Thursday 27 September 2018
How To Be A 1960s London Taxi Driver part 3 - chats with my Dad about The Knowledge and driving a Black Cab
Here's the third video I shot with Dad about being a London black taxi driver in the 1960's...
He's stopped driving now, and handed in the Green Badge, so I'm glad I asked him about things I'd not heard before.
I love where he's horrified that he let me ride up in the front of the cab in the 1970's.
I'd be hanging on to his radio microphone from the ceiling, like a straphanger on the tube.
(feel free to turn the speed up and whack the subtitles on...)
How to be a 1960s London Taxi Driver Part 3 | Chats with my Dad oral history
0:00 Ian talks about joining the London radio taxi circuit called Lords... the kipper season...
1:15 How you'd get a radio in your taxi from Pye
2:00 Being horrified now that he let me sit in the front on the cab
3:00 The secret panic button
4:00 How radio dispatch worked with jobs phoning in
6:00 All about ODRTS (the Owner Driver Radio Taxi Service), Lords, Dial-A-Cab...
7:50 More about the emergency button
8:55 Catching cabbies who abused the radio
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- and and then so then when did you join Lords?
Was that soon after you'd passed?
No, I gave it-- oh... it's 1970... I think... it was February 1970
Was it easy to join?
Yes in those days - but it was there again it was like the kipper season.
There wasn't much work about - this is why most of the fellas didn't buy their houses because February was absolutely dead.
There's hardly any work about.
When did they call it the kipper season-- why did they call it the kipper season?
Nobody knows [LAUGHTER]
They do not know why.
Is it because you had to eat kippers during that--
I think really, that's the best-- it's all we could put on the table.
You've always said is that the first two groups in London that know what the economy is doing are the prostitutes and the taxi drivers...
Yeah, and publicans. Oh that's right, yes.
So then you joined the radio circuit, do they then put a radio in your taxi?
Yes. I think you had to pay for the fitting.
It was Pye - out as you go up erm, Highgate Hill, it's near your school you go underneath the bridge (oh gawd I can't remember) or if you came along Gordon House Road turn right, you've got the pub there and underneath the bridge you had mews'es. And Pye's place was there.
That's PYE, P-Y-E... They're like a radio outfit.
And they'd what, like wire up an antenna and...
They'd put something in your boot. You'd have a big box in your boot.
Oh what, a transmitter?
Yes. You had a big mouth piece there...
Oh that's right - it's like the McDonald's drive-through (cashiers) microphones.
And when I used to take you to school, you used to hold on to that.
And these days [thinking about it] I just come over cold, because you'd sit there holding this thing.
Can you imagine doing that [today].
Because I was sat in the front?
There was a partition there. And you sat on the partition and held this thing.
Oh... you couldn't do that these days.
Mind you, things were a lot slower then. The cabs were a lot slower!
I have such fond memories... yeah back in the seventies you could... well you could go anywhere in a car, so you could've been in the boot. But in the taxi you could sit in the front in the luggage compartment and I used to love that!
And yeah, like you say, so you'd have like this armrest... that I'd sit on and hold the microphone!
Hold the microphone yes.
I'd forgotten that.
Oh I haven't. [Laughter]
No, well, when I think about it these days...
Yeah I s'pose so. Oh it was fun... It was fun though, that's living a little isn't it.
So you had a radio fitted. And the other thing I remember with the radio was that, well there were two things: there was a secret button. So basically was like a proper button...
So that if... so you were Apple 31?
How did you get that number?
No, they just dished out anyone.
You know, you'd join the circuit, and a number was empty and they gave it to you... as someone might have left the circuit...
Right, so you were A-31.
Yes Apple 3-1.
Which is Apple 31. And then could you hear other [drivers]?
Oh so you couldn't hear [others].
You could always hear the central control?
But you couldn't hear what the other...
...drivers were saying, no.
But you'd hear their call sign? So they'd call out - I don't know - what would it be...
