A recollection of the early years at Rediffusion by   Mike Worsey

Rediffusion administration / accounting before the advent of computers and beyond

This is my recollection of the many happy years I spent at Rediffusion, some of the information may be incorrect but this is how I remember it.

When I joined Rediffusion in 1972 I was taken for a tour around the large offices as the size of the company was much larger than I expected. One of the rooms that remains in my mind was a room full of machines and women pushing buttons at extremely high speeds. These bulky machines were Comptometers and were worked by highly skilled workers.  The accounts department had one or two but the bulk were used in this separate department. There were no computers in the way that businesses have them nowadays.

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Sumlock Comptometer

Sumlock Comptometer

Comptometers were widely used into the 1970s by Rediffusion in Hull and by many other companies for general accounting work. There was a version even more daunting than the one shown left and this was used by Billy Nicholson. As far as I am aware he was the only person who had the expertise to use it. The thing that Billy was famous for in the accounts department was that if he gave you a piece of paper with accounting information on it, it always had a cigarette burn on it. In those days smoking in the office was common and Bill always had a cigarette in his mouth and hardly ever used an ashtray for the ash, it usually fell on his paper work, hence the cigarette burns. Great treasured memories.
Although designed mainly for addition, it was possible to perform subtraction, multiplication, and division on Comptometers using special techniques.
Comptometers were very fast in operation when adding up lists, such as required in accounting. Operators were specially trained to make use of the
Full Keyboard and enter each number by pressing all the digits in one go using all fingers at once.
Full Keyboard

Full Keyboard


To understand how to use this complicated machine and to visualize how skilled the staff had to be to use them go to:-
www.vintagecalculators.com/html/operating_a_comptometer.html
The main accounting was performed on the very up to date (in 1972) punch card system of  Powers Samas. This was a massive machine and the office where it was situated was crammed full of  Punch Cards.
Punchcard

Punchcard

Today if a manager requires some analysis of accounts prepared he would expect it within 5 minutesor even quicker. In those days a number of days notice had to be given.
The card example above shows how it could have looked but this one is not from Rediffusion. The idea was that staff in the machine room would ‘punch’ information from sales documents or sale summaries or any input document via a punch machine onto the cards. These were always stored in specific order, there were tens of thousands of cards. When the Management required some analysis these would have to be sorted by a processor a number of times until the correct cards had been identified. A report would then be published from this information. How accurate it all was I don’t know. There were also the standard monthly processes which always took precedence over any other work.
To learn more about punchcards go to
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_IBM

In the late 1970’s or early1980 ‘s a Chief Accountant was appointed, Tony Sheppeck. He became my mentor and I still treasure the memories of how he helped me progress my career. He oversaw initial the mini computerisation of the accounting systems as we installed Prosper Prolink and EPS/FCS management reporting for Rediffusion, Hull.
At the same time the company was expanding by acquiring smaller TV rental companies in Yorkshire and I spent a lot of time working on financial appraisals, visiting the offices of the companies and integrating acquired businesses into the Rediffusion way of life.
The thing that sticks in my mind about one of the businesses we acquired was - it was a small family company. Money was really tight in those days and every piece of stationery was accounted for. You couldn’t take a new Biro from the stationery cupboard without putting an empty one back in the box. The itinerary of the stationery stock showed that there was one pen, and there was!
Rediffusion restructured in the early 1980’s and many of the regional offices closed and merged with others. The Hull office was deemed surplus to requirements and all the accounting was moved to Castle Boulevard, Nottingham. Soon after the closure the reunions started and are still going to this day.
Tony Sheppeck moved from his role as Chief Accountant to General Manager of the computer centre in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire.
Most of the remaining staff in Hull was to be made redundant although one or two staff was deployed in other parts of the company.
Tony Sheppeck asked me to go and see him for 10 minutes in Aylesbury. So I drove down to Aylesbury and saw him for precisely
10 minutes - a round trip from home of 360 miles.. He explained that the company was going into the BIG computer age and had invested in a new accounting system (Management Science of  America, MSA) and he wanted me to be part of a team developing and rolling out the system in all the Rediffusion regional offices. I saw him for 10 minutes and he offered me a temporary job working on the project. Since work in Hull was in short supply I agreed to join his team. So I joined Tony in Aylesbury, for what was going to be 6 months, but lasted for nearly 18 months of hotel living (good fun to start with but eventually got a bit boring)
The team was Alan Cowling, John Bruver, Steven Langridge, myself plus one other whose name I forget.
Because there were a lot of other computer systems going into Rediffusion we found that space and time were limited in the Aylesbury office and we were therefore moved to work at Scicon, Milton Keynes. We rented computer time, which apparently was very, very expensive.
We started rolling out the systems and news started to filter through that something big was happening and senior people started to leave and I was asked to become Management Accountant of Rediffusion Consumer Electronics. I was treading in unknown territory and many aspects of the role were completely new to me and I ended up fitting in as best I could when even more managers and other staff left. This set me up for greater things in the years after Rediffusion. About a year later the news broke that Granada had taken us over.
From the Hull days people I remember as well as those mentioned above and elsewhere on this website are Colin Ward, Ken Fish, Terry Prodger, Barry Johnson, Barry Wilson, Harry Walker, Bob Rowles, Jo Ince, Michael Woodhouse, John Mc Dermott, John Watson, Steve Ferry Collins, Eric Shipp, Ian Pawlett, Pete Robinson,  Mike Walker, Gary Nichols and many, many more. (sorry to those I have not listed) space is limited.
I moved over to Granada and worked in Bedford for about a year before leaving the TV Rental business all together. There is much more I could include but memories are memories.



Mike Worsey
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