This is one of my favourite photographs from the family archives – or rather the box of old photographs that has been given that somewhat grandiose title. It features my father, Albert, and a group of other mechanics, gathered around a machine that looks like a prop from a 1950s low-budget science fiction film. I think the photograph must have been taken in the early to mid 1950s – when my father would have been in his forties – and if that is the case, it will have been taken at Mackintosh’s factory in Halifax. The machine will have had some part to play in either making or wrapping chocolates and toffees – part of the famous Quality Street range. My father was a mechanic at Macks from the early 1950s until he retired over twenty years later.
Irrespective of the personal connection it has for me, the photograph is an important social document in its own right. You could quite happily construct a two-hour lecture on social and industrial history around it. The machine itself, with its dials and levers, tells of an age of cogs, gears and wheels: an age before computers and microelectronics. The gathering of workers seems to tell of a time when the connection between workers, machines and products was closer than it is today. The seeds of future change may, however, be visible in this seventy year old photograph: these people, these overalled mechanical midwives, are celebrating the birth of a robot.
Forget the lecture, it’s just another of my pointless flights of fancy. Look at the photograph, it says it all.