Charlie 22 or something?
Yes. "Black 6-5 with the pipe" or something.
"Black 6-5 with the pipe"?
Yeah. Because he's always smoking a pipe.
So he was called "Black 6-5 with the pipe"?
Well this fella was.
Were there any others?
I can't remember any...
And how would that work? Would you like start the cab up, and would you let them know that you're that you were there?
They'd just put out a general call?
Yeah. But they would say, like, "Agar Grove going to Kings Cross."
And you had a call - an open call, first call...
If you were so many yards on top of it, and then you were a quarter of a mile, then you were half a mile. But... you could sort of cheat on it.
But some fellas always got caught - they were giving a false position.
What would happen?
You'd go for a Board of Complaints thing. And they could've been told off. Or let off. Or whatever.
Wow, so it's like a manual Uber, isn't it? They'd put out a call - pick up from Agar Grove. And, so the open call is to just see who's there.
Yeah, I can't remember it all...
So you'd go: "Apple 3-1, I'm in..."
St. Paul's Crescent.
And the nearest driver got the job.
But some people had only just come out to do a bit of [work]. So if they'd call like, Agar Grove to Kings Cross - it's a short ride - a lot of people didn't want to do it.
I used to love doing it. The smaller ones.
'Cos there'd be like a minimum [fare] on the clock already?
How did you know what to say, did they train you? Was there like a protocol with what you're supposed to say?
Yes. Well, you'd just say Apple 31. Then the dispatcher used to come back to you and say like "where are you?" And you'd give your position. Then someone else would come in and they'd give their position.
And you couldn't hear what they were saying anyway.
No. And he just repeated it - what the other fella had said.
Did you get to know the dispatchers over time?
Or recognise them?
Oh you do, but you never sort of met them. [You] just plodded along.
And they were based in Pentonville Road?
The first, Pentonville Road, and then they moved to Maida Vale.
Right. Yeah, because it was - the circuit was called "Lords" but the, not the company, the... organisation was the Owner Driver Taxi...
ODRTS. The Owner Drivers Radio Taxi Service.
It's a bit of a mouthful.
And then that became "Dial-A-Cab"?
Dial A Cab, that's it.
And what did "Mountview" become? Were they, did they...?
They became Radio Taxis.
And then, what, "ComputaCab" came along?
Yeah, 'cuz there was so much work, we couldn't cover it.
So then a third circuit came up?
And then THEY couldn't cover it!
So then a fourth one!
And then... none of them! Now they're starting to fold back down again.
Yes. They're joining up. But it's modern technology, I mean if we'd all been one circuit, you just couldn't cover the work.
It's technology that's changed the job.
I mean instead of asking where Apple 31 is, they know where it is because of the - what do they call it - GPS.
Yeah and then the other thing with the radio was that you had the big button that you'd press...
There was there was, erm, there was a secret button wasn't there, like an emergency button?
That's right. I think over the years. I can only remember one incident where one of our cabs... some car wouldn't let him out of a mews, so he's pressed the button and then all the other cabs go round.
Right, so then in an emergency you'd press this button and it would cut out all the radios, so you could only hear this one taxi? It was like an all-points emergency.
I think, no, what the fella said, he'd press the button and they just say "Right, we've got an emergency, shut your-- all be quiet" and then he could hear what he was saying.
Right, and then the idea was that everyone could go down there to help him.
But like you said, that only happened once in like 30 years?!
Yeah, I could only [remember once].
Well [on] the hours that I worked.
But then there was that thing in the 80's, which was that... someone was pressing this button. And basically you had your cab fitted with like detection equipment, it was like er... meter that could measure the strength [of the signal] and you were... they were called "Rat Catchers"?
I had "Rat Catcher" in my head. Okay.
And then what was that about?
Well some fella's got the hump to the circuit. And instead of getting it ripped out, they would just sit in, and press that button and... just sing. Or make a noise.
