WE have further memories of working life at Bilston’s Joseph Sankey and Sons, following on from several articles earlier this year, sent in by Alfie Norman of Wolverhampton, who was known at Sankeys as “Snitch” Norman.
Alfie writes about joining the firm on leaving school, the fund raising concert party he organised, and a link to a popular actor: First day “Imagine a 14 year old lad on the morning of 8th May, 1934, walking through Sankey’s gates, water dripping from the peak of his school cap (no other covering available) and being directed to the packing department, where the lovely ladies took off his wet things, gave him a cup of tea, and all was well.
“After being assessed, he was given a 6” medium file to take fraze out of the 1” round hole of magnet pot plates.
“I was later transferred to the spot welding section, where my new workmates were Ron Bromley, Bernard Price and chargehand Bernard Schofield.
“Later I transferred to the tool room under Eddie Westley – couldn’t argue with him because he would argue black was white – to learn basic skills on lathe, large and small, shaper and miller.
“Most of the tool room went over to brand new premises in about 1937-38, where I worked on all machinery during the war, doing a week about until the war ended.
“The chaps in Sankey’s tool room, about 50 all told, were the finest tool-makers you could ever work with.
“Through a visit by ENSA I formed a concert party known as ‘The Live-Wires’ and did charity shows at Sankey’s club, and we travelled to local works to do similar.
“One special concert at Sankeys was for two tool room mates. One hadn’t work for six months, his name was Bill Philips, and the other was our shop steward who had gone down with polio. The poor bloke finished up in an iron lung. His name was Jim Fleet, his son, James Fleet, is now a well-known actor in films and TV. Two workmates, Ray Reed and Frank Harvey, took toys and presents to Jim Fleet’s young son. James Fleet was a regular in The Vicar of Dibley and also appeared in the films Four Weddings and a Funeral and The Phantom of the Opera.
“I made myself redundant after 28 years – I wouldn’t comply to new rules of working – so in 1962 I started my travels, still in engineering, but that’s another story.” Alfie has sent in a photograph of him at his lathe, a note from the Sankeys notice board about the funds raised for Bill Phillips and Jim Fleet, and a thank-you letter from Jim’s wife Christine.
After Jim Fleet’s death Christine Fleet and her son James returned to her native Scotland. James Fleet studied engineering at Aberdeen University, joining the university’s dramatic society. He then went on to study at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow.
He began his career with Royal Shakespeare Company in the early 1980s and went on to appear in many radio, TV and film dramas and comedies, plus a spell in Coronation Street, as released convict Robbie Sloan, in 2010.