I joined Evode 4 days before my seventeenth birthday on Bastille Day (14 July 1969) after approximately 11 months working as a clerk for the local NHS.
For a few weeks, I worked for Brian Middleton in the Hot Melt Development Laboratory, alongside John Keegan, who I knew previously at school, and Phil Rowbottom, who I had met on day release at college. Also working in Hot Melt was Anagret Hauser.
My initial training with Trevor Roughton (now of F Ball) was given by Sue Foster (now Chell).
After a few weeks I transferred to the laboratory which undertook work for the overseas companies who produced our products under licence. The laboratory manager was Jim Langford, and the chemist Brian Newbold (now of F Ball).
One day a week I attended college. Here you not only met people from other local firms, principally Universal, but also lab assistants from upstairs. There was little mixing between the adhesive section downstairs under John Chard and Mastics upstairs under Barry Jackson.
The first year I studied ONC chemistry at Stafford College along with Graham Richardson (who I had met at college the previous year), Trevor Roughton and Geoff Marsh. Also on the course was Graham Beeston and Derek Holt from Universal. Derek made a habit of missing evening lectures and had in fact given up half way through the year, along with Pete Haycock (who worked upstairs for Cyril Lawton) when the band went professional.
Strangely I know the member of Climax Blues Band who worked for Universal, but I never spoke to the former Evode employee. As a part time job I used to sell pools coupons to Colin Cooper, the band leader and ex Universal laboratory worker. That’s my claim to fame over!
I struggled with ONC - I think it was the physics - so I transferred to Chemicals Technicians Certificate along with Alan Trembath, Alan Fenn, Graham Richardson, Ann Bailey (later Hodgkinson), again who I met at college before Evode, and John Turner.
I can still picture a tearful Kate Geary telling me of TJ (Alan Trembath)’s death on his scooter, 30 years ago, or was it yesterday?
The Licence lab was only a large cupboard, so a laboratory was fitted out next to the Technical Service Laboratory in Building 32, the other end of the building from where I am now.
Technical Service was then Clive Beard, John Birtles and John Gouch, with the typing being done by Pauline Mould (who would later marry Bob Whitehouse) and on a part time basis, Steve Wilkes’ mum, who many years before had been Dr Simons secretary, to be replaced by Eileen Harrison later on.
The bus to and from work would pull into the factory, and after the gates Common Road became a narrow country lane to Marston. The Boswell family lived in a traditional Romany caravan at the top of the hill until the road was widened and linked initially to Parkside and later Sandon Road.
A double decker arrived at nine and two full double deckers left at 5m. But car ownership slowly spread. Bill Keating, who travelled from Tettenhall by bus, train and bus every day, had the most incentive to get mobile. I lived on the Wolverhampton Road so I had a lift with Bill in a variety of scooters and cars, punctuated with spells on the bus after MOT failures etc. It was during one of those periods on the bus I came to the attention of a typist from the offices. The penny finally dropped when she changed bus stops to stand with me. In those days the company did everything for its staff - in this case it found me my future wife on the bus.
Before I married I joined a group of lab assistants on the Social Club trip to the Belgium Beer Festival, stopping 2 nights in a Brussels hotel. The hotel was a rabbit warren and the people who died in a subsequent fire were trapped in the rooms above the restaurant - our very rooms!!
First night was on the town and the hotel was in the red light district, girls in windows with price tags was a shock for sheltered young men like Alan Fenn, Bill Keating, Tony Ball, Steve Wilkes and myself. Also on the trip were John Jones, Bob Bunker, Graham Cork and Dave Whalley.
You can have too much of oompah bands so we walked the village, pub to pub ending up talking to Brussels strippers in a bar. I’m not quite sure of the conversation as we had been drinking all night, but we found the coach back to Brussels, Ken Jones failing to do so and arriving back at 6am. There are black and white photographs of us at Ostend airport (just as well, all the colour had drained from us) published in the Evodian magazine.
The licensee lab extended from Adhesives to cover Mastics work as well. Initially with a Dutch woman Icky Cooper, later by Malcolm Stanley and Trevor Roughton.
The day a week at college continued now to Wolverhampton Polytechnic for technicians T4 and T5, along with Graham Richardson, Alan Fenn and Ann Bailey, plus Butch Sutton from Universal. Unfortunately the company did not recognise the technician’s qualification - Get HNC, you were a chemist, get T5, you could still be a lab assistant.
The basic grievance came at a time of national change, with unionisation being encouraged by the Labour government. The factory had joined TWGU and Supervision joined ASTMS. John Chard was pushing the lab to join the non TUC British Association of Chemists (later APTS), so of course we went with ASTMS, initially gaining recognition for 30 - yes - 30 lab assistants, later to be joined by the chemists.
Trying to raise the money for a deposit and find a mortgage at a time when mortgages were being rationed, the fight for recognition for the Technicians qualification became critical, and I became active in the union along with Colin Hulme, guided by the wise head of Les Wilmore. Success was achieved but better paid lab assistants led to fewer lab assistants and college courses shrank so the City and Guilds Technicians were combined with ONC/HNC courses, and the problem has now disappeared.
Lunch time at Wolverhampton was a walk around the town on Thursday. It was early closing and only Woolworths was open, but then it was the largest in Europe with three floors. Alan Fenn never joined us, he had lunch with his fiancee who worked in Wolverhampton. Sadly she changed her mind; Alan took the rejection hard and decided to start his life anew and went to work for our Dutch Licensee Simsons.
