My first job
When I left Fawcett School, in 1964, my first job was as an assistant in the University of Sussex bookshop. At that time it was in Falmer House, the initial part of the modern building that was the university. The bookshop was managed by Harry Hunter, a small and pugnacious man who seemed to be constantly angry. He did not seem to like the students very much, who, after all, were the bread and butter of the shop. Once, to my embarrassment, he reduced me to tears, my having transgressed one of his many rules.
It was an education
Despite all that, I loved working there and it was an education in its own right. I got to know the stock pretty well and I kept books under the counter which I read at quiet times. I am sure that this boded well for my own – much later – academic career. The varied titles of the books also gave me some idea about the nature of the knowledge that was out there.
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Beating the book thieves
After a spate of thefts in the shop, Harry Hunter organised a novel – if eccentric – plan to catch the book stealers. He organised a porter to climb the hill behind the bookshop and use binoculars to survey the shop from outside. If the porter saw anything untoward, he spoke to Harry by some sort of two way radio. Odd, it may have been, but it ensured the capture of some of the book thieves. One student asked me, after he was stopped at the door with his contraband, ‘but how did you know I had done it?’
We had some interesting customers. Asa Briggs, later Sir Asa, one of Britain’s most senior, historical academics, was a regular, as was Virginia Wade, later to become a winner at Wimbledon. In those pre-personal computer days, we sold huge amounts of ‘A4, feint and margin’. All of the students and many of the academic staff had to write their papers by hand.