My song today is ‘Just Between You and Me’. This song was popularised by Charlie Pride and was also recorded by Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner. The latter two released it as their first collaborative studio album in January 1968. It peaked at Number 8 on the Billboard ‘Hot Country LP’s Chart’. Around the same time, Charley Pride recorded the song.
Born in 1934, Charley Pride, who had been an American professional baseball player, became a business owner, a guitarist, and then a successful singer. His greatest musical success came in the early to mid-1970s when he became the best-selling performer for RCA Records since Elvis Presley. During the peak years of his recording career (1966–87), he garnered 52 top-10 hits on the Billboard ‘Hot Country Songs’ chart, 30 of which made it to Number 1. Charley Pride is one of a few Afro-Americans to become a member of the ‘Grand Ole Opry’. He was inducted into the ‘Country Music Hall of Fame’ in 2000.
When I worked as a mill manager in Cleckheaton during the mid-1960s, despite being 27 years old at the time, I had progressed as high in the textile industry as any working-class man could reasonably expect to do in their lifetime. I obtained a position as foreman in a finishing firm at the age of 24 years old. There were another five foremen at the mill; four who worked on days and one who worked on the night shift. We each supervised our own department in the mill and were paid a monthly salary with an added monthly bonus which was influenced by the production levels of our individual departments.
At the time, all the foremen (except me) were in their late forties and fifties, and one was 63 years old. My own starting salary was around 50 percent more than what I had earned at my previous textile employment where I had been a ‘working foreman’ after I returned from living in Canada. I was engaged to be married at the time and planned to wed after my fiancée had completed her teacher’s training course at Bradford College, two years later. I was well content with my increased salary at my new job. The mill owner also doubled as the mill manager during day-time hours. He was nearing retirement age, so he let it be known that his successor as mill manager ‘could’ come from within the group of the six foremen at the mill.
Consequently, there was a great deal of backbiting between some of the foremen, all of whom fancied getting the top job one day when the mill manager retired. The other five foremen were constantly trying to impress the mill manager wherever possible at the expense of their fellow foremen. They were also very secretive about any other foreman finding out how much salary they were being paid. They were each believed that they had more in their monthly salary than most of their foremen colleagues yet were fearful that they might have less than some! As a previous trade-union shop steward, I could easily see how the crafty mill owner was playing one foreman off against another with his ‘divide and rule tactics’. I even remember him telling me after he had interviewed me, and gave me the foreman position at the firm, “Keep your salary to yourself as you will be resented by foremen much older than you are, especially the ones who have been in their positions over ten years. Should they learn that you are being paid as much as they are, you will be unpopular!”
The upshot was that within one year of working as a foreman at the finishing firm, I was earning as much as all the other foremen. Indeed, after the bonuses were taken into account, I learned that I earned half as much again as one of the foremen who was in his fifties. Unknown to myself at the time, I was being provisionally groomed to supervise over one hundred workers in the Finishing Department on the night shift. The present foreman who supervised the night shift was close to retirement and he was returning unsatisfactory production figures each month. The mill owner wanting to be rid of him, and to be replaced with a better foreman at the earliest opportunity. The night foreman was popular with the men he was supervising. He had risen from the shop floor ranks and had fallen into the trap of trying to keep a foot in both camps (being a foreman as well as a regular workmate). In short, he was a soft touch as far as the men on the night shift were concerned, and they took full advantage of his amiable nature and the fact that he had once been one of them.
One morning I was called into the mill manager’s office and I was asked to be the night-time supervisor. I was told that my position would be as ‘supervising foreman’ to begin with and that I could anticipate myself progressing to the position of ‘under manager on nights’ if I could significantly improve the nightly output of the men. Although it was not spelled out, it was intimated that if things worked out on the night shift, and I could significantly improve the output of the workers, that within three or four years, the mill manager position would become vacant when he retired, and that ‘a suitable replacement’ would be sought; in-house if possible, and I would be the favourite to fill the vacant post.
Wanting to get as much money as possible earned before my wedding, and being less than two years away from my planned marriage, I had nothing to lose, so I agreed to undertake the supervision on the night shift. Within one month of supervising the night shift at the finishing mill, it was plain that the workers I supervised were no different from any other night-shift workers in the country. Their level of pay was set at a standard hourly rate, and as a bonus was rarely paid to non-salaried staff, they could only depend on overtime hours to earn extra. Apart from getting a night-shift allowance, they inconvenienced their family life greatly by working five nights a week for little more than what day workers earned. The night workers worked four ten-hour shifts from Monday night to Friday morning. As the workers could earn no extra money in their wage packets however hard they laboured, they had no incentive to ever increase their production levels from that of ‘the least amount they could get away with’.
It soon became apparent to me that they might be willing to accept a different kind of cooperative bonus, especially as they got their perks a different way. What the workers could not gain in monetary terms, they took in end-of-shift naps. During the last two hours of their night shift, all the men started to wind down in various ways. Their machines would be run slower, and their total work would be eked out until an hour before clocking-out time. Then, some might play cards, others talk in groups, and a good number of them would even have an hour’s nap inside a skip while another worker kept an eye out for the prowling foreman. Before I had been there less than a month, a number of what was known in trade-union terms as ‘Spanish Practices’ became clearer to me.
