Tales of a Radio Rentals Van Boy 1

Submitted By Member: Chas Large

I started with Radio Rentals in 1971. The job was found for me by my mother who telephoned the local branch where we had rented a set for many years, and I had always been interested each time the engineer had called to fix it, which was quite often.
I had a keen electronics interest and had been dabbling in valve radio repairs, having borrowed a book about Radios from the school library. Oh, I guess I should really return it now, eh?

So the job was simple enough, assist the branch installation engineer by going with him each day and doing the carrying of the smaller 19” sets and helping him with the larger 22” and 26” models. I was to be promised an Apprenticeship into the Thorn Apprentice Scheme within the year, so I could become an engineer. I had the grand title of “Assistant Installation Engineer”, otherwise known as a “Van Boy”.

The branch was located in a new shopping centre in the middle of the town. The showroom was bright and the Ladies who did the selling were quite glamourous, one was an ex ‘Tiller Girl’. The Workshop was up a dual staircase, 28 concrete steps with a small landing halfway up. Carrying the 26” console models up there was not easy. I was tall even then, six foot and big built, so it was assumed I could carry anything. I did, but never received any training in lifting or carrying weights. My back has never recovered to this day.

When not out doing deliveries, I helped break down all the cardboard boxes the new sets came in and stacking up the old Baird sets that had been written off. Some had beautiful wooden cabinets that sadly would be crushed. Loading and unloading the delivery lorry was another part of the job, and fetching and carrying.

The Installation Engineer I worked with, let’s call him “Dave”, was sadly a chain smoker, but having grown up in a household where both parents smoked, it didn’t really bother me. It was not until I went out with a young lady in those early days, and she asked how many cigarettes I smoked each day, that I realised how much I stank!. I had, to use the phrase on that TV ad for a certain air freshener, gone “Nose Blind”. I never smoked myself, but I realised I had to have smoke-free clothes and take a long bath before I took a girl out, just to reduce the smell.

There are many tales of how Dave and I did our deliveries, but I’ll tease you with this one for now. It was my first Christmas Eve at RR. Dave had introduced me to beer soon after I started, and so we always planned the delivery route to stops at pubs, clubs and the RBL. He would drive me home after work and I would occasionally be a little tipsy. This Christmas Eve, however, was like one I’ve never experienced since. As usual, we started with the list of deliveries to be done, sorted the sets, stands and aerial cables needed, the last thing Dave ever wanted to do was to have to go back to the shop for something, if that happened, the boss would most likely ask him to do extra deliveries or collections.

The van would be loaded with Last delivery first, covers over the sets, and wedged or strapped into the van, which was kitted out with wooden frames to keep the sets safe in transit, and off we’d go. First stop? A local club for a Pint for Dave and Half for me. Plus a bite of something or packet of crisps. By now it was 10:30. First install, new 22” set for the customer, plug wired up, aerial connected, tuned in and warnings issued not to start or stop their vacuum cleaner near the set as the magnetic field generated could affect the colour. Customer very happy, “Fancy a little tipple for Christmas?”, never refused by us, so my first taste of Sherry. On to the next customer, almost a repeat of the first, but a 19” set at the top floor of a block of flats. Another tipple? Yes, you guessed it, and we thanked the customer, and it was off for lunch at the RBL.

Two huge Bacon and Egg sandwiches and a couple of pints later, we were off to the next delivery. If Dave had planned this right, we’d get the last three done and be finished by 4:30pm. I remember hauling this 26” console model, with sliding doors, out of the back of the van somewhere in the dark. Stumbling backwards – I always went backwards with Dave directing me – towards the customer’s front door. The customer also guiding me. Now whether it was the booze, the lack of light or the combination of the two, but I was not told about the concrete step. I walked up to it, both heels met it, I sat down on it, the set sat on top of me and Dave on top of that. There was a loud CRUNCH sound and I saw stars. The pain was excruciating, and I screamed.

Luckily, the customer stopped the set from falling and Dave regained his composure and put his end of the set down. I was weeping. I remember there being a lot of loud conversation and the set being lifted off and over me into the house, presumably by Dave and the customer. I recall somehow making it back to the van, being driven home, and Mum helping me inside and up to bed. Icepacks and paracetamol were applied, and I spent the Christmas holiday in bed. Still in pain after New Year and unable to return to work due to the pain, I was taken to Hospital, where x-rays showed I had fractured my coccyx (tailbone at the base of my spine). It could not be repaired and had to heal on its own. It has, but sitting on any hard surface is still painful to this day. I recall having a bruise there for at least two months.

So that was my first Christmas at Radio Rentals. I only saw a second one there as they never offered me an apprenticeship, but I did get day release for the local college and began my City & Guilds 222 education. I left RR and went on to another high street name, CIVIC Stores. Anyone remember the comedian Harry Worth doing their adverts with his trademark reflection of himself in the window? Tales from that repair shed – yes it was a shed – to come.

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Reply to  crustytv
2 years ago

Hello Crusty,
Thanks. I hope to be around for a while and contribute to the site. It was a bit cathartic to reminisce about those early days and brought back some happy memories which I’ll commit to writing in time.

2 years ago

Hi Chas,
I worked for a large North West firm from 15 to nearly 18 years old, they sold and rented TV, sold radios, radiograms and white good etc. I did the van job like you at first, installations, aerial rigging but then was put with a TV engineer on outside calls. Much preferred the TV repair side. Then went on to a very small firm, stayed there about 16-17 years, a much better place to work. My education was C&G course 48 with colour supplement. 

2 years ago

A most enjoyable tale, but I winced when I read about you damaging your coccyx – my late wife did that too in a workplace accident but in her case, she had to have surgery to have it removed a few years later. I do wonder sometimes from my own experience of the workplace in the 80s how we ever got any work done as lunchtime “refreshments” were so common back then. Like yourself, technology has progressed my work from component level to board-swapping or even “return to manufacturer” and I do miss the challenge of diagnosis and repair.

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