Being Waged, Being Salaried

Looking back to his arrival at the BBC in the late 1920s, Maurice Gorham described the ‘caste’ system that he believed existed at Savoy Hill, with distinctions shown by the colour of the carpet—‘blue for seniors, with mahogany furniture: the rest had grey hairline and oak’—and the way you got your tea—‘juniors a cup and saucer, seniors a pot on a tray’.54 The intricacies of the BBC’s grading structures are considered at length in later chapters, particularly the repercussions in terms of pay and promotion for female employees. Even the smallest UK office in the interwar years would have differentiated between manager and worker but what appears unusual at the BBC is the size of the salaried workforce in comparison with the waged. This was evident even at Magnet House; out of the 31 employees who moved to Savoy Hill in March 1923 at least 12 were monthly paid. The Establishment Chart for July 1939 shows 43 per cent of the BBC’s 4,435 employees were salaried, of whom 6 per cent were women. However, for comparative purposes it should be nearer 15 per cent.5 5 This is because large numbers of engineers were included whom the BBC did not routinely categorise as salaried staff. If they are removed,

14.5 per cent of women were salaried at this time. This is confirmed by the Salary Information Files which contain details of all employees who held or had held monthly paid positions in the BBC prior to the Second World War and from which engineers are again omitted.[1] [2] Out of the 830 salaried staff listed, 128 were women, 15.5 per cent of the total.

It is not known when or why the BBC introduced a grading system although this was not an uncommon practice in the interwar years. Civil Servants, for instance, were categorised into a profusion of classifications and grades.[3] [4] At the BBC, by January 1927 all staff were categorised into eight grades: Grades A to D were salaried, while E to H comprised the waged secretarial and clerical staff. Each band denoted a different type of work, a different rate of pay and a different ‘roof’. Those who performed well received an annual increment and, once at the top of the grade, there was the possibility of promotion to the next. By 1929, employee numbers had grown to such an extent that two distinct grading systems were in operation, with the letter ‘W’ (standing for weekly) used to differentiate between the weekly and monthly paid. The five waged grades, ‘EW’ (lowest) to ‘AW’ (highest) were further sub-divided as staffing grew. Although the weekly waged grades were often recorded separately for women and men, there was no difference in pay levels, an individual on, for example, Grade C3W was paid the same regardless of sex.5 8 The waged/salaried divide did not necessarily denote social class. The BBC’s waged employees were more likely to be lower middle-class or aspiring working class but it could also be a stepping stone, especially for women graduates.[5] The BBC liked to present itself as a workplace where advancement was possible. It professed an ‘office boy to Director General’ mentality where an individual from the weekly paid grades could rise through the salaried ranks, often to a positon of great authority.[6]

The BBC’s Director of Internal Administration, Basil Nicolls, described the Corporation’s salaried staff as its ‘officer’ class and its ranks were evidently awash with the educated middle class.[7] The most visible demarcation was the method of being paid: wages collected by hand each week, or salaries deposited monthly into a bank account.[8] Miss Freeman, the WSA, received memos from waged women pleading to be remunerated by cheque so they could avoid the ignominy of the weekly queue at the cashier’s window, but this delineation was fiercely maintained. Salaries also rose far more quickly because the standard yearly increment was much higher. For waged staff, the annual pay rise was between 2/6d and 5/-, with a few receiving perhaps 10/- or ?1. For salaried staff the lowest increment was ?10, rising to ?100 annually for those on salaries of ?1,000 or more. Being well-paid was patently advantageous.

Apart from better pay and career prospects, the BBC’s salaried employees also benefitted from improved conditions of service, in particular one month’s rather than one week’s notice was required on either side. There were also separate toilet facilities. It can only be imagined with what joy Miss Hope Simpson opened her letter from Miss Freeman informing her that, as she was now a Controller’s secretary and so promoted to the salaried grades, she could ‘hang her hat and coat upstairs!’, her name now added to the list of women staff permitted to use the lavatory on the third floor.[9] A further distinction was made for staff who earned ?500 and above with perks that included First Class Rail travel, an expense account and four rather than three weeks’ annual leave.

