On 11th May 2012 I had the pleasure of interviewing Jim Fox for Strandlines. Jim first started working at King’s on 19th January 1953 as an apprentice electrician, and retired in 1998 having been promoted to Site Engineer.
Jim’s first experience of the Strand came at the age of fifteen, when he came to King’s for an interview, accompanied by his father. We discussed the ways in which transport links have now changed, as Jim can remember Embankment station’s earlier incarnations when it was variously Charing Cross underground station, and the Strand station. (A little internet research a few days later took me to these images of the changing tube map detail around Charing Cross:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Charing_X_Renamed.png) Working as an apprentice, Jim and his colleagues were based in the workshops in the basement of the King’s building. There were perhaps ten to twelve electricians. A post-war phase of development at the college included the creation of new laboratories. Before the days of Health and Safety concerns, the bulbs in the chapel chandeliers were changed by Jim standing on trestles on top of scaffolding boards lain over the pews!
Jim left King’s for his National Service in the Royal Signals 1956 -58, after which he was urged to return to King’s to finish his training. Jim received a handwritten letter from the head clerk reinstating his employment, a copy of which he showed to me. The letter is addressed to ‘Fox’ which Jim says was typical of communication in those days, and sets Jim’s weekly wage at £8. Jim never expected to stay as long as he did.
One of the things which struck me most about my conversation with Jim was his depiction of the social life of support staff at King’s. In the early 1950s there was the beginnings of a social club at King’s, in the main building south-west block, where support staff might go for their lunch. They sometimes frequented a pub called Mooney’s opposite the Savoy, where you could get a proper pint of Guinness. The annual Christmas dance was a sort of servants’ ball in Jim’s eyes, to which staff were invited by gilt-edged invitation. The dances were held in the Great Hall with live bands and dinner. There were also outings to the seaside, with a coachload or two going to, for example, Brighton for the day. These were open to all departments. Jim was also one of the founder members of the King’s Golf Society which played in Bletchingly, Pine Ridge and other locations mostly in Surrey. Jim also played for the King’s staff cricket team, at the ground on Lavender Avenue, Mitcham.
Jim also talked me through some of the changes he’s seen at King’s over the years, including the new Strand Building in 1971. Jim was part of the supervisory team and reported to the college on the contractors’ progress. He worked with the college engineer Les Clark. Jim remembers the shops that were there before the new King’s Strand building, including a pub called Finches used by staff at lunchtime. (Seehttp://strandlines.org/image/strand-frontage-1953 andhttp://strandlines.org/image/looking-down-strand-somerset-house-1950s for image of Strand before King’s new building, and seehttp://strandlines.org/image/kings-college-strand-building-under-construction-completed-1972 for the building under construction) While big projects were undertaken by contractors, King’s electricians dealt with repair work and small installations. One electrician would stay each day until 9pm to deal with any evening problems, and Jim drew up this rota. When Jim retired there were fewer full-time electricians, and they focused more on maintenance rather than installation – a change which Jim considers was inevitable. Jim retired from the post of Strand Site Engineer in 1996 after forty-three years and worked on a part-time contract until 1998.
Another important part of Jim’s life at King’s was the community around the Chapel. Jim was a member of the Christian Fellowship which met once a week and brought together people from all over the college – academics and support staff. Jim attended Christmas, Advent and Easter celebrations at King’s. King’s also holds memorial services for former members of staff and Jim has been involved with these too. Jim remembers the 150-year anniversary of the college in 1979, and the thanksgiving services held in the Chapel. Jim came to know the Dean of the College, Richard Harries, later Bishop of Oxford. When Jim arrived at King’s on the day of our interview, the current Dean, Rev. Richard Burridge, saw him on the stairs and mentioned that he had just come across a photograph of Jim at Richard Harries’ leaving party. Richard Burridge gave a copy of the June 1987 Comment (the KCL newsletter) to Jim, which shows a photograph of Jim with Richard Harries, Chris Moody and Mike Harrington at the Social Club. Jim and Mike are still in touch. Not only was this fortuitous timing – had Richard not bumped into Jim at that moment, Jim might not have seen this photograph again – but it underlined to me the social links Jim forged at King’s which continue to this day.
Moving outside of King’s, Jim’s recollections of the Strand included the famous drawn there by the Savoy, and the infamous brought to the High Court. He remembers seeing Doris Day outside the Savoy in the early 1950s, shortly after the release of Calamity Janein 1953. She wore a fur coat and was applauded by a crowd outside the hotel. A decade later, Jim was on his way home via Temple and had bought his evening paper, when a young woman collided with him and knocked the paper out of his hand. This was Mandy Rice-Davies, a call-girl at the heart of the Profumo Affair. She apologised and went to pick up Jim’s paper, but was swept away by minders amid the flash of press photographers’ cameras. Jim’s friend Mike Harrington once met Bing Crosby by King’s too.
Jim still comes to the Strand to meet up with old colleagues, sometimes at King’s, sometimes at the Lyceum, and he attends alumni events too. It seemed to me that amidst all the changes Jim has witnessed within King’s and on the Strand, a sense of continuity comes with the friendships he forged here, as well as the memory of his first visit to the Strand. He remembered even today as he came to this interview being walked along the Strand by his father to his first interview at King’s in January 1953.