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!


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?
An FX4?

And then when when you passed - how did the radio circuits work?
Because could you drive a cab without being on a circuit.
Oh yes.
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.

Oh 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
London yeah

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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