Surbiton, pre Caroline (mid 80s)

Myself (left) and Charlie Wolf with the A.P. Systems van, the picture that sparked the discussion on memories of Surbiton below.

My posting of an old picture on Facebook of myself in pre-Caroline days sparked a discussion below which has revived my memories of those great years in Surbiton in the mid-80s and prompted me to search for other pictures.

First, the facebook discussion:

Mike Kerslake reminded me recently of the white van I used to drive in the years just before I went out to sea. (The van, and the company A.P. Systems are mentioned in the early pages of Shiprocked – Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline). Here it is with myself and Charlie Wolf sometime in 1986. The occasion was the court case of a well-known landbased pirate, the owner of South East Sound, Ray Adams. John Burch had organised a lot of us to come along to provide moral (or immoral?) support.

Friday · ·

    • Mike KerslakeThat’s the van! 🙂

      Friday at 06:42 ·
    • Steve ConwayI don’t think I’ve ever looked that smart again in the 35 years since!

      Friday at 06:45 · · 1 person
    • Mike KerslakeSame here, only weddings ad funerals see me scrub up!

      Friday at 06:46 ·
    • John Burchand when it turned up at a TX site loaded with car batteries, tape machines, a TX and other equipment it looked most incongruous amongst the trees and bushes!!

      Friday at 09:30 ·
    • Mike Kerslake‎:-)

      Friday at 09:39 ·
    • Christopher EnglandLooking at the side of the van, whatever happened to ‘Apricot’ computers, eh?

      Friday at 11:22 ·
    • Warren StevensonAPS Systems: Were they at the bottom of Brghton Road Steve, close to the petrol station – before you got to the traffic lights at the Portsmouth Road ?

      Friday at 16:20 ·
    • Warren StevensonClose to the tyre repair centre I recall.

      Friday at 16:25 ·
    • Steve ConwayCorrect – I was their tech support guru for 3 years till Caroline snatched me away!

      Friday at 22:40 · · 2 people
    • Mike TerryBeing a regular Tuesday night 60s and 70s fan I’m looking forward to your show Steve. Hope you have loads of requests.

      23 hours ago ·
    • Warren StevensonIts a coincidence also Steve that the petrol garage in Brighton Road used to sell Epson computers in the late Eighties !

      21 hours ago ·
    • Steve ConwayThey were the same place. The petrol station was A.P. Garage and an office on the forecourt was given over to A.P. Systems Ltd.

      16 hours ago · · 1 person
    • Warren StevensonOur paths may well have crossed Steve before I headed for a pint in the Black Lion for a pint or two of Youngs Special 🙂

      14 hours ago ·
    • Warren StevensonI also recall in the late Eighties that in a road just off the Brighton Road in Surbiton (The Mall), there was always a black Mini parked which was adorned with Radio Nova car stickers. There was also a Triumph Dolomite that could be seen also regulalry in the town with a Caroline 319 sunstrip . OT: There was an excellent fish and chip shop just down the road, next to The Lamb pub !.

      13 hours ago · 

So, the above has prompted me to search my hard drive for a photo I know I had of A.P. Systems itself, which was based in a tiny office on the forecourt of what is now the Total Service Station on Brighton Road in Surbiton:

A.P. Systems, Brighton Road, Surbiton, in 1985

Click any picture for bigger version

A. P. Systems was a wonderful little company, it was run by a great guy called Tony Williams whose father owned the petrol filling station (A.P Garage) which sold Total fuel (and was in later years taken over fully by Total).

As well as being a kind employer, Tony was quite a genius with computers, and had written software for the early Epson portable systems, which eventually led to his running a full dealership, at first for Epson, and then expanding to sell other brands such as the Victor 9000 and ACT Sirius system, Apricot, IBM and others. Tony was a very good salesman, and despite our small size, he managed to make sales into companies all over London and much of southern England. This was before the days of Windows (though it launced while I was there) and all programmes were Dos based – MS-DOS version 1.12 when I started (and the Epson PCs used the less friendly CP/M system).

Wordstar was the main game in town for word processing, with Supercalc or Lotus-123 for spreadsheets. But we also provided custom systems written by Tony himself.

I came to work for him in 1984 as the tech support guru for the firm (I had been trained up by the Irish sole distributor for Sirius/Apricot, so my knowledge was good). In those days desktop computers were in their infancy, and in almost every case the company we would sell to would be buying their first computer, and it would be my responsibility to deliver and install the systems, and train the staff in how to use them, as well as being on call for tech support for ever afterwards.

The general public’s knowledge of computers was limited, and employees would be very wary of these new systems I was installing in their firms, a lot of my time would be spent soothing people rather than fixing computers. I well remember one customer who had bought an Epson potrable computer asking, in all seriousness, how much heavier it would be once the data was loaded onto it!

