Farewell old friend

Yesterday morning on the way to work I heard a story on Radio 4 that made me sad.

The very last typewriter to be produced in Britain was being manufactured that very day – and being shipped straight to the Science Museum.

That’s it, there will be no more, the typewriter is a thing of the past.

To be honest, part of me was surprised anyone was still manufacturing typewriters at all. But this factory (Brother) in Wrexham has, apparently been continuing to supply electronic typewriters to the legal industry in the USA, parts of which still prefer not to have legal records stored on a hard drive – well that’s what Radio 4 said anyway. Now, however, the business is no longer viable and so that’s it, no more typewriters will be manufactured in the UK.

The typewriter is as dead as a dodo.

My old friend the typewriter and I had a love/hate relationship for many years.

In a brief spell at college, an elderly lady with pointy glasses and a business suit attempted to teach me to touch type … and failed. My short stubby fingers weren’t having any of it.

Although I spend half my life typing and am pretty damn fast,  I still only type with four fingers and one thumb on a good day.

When I started on work experience at a local newspaper, my typing got faster and faster.

We typed our stories on tiny, tiny pieces of paper – the one sentence intro went on the first page, you could probably get three paragraphs (short ones) on subsequent pages. You had to type mf (more follows) on the bottom right hand corner of each sheet until you reached the end, then you’d type Ends.

On the top right hand corner of each page you typed a catchline – one word that described the story – your initials and the page number.

Then there was carbon paper. The bane of my life. We had to do several copies of each story, one for your files, one for the news editor, one went to the subs, others were filed for various reasons.

So you had these tiny pieces of paper interspersed with carbon paper, at least one piece of which I would get back to front, which you would force in to the typewriter. Mistakes were corrected with xxxxs over the top of words or tippex,

When we finished our articles we had to count our words (typewriters couldn’t do that) and write the number of words on the front.

The first work typewriter I had had 1908 on the front, yes it really did and no I’m not that old.

It had keys on long stalks and clattered loudly. But at least the letters were still visible, the newer ones with soft plastic keys, wore away after a little while. The typewriter ribbon got tangled regularly and I used to get covered in red and black ink trying to reload the damn thing.

I remember the noise of the newsroom, I’m not sure I could work with that row anymore but I loved the buzzz – and the fact that if I got fed up in there, I could pick up the typewriter and cart it to the staffroom, outside, even to the car and still work.

I also remember getting new typewriters for the office. We placed an advert in our own papers asking for second hand unwanted typewriters and then the news editor and I drove round the respondents,  road tested the typewriters, loaded the good ones into my boot and drove them back to the office. Local newspapers had small budgets then too.

I broke nails, got covered in ink, got carbon paper round the wrong way, could rarely hear myself think or people on the phone because of the noise, went home with my fingers throbbing through bashing the keys and swore at my typewriter regularly.

But you know what? When it comes down to it, I’m actually quite sad about its demise.

In a rose-tinted, nostalgic sort of way it was my friend, it helped me write and I liked (still like) to write. It was one of the tools of the trade in a profession that I loved. It was part of a new and exciting world that I was proud and astounded to have been allowed to join, it was part of my dreams and ambitions and a huge part of my life.

So goodbye my friend, I have fond memories and you will be missed.

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7 comments
  1. I first learnt to tyoe on a big clunking manual typewriter before being allowed to progress to the electric one once we hit 30 wpm I too have a nostalgic love for them and think it instilled a sense of discipline in writing which is now missing, after all why think through your words when you can now easily hit delete rather than have to begin over again

    • That’s so true, I used to think much more carefully about what I committed to paper when I used a typewriter, as I do when I use a pen now.

  2. nikkix2 said:

    I remember one day trying to explain to my girls about the typing classrooms that were always at the farthest end of the school, I can still here the clacking of the typewriters, the ding, zip and the the resuming of the clacking.
    The girls looked at me like I had grown a third head :)

    • I know what you mean, a few years ago one of my reporters asked me what a newsroom was like “in the olden days! !!! Cheeky whatsit lol :)

  3. lucewriter said:

    Thanks for this. I couldn’t stand the idea of parting with my Smith Corona, so I stocked up on supplies long after I was using my PC. But I’ve never used it. And I sure wouldn’t want to go back to those days of typing papers with footnotes. Sometimes I typed the same page 6 times because I always forgot to stop in time to leave room for the footnotes!

    • I like the convenience of the computer keyboard and I’m really not sure I could stand the noise now either :)

      • lucewriter said:

        Clackety clack. You’re so right.

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