Join Bata and see the World, but if the world is in political turmoil as it was in 1963-4, what do you do with an advertising, display and marketing man who has been hired from Glasgow, Scotland put through the Bata Overseas induction course and destined to take over Batas marketing at Gwelo in Rhodesia?
Ian Smith had imposed a unilateral declaration of independence, the UK had countered with sanctions and Julian Bray (that’s me!) found myself, being seconded to the British Bata Shoe Company whilst my sponsors Bata Development Limited (BDL) – the international training and staff placement arm – above the then 151 Oxford Street Bata Store ( now Boots the Chemist) found another African country to take me. During this time BDL had put me up at the Berners Street Hotel, just off Oxford Street. For a young man, fancy free, absolute bliss and just a stones throw from BDL and all Londons top Jazz and Rock Clubs. Some 44 years ago, as veteran rocker Zoot Money (his rock’n’roll band is still touring with Alan Price) himself reminded me just two weeks ago..
This didn’t really prepare me for arriving at East Tilbury, first reaction: What is this! Everywhere you looked, wall to wall Bata! These days slick marketing men would call it branding. Bata was light years ahead… The Bata farm, Bata Milkman and Bata milk bottles.., Bata Fire Service – superb Skoda Fire Engine, Bata Technical College, Bata Ambulance Station (The old American pre-war Chevvy saloon car converted into an ambulance for the factory. Still in use when I was at East Tilbury, is now on permanent display at the War Museums Duxford Aerodrome Museum), Bata Club & Bar (!), Bata Shoe Shop (of course), Bata Supermarket, Bata Bakery, Thomas Bata Statue and the Bata Hotel (now called Stanford House).
My home for the next few months. My bedroom, huge square plate glass window overlooking the Estuary and the distant gas flare from the oil terminal. You could see over the mud flats and watch the birdlife, tankers and shipping sailing by. Amazing sunsets too.
Pirate radio had just started, “My feet begin to crumble…” wafting out of the radio - the Beatles had yet to peak. Electrical sockets and plumbing in the Bata Hotel bedroom were of a unique Zlin design as was everything else. The entire construction had been imported from Zlin, even the round butter pats at breakfast had the Bata logo stamped on them, until the machine (again Zlin built) broke down and no further parts could be imported – funny what you do remember…just as you remember the ’knocker upper’ early in the morning a distant rumble would get louder and louder, as a man with a big stick would bang on all the bedroom doors, no one slept in at the Bata Hotel!
The offer was simple, rather than have me attending numerous BDL training courses. I had after all just about completed the entire catalogue of Bata International training courses for visiting overseas Batamen, rewritten many of the training manuals they would take home to their own countries, airbrushed to oblivion many black and white group photographs of delegates of all arms holding beer or wine glasses.
I was ready for a change in the routine and I was to assist my hosts at British Bata to launch a series of Kelvin Shoe Shops up and down the country: Ebbew Vale, Mottingham, Stoke -on- Trent, Tunstall, Birmingham, Seven Kings, Mill Hill, the list seemed to be endless.
At the same time, spend some time as an observer in the various departments at the factory to get practical hands on experience of all the processes, as everyone would be in at the deep end in Africa! Where you start with a plastics plant, stamp out flip flops, buy hides and skins and work the business upwards.
Needless to say, time spent on the clicking press was short and swift as the departmental head saw his months profits being decimated by an enthusiastic but serially useless clicker, only able to get a few cut pieces out of a hide, but lots of waste material! Same went for the graceful and somewhat hypnotic Ford car production line inspired Wellington boot line, did at least 10 minutes on that one before being honourably discharged! However discovered the trick of using a thumb to press and fold the shaft of the boot to tuck one inside the other, been very useful this one! Did manage to get my head around the sock production line door and the metal shop - making shoe box racks. Finally, shop fittings and furniture were graced with my visits.