The BBC also employed a large House Staff, manual workers who, for example, cleaned studios, maintained heating and lighting systems, transported deliveries and prepared and served meals. Although the WSA was party to the welfare and conditions of service of female house staff, their recruitment and working lives were the responsibility of the House Superintendent H.L. Chilman, an ex-military man recruited to the post in 1924. House staff had different rates of pay and conditions of service from office-based staff. For those on a weekly wage, holiday leave was two weeks rather than three while hourly paid charwomen received one week’s annual leave each year. Apart from promotion to supervisor level, there is little evidence of mobility, the exception being boys who were recruited to the position of ‘page’. While the BBC’s office-based staff might be courteous towards house staff, there is little evidence of social interaction between the two, although house staff were entitled to use the same entrances and to eat in the canteen, something ‘pretty well unheard of’ before the Second World War.[10] [11]

The BBC was a workplace where women and men, although differentiated as salaried or waged, were constantly interacting with each other. Even the most senior BBC man, cocooned in his carpeted office, came into contact with many individual women each day, which was certainly not the case for some senior men in the Civil Service with their male secretaries and often exclusively male offices and departments.6 5 Whether there was a culture of bullying is uncertain. Maurice Gorham averred that ‘too many senior officials bullied secretaries; woe betide the liftman who had to ask one of the high-ups which floor he wanted or the new secretary who did not recognise his voice on the phone’.[12] Ralph Wade, conversely, described how a secretary could bully her chief although the power relationship here would have been very different.[13]

As with any organisation, there would have been good managers and bad managers but there is no indication that the BBC was worse than any other workplace. Indeed, the situation at the BBC may have been better because of its policy of recruiting trained and experienced women. This was unusual at a time when many employers preferred to take on ‘girls’.

  • [1] BBC/WAC:R/49/178/16: Staff Policy: Establishment, 1 July 1939.
  • [2] BBC/WAC:R62/100/1-3: Salary Information 1923-39. The Civil Service had a combined proportion of female administrative, executive and higher clerical officers of 5.8 per cent.It did not have the anomaly of a high proportion of technicians.
  • [3] See, for example, Vyrnwy Biscoe (1932) 300 Careers for Women (London: Lovat Dickson)pp. 56-66.
  • [4] See, for example, BBC/WAC:R49/231/1: Staff Policy: Grades and Salaries: Monthly(Except Grade ‘D’).
  • [5] There are scant references to the social class of BBC women, but documents show theoccupation of husbands/husbands-to-be included accountant, army subaltern, schoolteacher, osteopath and transport foreman, all skilled jobs. BBC/WAC:R49/372:MarriedWomen Policy: Tribunals, Freeman also stated that the BBC’s clerical/secretarial womengenerally married ‘black-coated’ workers. BBC/WAC:R49/371/1:Married Women Policy:1,undated memo from Freeman c1937/38.
  • [6] BBC/WAC:L1/15/1: Doris Arnold staff file, Gielgud to Eckersley, 1 September 1930,comment by Carpendale.
  • [7] BBC/WAC:R49/31/1: Appointments Procedure:1, Report on Recruitment of Staff, 8February 1934, Submission by Nicolls.
  • [8] Staff files include details of women opening bank accounts on promotion to the salariedgrades.
  • [9] Freeman to Miss George, Miss Hope Simpson, Miss Osborne, Miss Shawyer, 29September 1935. BBC/WAC:L1/1699/1: Margaret Hope Simpson Staff File.
  • [10] The Oral History of the BBC: Interview with Mary Lewis, 2 March 1978.
  • [11] Alix Kilroy described herself as an object of curiosity when she joined the Board of Tradeas an Assistant Principal in 1925. Alix Meynell (1984) Public Servant, Private Women: AnAutobiography (London: Victor Gollanz) pp. 84-6.
  • [12] Gorham, Sound and Fury, p. 20.
  • [13] Ralph Wade (no date) Early Life at the BBC (Unpublished memoir) p. 62.
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