They just had the hump to the circuit. Well, it just sort of shows the mentality of some people.
And we used a London Underground map. You'd find it's A-B-C-D-E-F-G and there was about 4 or 5 of us, and when we were working... if they said the noise is coming from [nearby we'd mark it down]...
Oh, a fella fitted his cab up - so that he could hear the other drivers and they could tell which area [the noise came from].
You had a screen, like a meter, in your cab. And if someone else was misusing/abusing [the radio] your meter would come up.
Yeah, it would measure the signal strength, and then they'd try and hone it down [to where the noise was coming from]. Did they ever catch him?
No, because I joined when there's more than one.
Then when people started to realise that they're gonna get caught - so they didn't do it so much
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Friday 14 September 2018
How To Be A 1960s London Taxi Driver part 2 - chats with my Dad about the knowledge and driving a black cab
Here's the second part of the video I shot with my Dad about becoming a London black taxi driver in the 1960's...
Partly for posterity, part legacy, part oral history, part for my kids and family and part stark reminder of my own career mortality.
It felt great finally sitting down with a camera and hearing about things I'd never asked him about:
Hating having to learn the suburbs,
What happens when you finally get the Green Badge after 18 months,
How do you get a London taxi in the 1960s "on the flat"
Getting the meters changed with fares and "bingo cards"
The dreaded annual Overhaul where your cab can fail for anything
How the taxi radio circuits started in Kings Cross
And what was his hubcap syndicate all about?
(feel free to turn the speed up and whack the subtitles on...)
How to be 1960s London Taxi Driver Part 2 | Chats with my Dad oral history
Out now as a book! As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
So you started the knowledge and then you had some appearances at 28 days?
And then you got the points that you needed to bring it down to what every 14 days?
Yes and usually had two appearances of that and what did they do - once you've passed that, they give you your “rec”.
But then you do the suburbs afterwards?
Yes and a couple of appearances, you know, can't think of it, I hated it...
Like Camden Town going to Barnet or something like that
Yeah. And you had to know all the street names in...
Well roughly yeah, it was a lot big big names you know like Marble Arch to Edgware - well
that was Edgware Road - and then about two other roads and then that was it, you were there.
And you used to call them rhubarbs - or did I imagine that?
No, that's what they call the Hampstead Garden Suburbs.
Hampstead - Garden - Suburb but they used to call that rhubarbs.
But then what happened was it was there one appearance where you knew it was the last one or did they just suddenly turn around and say you've done it
So you knew there'd be like one more.
And you knew you'd done it.
And if you blew that one you know there'd be another one - you'd come back in a fortnight's time
Then what happens do they just give you like a piece of paper then, or...
I think you've got to pay half a crown for your badge or something um pay for the postage for them to send it to you!
And that's when you get the green badge?
No but I've lost - I lost two of them My first one was 12857 that's the one they gave me.
You can still remember it?
Well it's just such an ordeal you go through.
You'd see some fellas when you first went there, they've got nice suits on nice polished shoes... but after 18 months your suit was polished at the elbows you could see your shoes worn down and the frayed shirt.
Cos you've got no money
So you had to dress up for the appearance and--
You still do.
If you lost it ever you got to go to a police station and fill out a form.
And then they gave you another sort of form just in case you got stopped by the police
And then once you, once you got your green badge how, how does the taxi work, back then, did you have to buy it rent it or?
It was called “on the flat" and you had it for a week
I can't remember how much, about 13 pound for the week and you put your own diesel in or you could have it on what they call "on the clock" on those meters that you do a percentage you know you give the owner 70% no, 60% you kept 40% and all your tips but usually the cab went out again on the end of the day or end of the night when you finished.
Either you call half on the flat, you could share it with somebody but that more or less everybody went on the on the full flat - why they call it that I don't know - then you could keep it, use it as your own - for your own use as well which is quite handy yeah and --
where was that in town somewhere?
