Steve Shirley: the Post Office Research Station at Dollis Hill

Steve Shirley recalls working at the Post Office Research Station at Dollis Hill.

This clip is an extract of an in-depth interview taken from the Oral History of British Science programme.

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It was on the top of Dollis Hill and it was a large, brick built, solid government building, with a great big portico at the front with foot wide columns holding up a flat roof on which the flag was flown on high days and holidays. And carved around the top of this portico was Research is the Door to Tomorrow. So you walked in this portal everyday, Research is the Door to Tomorrow. And, of course, it is. My job involved sitting at one of those desk calculators and doing calculating really, occasionally you use log tables, doing graphs occasionally, but the emphasis was on methodical working. We had workbooks, which I think I’ve still got some of mine, where you actually so on and so forth said, ‘I’ve tried this and it didn’t work, I tried that and that seems hopeful so I’ll do some of that,’ and you actually put that into work – so you were following some sort of simple discipline of science. They also taught me very clearly, I had a lot of figure work, I mean really a whole lot, and to write figures neatly and not scrawl. And they had to be legible and you didn’t want sevens mixed up with ones, so even though – they followed the Continental habit of crossing the sevens, and working neatly on squared paper. My handwriting is really very neat and very, erm, quite – quite clear, to avoid ambivalence, to observe things that if I was starting a whole piece of work, I mean to observe how long it took to do the first bit of it. And so I said, ‘Well I’ve got fifty of those,’ so you can sort of say, ‘Well I’m going to finish it on Thursday afternoon.’ There was a group of four of us, sitting in a block of desks facing each other, and we were all eighteen or thereabouts. And the formality of the day was that they would refer to me as Miss Brooke and I would sort of say, ‘Mr Hodges, would you mind passing the,’ whatever it was, ‘cause we would share, not really share equipment, we had our own, but there was a certain amount of passing work – usually one worked on one’s own, but sometimes it was sort of my work went to him, and he – and it was several months before someone suggested, and it wasn’t me, that when we were on our own perhaps we could use first names. And it was this formality that one had then, quite unbelievable now when you sort of think people who have just met me five minutes ago will call me Steve, without a blink. We signed in, in the morning, and at nine o'clock somebody would come and draw a line across the book so that however late you were – masses of people signed in at eight fifty-nine, eight fifty-nine, eight fifty-nine and so on. But the emphasis was very much on attendance.

  • Interviewee Stephanie Shirley
  • Duration 00:03:35
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Thomas Lean
  • Date of interview 11/08/2010
  • Shelfmark C1379/28

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