This article was written by Trevor Tarring. All views and opinions are strictly his own.
I’ve recently developed the habit, when explaining some element of my lack of modern computer/internet literacy, of pointing out that I’m a child of the first third of the last century. And in the same vein, my mind has recently been going back to how things were at Metal Bulletin when I joined in 1953.
In those days a total of 25 souls ensured Metal Bulletin appeared as a print product twice a week. By the time you subtract those concerned with managing and selling subscriptions and advertising, keeping track of the cash, working on and selling the reference books and managing the business generally, it will be seen that there were not many left to write the articles, discover the prices and deal with readers complaining about one or other of these (or both).
In those pre-computer days copy was typed on mechanical typewriters for “copy night” Wednesdays and Fridays, so no sloping off for the weekend. These pages were sent to the printer and set in type overnight; galley proofs were read Monday and Thursday mornings and corrections phoned over to a journalist at the printers. Meantime last minute work on price discovery also proceeded apace. All being well, the issue was closed with that morning’s LME prices telephoned through by a journalist at the Exchange as this was quicker than waiting for the Reuters ticker. The 3,000 or so copies were printed and put in the mail by 5pm for worldwide despatch.
Perhaps the most amazing thing I was told on joining was that as a very junior recruit I could not make a long distance telephone call (often, in those days, made through the operator) without a director’s permission; and that if I had an urge to make an international call my best course was to suppress the urge. This regime gave way to a more appropriate policy not long after I joined.
Those directors were my father Leslie Tarring and Harry Cordero; they had taken over the running of the journal on the death of its founder L.H Quin in 1934 and grown grey keeping it running on a skeleton staff throughout the war (when an important part of the readership were on the wrong side and lost as both subscribers and sources of information). At the same time they gave some of their time and expertise to the Department of Economic Warfare. To keep clear of the Blitz, the business decamped to a village outside Oxford.
By the time I joined, the joint editors had rationalised business to the extent that my father dealt with non ferrous metals, Harry Cordero described himself as Foreign Editor and also took care of steel, with the help of his son Raymond, who had joined a couple of years previously. Father promptly put me on to minor metals and ores. A year or so later the last of UK wartime price controls, on ferro-alloys, were lifted and I got that sector as well.
The offices were on the fourth floor of 27 Albemarle St. just off Piccadilly, and across the road from the Royal Institution. This was already the firm’s second address after returning to London in 1945. To get to the bus or tube at the end of the working day one had to run the gauntlet of predatory prostitutes based on Stafford St. Lunchtime was long enough for the young journalists to nip down to Shepherd Market for a quick spaghetti or meat-and-two-veg. Later, this gave way to a snack and some horseplay; this came to an end when an enterprising hide and seeker entered the Directors’ lavatory from the building ventilation well and found Harry Cordero on the loo.
As Foreign Editor and a linguist, Harry Cordero took most of the overseas business travel, sometimes as much as three times a year. Father made biennial trips to North America by sea. My first business trip a couple of years later was a press visit to the new copper tube mill of ICI Metals division near Liverpool. They laid on a Dakota from Heathrow; thanks to bumpy headwinds it took well over two hours and I became distinctly airsick.
Amid all this, one could believe that there were hardly any elements of business life in metals that could be traced through to today. But in fact personal contacts were and are the bedrock of trade and go so far back as to predate the telephone and telegraph. They were also, and are, the foundation of good reporting.
I'm sorry to have to add another of these notes here. Derek Benham died at the beginning of the month, after a period of illness. Derek was a well-known and highly respected figure in the cobalt and nickel business. He was also a friend, and I shall miss the breakfasts we used to have when we both stayed at the Oxford and Cambridge Club during the LME Dinner weeks. All my sympathies go to his family; such losses are hard to bear.