The canteen was the hub. We used to have a tea break every morning and afternoon, and of course you’d go in for lunch, and if you were working late into the night you’d go in for your dinner as well. But it was the place where everybody went. All the turns went in there. I remember, particularly, when they did all those Lancashire comedians. They used to go in and they’d never sit next to each other, but they’d sit at various strategic points in the canteen. They all had loud voices – from working in the clubs presumably – and one of them would make some wisecrack, which would echo around the place and have us all in fits. One of them would answer and it used to go on for minutes, as they threw insults and things at each other. It was fabulous.
You’d go in and you’d see famous people just sitting there having a cup of tea. I remember going down with some engineers once. The tables would take three on one side and three on the other, I seem to remember Ena Sharples was sitting just on the opposite side. She was on her own, drinking a cup of tea, and she had this awful habit. She’d get her tongue behind her false teeth and drop her top set down, with her mouth wide open, so that was all you could see. That was a conversation stopper! Then she’d flip them back up and drop them back down again. Good times.
And the canteen would be open for breakfast as well?
Indeed it was. It wasn’t twenty-four hours, but it was as close as you could get. I think the last meal they served was roundabout nine o’clock at night, so if you were working late into the night, like we used to do, you were stuck. You had to buy a sandwich or something. …
One of the great memories I have is of Irma, who was German. She always had this phrase when you went for your lunch. She’d say (adopts German accent), ‘Mashed or roast?’ and she’d roll her R. She had this enormous stainless steel teapot, and she’d get twenty cups, all touching, and swish it from side to side, and that was your tea. …
It always seemed to me to be chips with everything! It wasn’t the healthiest of food, but it was cheap and it wasn’t bad.
Bacon on toast was always welcome in the morning, I seem to remember. There were other people who took their families in for Sunday lunch, and for one and sixpence or whatever it was, they got a fantastic roast beef dinner. The roast beef on a Sunday was good.