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JPM, my view from the inside. Frank Bird.


Frank Bird
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I haven't worked in the industry, the closest I got was when I was doing a Software Engineering degree and asked the Placements team about working for a fruit machine manufacturer during the 3rd year. The Placements team told me "forget it, they only take graduates" so that was the end of that. I dropped out of university not long after, then went back to college to do electronics instead!

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I worked for Bell Fruit in Birmingham, from 1980-82, as a workshop engineer.  They were still operating electros in those days, as well as the early MPU machines.  They were also buying machines from JPM, Barcrest and others, as well as videos - Space Invaders, Sting, Galaxian, etc.

I loved it, but I ended up leaving after they relocated to Bilston, near Wolverhampton, and my 14 mile round trip commute became 60 miles.  Unfortunately, I couldn't afford to keep doing it on what they paid me.  The service engineers were on more than double what I was getting, plus a car.  I did ask about transferring, but I was only 19 and I think they thought I was too young.

Anyway, after doing a TOPS course in computer engineering, there didn't seem to be many openings in that field, so I applied for two service engineers jobs with different amusement companies and was offered both of them.  I joined MAM Inn Play in 1983 but then got a job with a computer company at the beginning of '85, bringing my career in amusements to an end.

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I've never been in the industry either but my first vivid memory that got me here some 60 odd years later was being at the local funfair in Haying Island. I remember the machine hadn't paid out or something similar and when the engineer opened the back and I saw all the coloured wires and relays I can't tell you how excited I was.

The funny thing is I was only really ever interested in the innards, playing the games had no interest for me and still doesn't. Folks on here give me an odd look when I tell them that.:lol::lol:

Keep the stories coming Frank, it's always a good read and the techy stuff is a bonus.

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Reading @quattrohead's post has reminded me that in 1991 I answered an ad in the local paper for a job with Princess Cruises, as they were looking for engineers for their on-board casinos.  However, I decided it wasn't the job for me.

I think it was the 'pleasant, outgoing personality' and 'not allowed to dance with passengers' that put me off 🤣

Princess Cruises.jpg

Princess Cruises 2.jpg

Princess Cruises 3.jpg

Edited by daveo138
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I've tried all my life to get nice job in the industry.a place 5 mins from me called hi field leisure I had lots of stuff from there  but it seemed to me rather than having knowledge they prefere pratts with jangling keys wandering round and can't even unblock a coin mech.so I thought fuck it,I will just do my own.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I have to agree with BF74 and point out that we often had to change pay-out structures during mid production run as it were.

Glasses and perhaps bands were ordered and heads were banged on tables trying to figure out how was the easiest way to accommodate the new pay-out not only artwork etc but for the engineer on site.

In this instance the little grey cells of BF74 were spot on and the 5 pulse cam was used to drop 2x10 coins, which was never truly optimal as if the switch dwell was slightly too small ( the dwell was what we called the width of the cut out in the cam ) if it were too small the slide would snap back, return too quickly and then clobber a token making it stick in the jaws.

By the way Riche100 was kind enough to supply me with a WINNER schematic which I had been after for years and there on the bottom and due to a law change was a new pay-out relay and associated circuit on the schematic, with my handwriting!

Now prized possession and framed on the wall !

  

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1980-82?

After Sales was a great place to work and was somewhere that I found I really had a penchant for, and really enjoyed.

I mean people had problems.

You fixed them cause you could. 

They were happy, your employer was happy, what was there not to like.

Well for a start several of the 'old school’ team.

Although they were in their positions they did not do the job properly, as I saw it, and I worked hard at doing the job right. As I have said I was eventually given the job of After Sales Manager so I guess I was right?

I mean as a lowly engineer rep I was given 3 patches, North of Hadrian’s Wall, South of the M4 and anything to the right of Cambridge.

This meant that all the large city centres with their easily available night life attractions were retained by my superiors!

Let’s not go there!

