My time at Ditchburn’s started on the 9th May 1963, and finished on the 30th July 1973, but the intervening years were fabulous. In my younger days I worked on radios, but that was before I started working so I was well adversed in Radio, Audio and electrical and mechanical engineering you might say self taught, and i also went to night school to gain paper qualifications..I was 19 years old and had three jobs before I started with the company. I started on the Monday morning in fear and trepidation I was on electrical test a job I hated, the test engineer was Tony Toues I was in the job 2 days when I found out that a lad called Sutty wanted my job so I saw Sutty he said that he wanted the job as he had already been there a few months. I saw Tommy Greaves who was in charge of the vending department, and said that Sutty wanted the job I got, could we please swap. So on the third day Sutty got what he wanted and I got what I wanted a job on electrical production. In 1963 we were tight for space the electrical test was at the end near the stairs, the electrical assembly was on one side all the length of the room on the other side of the room were the boiler assembly shop an odd job engineering shop, and one I never got to the bottom of it was run by Rose Webster there were also two offices on the stairs side..
This image on the left is the Dock road factory and shows the Factory Electrical department. circa 1949The blocked out windows were replaced with the same type and after 1956 the area formed the mechanism department for the Tonomat machines there were two full windows in the middle for the test and inspection department and the last two windows were the Audio department. There were 4 windows in the six that were taken out. Upstairs were the production office of Bill Andrews, and later other offices were included such as service office.
The light work but hectic schedule made the days go quick, I was the last bench just before the harness assembly shop, my mate next door was Bob Shaw he came from Blackpool and was a teddy boy at heart. The days were full of mirth and we employed men and women, I think there were four women and three men in the department , but soon there was a lad started and I made room for him and he was next to the harness shop, he was a lad I knew and I had seen him grow up for three years so we were ok and the jokes kept coming. I always seem to get the job of making harnesses up for everyone and could spend two days on making each one, it got to a fine art, but the fact was that we were all supposed to make our own harnesses up. There was a works social club called the “Domino club” it organised a couple of outings a year and the first one was planned for July and another one in December and I went on both of them and they were good do’s, and after that I went to every one until I left. In 1968, I took over the club as chairman in later years and remained in that position till I left the company in 1973.There was talk about us moving to the other side of Dock Road, we at that time were employed in the Dock offices, upstairs was electrical boiler manufacturing section for the hot drink vending machines, but downstairs was the machine production line area, this area was the full length of the building, the research and development office was at the end of the building with separate locked entrance. There was also a loading area entrance that the finished machines left the factory by. In May 1964 we moved lock stock and barrel to the new factory and it was big, you could fit the whole of production into it and had acres of space but It was not long till we started filling it up, we had back ground music section in there that took up minuscule space and then they built a test room for my mate Peter Hamm, but before he got the job I was assistant to Bill the test engineer for a few weeks in another part of the factory, I worked on back ground music (BGM) for a few months mainly sorting out the poor amplifiers.
Shown on the right is the Ditchburn Symphonette BGM system and tape, this provided background music to shops, pubs, and restaurants.
At some point I was asked, “not told” to go on the cigarette machines that were coming in from Germany and spent a few months between these and the BGM department. There were two of these type of machines a 16 and a 24 column format, they would hold about 40 packets of cigarettes per stack and vended change which was set by changing diodes, if the diodes went open or short circuit as happened from time to time you got no change, if all the diodes went faulty I found out they would not vend at all, see more about this below. For some reason we had a 110 volt generator run from a three phase supply to test the first machines but we soon lost the generator. So by now I was sorting cigarette machines, manufacturing BGM machines still working on vending and now was seconded to sort out problems of an electrical nature on vending test oh and I worked for the two weeks we shut down for holidays so went off and was chauffeur driven because I did not have driving licence, so they took me to Blackpool to sort out a particular problem with a vending machine on North pier. The machine a v16 cigarette vending type was dead but the power was ok, I checked all the usual points for voltage and everything was there so for the moment I was stumped. So thinking of the way the machine worked and thinking sideways I removed one column of diodes placed them in my pocket and from spares box put in a set of diodes on column 1 and it vended on that column but no other so I replaced column 2 and that one worked and continued all the way along the board till all columns worked. I then realised that if all the diodes were open or short circuit it would not vend, there was nothing in the manual about this situation. I asked questions of the owner of the machine had anything spectacular happened before it went dead, he said the only thing on Sunday morning about 9 the lights went off and came on again. Two weeks later I got a call from the engineer and he asked about it I gave my response and told him to replace all the change diodes check each column and see me with the diodes when he came back to Lytham. We sent both sets of diodes off to Germany to check their condition all of them were burned to a cinder. So I checked with Blackpool tram ways and asked for information on the trams that were running on those days and times we got the answer back it was the same tram both times and as there is no connection with the tram cables they run on 600 volt dc not connected directly in any way to the mains it remains a mystery to this day. Apparently there was a problem with the coronation trams, they would do all sorts of things to nearby equipment and they had to remove them from service.
