I was going to just link to a couple of these videos of London in the 1960s from the Look at Life series, but there’s too much to say.
Take ‘Rising to high office’ from 1963:
It’s great simply as a look at all the modern office buildings appearing in London, and what it’s like to work inside them. It concentrates on the 26-floor Shell Centre on the South Bank, where
5000 people work in this building. If they all arrived at once it would be chaos, so staff arrivals are staggered. Some start at twenty-to-nine, and others at five past.
They look at the “mechanised” typing pool. A man (of course) in a suit calls a special phone number and dictates a letter. It’s automatically recorded and the women (of course) audio typists type the letters up on their big typewriters. At least some of them have a nice view.
Some nice footage of the controls for the air conditioning and heating.
And then, ooh, the postal system. Packages are sorted by hand and then put into trays on a conveyor belt. It looks like each tray has a series of little levers underneath and which levers are depressed determines when the tray, having trundled on the conveyor belt around the building, tips up and deposits the mail in a box. Automation!
Even better, there are also rectangular containers that hold post, and “a code of letters and numbers” is dialled into controls on the top. These go on a conveyor belt to a point where they’re fed into a compressed-air system on their way to one of 44 receiving points. It looks great.
And I’ve listened to this several times (at 4:51) and I’m sure the narrator says “robots”:
In the computer room, the robots are busy on company accounts, tax returns, sales figures and the rest of the complex arithmetic of a vast concern.
I can’t work out if he’s referring to the desk-size calculating machines or the women who are typing things into them.
There’s also an “up-to-date”, wire-free telephone exchange system (still requiring many operators).
And it trumpets the kinds of things that today I might more associate with West Coast Googleplex indulgences: free three course meals, an art gallery for paintings by staff members, an office swimming pool (“electronic race timing equipment”), squash courts, table-tennis tables, archery, shooting range, fencing, judo, hairdressing salon, and changing rooms for when you need to change into evening wear for your night out.
Very good. I haven’t watched all the others. But they all seem beautifully clear and colourful. This 1959 one on Soho’s coffee shops is well worth a look:
Stick to one class of customer, keep the rest out. A square, in the wrong hole, is just not dug, even by the jukebox.
You might also like 1960’s ‘Top People’, about the construction of tall modern buildings, including the Barbican (still at the planning stage), Moor House, the Golden Lane Estate and a brand new London Wall road:
Footage of men in flat caps and braces clambering around on scaffolding without any safety equipment. Lovely stuff, seeing what are now well-established buildings (some of which have already been demolished) being built. Worth sticking with to 7:20 for the serving of, ha ha, “high tea”.
Plenty more of the videos here. Thanks to my mum and sister for the pointer!