James May, you are mistaken sir!

In James May’s episode of the ‘The Reassembler’ on January 4th, 2016, he took the easy route of reassembling the ‘Two hundred and thirty five components’ of a Kenwood Chef food mixer, an activity close to my heart.

Between leaving school in January 1970 and setting sail for Greenland in May 1970, my first full time paid employment was at the Kenwood factory in Havant, assembling just one of those 235 components.  Yes James, I was employed for up to twelve hours a day, fitting the gear wheel to the shaft of that pivotal component which you simply brushed off in the singlar as ‘a pinion’.

At that time, all was not well in the Wood family.  For reasons which remain clouded in mystery, Mrs. Wood had sold her share of her soon to be ‘former’ husband’s  business to the evil Mr Thorn, leaving Ken out in the cold.  Morale at the factory, staffed with the kindhearted and loyal population of West Leigh, had taken a dive as the ‘time and motion’ men from Thorn Electrical Industries had come in to wreak their havoc.

For the record, for the eight hours of my standard day (and the four hours of the twilight shift which occasionally helped to make the weekly brown envelope worthwhile) I stood at a hydraulic carousel press, repeating the following sequence:

  1. Lift the guard
  2. Remove completed pinion assembly
  3. Pack completed pinion assembly
  4. Insert new shaft
  5. Position pinion gear
  6. Close guard

Since the maximum speed of this operation was dictated by the rhythmic rotation of the carousel, the ‘T&M police’ could not find fault with ‘Time’.  It was, however, with the ‘Motion’ component that I drew their wrath.

Step ‘3’ was where my problems arose. The completed pinion assemblies were packed in wooden trays, perforated with eight columns and sixteen rows of holes in which to insert the shafts.  While my training suggested that I should start at the top left and work horizontally, row by row, finishing at the bottom right, intense boredom soon got the better of me.  Some trays I’d fill in reverse order, others in vertical motion, and eventually I adopted a set of depictions of national flags – the Union flag being a favourite with my fellow workers. When the evil Mr Thorn’s men came around, I was thoroughly reprimanded and sent for retraining.

In truth, I was perhaps a tad overqualified for that particular role on the assembly line, however the experience taught me much about manufacturing industry and even more about the resourcefulness of a recently oppressed workforce.  Forty six years on, the Havant factory building still exists as an eerily quiet warehouse for the current Italian owner, a transit stop for the Kenwood and DeLonghi products which are now manufactured in the People’s Republic of China.

In the grand scheme of the overall decline of British manufacturing industry, Mrs Wood may have much to answer for.  But then I suspect that in some respects, Ken might not have been entirely innocent.

One thought on “James May, you are mistaken sir!

  1. Peter Walters

    Goodness the insides of a Chef.

    In the 1970-80s I worked at EMI Central Research Laboratories (CRL) in Hayes, we were living in Ealing. I was involved in the early days of MRI – which I see you have experienced.
    With the demise of EMI Medical CRL became Thorn EMI CRL- but that’s another story.

    CRL had over the ages been involved in Television, computers, imaging, artificial intelligence, etc.

    With the change of ownership the CRL management brain had to find relevence for CRL in the new wider Thorn EMI world.

    Thorn Domestic made lots of things, could the newfangled robots which we could hear about on Tomorrows World be useful when combined with computer vision? Very few of us had ever been in a factory so there was a deal to learn. Santa bought us a robot to play with, but we didn’t understand the task.

    That led to visits to factories – gas cookers in Birmingham, TVs in Enfield, and New Lane in Havant. We needed to be introduced to Assembly Lines and Production Engineers – which led me to meet Terry Royle, who I guess you may recall. That led us to select the assembling of the wheels onto the shafts in the diecast Chef gearbox base as a first task.

    We progressed in this, but gradually learned to understand the context better, and the costs vs benefits.

    I could go on but fear it might bore you – maybe one day we might meet at a U3A coffee morning and natter a bit about the past.

    Best Regards

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