My main team consisted of Anne Marie O Sullivan, Julia Lockwood, Martyn Stork, Hugh Thomas, Russell Grimble, David Mead, then later Steve Bryant, Simon McCarthy and Adrian Davies.

Although others joined us it was us that kicked off my new “Customer Service” department.

I didn’t like the handle ‘After Sales’, it smacked more of the ‘companies toilet paper’ rather than an aide to the customer which is how I saw it 

As I figured it we were there to represent the customer during and After Sales, and in fact if we could get to them Pre sales we might persuade them to be a customer by explaining the finer points of the product!’ 

At that time we were still preparing service manuals the old fashioned way and when I use the term ‘cut and paste’, I literally mean it.

Cutting sections from an old printed manual and pasting them onto a new sheet that had the new bits already typed in but with spaces for the old text.

This was then set off to be reproduced by some witchcraft of which I knew very little but I think it involved photography of some description!

Plus of course the Technical Service Bulletins or TSB’s had to be produced when we had an issue or wanted Customers to know about information like conversion kits and law changes or other important information.

Addressing envelopes individually from address books was daunting and although we did look at memory golf ball typewriters, I got to hear of the new personal computers that were becoming available so I approached Jack and he agreed to at least listen to my suggestions and so off I went.

I spoke to Dave Young who had his own Marketing company and spent a great deal of time with us and who I had a hell of a lot of time for and in fact became a friend and another mentor. Dave was the ‘T shirt’ guru by the way, it was he that suggested we should include them in the cash box for that period!

He put me in touch with a fledgling company in Swansea where I went to see the machinery that I had only heard of, bearing in mind this was pre 1980.

The machine was an 8080, CPM based, twin 8.5” 128k floppy disk system with a golf ball printer and monitor.

The metal box itself, yes the huge blue powder coated steel box was about 600mm x 600mm by 350mm high or about as big as a small kitchen wall unit. 
It ran Wordstar and Supercalc (like we knew what the hell a spread sheet was!) but Anne Marie and Julia and I stuck to it and we were soon getting things done so much quicker. 

Anyway given today’s knowledge you will know that cut and paste is a completely different issue Ctrl C - Ctrl V, no mouse!

Mail shots were now the push of a button (well several combinations of buttons actually).

Friday afternoon’s were taken up creating backups from the master disk to back up discs.

 PIP A:=B:*.*          (god where did that come from)

Then on the screen 
TRWV.
TRWV
TRWV

(Track Read Write Verify)

And so on for ages….and ages.
 
Customers address’s were stored and easily reproduced on adhesive backed labels to be stuck on envelopes which became superseded eventually by fan fold envelopes no less.

These were shot out and were stuffed with ‘personalised’ mails by the team in periods of fraternal and frantic office origami, not just the secretarial staff.

Engineers were expected to join in but then the girls helped with unpacking returns and occasional de-soldering and checking test routines prepared by the engineers.

One big happy team multi functional team.

So successful was the introduction of the machine that other departments became interested, especially as we had soon invested in an MPM or multi user system.

This allowed the guys to have terminals and access manuals and low level, Technical tip ‘batch files’ that I created for them to look at.

The JPM Sales administration team and the R+D specification team soon had their own MPM machines and I was seconded to Sales for a few months to learn relational Data base structures to create Invoices etc for the Sales department.

This was no doubt as Anne Marie had left Customer Service for Sales and taken our forward thinking ethos with her, but thank God I still had Julia.

To be continued......


 

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More fantastic insights into that particular side of the operation frank.

keep it up

 

I have loads of original technical service bulletins(I got them off Richie100 a few years ago)and quite a few have your name on them IIRC.

I think they are in the downloads on here.

 

 

 

Edited by Road Runner
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This one had got little to do with machines, sorry but it's part of the history!   😉

As well as running the Customer Service team I was eventually asked to run the Spares Sales department which was recovering after an unsuccessful attempt at trying to stock other manufacturers spares for the industry, a sort of “Radio Spares” for the industry.