The back ground music moved again this time we were in the big dry dock but the dry dock was filled in and a second floor was built and a cargo lift put in, you were not supposed to use the lift if you took goods up, you walked up the stairs, the floor was finished as pure concrete and I requested that the floor was sealed because I was having problems with my feet eventually the floor was sealed and that cured the problem. By this time a new symphonaire was introduced called the symphonette, the pre amps were built in house on vero-board to expedite construction because no boards were ready, so I built them up.. hundreds of them then later we got printed circuit boards the job was far easier. These symphonettes contained a small package mullard 2 watt amplifier, and a tape preamp. So by this time I was working between all the departments of vending, symphonaire, BGM and Clairtone filling in wherever I was needed. At the end of this building was the research and development department which was always securely locked and no one gained entry unless you worked in there. The one thing I have only just realised is that there was no component stores at the vending department, but somehow stuff got ordered, and now I do not know how or why, but we never ran short of anything.
Well at the end of 1966 I had another job, I was considered for a new venture, the Clairtone radiograms, so between 66 and 67 i worked between all of them but time was running out for Clairtone, the company was in trouble in Canada the Canadian government had invested 80 million dollars into it but the concept was not right the company went bust in 1968. We had a range of radio grams from the project G to the G2 and we had small ones and big ones some just radio and record players some with tape recorders and they were up to 800 each. Clairtone were in the sheriff’s office next door to vending The company went bankrupt but the share capital is nothing and in 2018 the company was still in existence but not trading.
This photo shows the vending division in circa 1960s, downstairs is the machine production track and upstairs is the electrical department associated with production. The man that ran the vending was Tommy Greaves, and electrical test was Tony Toose. In 1964 when we vacated the unit upstairs was the pay department and downstairs was an ITC 1400 Computer for wages, which was needed as by that time we had 600 or more staff on the books at Ditchburn.
The Ditchburn Cold Spa Drinks Vending machine, this was an American designed machine that was 50% US and 50% UK manufactured, this was to circumvent the import regulations set after the war, the Cold Spa was for cold Drinks and there was also a Hot Spa Machine for Coffee and Tea
1968 was a momentous year I thought, I had finally got my position in the Ditchburn Audio Department, and strangely it was in May of that year I was given three months to make my mark and prove my worth, or I was out of the department!… I did it in one month, Bill Andrews was the boss he was so fierce, everyone feared him but he was a nice kind soul and secretly he was soft underneath, he helped me out a lot in my time with Ditchburn Equipment, and when I left he sent a letter to me asking me to come back on the following Monday, I went back to thank him, but told him exactly why I left the company he said “You are a star” but sadly I did not go back to work.How I made my mark on audio well there were two amplifiers in the audio department both small Philips amplifiers, but they simply did not work. The first one was dead on sound and running loads of HT current, most of the voltages were ok, but the output stage was duff but drawing current for fun, so I investigated the output and realised that the capacitors in the unit had all been replaced and there it was… a so simple a mistake, the –ve bias cap had been put in the wrong way round shutting off the bias, I replaced the capacitors and the amplifier was now working great. The second one was the output protector it was a dead short, after repair, it was now ok. I had made my mark and got the job fixing two jobs that had hung around for at least four years.The audio department handled a number of amplifiers from juke boxes to public address amplifiers and each one presented a different problem. There was the ubiquitous ones, the smaller public address amplifiers that gave the most trouble, these were Philips amplifiers the range was 18 watt, 20 watt, 35 watt, 70 watt, and rather special 400 watt, we just had two of these, one which was installed at a company on the A57 in Manchester it was a massive site with all sorts of buildings on it, and they made sheds and garages, there were 7 amplifiers on this site alone the total power was in the order of 700 watts or so, these gave little trouble but wanted a 5 year service, but there was not much to replace, they ran 4 x 807 Beam Tetrode Valves in the output stage, which were completely under run but no worries the only things you had to do was check and set the bias and clean the safety contacts, this was a system of controlling the amp if the speakers got inadvertently disconnected ( a relay to protect the output transformer ) and adjust the gap of the contacts for safe operation. We also had a few 25 watt Reslo amplifiers, but in the main most of the work was juke box related . To test these, the final test was to disconnect the speakers turn them up full bore and watch the sparks fly. We also took on Eagle amplifiers it was a try out the TPA30 and the PA539 these were tried and found to be good enough to press them in service and were reasonably cheap at least cheaper than the Philips amplifiers but sadly they never needed service I suppose you could say that was good.
