George Robertson was born in 1924 and originally from Musselburgh, Scotland.
George’s earliest childhood memory was sticking his hand on a newly plastered wall near where he lived. He was two. And he remembers someone was quite annoyed. He also remembers taking pictures from a box camera when he was about three. He liked winding the film. He liked ‘working things’ like his meccano set. From an early age George knew he wanted to be an engineer.
George started work in 1938, at the age of 14, as an engineering apprentice at the Inveresk Paper Company. The company had its own railway and housing estate and employed around 200 people. His job was to fix faulty machines. Some of the jobs required overalls but he was often in the drawing office. The boss, Mr Alexander, would come round and check what they were doing and made sure that no-one was smoking. His office looked down on the factory floor so he could see what people were doing. One time Mr Alexander saw smoke and went down onto the floor and asked George if he was smoking. George said the smoke was coming from the machines and it wasn’t him… There were quite a few work-place romances. George said there were lots of girls around who would go round chatting all the time. This apprenticeship wasn’t really a job as he was there to learn and the pay was small, around 10 shillings a week for the first year. What George enjoyed was that if you could fix something you would feel good at the end of it. He worked 8 hours a day and go home for lunch. George spent his money on going out dancing and on cigarettes, 10 for a shilling.
George came down to London in the early 1950s and got a job at a camera company, SR Littlejohn. He’d gone in to ask for work on the Friday and was told to come back on the Monday morning. He went onto work for C Zang – instrument makers making electrical and mechanical prototypes like photocopiers, one-armed bandits – guaranteed to make profits for their owners, and coin counters for the Royal Mint. He worked for them from 1958-1973. The work was challenging and one project could last a year. He worked for a few different companies after C Zang and then, in 1982, went to Biddle and Mumford, who also developed prototypes. They were based in Great Sutton Street he worked there, with a gap of a year, until 1991 when Biddle and Mumford moved out to Buckhurst Hill.
George’s New Year’s resolution for 2013 is to construct a camera.
I asked George:
Q. What is your most prized possession: one of my home made cameras… unfortunately no-one wants them now
Q. If you had a time machine where would you go back to and why? I wouldn’t go forward as it looks like we’re heading into trouble – I’d go back to the time when I first came to London – you could get a job in 5 minutes and the future looked good.
Q. What is your favourite word? Yes
Q. What is your favourite building? The Gherkin