The Printing Industry in 1965

A sum­mary of the what the UK’s print­ing industry looked like in 1965

Print room at Oliver & Boyd
Print room at Oliv­er & Boyd (from Flickr)

Hav­ing already pub­lished schemes to help the print­er cost his work and provide accur­ate estim­ates, the Brit­ish Fed­er­a­tion of Mas­ter Print­ers turned it’s atten­tion to office pro­ced­ure and in 1965 pro­duced Print­ing Office Pro­ced­ure, a six-volume work to train those new to print­ing offices in the details of admin­is­ter­ing the work that passed over their desks.  Volume 1 also includes a descrip­tion of the state of the print­ing industry at that time.  This art­icle looks at the way the industry worked.

Before we look at print­ing, it’s worth get­ting a fla­vour of what Bri­tain was like in 1965.  Things look optim­ist­ic: the Post Office Tower opens, the miniskirt is sold by Mary Quant, the Gov­ern­ment looks at intro­du­cing a drink-drive alco­hol lim­it and the death pen­alty for murder is abol­ished.  In terms of the prin­ted word, the vast major­ity of what you’d see is still prin­ted by a print­er: the only prac­tic­al means of get­ting words on a page for the pub­lic is to hand-write or use a typewriter.

There were 4,000 firms in the Brit­ish Fed­er­a­tion of Mas­ter Print­ers (the employ­ers’ organ­isa­tion).  The size of the firm was gen­er­ally small: 40% of those firms employed few­er than ten people; 22% few­er than 24 people.  Some 220,500 staff were employed in the industry, but most were engaged by firms between 100 and 500 people in size.  At the top end, only 60 firms had more than 500 people and just 20 had more than 1,000 staff.

Print­ing was pre­dom­in­antly let­ter­press, with off­set litho­graphy begin­ning to make advances that would see it eclipse let­ter­press com­mer­cially.  More than 3,500 of the 4,000 firms were ‘mainly let­ter­press’.  Because pho­to­type­set­ting and com­puter type­set­ting were very much in their infancy, where print­ers did want to print off­set they needed a let­ter­press ori­gin­al.  This is a curi­ous peri­od in print­ing where a very pre­cise let­ter­press pro­cess was used to gen­er­ate a copy that could be pho­to­graphed to make a litho plate.  Only 10% of the firms were ‘mainly litho’, the remainder being pho­to­grav­ure.  Some print­ers had more than one pro­cess in-house and some used addi­tion­al pro­cesses: col­lo­type, die-stamp­ing, flexo­graph­ic print­ing, for example.

The report notes that “Every town in Great Bri­tain of reas­on­able size is served by a num­ber of smal­ler print­ers, ori­gin­ally estab­lished to meet the demand for gen­er­al print­ing in their own loc­al­ity”.  There are some sig­ni­fic­ant excep­tions, how­ever, where spe­cial­ised pro­cesses or centres are estab­lished to serve one par­tic­u­lar mar­ket.  There was also a tend­ency to move away from the centre of cit­ies since World War II when dam­age to build­ings forced some firms to relo­cate to oth­er areas.

Step­ping back at little and look­ing at these num­bers, it’s easy to see that a great sec­ond­ary industry was needed to sup­port these busi­nesses and employ­ees.  While paper con­sump­tion may have changed little, it’s the ink makers, print­ers’ engin­eers and fur­nish­ers, press makers and type founders that would have relied on that mass of let­ter­press printers.

In terms of organ­isa­tion, the industry was gov­erned by a num­ber of organ­isa­tions — know­ing that they had been under some sort of organ­isa­tion since Eliza­beth­an times.  Employ­ers were grouped in the News­pa­per Pro­pri­et­ors’ Asso­ci­ation and gen­er­al print­ers in the Brit­ish Fed­er­a­tion of Mas­ter Print­ers.  Employ­ees uni­ons were grouped in to the Print­ing and Kindred Trades Fed­er­a­tion with 386,000 members.

Print­ers were still keen to secure the best advice to improve the pro­cess and PIRA, the research organ­isa­tion for the paper and board, pack­aging and print­ing, filled this role.  It was fun­ded by ‘vol­un­tary sub­scrip­tions’ from firms but also a Gov­ern­ment grant.  They offered tech­nic­al sup­port and car­ried out their own research with phys­ic­al, chem­ic­al, bio­lo­gic­al and mech­an­ic­al test­ing expertise.

Edu­ca­tion was some­thing encour­aged by employ­ers and employ­ees alike.  There were three major routes in to the industry: a tra­di­tion­al appren­tice with release to study part-time; entry to the office with qual­i­fic­a­tions from the BFMP; and finally full-time study at one of the many loc­al spe­cial­ised tech­nic­al col­leges.  The key col­leges being Lon­don Col­lege of Print­ing, Manchester Col­lege of Art and Design, Leeds Col­lege of Tech­no­logy, Wat­ford Col­lege of Tech­no­logy, Edin­burgh’s Napi­er Tech­nic­al Col­lege and Glas­gow Col­lege of Print­ing.  The Insti­tute of Print­ing was a body to set stand­ards for exam­in­a­tions in the craft side of the industry.

This ends our look at 1965: let­ter­press was still dom­in­ant, hun­dreds of thou­sands of people worked in the industry all sup­por­ted by a vast web of sup­pli­ers and man­u­fac­tur­ers and print­ing was done loc­ally in your own town.