I must stop using the term “jukebox” GND (Geoffrey Norman Ditchburn ) would not like it, he only called them by their correct name which is “Automatic Phonographs”. In 1968 towards the end of the year we got an amplifier for evaluation it was supposed to be a 30 watt solid state amplifier of superior performance so I was given the task of writing a report, all went well till I got to the final output test. It was 30 watt the first amp that the company had produced in the solid state format, there was plenty of HT to support the theory, but transistors being what they were then were not up to much above 20 watts. The output no matter how I measured it was just 18 watts RMS into a 4 ohm load. The amplifier did not make it to our inventory and the company shelved it. You see amplifiers were rated as RMS, Music power, IAHF, and a few more nondescript outputs so if it was stated 30 watt RMS it should be because this was the standard by which all were measured. I had left vending behind but the same applied in the Equipment department, I had to deal with calls from service engineers about faults with sound systems, this was completely unofficial but the service engineer at the works could not answer all the questions he was after all just a contact, but he worked hard and I helped him out. The chief service engineer was Ronnie Cole, he originated from Blackpool but the main man was Mike ( not sure of his second name ) he would rush in at 5 minutes to clocking off time wanting an amplifier to go out on transport to somewhere, and we would not have one in stock, so “mugwump me” would locate an amplifier in a box service it and send it out that night just in time, then I had problems getting out of the factory because the staff entrance was locked. so I went out through the main entrance. I did this so many times I cannot count them, but that was me.
Well the years came and went, and I was still happy with my lot, the Juke boxes went on, we had more of a range of jukeboxes to deal with, some actually were rubbish but we soldiered on with them, if you consult the machine directory you will see that of those non Ditchburn machines we put out, plenty of them there was the… Bal-Ami’s, the Seeburgs, the Telematic, German Wurlitzer’s and the American ones from the 2600 to the last one the 3800 so we had a lot of amplifiers to deal with, we all have favorites, and mine was the Tonomat from Germany, the T31, I have one of these at home, 30 watts into two Goodmans Audiom 61 speakers, at 30 watts of raw valve power you can’t beat it. But some others preferred the transistor amplifiers, the only ones of these I liked was the 2900 and the 3000. We also had the full range of German Wurlitzer’s from the Lyric M to the tape machines, we also had the Seeburg 1000 a fully functioning BGM (Back Ground Music) this machine played vinyl instead of tapes and if I could get one this would be my machine.
