FIFTY YEARS AGO
this very month, I met my first pharmaceutical physician - when I joined
Riker Laboratories (a precursor of today’s 3M Healthcare) in
Eric was typical of the many affable members of medical departments I
encountered over the next three decades or so. Offset by a few
I’d spent two years as an advertising writer at Notleys, a leading
London agency famous for its creativity and poets on the payroll; in an
office shared with two designers, the novelist William Trevor, and an
executive’s usually continent corgi, parked for the day under our desks.
As the only job applicant turning up with a pen, at Riker I was a
shoe-in for Chief Copywriter in Marketing.
My new office home appealed. Allegedly a former sock factory, it had
wavy wooden floors where machines had clacked energetically for decades.
From the big windows there was the Grand Junction canal and
coal-dust-spiked sunsets over Charnwood Forest on one side, and a vista
towards rural Leicestershire on the other. On Streetview it still looks
a cheerfully characterful head office.
I found it a warm-hearted workplace, where people made time to talk
face-toface and share their family and local community lives beyond the
office. They were proud that Loughborough is the home of Taylor’s, the
world’s biggest bell foundry, whose work you can hear in the town’s
carillon and St Paul’s Cathedral. And in Clemerson’s furniture
department Nick Alkemade was to be found, famous for falling 18000 feet
without his RAF parachute on to a snow-covered forest.
Just a leg sprain, since you ask. And PTSD.
Unlike socks or bells or sofas, pharma products are rarely seen by their
office staff. But one day I found a cache of small packs hidden behind a
radiator, presumably stored for some private enterprise marketing. They
were GP samples of, ahem, Durophet-M - the phet reflecting the main
ingredient. Fetching a pound a capsule down the pub, Eric said...
The world of office work had a few significant differences from now.
Most noticeable, no keyboard or screen on your desk. For document
production, many executives shared an Audiotyping Pool. You dictated
thoughts into a tape recorder and took the cassette along to Edith, in
charge of the team of typists (some of whom doubled up as babysitters).
She’d sometimes have to remind you to ask for 3 carbon copies at the
beginning of the tape rather than the end, please. But dictating gave
you the long-lost benefit of hearing the words, and speaking short
sentences, and organising thoughts before committing them to cassette
and paper. And it lent you a crucial second mind, that of someone with
secretarial training prepared to say Did You Really Mean That?
When us male executives volunteered for some in-house clinical research
for Eric, we had to carry our urine samples past the Pool, while the
audiotypists laughed their headphones off. But it proved that a
pharmaceutical physician could organise a piss up in a sock factory.
(Having waited 50 years for the chance to write that, for me it’s
AND BY WAY OF CONTEXT...