lighthouse logo

Chapter Nine

1965 to 1968 - Bryans Ltd

[Next] [Contents] [Home] [Bottom of Page]

In the time before I started my next job, we had a pleasant break from the normal routine. One memorable thing happened. We were visited by two young Mormon missionaries. Having nothing better to do, I invited them in. We talked and they left the Book of Mormon for me to read which I did. They came back the next week and we talked again. I asked lots of questions and they promised to come again. The next time they came they brought their superior, the Area Supervisor as I thought of him. We talked some more and I asked some more questions. I was fascinated by their strange world view which all depended on the belief in Joshua Smith being visited by God and being given the key to the secrets of life, the universe and everything in a code that only he could decipher. The succeeding visits brought increasingly senior people, the District Manager and the Regional Coordinator as I thought of them. Eventually I innocently asked them if they thought I was a potential convert when I was really only a skeptic gathering information about everything in my world. They reacted with some shock and left, never to return but not before telling us we only had one chance of salvation and that was to accept their beliefs - now.

In the beginning of January 1965, I started my new job as development engineer with a company called Bryans. The company made XY Plotters in competition with an established American company, F.L.Moseley. I was given the task of designing a new chart recorder which I did successfully, once again with no previous experience in the business.

An interesting thing happened when I submitted the prototype to the Sales Department. I had decided that we needed to break from the old style of products so I planned to paint the device some more modern colour than the usual hammertone grey. I had asked the paint shop to paint the prototype any other colour they had. They said that they didn't have any other colour and I said "What's that tin of blue then?". It went to the Sales meeting, to which I as a mere designer was not invited, and afterwards I asked what they thought of the colour. No one had noticed that it wasn't hammertone grey. I eventually employed a consultant to select the colour and it ended up a nice metallic bronze. I would never have won an argument about colour but they were happy to accept the consultant's advice which had cost 500 pounds.

I had told the firm that I was planning to return to Australia so they took me out of the instrument design section and sent me for training as a Value Analyst.

Value Analysis was relatively new technique developed in America. Its premise is that, even when designs are good at meeting technical requirements, that cost was generally not specified so the design was not optimized for cost. Generally, it was thought, about 30% of a products cost was "unnecessary". Careful analysis by a trained team working in the right environment could find some if not all of this unnecessary cost, modify the product design without changing its performance, and improved the profit margin dramatically.

I worked diligently at this new discipline with only limited success. Resistance to change is always a problem and it was particularly so at Bryans. Each department was jealous of its independence and I wasn't the most diplomatic advocate. I did achieve some good results but generally only through the people with whom I had worked before and who understood what I was doing. I was to realise later that, to be successful, Value Analysis has to have the active support of the top management.

In my new role, I had a pretty wide brief and came into contact with the Production Manager who was a drop out from Phillips and not much use to anyone. I was warned that I should not antagonize him because he had a reputation for getting rid of anyone who seemed brighter than him. It was pretty clear that this advice was good because there was virtually no-one on his staff with an ounce of independence. All the good people had been "got rid of". My response was to remark that it would be Bryans loss not mine if he were to get rid of me.

The Managing Director was a new man put in by the grey suited men who had recently taken over the company. He was what I would now call a "modern" manager though "post-modern" might be a more appropriate term. These people believe that they don't need to know or even understand the technology used in the design, manufacture and support of their company's products. All they need to "know" is how to manage. He called me into his office one day and asked me for my views on where the company should look for new products. I answered him at some length identifying a train of thought which arose from the my dawning knowledge of the information revolution. Professor Cherry had recently presented a series of lectures on the subject on BBC2 which I had watched. I went on to develop the idea that the company already made a range of products which were all at the man-machine interface specifically concerned with the output of data from electronic systems. Opportunities for new devices in this area would increase rapidly as the information revolution progressed. He thanked me for my ideas and said he thought that boats would be a better bet because the fastest growing market at that time was the leisure industry.

On another occasion he asked me to work on a project to pick up the rights to manufacture fish gutting machines being offered to industry by the White Fish Authority. I did some investigation and found that fish gutting machines are used on trawlers while they are at sea. The repair of the machines quickly after any breakdown is paramount and each machine has a maintenance engineer usually employed by the machine's manufacturer on board at all times. It was my considered view that we were lacking in any of the skills and experience required to establish and maintain such a workforce. By this time he probably thought that I was lacking in any vision at all.

