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?
Not really.
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!
Yeah [Laughter].

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"?
Secret Squirrels.

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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