I got my mortgage and got married; Ann Bailey and Graham Richardson were already married, but the weekly trip to Wolverhampton continued, now on HNC.
The licensee lab was closing as Europe got smaller and the move was to export more, but in its final moments I got to visit Simsons and witness Alan Fenn’s wedding to his Dutch bride.
Years later when Laporte bought Simsons, Alan would rejoin the flock and I would visit s’Hertogenbosch again.
When the lab closed Jim went to export, Brian Newbold to Development before disenchantment led him to pastures new eventually landing at F Ball.
The other lab assistant was Chris Fleming (later Tinsdale, later Mullock). I found myself in Process Development under Joe 90 Mike Turner, being shared between Dave Adams on New Projects and Colin Lovatt’s process team of Tony Talbot, Sid Carter, with Maureen Wilding and Eileen Ramsey on typewriters. I later became full time for Dave Adams along with Charles McClymont and John Good based in a corner of the drawing office.
In only 12 months I learnt many lessons, including the value of careful planning as project pitfalls were fixed on a make do basis, eg the new Resin W plant could fill out product quicker than it could flow down the pipe. The filling equipment for Safe 80 would stick and not work if it was allowed to stop, as the seals seized.
Maurice Rhodes was the draughtsman working on the big project “Bondworth” and was suspicious of the lads from the labs, but slowly we formed a strong team. Bondworth was a 4 metre wide hot melt coated hessian for carpets. Sadly the carpet firm went bust and a coating machine which took up half the stores area was broken up.
I was given back to the labs and Neil MacDonald put me in charge of the Adhesives and Mastics control labs under Colin Lovatt, replacing Dave Fairholm.
At the same time we were moving house to Parkside, but after 6 weeks my wife had left for pastures new, and as I now walked to work, how would I find another?
The QC lab was then 8 assistants covering one shift with Saturday morning overtime and evenings until 6.15pm. Dave Woolley had moved out of QC and was monitoring the air for asbestos etc. Allan Holt started at 7am checking the churns, but left at 10.30am to knock doors as a Jehovah’s witness.
Also in Adhesives QC were Peter Till (now BAL) Phyliss Harris, Kim Gilbert, Jenny Oliver, Bill Armstrong and Lucy Malkin. Joining shortly afterwards, Anne Belcher. The “Paints” QC lab run by Fred Waygood with Maisie Rowell, John Bellerby, Graham Spearman, Mary Crowley, and joining soon afterwards, Carol Lake (now Turner).
Compare that to the 5 assistants and 1 manager for the 3 shift 24/7 sitewide operation of today!
Day release continued, HNC was failed by one mark, so the whole year was re-sat and it was off to Burton for Graduate of Plastics and Rubber Institute, again with Graham Richardson.
The powers that be could never decide whether quality was a Production responsibility, or a Technical matter, with the result that depending which way the wind blew decide the management reporting structure.
Under Production new equipment was hard fought for with the result that when Technical took over, again the worn out equipment had to be replaced.
The need to find John Chard a job resulted in QC being given to John along with the Process Technologists under Production and leaving Colin Lovatt as Quality Assurance Manager to set up a new Quality Assurance Department under technical. His chosen team was myself, John Bellerby and Lucy Malkin, joining Tim Taylor as Quality Manager in the final year of his long service to the company. At the time QA's role was raw materials testing, factored products, MOD tests, with time to look at the retain samples, new methods and equipment etc. The department’s typing being done by Dorothy Goodall; on her retirement we shared with Tech Services, Stella Dellicompagni, Eileen Harrison and then Elaine Bickley who left to have a baby and was replaced by Sandra Johnson.
John Bellerby passed his exams and moved to Technical to be replaced by Dave Woolley who quickly moved back to QC in a swap with Graham Spearman. Lucy retired and Pauline Dowle joined us part time, swapping from secretary to lab assistant.
Nigel Ryan (nephew of June) spent time with us before rejoining Technical. Kim Gilbert, made redundant from R & D, took a testing and technical role in Coatings based with us, but decided to take the redundancy cheque, so John Turner (now BAL) joined us and evolved into a Process Technologist.
Pauline decided to go full time as a secretary initially in coatings for Dave Fairholm, but moving on to be Robin Tompkin’s secretary in Group Personnel. This allowed us to appoint Val Haycock, who 15 years before worked for Fred Waygood. Thus at the end of Evode, start of Laporte, I worked for the Quality Assurance Manager Colin Lovatt. As the Quality Assurance Section Leader with Graham Spearman and Val Haycock reporting to me. The QA work had changed dramatically with the transfer to Stafford of Kelseal. We were now testing all the automotive products and the 2 part polysulphide business was growing requiring daily tests.
Bachelor hood had allowed me time to commit to the annual pantomime, the first year as Mustapha Sequin in Ali Baba & the 40 Thieves, along with Roy Ecclestone as Dame, Rochelle Riley (since Gibson) Fred Waygood, Dave Hill, John Jones, Sue Bates, Marjory Gill and Bob Bunker under Dick Read’s direction.
The following year I was proud to be the Pied Piper of Hanley, along with the incomparable Roy Ecclestone, Colin Lovatt, Dave and Jane Frost, and many more. It is said that this was a script too far, by which I mean it told the truth and the management at the time were not amused. What is certain is that they built the warehouse on top of the Club!
No club, no more pantomimes, but by then I had remarried and the commitment in time would have been too great, but the pantomimes are one of my happiest memories of Evode, all of us laughing together.
2 November 2000