It was September 1966 and I had just left school and spent a holiday with my Swedish pen friend when my father insisted it was time I obtain a job and quickly too. The service area had only been opened less than a year and was proving a big employer in the Cabus/Forton area and they were laying on transport to get the staff to and from work, a good idea when the place was relatively isolated and not many people had cars then.
I went for an interview on the Friday and started work on the following Monday in September 1966 in the big kitchen that served the large cafeteria. My first job was “filling up” which meant making sure that all the “help yourself” shelves were full of sandwiches, cakes etc. My wage was less that £8 per week full-time. As I was eager to learn my next job was serving tea and coffee – tea was made in a huge teapot and poured as necessary – coaches made the place very busy. The phrase used was the “tea and pee brigade”. Next I progressed to the griddle where we cooked bacon sausages and eggs in huge quantities. I felt I had really made it when I became a cashier on the till and all this in the space of a few short weeks.
However, my greatest wish was to be a waitress in the “tower” and I really pushed the catering manager (Mr Rowles) to consider me. The uniform was so chic in a shade of mid-green with a pencil slim skirt which had to be just above knee level, a white blouse, a waistcoat with shiny chrome buttons and a Top Rank emblem embroidered on it. There was a full time uniform mistress (I think her name was Mrs Holmes) who altered all the clothing for new staff as they arrived. The tower waitresses uniforms were simply the best as were the ladies who wore them and I was so delighted when I donned that uniform and entered the lift to go up to the tower on my first day!
The restaurant proved a huge success and we were very, very busy with queues all day from 10am until 10pm. All the tables were fixed to the floor and the bench seats, which we could pull out, were covered in a large weave plain pale blue material that withstood many things being spilt and cleaned brilliantly. These were stood on top of the hotel quality, deep blue, patterned carpet. All customers were seated at beige Formica tables, which were at right angles to the windows around the whole of the outside area of the tower. The supervisor (Mrs Whiteside) acted as a hostess to show the customers to tables and give them a menu (these were all kept by the till at the entrance). There were plastic mats (not sure of the colour - my guess is either green or black) on the tables and a salt & pepper set. The crockery was white with a black Greek key design. Set in each corner of the tower was a dumb waiter where each waitress had access to a small fridge, cutlery, crockery and sauce boats in stainless steal filled up with mayonnaise, mint sauce etc. We always gave After Eight mints with coffees and I’m afraid I used to indulge with left overs! We served non-alcoholic wine and beer also.
All the ancillary requirements were kept in the centre of the tower accessed from the outer walkway. Here was housed the washing up machines, the food storage, the cold prep area and the chefs grills. I remember Mrs Morley, who was often in cold prep, making up the salads and desserts and I would complain because she was a bit stingy with the cream! We used to have a good laugh with the chefs who cooked all the steaks, gammon, lamb chops, pork chops etc but I also remember that we would all become quite stressed and tired particularly at Bank Holidays and weekends. I remember walking miles and miles on that carpet because no matter where you were stationed you always had to walk a long way for something. My career at Forton Services lasted about 2 years before I decided I needed to do more though I did briefly contemplate a career in catering because I enjoyed the restaurant so much.
Ironically over 20 years later after bringing up my three children and wanting to re-enter the world of work after a secretarial course I applied for the job as PA to the General Manager at Forton Services and after two interviews started there again in December 1990. This brought back huge memories though much had changed and the tower restaurant was no longer open and simply housed the accounts department in a small section of it. A 40 bedroom lodge had been built and the transport café had disappeared. During 1991 and 1992 there were many discussions about how to save money and it was obvious that the staff transport would have to cease so from about 1992 all staff had to find there own way to the service area.
The Forton Services area is a wonderful piece of history telling the story of how much life has changed since its original conception in the early 1960’s.
A massive thanks to Noreen for giving a brilliant insight into the early days of Forton Services