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The First Seventy Years: 18 - In A Different Social Set

...This was a world in which one's peers may well converse about time spent as an officer in the Grenadier Guards or some other prominent regiment, chat about experiences whilst at Eton or some other leading public school. Such exchanges would be openly and frankly discussed without a hint of boastfulness. These were, after all, mere comment on the normality of their experiences...

Eric Biddulph joins the hallowed world of chartered accountants.

My entry into the hallowed world of Chartered Accountants was not merely a huge chasm because of my lack of educational achievement. I was now working alongside men and women whose social pedigree was reminiscent of those who were customers of Aunt Sarah. Many of them lived in palatial houses in The Park or other desirable residential areas of Nottingham.

I had entered a profession which was favoured by those who were part of The Establishment. The senior partners at MB & M sat on the boards of many prominent public limited companies. Many of the qualified accountants on the staff and articled clerks were sons of leading industrialists in the city and beyond.

This was a world in which one's peers may well converse about time spent as an officer in the Grenadier Guards or some other prominent regiment, chat about experiences whilst at Eton or some other leading public school. Such exchanges would be openly and frankly discussed without a hint of boastfulness. These were, after all, mere comment on the normality of their experiences.

These sons of the wealthy and powerful were, nevertheless, hardworking and committed to achieving at the highest possible level within the profession. Some of the qualified accountants specialised in particular areas: taxation, executorship, cost accounting. Most members of staff however, were engaged on audit duties, much of it conducted on the premises of clients.

Raleigh Cycles was a major client. A staff of eight or ten would be engaged on site for much of the year. Terry's Chocolates, based in York, was another leading company.

Although the ethos of MB & M was shaped by the owners of Jaguars, Daimlers and Rolls Royces, the backbone of professional accountancy work was performed by staff that had emerged out of social category B, upper middle and middle class rankings. About a half of the staff had attended grammar schools. Generally they did not have parents who exhibited a high level of wealth. They tended nevertheless, to live in comfortable middle-class areas of the city.

Most of the staff members had secured the School Certificate as their ticket into the profession. Contempories in their teens held a range of individual subject passes in the new General Certificate of Education brought in as a replacement for the School Certificate.

The fathers of these members of staff were likely to be senior or middle managers in medium sized organisations. Some would own their own businesses. Some would send their children to day public schools. Very few however, would send them away to board. This was the preserve of the wealthiest sector of society during the 1950s.

The only members of staff who shared my social background were some of the comptometer operators (forerunners of the modern pocket calculators), canteen staff and janitors.

Immediately after joining the firm I embarked upon a serious programme of study towards securing passes in three subjects at GCE O Level, English, Geography and English History 1689-1914. I had decided to go for the Incorporated route to a qualification, requiring me to acquire five GCE passes.

I was funded by MB & M through the Metropolitan Correspondence College. The early 1950s was not a good time to access evening classes. All my colleagues who were studying towards an accountancy qualification were doing so through correspondence courses. This method of study required a high level of self-discipline. There was never any face-to-face contact with tutors. My father provided as much help as was within his abilities, but there were many occasions when I would have valued human contact with my tutors.

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