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Cyril Maidment interview: Hobbies and career

What hobbies did you have in those days?

I used to love reading. We had a little library at Colliers Wood. They still have one but it’s not quite in the same place. I remember that someone recommended I get the American crime books – they were entertaining and I used to love reading them. But when I was younger I would be fishing on Wimbledon Common for little tiddlers and insects and newts and also Tooting Bec Common and Clapham Common.

It was very easy to move around. We had a lovely tram system. The 2s and the 4s would go from Wimbledon terminus - they used to go through to Kingston before the trolley buses took over - but in my day the big route was from Wimbledon outside the old town hall. It used to go straight up Stane Street to Elephant and Castle and then one route would go clockwise over Westminster Bridge, along the Embankment, back over Blackfriars Bridge and back to Elephant and Castle. That would have been the 2 while the 4 went the other way round. That was the only difference between the two tram routes. They were rickety old things and I can remember upstairs getting a shock on the handrail when it was raining heavily but I don’t think many people got electrocuted. The other problem with the trams, especially from Longley Road [SW17] onwards, they went over to a more modern system of picking up electricity along a central rail on the ground whereas our trams up to Longley Road from Wimbledon had overhead wires. So the beautiful pictures you see of them going around the corner at South Wimbledon you can see them picking up electricity from the overhead wires.     

When and where did you start your first job?

My aunt’s husband was my Uncle Howard and he was my best friend really. He got me a job at GEC in Kingsway. He was a mason and probably thought I could have a similar kind of life in that business. But I was required to leave school at the age of 16. At that time only five percent went on to further education at the age of 18. A higher proportion stayed on for two years and got their high school certificate. I wasn’t allowed to do that – I had to go out to work - but my uncle got me the job at GEC in Kingsway. I was selling cables, electric cables in the sales office but I thought this was not the best career move and I made enquiries and found I could get myself an apprenticeship if I went from the GEC head office at Magnet House into one of the factories. They had factories all around London but these in particular were the lamp factories in Hammersmith and the biggest factory in North Wembley. So I started this apprenticeship which meant that I had to go one day a week for study – for the national certificate and higher national certificate. It was hard doing it that way but it was five years. I did another year and got corporate membership in the Institution of Electrical Engineers. That enabled me to have quite a useful career.  

The first part of it was not very useful because I had to do my national service. At school I had been in the combined cadet force and I had got my Cert A and also got my marksman’s badge. These two were on my uniform for the whole of my national service.  But apart from that it wasn’t quite so brilliant because I elected to go into the Royal Air Force and they discovered that among my many deficiencies there was also a deficiency in colour perception which meant I was red-green – not exactly colour blind but not so hot so they decided I couldn’t be let loose on any aircraft wiring or anything like that.

It rather limited what I could do. I had just passed my driving test but I hadn’t ever had a car and hadn’t done any driving. So they thought – you can be an MT (motor transport) driver! It wasn’t a marvellous decision because they sent me up to RAF Weeton and put me in a three-tonner with a crash gear box. As an engineer I appreciated that but I hadn’t the coordination to work it and also drive a three-tonner. We did our driving training in Blackpool which is the only part of the United Kingdom which has never lost its trams. I had all these battles with trams and wet roads. Eventually they realised I wasn’t the best material for an MT driver and decided I should be allowed to do some clerical work.

I then got posted to a dream posting really at RAF Calshot which was at the south-western tip of Southampton Water. It’s where the Schneider Trophy races were held before the war and where the Princess flying boats were cocooned. It was beautiful with a Henry VIII castle at the end right on the sea and the domestic site was a mile inland but on a long footpath from the worksite. I was there for most of my two years and every weekend there was a big scramble to get home to London. We had to get a bus into Southampton and then a train. Normally it would be on a Friday night or Saturday morning and into Waterloo and then I was home.  The return journey was a bit of fun because that was in the middle of Sunday night when we used to get back to camp about three o’clock in the morning. It was fine. I did do a bit of study while I was there. I went to Southampton University for one day a week for a while which was quite interesting. That was my national service.

Then I came back. I went from the apprenticeship to the GEC head office. I was then able to take a technical view on things and do some engineering work. Especially on the lamp side. We made a great variety of lamps and they all had different applications. I suppose it is still true. There are so many different kinds of lamps these days, it’s quite baffling.