In the three years before I left to work for Radio Caroline, I travelled to every part of London in that little van, as well as most parts of the home counties and beyond.  As well as hundreds of small businesses getting their first computers, I also got to deliver and install systems in the GLC (in its dying days), Shepperton Film Studios, Gatwick Airport, and a law firm called Penningtons with offices in the City of London and in Godalming, where I encountered that most rare of beasts, the Apple Lisa – the almost unknown predecessor to the Macintosh.

I also have memories of making several trips down to the heart of Wiltshire, to install computers at a dogfood factory in Tisbury, whose owner was very forward-looking, and incredibly nice to me, putting me up overnight in his country lodge and serving me breakfast in the morning (no – not dogfood!) I think they were called Dinnodog or Dinnadog, but I can find no trace of them on the net these days.

AP Systems was a small operation, most of the time there was just myself as tech geek, Tony running the company and doing the selling, and young women called Kathy who acted as receptionist but did a lot more besides. There was also a guy called Nigel who came to us from South Africa and moved on to Australia, a bit of a programming wizard, and a wonderfully good-natured salesman called Brian Street who joined not long before I left, and I’m sad to have lost touch with these people over the years.

As well as us computer people, there were a steady stream of people working in the garage including a great woman called Ruth who I lodged with for many years, and a new recruit called Gail, who I remember as a part-time a couple of nights a week, but who turned into a mainstay of the site, so much so that now, almost 30 years later, she is still there, as manager for Total.

A 65 bus in Surbiton, summer 1984

Another photo I have dug up shows the 65 bus, which in those days was the main route through Surbiton, taken in May 1984, just days after I arrived. This route normally went along Victoria Road, but was diverted due to roadworks when I took this picture. The 65 was two-person operated with Routemasters up until February 1986, but these days does not even reach Surbiton (except night services).

Notice the wonderfully high-tech (!) top-loading video recorder being advertised on the side of the bus  – I think 1984 was an Olympic year, hence this being used to push video sales.

There were many nice places in Surbiton, it was quite self-contained, with a good variety of shops and eating places, and remains so today. It was a wonderful place to live a work, and I have many happy memories of the people and places of those three years before I headed off to sea to work for Radio Caroline.  (see: Shiprocked – Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline).

Steve


3 Comments on “Surbiton, pre Caroline (mid 80s)”

  1. Christopher England says:

    If we benevolently call this “25 years ago”, it does seem amazing how primitive everything was “25 years ago”. It makes you wonder how we managed to exist, compared to what we consider essential today.

    I think I’m correct in saying that mobile phones were just about appearing and only for the more privileged in society (and no data or text, just that old-fashioned concept of ‘talking’. Well, talking for the 3 minutes before the battery ran out.), so in lots of ways we were a completely different society with a completely non-tech way of functioning and communicating.

    I was a BBC B computer anorak in those days and recall spending a complete fortune on something called a ‘hard drive’. (Essential ‘defragging’ of this beast could take a day and a half. I’ve no idea of the capacity it had but you can bet it was nearly nothing!)

    Home or desk top computing (and it was only a few years since the Sinclair ZX81) was extremely fragmented with each company bringing out a different completely self-contained system with no real ability to share data or compatibility with anybody else’s product. There was no internet, modems were rare, and there were only closed systems you could ‘dial-up’ called bulletin boards. Maybe this was slightly later than “25 years ago”.

    Compare and contrast that today I live and breath with two Android phones and a Blackberry, and am in constant data communication on the move or when I get to my desktop at work or at home. Kids are constantly exchanging ‘data’ by being locked on Facebook 24/7 whether at home, school, or on the bus. It’s a completely different way of living, and it seems hard to comprehend a time when communication was so limited and ‘data’ was so unavailable. How did we cope?

    Finally, the picture of the bus. Surely there are extreme Health and Safety issues with having no doors. Didn’t the passengers constantly fall to their deaths?

  2. David Esp says:

    Great to see those Surbiton photo’s, including that garage in the photo, where I remember seeing piles of “The Last One” ! That was a computer application which wrote computer applications, hence the name… Yes…

    I used to live almost opposite, but the other side of the railway embankment, where for the interregnum years Radio Vesuvius (“erupting onto the airwaves on 981 kHz, 312m or 341 yds in imperial units”) trod water with a synth & rock format typically on Sunday mornings at a watt or so, in waiting for Caroline to re-emerge on 963. The signal might have reached just about as far as the garage…

  3. David Esp says:

    Oops 981kHz was 306m (= 335yds), hence the jingle “come over to 306, and get yourself a fix of some guitar licks”. Sung by a rum-drunk ex-student to fuzzed guitar with tympanic accompaniment by wooden spoon applied vigorously to hard-shell suitcase of assorted cutlery.


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