the consequences. 

Later that day after lunch Clancy gave me a break and chatted to me whilst we worked together in the bank vault, turns out he was a real character and over the next few years we worked together many times and struck up a strong friendship. 

Although it took me years to discover why he was called Clancy, and only then from another engineer …


Second day at college

connecting wires

My second Thursday at college came around quickly, a small group who had started the course late were we were told to meet at Kitson College at 9:00. We were introduced to the course and given a timetable. It was immediately apparent that Chubb had placed me on the City & Guilds craft level four-year day release course in electrical engineering. 

Considering I had just completed the City & Guilds electrical and electronic engineering  course at the higher level, equivalent to A level maths, A level electronics and A level engineering drawing, it seemed to me as if this course would be superfluous to my requirement.

The following day I spoke to my supervisor Gordon, I pointed out that I had already taken the advanced course as a full time one year programme, I asked if I could be placed on a HNC course to increase my qualifications, but Gordon simply said, like it of lump it. Gordon, I later realised was not well liked by anyone in the company, but more on him later. All I could do was repeat the course and look at the day release as a day of rest once a week.


Kidnapped

joke kidnapping

I had started to get to know the other people on the College course, mostly they were budding electricians, panel and switchgear makers, juke box installers etc. with the exception of one, Mark, a tall mid 30’s lad with scruffy hair who worked as a washing machine repair engineer and hated it. 

He was there to improve his chances of getting into a better career. Mark being by far the oldest in the group would lend you to believe he was the more sensible, but you would be wrong. Mark had a wicked sense of humour and could take it to levels most never imagined.

During lunch hour he suggested that he drop me off in the centre of Leeds, drive his car around the block, and then the other guys would kidnap me to see what, if anything, the public would do. 

I found myself on the street corner in the city centre by the market building, the streets were packed with people going about their business. I waited for his car, then with a screech of tyres he arrived, three lads jumped out leaving the doors open and grabbed me, wrapping me into an old carpet as I screamed for help. 

A few old ladies started to point, and people looked from afar, I was dragged into the car and it screeched off before the doors were closed, they slammed shut with the acceleration, the windows were down, so I stuck my head out screaming for help. No one reacted or came to my aid, but we all laughed uncontrollably over a pint later that lunchtime, whilst discussing the looks on the old ladies faces and considered what they would tell their friends they had witnessed that day.


Confidence building

On Friday, I was sent out with Henry to assist him installing an alarm in a domestic residence, Henry was a funny bloke to work with. He asked me to install a detector in the corner of the lounge where a cable had been run to. I took the detector, drill plugs and screws and my cutters and screwdrivers, ten minutes later, having completed the task, I went to find Henry. 

He was in a funny mood, as far as I could tell, because he would not give me any other work to do until, he claimed, he could be certain I had completed the work he had given me despite the fact I had worked in the industry for some months prior to starting with Chubb.
 
He said, “are you sure you have installed the detector correctly”, I replied yes I believe so, and this started him off on one, he said you believe so, I need you to be sure, is it a yes or a no, you do not sound too sure to me. 

He told me to go back and make sure the work I had done was correct, so I climbed up the steps, took off the lid, checked the wiring etc. and put the lid back on and returned to Henry.

Once again he started on the same tack, are you sure the job has been done right, are you absolutely 100% sure you have done the job right, if I check will I agree that you have done the job right. In the end he had me doubting my own work and checking it over again. 

By the end of the day, I had only installed the one detector, ten minutes work, but I was very relieved when the day ended, and I could go home. 

Henry, in my opinion, could not be described as a confidence builder.

Fortunately, Henry left shortly afterwards to set up his own company, I never had to work with him again.