Yeah it was off of West End Lane - in a garage there.
It's 2 houses now!
Yeah, a luxury block.
But back then it was mechanical meters?
Yeah yeah, and when they put fares up they'd have to - you'd have to drive in wouldn't you - you'd have to physically...
And have a new meter and sometimes you had to wait for the cab to go to Overhaul because they just couldn't alter all these mechanical meters at once.
Yeah, there used to be like a...
I remember there used to be like a thing in the back that explained the fares, but there was another thing for when the fares went up that would convert what's on the meter with the new...
Oh yeah we used to call them bingo cards And they'd cause more ructions than anything!
People-- Because you'd have to explain that the fare on the meter isn't-
Yes because it's on this big place here...
and the more intelligent the people were less ones that they couldn't work it out
yeah yeah funny.
yeah that was the other thing that I remembered the the Overhauls - they sounded just as stressful as the as the knowledge - because every year it's not like an MOT, it's like a proper they go through everything don't they - on the taxi.
Yes, you've got to have it steam cleaned... first... and then just everything needed doing
because they could fail you on silly stuff?
Yeah, if the cigarette thing was full up.
Another thing I used to get in a state with with your Mum - the state I used to get in because it meant you know if your cab had failed, it'd mean another couple of days off of work.
Sometimes a good thing sometimes it's a bad thing
yeah I thought it was a good thing because it's a bit like your body if something's not slightly right you let it go it gets worse and worse.
I remember you had the hubcaps - you had a hubcap syndicate
[LAUGH] where you was it you and three mates each owned a brand new hubcap so when one of you went for overhaul...
yeah we have those had yeah we put all the new hubcaps on it looked nice
One garage at the end of the street - a taxi fleet - he had bumpers - overhaul bumpers - he used to take the bumpers off the taxi and put these new ones on, and take it up - when it came back, he'd put the old bumpers on again.
So you were on the flat for a bit - which is like renting a taxi and then what stage could you buy one?
Well it was - when I'd got the money.
Mine was about nine months - the things they had on the flat in those days, they were just clapped out - it was horrible to drive - and you know if you take it in the garage, and get it back for a service - the steering wheel used to be all greasy... the seats used to - the driver seat used to be greasy...
But with your own one you know you take a bit of pride in it
So how did that feel when you got your first cab then?
Again because you'd just laid out £1250 and you're driving around and -- but after a week, you was whizzing around like anything
Where'd you get them from - was there like one place that you'd get them from?
Yes - off the Wandsworth Bridge Road.
There was a garage there.
It was only place you could get them yeah
I found, I had a manual to start with and then the gearbox was so hard - you needed to have a divers boot on to change gear.
Get it in gear - 'course they had the monopoly, they couldn't care less!
And was that LUU52P?
No, it was AGP343G.
And what model was it?
What were they called back then?
And then when when you passed - how did the radio circuits work?
Because could you drive a cab without being on a circuit.
When I first started, that was you know a self-indulgence.
You know, if you wanted to be, but I wanted to be on the radio because people you know the minicabs were coming in, and people wanted to pick you up on your door - they didn't want to stand in the street in the rain and- women complaining about their hair...
And you had - so you had - what 4 radio circuits in London there was Lords...
No, there was two.
To start with.
When I was there.
It was just 2 people who had a row with each other, on one circuit and one went one way and the other went the other way...
So there was just one radio circuit?
Yes, it started at Levy's you know that big garage at the end of York Way (N1) it was started there.
Which end of York Way?
As you're just coming from Kings- Euston Road on the right there's a big big place there
I mean yeah I used to call it dieseling up, you know every two
nights you know fill up with diesel I remember, it's like a courtyard it's now
all shops and coffee shops
yeah yeah but it used to be like this cobbled mews,
and you'd go in to get your DERV... your diesel... and you'd give the fella who filled it up
a couple of bob and he checked your water and your battery
But they had a radio circuit there - you know a radio--
Because he had some premises there where you went downstairs, and I think this fella Levy
had been to America and seen it and tried to start it up at... there.
