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Part Three: P&O Characters “In the Room”

April 27, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email
In some of these little exerts from my working life I am going to talk about some of the characters that I have met along the way – so I am calling it “Characters in the Room”.  In doing this I need to be a tad careful that I don’t malign or misrepresent anyone at all – so IF I am in doubt I may well use a nick name or a pseudonym  instead of a real name.  In that case I would ask that those of you who recognise the “real person in the room” do not publicly reveal it – in other words – just gossip amongst yourselves!

So – where – exactly do I start this tale:
George Franklin:
As I have said earlier George was the acting head of Agency Sales Promotion at P&O the day I started so he was my first boss.  George had a tough gig as number two to David Harris – who was a very strong character – but George more than held his own and I always found him very fair and well balanced.  He was the envy of all the junior clerks who started with me because he got one of the prize gig’s – a transfer to head office in London.  Those positions were only reserved for those who were seen to be ‘going places’.
George certainly went places first to London – then back to Oz where he (not that much later) left P&O and went to work in (horror of horrors) the airline industry.  George became Mr Swissair in Melbourne – a role he held from the day he left P&O Orient Line until the day he retired.  George was the ‘perfect’ Mr Swissair – a thorough gentleman, supportive of the travel agent network, committed to ‘his’ airline and well liked member of the Melbourne travel industry.
George is still a mate – living in retirement in Brighton – he is a member of The Captain Cabin and we catch up regularly at the bi-monthly lunches.
Fred (Fred) Ferguson:
I have mentioned Fred in my narrative but he deserves more than a mention as he really became and was a legend at and of P&O.  Fred was a tall – well built man – with a dominating personality and an equally dominating voice – in fact it was a loud and instantly recognisable voice.  As I have said the Booking Hall was his domain and he ran it with an iron fist but with that cast of characters there was always plenty that escaped him.
Fred was honest, fair and determined to manage the varied personalities that worked with him, but he tended to speak in cliches, and in well rehearsed phrases so his message tended to get lost at sometimes.
Fred stayed with P&O/World Travel Headquarters (as far as I am aware) for the whole of his working life – staying in the frontline working face to face with passengers the whole time.  He was one of the genuine characters that I first met – as I have said a legend in P&O (there were poems written about him – the opening stanza of one of them is in the narrative) and a stalwart – on the second rung of the Melbourne travel industry.  Ironically his son Robert – is now my GP in downtown Mordialloc – yes it is a small small world indeed.
Warwick (Guy Christian) Winsall – Hall
Warwick Hall was – most probably – the first “gay” man that I ever met – of course we did not refer to them as “gay” way back then – the expressions and words that we used were much less enlightened than they are now.  But Warwick was most definitely gay – as was most of his morning/afternoon tea crew of Geoff Trudgian and Patrica Hirst – the only one that was not was Judy Teasdale – Judy was a real lady and genuine Melbourne Madame of her time.
So why do I talk about Warwick, because it has nothing at all to do with him being “gay”.  Putting it simply Warwick – who was in charge of (of course) First Class Pacific Berthing (cabin allocation)  – and who sat at the desk immediately behind me in ‘the dungeon’- was the most egotistical, self opinionated, stuck-up ‘prick’ that I had ever (maybe have ever) met.  He used to despise travel agents – “scum of the earth” – passengers, even his First Class ones – “ we should just move freight around – freight can’t talk back”, most of his fellow workers and the world, outside his own little circle in general.
He took up a position at sea – in the Bureau (Pursers office)  – after I first left P&O and he was working on the Oriana when, as luck would have it, I was sent to sea for a short (three week) stint as a supernumerary AP selling shore excursions.  Warwick was my ‘on board’ working partner – and everyone referred to him as Winsall-Hall (with a hyphen).  Turns out that when he transferred to London to go to sea he changed his name by deed poll – he ‘bought’ two new christian names (Guy and Christian) plus the hyphen and so became Warwick Guy Christian Winsall-Hall – very British indeed.
Sadly I shared his secret one night – over a drink – with other crew members, I had had a few and the inhibitions were down – and revealed that in Melbourne he was plain old Warwick Hall.  He did not appreciate the revelation one bit.
Working in front of and with Warwick was part of my education process at P&O and when I returned in 1971 I became quite ‘matey’ with is ex colleague Geoff Trudgian who I found to be an interesting and educated person.  P&O and the dungeon threw up all sorts of interesting characters way back then – some of them left a lasting impression.
The Ticketing Team – Gerry Weston – Brian Nicholson – Graeme Carr – John Carpenter:
A bunch of those characters were the ticketing team – all named above and what characters they were.
Gerry – who became a golfing mate of mine was a fares wizard, in an era when shipping fares were way more complex and convoluted than air fares, a good solid worker and was Chairman of The Brutus Bull Society (he was Brutus Bull – he was a big lad Gerry).  Gerry like Fred Ferguson stayed with P&O a long time well into the WTHQ days before moving on to work for Tourism Mildura or Swan Hill or somewhere on the Murray.
Brian – was a salesman, with an eye for the quick dollar, a (shall I say) ‘shifty’ manner and an ability to escape trouble by shifting the responsibility left or right depending on the circumstances.  I ran onto him – in unfortunate circumstances much later in my Jetset days when he ‘did the wrong thing’ by one of our agency group who happened to be a friend of mine.  In the end – BJ turned out to be “not a nice man” at all.