As a night foreman and under manager, who was younger in years than almost all the employees under my supervision, if I was to succeed in my ultimate aim of increasing monthly production, I would have to gain the trust of over one hundred men, as well as being able to persuade them that it was in their interest to increase their shift production for no increased wages! This was no mean feat as jobs were plentiful at the time, so threatening to fire anyone would cut no ice with them. Also, there was a trade-union worker representative who worked on the night shift, and any threat of job loss would merely bring about a strike once reported to the day-time shop steward. It soon became apparent that my own previous experience as a textile shop steward had been as attractive to the mill manager when I originally applied to fill the post of Finishing Foreman as had been my extensive textile knowledge and the position of ‘working foreman’ I had held in my previous job.
To cut to the chase, I asked the workers to increase their output by 10 percent and arrived at an understanding with them. I agreed that providing there was no shoddy work or damage when they had completed their new quota for the night, they could sleep for the last two hours of their shift without needing to hide about it. This arrangement was done on the understanding that nobody told the day workers about it and even kept it from their marriage partners. I also let it be known to the trade union representative that I would turn a blind eye if a colleague ‘clocked them in’ should they ever turn up for work late because of any emergency at home, providing they returned their nightly output required by the end of their night shift.
If anyone has ever worked permanent night shifts, they would know that it is not called ‘the graveyard shift’ for no reason. For starters, it is unnatural for men or women to be working in the dark of night and trying to sleep in the sunlight. Knowing that while you work through the night that the rest of the day workers are either out enjoying themselves, or sleeping in their beds with their wives, eventually depresses one. Spring and summertime is the very worst time of the year for night-shift workers to come to terms with, knowing that while normal society is wide awake during the day, that they are trying to sleep through the bright summer days. The family life of the night worker is a wholly disruptive lifestyle that can never be fully adjusted to. It is no good for marital relationships, and it plays havoc with one’s body clock. No matter how many years a person works on the night shift, they never really get used to it. There is never one weekend throughout the year when the night-shift worker does not feel tired or is able to fully enjoy their leisure hours as a daytime worker can. The only occasions when I have known the night-shift to work for any man (or woman) is when their marriage is already over, but separation is resisted because of the sake of the children or the unwillingness to go through a divorce and its necessary upheaval in one’s routine and financial cost.
The night-shift workers gradually went along with my suggestion, and once they saw that the arrangement was to our mutual satisfaction (they were aware that my bonus was being increased proportionately to their increased output), they knew I would stick to my part of our ‘unofficial understanding’. Over the following year, I satisfied the expectations of the mill owner and the workers I supervised on the night shift. I was duly appointed ‘under manager on nights’, with another salary increase as promised and my prospects seemed brighter than ever. As to my mutual arrangement with the workers, it remained ‘just between me and them’.
Then, having attained the position of night manager and a much-increased wage, I decided that working on nights was not any longer a job for me and that I wanted a complete change of career direction. The night shift had given me much time to think about my life and what I really wanted out of it. I also had this nagging conscious which kept reminding me that I was not honouring a deal I had struck during my childhood years.
As a boy aged 11 years, I had suffered from the effects of a serious traffic accident that almost killed me and prevented me from walking for three years. As I lay dying in Batley Hospital with multiple injuries that included a damaged spine, I recalled the words that were being spoken at the end of my bed. From a semi-conscious state, as I lay in a sideward, I heard a hospital doctor tell me parents that I would not live through the night. Not wanting to die at such a young age, I promised my Maker there and then, that if He let me live that I would spend the rest of my life doing good work. My Maker kept His side of the bargain, and during one night shift at the mill, I realised that I had not yet honoured mine.
I eventually decided to give up my textile position, and instead, I took an ordinary shop-floor job in a Brighouse mill on days. My income was instantly reduced by two thirds and I was no longer salaried. However, my nights were now free, enabling me to go back to night school three times a week for over two years. I had run away from school to join the workforce when I was aged 15 years, just before I took my GCE O-Level examinations, and so I decided it was time to return to educational studies and to complete ‘unfinished business’ at the age of 27 years.
I went back to school and complete the education I had previously abandoned, and I decided to qualify sufficiently to be accepted into a university of my choice. After passing my examinations and gaining a university place at Bath University, I initially planned to become a History teacher and to seek a post in a school that was in a deprived area. As a second string to my bow, I simultaneously applied to go on a ‘Probation Officer’s Training Course’ but did not hold out much hope of success because of my previous experience on the wrong side of the law.
I fortuitously got accepted on both courses within two weeks of each other, and I decided to become a Probation Officer as a career change. I decided to become a poacher turned gamekeeper, a thief-taker instead of a lawbreaker. With my own working-class background and council estate upbringing, I believed that I was better placed than the usual Probation Officer who usually came from a middle-class background to help the offender. I believed that I had a much better chance of convincing someone with a similar background to the one I had experienced of there being a better way to get by in life by going straight.
Every moment of my 27-year career with the West Yorkshire Probation Service was personal confirmation that I was in the right job. Helping offenders stop offending, helping addicts break their lengthy addictive practices, helping stressful people learn to relax and reduce unhealthy tension levels, helping angry and fearful people to regain control over their anger and fear levels, and essentially helping anyone with whom I would work to increase their health, hope and happiness factors was much more than a work experience; it was a vocation that I loved. Unfortunately, a disability led me to retire prematurely at the age of 53 years. I then concentrated on being an author and have now had sixty-four published books (with all book-sale profits going to charitable causes).
I never once regretted my change in careers, and ‘History’ became a lifelong interest of mine. Now, please note that what I’ve told you in this post about the ‘Spanish Practices’ of the old textile firms, and ‘my turning of a blind eye’ when one night-shift worker ‘clocked’ a workmate when a home emergency caused him to be late is ‘Just Between You and Me’.
Love and peace Bill xxx