Favours in the 50's
I was born in 1955, a time when the war was still omnipresent, rationing was still in force and all the adults had been in the war and had stories to tell. In many ways it was the end of the victorian period. Clothes were stiff and formal.
There is a photo of me with Father Christmas from about 1959. I am wearing a hat, a coat with a belt, gloves, a shirt and a tie. I can still remember that bloody coat, I couldn't breathe in the wretched thing. The whole period was one of austerity when you got what you needed by knowing someone. Your friend would know someone who could get you the building permit you needed for your house or what ever it was you needed. It wasn't exactly corrupt but everyone did favours for everyone else and expected them back.
I never understood how factories actually produced anything they all seemed too busy doing favours for people. Our house was almost entirely furnished with "favours". My father worked for a company who were shopfitters, that is they would furnish a shop with shelves, rails glass cabinets, lights and anything else to sell goods.
Quality meant having shopfittings that were in the finest polished woods. Display cabinets would be polished wood with glass fronts. They were proud of the quality that they produced. This meant that when a customer would only pay a reduced price, the estimating section would reduce the amount of polished wood and the lighting. The production department, (who were essentially a woodworking organisation) would see the reduced specification decide the customer had lost his senses and produce the same high quality product they always had. The customer always got the best, although today we would think the fittings heavy and unappealing.
As Christmas approached the woodworking shop would be given over to making favours (known as foreigners). One year it was fruit bowls, made of the finest woods inlaid with marquetry, another year it was the finest cigarette boxes and yet another year sledges. The workmanship was superb, the cost irrelevant and from what little I could see everyone in the organisation got to have several of what ever was the product of the year.
Beyond that it seemed to be possible to commission any piece of furniture that you wanted provided that you knew who was in the know. When formica first became available we had some occasional tables made by commission. The company my father worked for bought a company that manufactured suitcases. Suddenly suitcases were everywhere. We had so many it was untrue. They became an item of currency to be exchanged for other favours.
I wouldn't want any one to think that we were unique - everyone we knew would "tidy up" wherever they worked. Everyone had a perk or two on the side. If you wanted anything making or modifying then you would have to know someone because that was the only way to get it.
For example, if you wanted a new car and you didn't know someone in the motor trade you would be waiting for years. However a couple of suitcases, perhaps and a car could be magically yours. There was no discounting of prices of course. The manufacturer simply set a price and if you wanted the product and could find some one that had it, you paid that price. Those days are now long since gone and I for one don't regret their passing. It was a culture full of hypocrisy and petty bureaucracy. The big manufacturing plants have been replaced more or less. Products are available universally and as far as I am aware the culture of favours for favours has long gone. Call me naive, but we do seem to operate in a remarkably uncorrupted business environment and long may it be that way.