One of my last efforts for Bryans was to work on the specifications for a range of future products. I did this work with the Senior Engineer and the Senior Salesman. We worked privately without discussing it with the managers largely because we didn't want to cope with any resistance to change nor to get involved in design by committee. I treated this work as pretty blue sky stuff and unlikely to come to fruition. However, many years later when I was working for AWA on the CMI Project, I chanced upon some engineers from CAC, one of our fellow contractors on the project, making measurements on their gear which had been installed in our trainer. They were using an XY Plotter and it was exactly like the one we had specified when I was at Bryans. It was indeed a Bryans machine and the work I had initiated years earlier had indeed been brought to fruition by my colleagues. That made me feel really good and made me realise that I probably was more visionary than any of my bosses.

I think it was soon after Sarah was born in 1965 that I suffered a quite severe bout of Erythema nodosum, large painful swelling on the legs. The GP said there were several possible causes and that he would treat them in order of likelihood. The first possibility was rheumatism which required largish doses of anti-inflammatory medication. After several weeks, he decided that we should go to the second most likely cause, TB, so off I went to the chest clinic in the Mayday hospital in Croydon. Chest x-rays, blood tests and, finally, a lymph gland biopsy revealed that I had Sarcoidosis. I have since discovered that this can be a quite severe disease with some nasty complications, but the doctor at the chest clinic decided not to give any treatment because the disease is sometimes self-remitting. He was right and three years later after passive observation via regular chest x-rays he discharged me with the words "You were one of the lucky ones who recovered by self-remission because the treatment is often worse that the disease".

One day in 1966, I went to answer the door and was surprise and delighted to see my brother, Colin. We exchanged some words and Jean called out "What are you doing talking to yourself at the door?" Though we had not seen one another for 14 years and despite my almost perfect pommie accent, when we spoke we sounded like twins. We had a lot of catching up to do as we hadn't been in touch at all since I left Australia. I discovered that, except such minor details as his failure to continue as an engineer and his adoption of Scientology, we had followed almost parallel paths. We had both been stage electricians at University, we were both married with children, though he had an earlier failed marriage, we were both going bald at an early age, and we both spoke with the same voice.

We visited with him and his wife, Margaret and the children, Katie and Andrew and they with us. On the last occasion that I saw him, they had been having dinner with us and the after dinner conversation turned to Scientology. Jean says she believes they were trying to recruit us but I didn't twig to that. Sometime late in the evening I asked if they really believed in this guy, L Ron Hubbard who was reputed to have invented Scientology as a result of a bet that he could invent a successful religion. Both Colin and his wife turned white with anger and stormed out of the house. No-one in the family heard from them again until many years later when my daughter, Rachel, tracked him down. For all that time I blamed myself for the schism in the family but I was to find out that it wasn't my fault at all. Colin's son, Andrew, had been brought up by his mother and her second husband in Holland after the failure of her marriage to Colin. Andrew had returned to England, sought out his father and went to live with him for a time. He left home to make his way in the world and lost touch with Colin. He had to search the electoral rolls to find his father again. Colin apparently never bothers to tell anyone when he moves his place of residence and he never keeps anyone's address. He literally loses people, even his own children, out of sheer lack of care and attention.

We eventually made all the arrangements to emigrate to Australia. Jean and the children were accepted as assisted passage migrants but I had to pay for my passage. I had chosen to make the journey by sea thinking that we would relive my journey to England all those years before. How wrong I was will be revealed later.

The week before we were due to leave, it snowed a foot of snow in London. This was nearly unprecedented and cause much hardship. I had to take Sarah to the doctor and we rugged up and put on our wellies but her's were not tall enough to keep the snow from falling in over the tops and she was very unhappy. The snow thawed but refroze again before it could melt away leaving a three inch thick layer of solid ice on the footpath. It was a matter of social obligation that each householder clear a narrow path in this ice to make it possible for people to walk along the street in some safety. I did my bit, all the while vowing that when I left England, I would never, ever live in a snowy climate again. To this day, I avoid places with snow like the plague.

[Top of Page] [Next] [Contents] [Home]
Created: 29/1/07 and last revised 6/2/07
Author: Robin Chalmers Copyright in all the material on this site is asserted by the author
Contact the webmaster