Dictators not tyrants
08 Jul 2010
Following on from my last blog about women in the office I thought I would share a small selection of material from staff magazines dealing with the thorny relationship between typists and those who dictated to them.
The earliest of these was written by Walter Frederick Gemmer and appeared in the Ladyday 1943 issue of the Norwich Union staff magazine. By this date Gemmer, who had started his career at Norwich Union in 1889, had already retired from his work in the stationary and printing department but his obituary in the staff magazine two years later recalled him as “a man who was, above all, capable of adding the spice of life to the dull routine of daily affairs.”
Typists have a creed,
“Spelling doesn’t matter”
Tapping at top speed
Boss’s priceless patter.
You be the exception;
Mind your p’s and q’s;
Fitting stops ad accents
To their rightful use.
Words and phrases subtle
Waiting you to floor;
Look ‘em up in Nuttall,
Just outside the door.
C’s in nouns like “practice”
Change to s in verbs;
Simple though the fact is –
Often it perturbs.
Try to recollect –
Many won’t forgive –
Others can’t detect
A split infinitive.
Treat him like a baby,
Bowing to his whim;
And perchance it may be
You will capture him.
When that day shall come,
Either soon or later –
He’ll be sitting dumb
And you’ll be the dictator.
Later authors preferred to remain anonymous as in this poem by “Anon” of Melbourne branch which appeared in the North British & Mercantile staff magazine in 1950.
If you really want to help us, and I feel quite sure you do,
You will not use a pencil of anaemic greyish hue,
You will not use a pen-nib that has known much toil and strife,
Nor write as though with palsy you had suffered all your life,
You will not make your figure five look like an S or such.
Nor make the rest of what you write, like nothing very much,
Nor pin on bits and pieces with a gay, light-hearted air,
And then cross out, and then put in, draw arrows here and there,
And when, with pain and anguish, we have reached page 24,
Just alter this and alter that, and have it typed once more.
Nor must you get your schedules in an awful ruddy mess,
So where they start and where they end’s impossible to guess.
If you’d refrain from doing all the things I’ve listed here,
Though the whole, wide world should hate you, typists’ hearts would hold you dear!
Finally, leaving verse behind, an anonymous member of the South British Insurance Company staff penned the following in the 1950s.
Rules for dictators
- Never start work first thing in the morning. Typists much prefer a terrific rush in the late afternoon.
- Please smoke while dictating. It assists pronunciation.
- Do not face the typist while dictating. This would be too easy for her.
- Hours of dictation: during the lunch hour, and at any time between 4.30 and 5.30pm
- When dictating please parade up and down the room. Typists can understand what is said more distinctly.
- Please call in the typist for dictation and then proceed to sort papers, look up old files, telephone and receive calls etc.
- Please lower the voice to a whisper when dictating names of people, places, etc. and in no circumstances spell them out to the typist. Typists are sure to hit upon the right way of spelling them – they know the name of every person, firm and place in the world.
- When typists do not hear a word and dictators are asked to repeat it, shout it as loudly as possible. The typists find this most gentlemanly. Alternatively, dictators should refuse to repeat it at all. The typists have second sight and it may come to them.
- Whenever possible, dictators should endeavour to keep the typists late. Typists have no homes to go to and are only too thankful for somewhere to spend the evening.
- Should a letter require a slight alteration after it is typed, score the word heavily through about 4 times, and write the correct word beside it – preferably in ink or heavy pencil – and always make sure the alteration is on the top copy.
- Should a typist be too busy or too lazy to take down dictation, please write letters with a blunt pencil held in the left hand, whilst blindfolded. Incorrect spelling, balloons, arrows and other diagrams are very helpful to typists.
- Should work be required urgently (a most unusual occurrence) it aids the typist considerably if the dictator rushes in at intervals of 30 seconds to see if it is done.
- If extra copies of a letter are required, this desire should be indicated either after “Yours faithfully” or overleaf so as to ensure it is the last thing the typist will see when the letter is completed.
- If a typist is making a tricky alteration requiring concentration and precision, always stand over her and breathe down her neck while she does it.
- With regards to statements, do not on any account use lined paper. If figures are altered please write heavily over those previously inserted, the correct figure in each case being the one underneath.