Graeme – (Tex) came from Texas but had worked in Oz for quite some time, he had a pronounced Texas accent and was notable for his own “Bucks Party” which ended in a near riot (see “The Queenscliff Train Ride”) mainly due to his strange and semi-violent set of mates.  GC was however someone I would share lunch with most Fridays – when we enjoyed T Bone steak, double chips and a few pots of beer at Connells Tavern in Elizabeth Street
John – John (Carpy) Carpenter was a real character – I have never worked out if he was hetro, bi or gay but he was a character.  He was a small man – shaped a bit like a pear – but he loved a beer and had a most peculiar way of drinking.  He would stand – upright with his glass in his right hand – close to his right shoulder – with his legs together and his toes pointing outwards (like a penguins feet) and he would twist from the waist – first left then right then back again – slowly sipping his beer with minimum movement of his right hand.
He had some great little sayings and at one stage I put together a note book of his sayings and doings that we called Carpy’s Capers – that went into the historical records of The Brutus Bull Society (and no I am not relating tales of Brutus Bull). John and I got on well – we used to share after work drinks – especially when we had worked over time – after 10.00pm closing came in – when we would finish at 9.30pm – race to Connells near the station and consume as many beers as we could before we each caught the 10.20pm train home.
CRC – was the abbreviated nickname for one Charles Rivett-Carnac – the deputy Documentation manager; CRC’s job was paperwork – the myriad of paperwork that accompanied every sailing and every passenger who sailed on a sailing out of Melbourne, and CRC took his job seriously.  He never went anywhere without at least one piece of paper in his hand – even going to lunch he carried ‘the’ paper.
CRC was also a fisherman – a very keen fisherman and this and paperwork sort of dominated his life and his conversations.  He was relentless in pursuing paperwork, having forms filled in and filled in correctly, ensuring tasks were properly completed in a timely manner and (we assume) he was equally relentless in his pursuit of fish.
He was also relentless in dispensing titles – by initials – so if (for example) the Deputy Passenger Manager (Scratchy Kimber) was on leave and (say) the Documentation and Ticketing Supervisor (David McPherson) was acting in his role – then CRC would immediately start referring to him as the ADPM – and because that meant that someone (either CRC or Bernard Ellis) would technically replace him and become the ADTS and so on.  He was a man who loved processes and procedures and he was a PITA most of the time – but he was another character of the dungeon.
All in all there were about 30 people who worked in the dungeon at P&O for the (best part of) three years that I was based there – they were all different and all involved and we have barely scratched the surface.  Each of them played a part whether it was Michael Kevin Patrick O’Leary Quinn and his constant references to ‘head office’ (London); Laurie Plummer and his constant loss of temper and angry outbursts; Helen Shaw and her modus operandi in the telex room or any one of Doug Bigg (Berthing), David McPherson (Documentation and Ticketing) or John Rennie (Correspondence) in their Supervisor roles trying to keep control – in the chaos that reigned almost constantly.
Aileen Telfer 
Now I simply cannot talk about my P&O days without talking about Aileen Telfer who I first met when she worked – alongside someone who was (probably still is) her best friend a girl called Yvonne Bleach.  Aileen worked in the freight department typing pool – and we got on well – we arranged to meet one Saturday night at Moorabin Town Hall – she was to bring a girl friend and I was to bring my then best mate Owen Bolton, the idea (in my head at least) was for me to take up with the girl friend and Owen to ‘look after’ Aileen.
We duly met at Moorabin Town Hall – both Owen and I took one look at the girl friend and plans changed – as they do.  I spent the evening with Aileen – Owen was entranced by the girl friend (not Yvonne by the way – from memory her name was Dianne) – and that was the start of a long relationship.  Some four years later – on January 17th 1969 – Aileen Telfer became Aileen Watson and a new branch of The Watson dynasty was started.  Owen Bolton was my best man – along with my brother Michael – but the girlfriend from Moorabin was not in sight – she had long since departed the Bolton scene.
Aileen was Scottish – from Glasgow – with a strong Scottish heritage back ground, her father Tom was an honest hard working family man – who loved a beer, especially with a whisky chaser and her mother Janette was an equally strong willed housekeeper wife – who helped run the Karingal (East Frankston) Post Office with her sister Betty.  There was also another (younger) sister May and a brother Alec – all of them unmarried.  They were all of the Gordon Clan – so they carried with them the strong willed determination and equally strong family values that – that clan is famous for.
Aileen and I were married 17 years we produced three great kids – Fiona, Cameron and Andrea; and I am pleased to say that we are still friends today – almost 30 years after our divorce.
A (very) quick Yvonne Bleach story – Yvonne became engaged to a young man from outside the travel industry – his name was Geoff White.  When their engagement was announced on a Saturday morning in the Melbourne Sun (as was the habit in those days) it read “Bleach – White” – true story.
So P&O was not only responsible for my love of travel – it was also the reason that I have the family that I have today.  I have a lot to thank P&O for!
Next instalment: P&O Events and Parties – a few of the more memorable happenings during my life with that great company.
Peter Watson

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