Big thank you from

It's a tough old life in the Civil Service

by THE RAMBLER - Part One - 12/07/02

MY former Civil Service colleague (I'll still call him 'Fred from Clabby'), has jogged my memory with anecdotes from pre-war days which I have enjoyed. They should be suitable for holiday reading - light relief.

When we gained entry to the Stormont service via the open competition for clerkships we were instructed to report to F C Moore at the Unemployment Assistance Board (UAB for short), Headquarters, at Tyrone House, Ormeau Avenue, Belfast.

The"UAB was an autonomous quango. The intention being to keep the relief of need free of party politics. A prominent ex-linen lord, 'Richard Rowley', to use his literary nom-de-plume chaired the Board. His real name was Williams, but he was renowned as 'the poet of the Mournes'.

FC was a fatherly figure, ex-Dublin Castle when the Stormont government was set up. After a brief introductory meeting, he handed us over to Tom Elwood, a senior Principal Officer in the service. Elwood was officious and full of self importance, widely-publicised as a preacher. His theme with us was mostly 'Thou must not!'

Messrs Hull, Kennedy, Masterson, Grant, Noble and Smyth were all appointed to the UAB simultaneously as schoolboy entrants. Noble was an incorrigible prankster who hailed from Ards and never settled to a hum-drum life as a pen pusher. Instead, he soon joined the RAF and shook the Stormont dust off his feet to seek a bit of action. Later, he became a pilot with a civil airline.


Noble's first feat was to set himself up as guide to shepherd some of the new entrants to Frederick Street office, where they were sent by Elwood. He 'knew the city' (he claimed). He didn't! Instead he lost his sheep and Elwood nearly 'did his nut' when his flock failed to turn up at Frederick Street for quite awhile. They got there eventually where they were assigned to the assessment branch', a large open-plan office which had the standard Board of Works well polished lino floor. Bill Irwin ruled there with an iron fist. Silence, reigned, discipline was strict - all work and no nonsense.

Noble was a rebel, at one juncture, fed up with the atmosphere, he yelled out: "Who is afraid of the big bad wolf?" Irwin nearly needed a change of underwear! Sacrilege, absolute sacrilege! However, he let it pass. He had little option.

The floor covering was important. The assessing room was spacious. It held 60 male staff, seated at tables, with plenty of open space. The entrance was at the far end from Irwin's seat. He always entered well on time and took off his jacket, hung it on a hanger and put on a well-worn garment which had plenty of `beggar pleats' and leather elbows. Once dressed, he surveyed the room before settling down. One could have heard a pin dropping. Bill didn't allow any chat. Everyone present?

Noble was never early. Just last in, a few minutes late always.

I well remember his downfall. As usual he strode in at about five past two, with his folded raincoat slung over his shoulder. He used long strides and; sadly, his heels left him as he headed for the coat rack. Down he came, flat on his back, with an almighty thud. Not a word was spoken, just a few titters! Billie's face was like thunder as Noble slowly picked himself up and dusted himself down.


The rest of the Board's staff were ex-service personnel. All but a tier of seniors clerks were 'temporary', ie, weekly paid men. Naturally, they did not welcome the influx of permanent pensionable schoolboy entrants, but, personally, I never experienced anything but fatherly patronage. We had no canteen, just the boiler room for a cuppa.

More about that next week with Irwin's welcome (sic) for organ grinders.
To be continued...

Ulster Star