Arthur’s Dream MachineThe Seeburg 1000 BGM
We occasionally had the early Ditchburn machines in for service the MK4 ( AKA MK2 Music maker or Fridge ) was one that came in occasionally and I had the joy of servicing just one amplifier it ran 2 x PX4 Valves in the output stage to give 15 watts, these valves are now considered to be some of the best ever produced and command extremely high prices around £400 each, it had these same output valves since new according to the service record and had only been back for service once in its life it was manufactured in 1950. The MK6 came in but I did not get the amplifier, they seemed to rate the old boxes different to the new ones for some reason. One task all of us did was stock taking on the inventory in stock, we all spent one day every year doing a stock check, one year I got the task of checking the old stock, it was the parts for the old mk4 machines ( MK2 Fridge ) and then I found out there were 1000s of most parts, which were then scrapped, At this time the Bal Ami’s had something to answer for, they stopped production of MK4 and MK6 ( AKA MK2 and MK2R ) machines, The Bal-AMI played 40 records and both sides, but the Ditchburn could only play 1 side, Ditchburn was the first to produce machines from scratch from American drawings, but sadly they were all owned by him and they were scrapped by him but there are exceptions still doing the rounds on sales sites. We got taken over in 1970 by BET they paid 2.3 million, the mood did not change and GND was still there “but the mood was changing” we sold out the vending department to National Vendors UK a subsidiary of National Vendors inc and in early 1971 for about 1.3 million we put in a bid for Gainesmead but they returned with a bid for us and in October 1972. We sold out to Gainesmead for 2.3 million when we sold the Juke box business we let go of 2800 Juke boxes. At Christmas we were hit with some sad news my very good friend Mike Town had been out for some shooting with his son, he had his meal and went to the car to collect his guns to clean them, mike had been ill for a couple of months he was losing his sight though that might have been temporary. He reached in to the car and grabbed the gun and it went off he had left one up the spout and not broken the gun why I do not know, the trigger was sensitive and shot himself, the verdict was suicide but I do not believe that for one minute he loved his wife and family, he would not put them through this on purpose. I think a good verdict would have been misadventure and to my mind that is what I believe. Mike Town was the sales director he did vending mostly but did work for the equipment side as well. He was the only director to want foreigners doing and he brought loads of bits in from his children. We were closed till 2nd January so I did not know till then he was dead, RIP Mike.I decided that that was that I had lost the one man that meant something to me I was definitely leaving so I made the announcement, I told the company I was having that day of the funeral off, they said if I did I would get the sack so I just said sack me! The whole staff joined me at the funeral, the company had relented, the whole works closed for the day and we all packed the crematorium. The Company was now called Gainesmead Automatics from the previous October and in April 1973 we came back to work after the weekend to find the audio department in disarray the next door had gone and it was one big department it was horrible we had a jukebox in the middle of the room the Tonomat’s were cleared away and in their place there was 200 selections Seeburgs and NSM juke boxes I now refer to the new shitty music the MSM it was, and four people were missing from the staff.I was glad when the end of July came I left but had one more duty to perform I was the chairman of the Domino club and my last engagement was to take them to the Isle of Man for Bank holiday Monday, we arrived by sea and it was a holiday everything was shut, and even worse there had been a murder on the Island the week before, we went for lunch went on a tram ride down the prom, looked at the burned out wreck of the leisure complex and went to a go cart rink then came home, it was a complete let down. I started my new job on the Tuesday my life was no longer the same I had lost the best job of my life and would never return to normality. Finally the back ground music division was eventually sold out to an English subsidiary of an American company then to 3M for 1.2 million. And that was the end of The Ditchburn Organisation. We sold the going concern to BET they sold the lot off for 4.7 million in separate lots after paying us 2.3 million. The day I left Ditchburn’s the staff presented me with a tankard but unfortunately it had on it the wording of Gainesmead on it, it simply said “to Arthur Phillips from friends at Gainesmead.These friends were: Bill Andrews, Ronnie Eastwood, John Hesketh, Leslie Dyson, Peter Cain, Norman Smith, (Reg) Reginald Simpson, Pete Odea, George Lewis, Rod Tatersal, and loads more I am sorry but I know your names but cannot for the life of me remember them I have always had a problem remembering names but I never forget your face. And all the other detail, Peter Cain RIP was dead before I left Ditchburn’s. I was promoted to head audio engineer in early 1969 after Milton King left, so I remain chief audio engineer at Ditchburn Equipment until i left.
if anyone has any questions for Arthur or would like to contact him, please contact us via the button below and we will pass your details on to Arthur
To Be Continued ….
Photo Ref: DB187 Courtesy of Clive Mark
Photo Ref: DB098 Courtesy of Barry Cartmell
Photo Ref: DB097 Courtesy of Barry Cartmell
Photo Ref: DB227 Courtesy of EB
Photo Ref: DB229 Courtesy of EB
Photo ref: DB228 Courtesy of KD
Photo ref: DB230 Courtesy of KD
Below is the fantastically detailed story from Arthur Phillips in which he discusses his time working at the Ditchburn Dock Road factory at Lytham.
The Photo on the right is of Tommy Greaves. Tom was Arthur’s first boss, he was in charge of the Vending Department. Tom, a qualified engineer, loved his work hence his extended service to the company. he worked for Ditchburn for many years and retired when he was in his 70s Photo Ref: DB231 Courtesy of Philip Marriott