Right Said Fred

by Harry on June 11, 2004

I’ve only ever had one proper job. For about 6 months in 1985 I worked for Pipkins Removals. My acquisition of the job is a classic case of being plugged into the right network; I was oddly friendly with the boss’s daughters (and still am: I say oddly because they were 9 and 11 at the time). I was the most casual of the three employees, taken on because they won the contract to move the Oxford courts into the (then new) Combined Court Center in St. Aldates. I was also, surprisingly, good at the job, compensating for my initial lack of physical strength with a good eye for space, which is a vital labour-saving asset in that line of work. Despite my remarkable lack of homosociality I also got along well with the other employees, whom I respected and whom, I imagine, knew that.
What was striking about moving office (as opposed to home) furniture was the bizarre combination of incompetence and self-importance displayed by almost every office manager we worked with. They were paying for our time, but when we arrived they would frequently have no idea where they wanted anything (the courts, and the Dole office, were both exceptions). We moved every desk in one large office three times in the same day — the manager had basically paid us for the pleasure of ordering us about, as the final arrangement differed barely at all from the original arrangement. But they certainly got pleasure ordering us about and I, as the youngest and scruffiest of the men, was a particular target. They assumed, almost to a person, that I was on a YOPS scheme, or something like it, and treated me with extreme contempt, which never bothered me (I knew it was temporary); and my colleagues (who treated me with unmerited respect) took great delight in it.
Every day was punctuated with frequent, and strong, cups of tea. We had one before getting going, had another at 10.30, a third at lunch, and a fourth at 3. We worked bloody hard, and the tea was an essential accompaniment to the brief breaks.
Where is this going? An advertisement, of sorts. I have just acquired the newly released Very Best of Bernard Cribbins which contains the two brilliant songs Right Said Fred (which is about furniture moving) and Hole in the Ground (self-important officials). They sound as fresh as the day they were first recorded to me, and between them sum up my only experience of proper work. The CD contains numerous other gems from the talented man — his When I’m 64 is better than Paul McCartney’s. It’s readily available in the US too.



Walt Pohl 06.11.04 at 5:27 pm

What’s a YOPS scheme?


Chris Lightfoot 06.11.04 at 6:19 pm

“Youth Opportunity Programme”. See references in, e.g., this article.


Giles 06.11.04 at 8:23 pm

you display a remarkable lack of self awareness Harry – you say you were good at the job – not on account of putting your back into it but from your “eye for space” and presumably your ability to convey this superior knowledge of yours to poeple who did the job for a living. Not unlike the office managers no doubt – for whom, like you this was an intersting break from normal life of drudegery.

I think you also mistake the feelings of your colleagues – what they were showing you was the good nature of peopel who do the same job day in day out. It was not “respect”, brother.


harry 06.11.04 at 9:18 pm

Giles, maybe we mean different things by ‘respect’. I meant something like ‘good natured tolerance’, which is something like what you mean, and a completely respectable meaning. In fact I worked as hard as my colleagues (physically) which they saw and appreciated, given my (initial) lack of strength, which rapidly evaporated.

Anyway, I can tell that you don’t know the songs. Listen to them, then re-read the post, and it’ll bother you less. Or just listen to them and enjoy them.


Nabakov 06.12.04 at 3:22 am

Giles mate, you really are a thin streak of misery.

And yeah, Harry, I remember listening to my dad’s Bernard Cribbins records when I was a little tacker and not quite getting the references but relishing his vocal delivery.

As my dad pointed out at the time, he’s part of that long vein of rather surreal pisstaking that runs through English humour from the music hall, via the Goons, to Chris Morris today.

Thanks for the tip.


reuben 06.12.04 at 12:29 pm

Giles, if you’re not doing anything this afternoon, perhaps you could come round to mine and helpfully inform me that no, my garden isn’t doing as well as it appears; no, my girlfriend doesn’t really like me; and no, that’s not actually chocolate in my mousse. If you’re not too busy trying to block out the sun, that is.


dave heasman 06.14.04 at 10:16 am

I really like the first(?) Cribbins record – “Folk Song”. Haven’t heard it for 42 years, but recall it being highly amusing, in a quaint English way, and having a clever rhyme scheme.
“But she answered not a word, for she’d been struck by lightning,
and after that, the weather started brightening”.


harry 06.14.04 at 3:13 pm

‘Folk Song’ is on the compilation, plus lots more… Not that I have any agenda…


Jason McCullough 06.14.04 at 9:45 pm


Talk about your academically no-big-deal words that shock people in non-academic contexts. Going to use this one at work this week…..

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