But then someone else - I can't remember names of the fellas - took it over and moved up Pentonville Road and started it there.
So then and was that going before you became a driver you know there was already a radio
circuit yeah yeah
and then so then they split yes
but before your time yeah
and one was called Mountview and one was called Lords
Yes - that's because that was the phone number right that's the name of the exchange, in
So where was Mountview based?
Right at the top of Highgate Hill in one of those flats there.
And Lords was in Pentonville Road.
Right, so when you phone up for a cab you'd either phone that number or your number - Lords
- and and then so then when did you join Lords?
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Thursday 6 September 2018
How To Be A 1960s London Taxi Driver - chats with my Dad about doing the knowledge and driving a black cab
My Dad’s a London taxi driver.
Licensed Owner/Driver of a black taxi.
Except he’s stopped driving now.
Taxi drivers don’t retire.
They just stop driving.
And hand in their precious Green Badge.
You don’t get a leaving gift and goodbye card, even after serving Londoners for over 50 years.
But he pounded the streets of London for money.
And I knew it was hard getting that licence, that Green Badge.
When he stopped driving, I suddenly realised that I had no idea how hard exactly.
Or how he got there.
And I’ve got kids.
I know they will ask me about him or look him up in the future.
So this Summer, I set up a camera and we had a chat.
Here's the first part of the video...
How to be a 1960s London Taxi Driver: what was it like? Chat with my Dad 1
I know there are questions in here I’ll kick myself for not asking, or answers where I didn’t follow up...
But this is what he did tell me:
What it was like to pass "The Knowledge" - the toughest road test in the world: to memorise every street, building and place of interest in London; Getting the Green Badge; Hiring and buying a London black taxi cab; How London's licensed taxi radio circuits worked and how to join them; plus the tricky odd and weird customers he's faced over the years.
And I put it all in this book. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.:
And maybe now it’s in print, I’ll end up thinking of some other questions to ask him...
Here's the full transcript:
okay Shall I sit down here?
[KEYS LANDING] Ooop, missed.
So yeah, if you're able to... talk about viagra?
[LAUGHTER] Good evening and expenses, if you can put this on?
What do I do?
That - good isn't it.
How did it do that?
Looks like you sneezed down yourself.
Erm, yes so erm, I thought cuz cuz my kids are gonna ask me all these questions about you as a taxi driver in the 60s I won't be able to answer any of it because I'll probably have alzheimers myself and er... but it's just sort of stuff that I didn't know about you know what it was like becoming a London taxi driver in the in the 60s so all I know is that you would you were driving already
because you were a you drove for a film company - the Italian -
What it was, we'd drive like an 8 seater - no 12 seater van - or a Volkswagen, you could open that you know open the sides up and you could put all the sound gear for whatever all the camera gear there and you know these film companies just hire stuff out almost pointless them buying a van or something like Italian television coming over here and just hire for three or four days
Then you were at a unit driver yeah for other film companies
yeah and we used to move Movieolas or something like that to drive down Dean Street pick these things up and deliver to companies all over London But something that was ideal because some days you were sort of lean, you didn't have any work so it could take your moped and go and see all points to set rules of London
That's when you're doing the knowledge?
That's doing the knowledge yes and its very very helpful because you doing usually doing
deliveries all over London that you certainly started to know your way around you didn't know the names of the roads but once you're doing the knowledge you could sort of pick the names up and you could picture yourself going along it was only eighteen months
so when you were...
you were driving already and then you you got the idea to get a taxi license
yes because I was always skint and I never had any money and I think for two Christmases you know you just didn't have any money in your pocket, and it was horrible feeling so you think well if I had a taxi license at least I can go to work and earn some money and it'd keep me out of the pub!
