Soon before I joined Aspro they had switched their sales reps from cars to blue vans with the name prominently on the side. That was a severe loss of status and the men resented it. I was stupid enough to say so and I wrote to say that I was looking for a new job. A week or two later I had a letter saying that they didnít think they could be represented by somebody who was looking for another job. Donít make any more calls, return immediately etc. That taught me an important lesson. Never quit one job until the next one is definite. Above all if youíre negotiating a different job take care not to let your present employers know. That would have been good advice for my father but perhaps he knew and it wasnít in his nature to act like that.
To reduce costs I moved back home to Nottingham and got a job as a Junior Sales Rep with a firm that sold dessicated coconut, cake mixes etc. That job had no car and you walked down every street calling on any little corner shops that you could find. I was doing OK and I think I might have been promoted to a more senior position in another part of the country but my former Area Supervisor at Aspro recommended me to an old-established firm of fruit juice manufacturers. That had a car and an established area. But the job had two very different sides. During the war they had developed a Vitamin C supplement from black currant syrup. Now they were marketing it as Ribena. They also supplied the catering trade with orange and lemon squash and lent them dispensing equipment. I had to call on those milkbars etc and service the equipment as necessary. Iím no plumber and I found that difficult and it meant a switch of mindset during most days. My worst experience was removing a dispenser from a milkbar in Derby and replacing it. That was in winter. I was wearing a heavy overcoat and it was hot and stuffy in there. It didnít help that I never knew which way to turn a spanner.
Adding to my discomfort was the fact that a short distance across the counter from me were 5 gas fitters watching with professional interest. I turned the spanner to the right. It wouldnít budge. I thought I might be turning it the wrong way but it wouldnít budge if I turned it in the opposite direction either. I hoped they would think that I had devised a clever plan to shift a nut that didnít want to turn.
Around this time I became involved in amateur theatre both as a member, and later Vice President, of the Nottingham Shakespeare Society and with ordinary amateur groups. The Shakespeare Society held regular meetings of discussions, readings etc and did two full Shakespearean productions a year, the winter one in a theatre and the summer one out of doors.
The less said about my ďactingĒ the better. I rarely played significant roles. They tended to cast the better actors in the leading roles and if there was a character over give it to me. I didnít mind. I just enjoyed doing my best and at one time I was acting in six productions a year. I was lucky to be living in a city that had a first class professional repertory theatre, a major music hall and a straight theatre that was on the pre-London touring circuit. There were also 100 amateur societies ranging from what I called village hall stuff Ė Mrs Jones in a funny hat Ė to serious bodies trying to do worthwhile stuff. Travelling throughout a large part of England I also went to the local theatre everywhere I could. I realised that if I was to become a man of the Theatre (my ultimate but never achieved aim) I had better learn as much about it as I could. They wouldnít let me backstage but I studied the front of house, the tickets, the programs, the box office and bar arrangements.
After a time I was asked to handle the press publicity for one amateur company. My first piece was a 200 word paragraph about a teenage actor. I said that he wanted to make a career of it but felt it important to get an education first and he was going to Cambridge University. One newspaper group in the city had three papers. A morning one, an evening one with a much bigger circulation and a weekend paper. I met the person concerned in town on the morning that my piece appeared unchanged. He was thrilled at getting his first publicity. He did go on to become quite well known and Iíve seen him in various film and TV roles. For me it was proof that I could at least write to the standard of a provincial newspaper. My joy lasted until the evening paper printed exactly the same piece and on Saturday so did the weekend one. I was horrified, not knowing much about the ways of newspapers, and thought theyíd never print anything of mine again. There were 8 papers circulating in our area. From then on I did 8 differently worded versions of each release. That was hard work but good practice. I never met any journalists, bought them drinks, took them for meals etc. I reasoned that if I gave them a paragraph that was better than what they would have put in that space anyway they would use it. And they did.
When I found myself on the committee of a charity it was natural that I would try to get publicity for them as well. This was a cause initiated by a war hero, Group Captain Cheshire VC. He found a gap in the National Health Service. There were a lot of men and women around with diseases for which there was no cure Ė multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease etc Ė and yet they lived for many years. They didnít need fulltime hospitalisation but they did need special care. This mostly came from parents but they grew old, sick themselves and died and what happened to the patients then? Cheshire would find a former stately home that was empty and doomed to be demolished and he would move incurable patients in. A local committee would form and would contribute money and labour both to save the building and to help the patients. Then he would walk away and leave them to it. He explained to me once that you had a better chance of raising money if you were actually doing something rather than just appealing. He cited the case of a car that had stalled. You could stand on the pavement (Australian footpath, American sidewalk) asking people to help you push it up the hill. By the time you had sufficient the first ones would have got tired and left. But if you started the obviously hopeless task of pushing it yourself others would spontaneously lend a hand.
Thereís one very important development that I must report. I didnít have much to do with other sales representatives but there was one man that I bumped into several times. One night in Buxton in Derbyshire we found ourselves at the same hotel. We were having dinner together and he told me about a friend who had won £400 on the football pools. He said that he didnít want to win £400 pounds. What can you do with that? Itís not going to change your life. I thought about his remarks and wondered what I would do if I had £400. I knew instantly. Iíd take a year off work and devote it to writing. (This was 50 years ago and you really could live on that amount if you were careful.)
I decided that I wasnít likely to win it on the pools so Iíd better save it. That gave me a goal and an incentive. It took some years but I did it eventually. More about that later. During this time I managed to find the deposit for a house. My mother was very depressed about the house we had lived in since just before the war (1939). ďIíll never leave this house.Ē I also wanted to provide something better for my young sister. That didnít help my savings plan but thatís life. next