Congratulations on 50 years with Boots Opticians – how does it feel to be recognised for your services?
Over 50 years of continuous service is quite unusual by today’s standards, so I was very pleased to receive some form of recognition. The recent Boots 50 Year Club event was outstanding and the company really ensured that we all felt valued for our contribution and our loyalty.
Why did you decide to become a dispensing optician?
When I took my GCE exams, playing guitar in a band seemed a lot more interesting than studying. I managed to scrape together five O levels, but had realised that sixth form and university weren’t for me so I needed to get a job. I applied for several, and was very pleased to be offered the role of trainee dispensing optician with Hudson Verity in Ipswich.
What has been your most memorable moment with a patient?
Apart from the look on a chap’s face when I touched his nitrate spec side on the heater and it burst into flames, one of the moments that sticks in my mind was whilst in Liverpool at Dollond & Aitcheson (D&A) Opticians in the 1970s.
After fitting some spectacles, I bent down to get a case from the bottom draw, heard a rip, and discovered a massive tear in the back seam of my trousers. The client and optician staff seemed to think this was a lot more amusing than I did.
To make matters worse, the regional manager, Tony Lawbuary, phoned to speak to me and was told that I was out purchasing trousers. Later he commented: “I’ve heard some excuses for being out of the branch, but that one beats the lot.”
"The ‘man from Kelvin’ used to visit to carry out contact lens fittings – hard PMMA of course as soft contact lenses weren’t commercially available until the 1970s. He brought “everything needed” in his briefcase"
How has your role changed over the years?
I studied under David Hawkins and qualified as a dispensing optician in 1970, a couple of years after the takeover of Hudson Verity by Dollond & Aitchison.
Then I held management positions, initially in Liverpool, moving to Leeds in 1979, and Hull in 1984. This branch had an unusually high contact lens clientele, and in 1986 I decided to embark on the ABDO contact lens honours course, qualifying in 1989.
In 1993, I was chosen to manage the new D&A Eyeland in Hull and five years later I took the opportunity to become a mobile contact lens optician in support of D&A’s new Contact Lenses by Post service.
I continued to work at D&A covering its Hull and York practices, and over the past seven years since its merger with Boots Opticians, I’ve been working two days a week at the practice in Hull.
Until recently, I had been involved in the ABDO North East area for nearly 30 years, initially as treasurer and for almost 10 of those, as area chair too.
What have been the standout developments in the industry during your time?
Obviously, things have changed dramatically since the 1960s. Back then, advertising was strictly forbidden – not even a frame price in the window. Almost everyone had glass NHS lenses, even if they were fitted with a private frame rather than the famous brown-mottle NHS 524. Varifocals were a very new development.
The ‘man from Kelvin’ used to visit to carry out contact lens fittings – hard PMMA of course as soft contact lenses weren’t commercially available until the 1970s. He brought “everything needed” in his briefcase.
The de-registration of the dispensing function in the mid-1980s was probably one of the most significant developments. Certainly, in the early days, it was virtually unthinkable that anyone would take their prescription elsewhere. We all thought, wrongly, that we might be out of a job.
Major developments have taken place in the surfacing of spectacle lenses and the manufacture of contact lenses, combined with significant advancements in the materials used for both.
The removal of the NHS spectacle range in 1985 paved the way for the explosion in the available designs and materials of frames, which we now take for granted.
You’ve reached a big milestone in your career, what’s next?
As I approach 69, future career ambitions hardly feature on my ‘to do’ list. However, Boots is a good and supportive company to work for and I hope to continue with my two days a week for the time being.
My wife Kay and I will celebrate our silver wedding anniversary next March and whilst we have been abroad numerous times, we have never ventured far. The plan is to book a long-haul holiday, probably Australia. I also hope to carry on with my sport – I used to be a keen marathon runner and I still do the occasional half marathon, if somewhat slowly.
There’s a lot to be said for making the most of life whilst you are still healthy enough to enjoy it.