And when - do you remember what year this was roughly?
yes it was about the third or fourth of January 1967 I went along to the Carriage Office and
signed up and you get a pep talk and the fella says ninety percent of you will fall out of it.
I think he was right
And you - so you like sign up, and then do they do they give you a book
Yes, it's called a Blue Book which is white and had about 300 different runs that you do like Manor House Station to Thornberry Square, and you just got to... well you just do it's easy way of doing it
And in the book do they list all of the streets and basically you've got a look up all of the places of interest hospitals, police stations, anything that's of interest to London.
And erm, how long, can you remember roughly how long they give you to your first... because your interviews called Appearances
Do you remember how long it was to your first appearance
yeah in those days it because they were short of drive cab drivers it was 28 days Right...
I think nowadays is 56 days or even longer than that and then they didn't really nobody knew how it worked, but this all worked out if you did a run more or less spot on you got two points if you coughed it and spluttered your way through you go one point I think when you got 18 points or 20 points they put you down to fortnights.
Right 22 points overall or 20 points in one appearance?
No more or less I don't think they would let you do it in less than 18 months
Oh, right so on each appearance could they ask you anything from the 300
[LAUGH] And anything.
My favourite one was they asked you for the Institute of meat to the Institute of Management and it just fascinated me this one it was - the Institute of Meat was in Bristol House and you used to have to get your bike, and look at all the names in there.
And the Institute of Management used to be behind Holborn police station
it's just a short run but I did it just fascinated me the er...
It's 50 years on and you still remember that that's why I don't get-- whenever you say - you - because you don't talk much about the famous people you've been in the cab, but whenever you do so like ABBA in the 70s you remember the run that you know
It's just strange these things stick in your mind
What were the appearances like? What were they-
Yeah cuz Mum said you used to be like really like properly ill.
oh yeah I couldn't drink a cup of tea but if my...
If I was having a cup of tea before I went up there I used to throw it up.
And what would calm me was I would walk down from Harmood Street to the Carriage Office up the Angel and often that helped, but everybody was all the same there was all sitting there, petrified I don't know why - it's a form of stage fright I suppose, because you know -- you don't know what they're going to ask you and if you're doing it part-time and you need the money, you just want to pass out.
Actually if you get there and sit down and you just want to say no no no no I don't know it I don't know it and get out.
But they were there to test your temperament you know one fellow if you went in there Mr. Findlay and you had to stand there and wait till he told you to sit down - if you sit down he wouldn't mark you, you'd have to come back in a month's time.
No - so they could bump you out that quickly!
But it was all designed to wind you up.
You couldn't call what was it, the QV the Queen Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace - it's nickname was was the wedding cake - but no way would you be allowed to call it a wedding cake.
Or the other story was even if you get to Tower Bridge and the fella said "keep on" well the fella said that Tower Bridge is up, and of course that didn't go down very well.
Did they do it to you?
Or you just heard about it.
I was so petrified...
I think I'd be frightened to--
Yeah, and when you were learning the the knowledge were you on a moped or a bike?
A moped with no crash helmet.
Like a Delboy cheesecutter (hat) you had on, it was part of the uniform.
And what like a clipboard on the front?
And would you write the stuff out before you went out or would you like tear pages out of the book?
No no you just write - usually if there was four runs you could stomach that - or get it in your head - if you went any more than that it was too much and the run was more or less all the roads you went through I mean I like a fella finished the knowledge and he gave me all all the runs.
And then some you could easy top of your head some on you stumbled and some you couldn't remember at all mine was all over South London - and I had like three piles - the easy ones - not so easy ones and the hard ones and you used to call it over with you girlfriend - I used to call it over with Vera, my wife.
So then - what you've have them written out
Yes each road.
And if like I don't know is this how you used to say it - "Forward down Agar Grove, left into York Way..." yeah and like "comply roundabout"
yeah, "leave by..."
I think so long as you knew which way you were going I think they fell asleep
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