Bob Adams is one of thousands of Potteries chaps who can claim to have been a Michelin Man – and his memories of working at the Stoke-based firm provide a fascinating insight into the relationship between masters and men at a firm noted for its enlightened attitude towards staff.
Bob, who was born in Burslem 74 years ago – and who is a proud member of Burslem History Club – describes his move to “The Mich”.
He said: “At the age of 16, I took up a job as an assistant to the decorating manager on W R Midwinter’s Hadderidge Pottery, at the top of Navigation Road, Burslem.
“I started after the annual potters’ holiday in August, 1962.
“The wage was £4 10s and I left over two years later on £6 10s.
“I enjoyed working at Midwinter’s, but the money was poor, so I left in November, 1964 and joined the Michelin tyre plant at Stoke.”
Bob started at Michelin in November, 1964 and finished on his 56th birthday in December, 2001.
“I worked in the quality control department,” he continues. “I remember the shifts being 6am until 2pm, 2pm until 10pm and 10pm until 6am.
“I usually caught the special Michelin works bus from Burslem, where I lived.
“The bus picked up from Goldenhill and then went through Tunstall and Burslem into Hanley.
“However, there was more than one bus, for example, one came from Longton.
“Only Michelin workers could board these buses and the drivers would go and have tea in the canteen.”
Bob, who now lives in Tunstall, tells me that the Michelin site was extensive.
“It took weeks to find out where everything was,” he laughs, “and it was also a very, very secret place – and this was because Michelin invented the radial tyre.
“They took a 20 year patent out on it and 20 year royalties, and they were that far ahead of their competitors that they were very suspicious about industrial espionage.
“A worker just knew what he had to know – not why – and it was a question of hanging your brains up on the wall, coming in and getting the job done.
“I was fortunate in my job, as it required me to walk from place to place. But some chaps would work in the same shop for 30 years, hanging up their hats on the same nail.
“If you needed to enter some shops, they would ask who you were.
“Certain departments had different colour overalls and some departments had their own security police.”
Yet for an operation that exercised such firm control over the structure and organisation of its staff, it was also very enlightened.
“It was the very best firm you could have wished to work for in Stoke-on-Trent,” enthuses Bob.
“Wages and pensions were good, and many colliers I knew left the pit to go and join Michelin.
“Overtime was usually available, there was sick pay and they would take you home in a taxi if you hadn’t got a car.
“After six months of employment you received free push-bike tyres and after three years, free car tyres – and they would fit them for you.
“When you had worked for 30 years, as I did, you were given free tyres for life.”
Bob adds that Michelin had its own safety officers, doctors and nurses. He recalls: “They really valued workers, as was seen by their suggestion schemes. You were awarded money for a good suggestion and royalties for a really useful one. If your suggestion wasn’t that impressive, they would still give you a couple of pounds to encourage you – and in the mid 1960s that was very much appreciated.”
Michelin was not the only notable Potteries employer that helped to keep the city’s economy booming in the Swinging Sixties. Bob said: “There was keen competition to attract workers in the 1960s and an agreement was made between Michelin and the PMT, both of whom were always recruiting.
“Michelin wouldn’t take PMT workers and vice-versa.
“If you had worked for PMT, Michelin would not have you – although if you had been with PMT and then worked for example, on a potbank, you could then come to Michelin.”
Numerous men did – and many will remember Bob, who was employed there for nearly 38 years.