This meant I had to get to grips with stock holdings, more budgets, stock takes and bin cards but while I was there though I became more aware of the Ferranti computer which was a dirty great Main Frame computer that ran the rest of the company and which we in Customer Service knew very little about.

We had to put our figures in via data entry clerks specialists. 

Looking back now it seems farcical, but let’s not forget that at the time Fax hadn’t made its way to the office yet, we were still using telex and TNT had only just started delivering parcels!

Jack wanted to bring the place up to date and install a much smaller but much more powerful machine from IBM but was concerned that the change over would be a bit of a nightmare.

The decision was taken by the board that the trial would be made by installing a system 36 as a test bed, more for the company than for IBM obviously, and he decided that the trial would be under my wing. Bird ha ha!

Spares Sales was chosen as it was the smaller of the stores and so I was banged off on a course in Bracknell where I was exposed to the programming language and the various process’s involved. When the trial was over I could start helping others understand when the larger system was installed. I think it was system 38?

The installation went ahead and within a week we had our stock levels in and were running the two systems in tandem, the same numbers being entered into both machines by ourselves and the data entry clerks, these were then tallied against the stock at the end of each month.

Problem was the figures never tallied. Try as we might we could not get our stock figures to match up with those that were in the main frame and this was a complete mystery.

We had a consignment of stock delivered from the main stores, we stocked it, sold it, dispatched it and logged every single transaction.

The ensuing figures were often way out for too many items to be comfortable, so exhibiting less trust than perhaps I should have, I worked for a month with the team watching as many transactions as I could and cross checking data entries.

After a long period of head scratching and considering all the variables we eventually came to the simple conclusion that the only figure over which we had no control was the item count of the incoming goods.

So when the next delivery came from the main stores I took the film wrapped cases, opened them and counted them in rather than taking the quantity on face value.

Many of them were wrong!  The clouds cleared. Light Bulb moment!

For my incoming stock to be wrong the main stores levels should in reality also be similarly incorrect? As some quantities were actually greater than they should have been that would mean that the corresponding items in the main stores should have been short?

Yet their figures and stock levels were constantly correct so  throwing bad light on our efforts and therefore reinforcing the effort to keep the Ferranti and the status quo.

It was obvious to me that they were passing stock errors, shortages, and who knows what else, on to us and then casting aspersions our way, but who to tell?

I decided that the only person to tell was Jack Jones as I didn’t know who to trust, that sounds a little conspiratorial but in truth there was a managerial clique, as there often is in business, and as the Customer’s representative I found I quite often didn’t fit, but then you knew that already?

My goals were a little different to theirs although they should have been the same.

I called Jack over and prayed that the items we were about to open would give credence to my claims.

A pack of expensive TMS 9980 Micro Processors straight from the stores were first opened, we checked the quantity against the stock sheet we had been given, it was short.

Eproms, worth a few quid each, 40 too many, transistors at pennies each, hundreds too many and so it went on.

The only thing to do now was to wait for the next stock check in the main stores which came in and was apparently correct. 

Even with the irregularities in our transfers, really?

After a few weeks the obvious and very visible shortages in the stores were several of the stores staff and a data entry clerk who also failed to make an appearance. 

Quite what was happening I never found out, but the Ferranti was changed and the System 38 was put in.

On another point, having had experience of the IBM and the Ferranti and being exposed to personal computers, I began to consider the common ground between them.

But this was not my ‘job’ it was just an interest, and currently my ‘job’ was Customer Service and Spares Sales.

But not for much longer……..

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  • 1 month later...

From Customer Services, back to Development 1982 (ish)

The 'Machine’ Development Department was falling apart at the seams.

It wasn’t producing prototype product on time, BOM’s were badly prepared and priced, wiring diagrams were erroneously designed and Prototypes were poorly prepared.

This was thanks in no small part to the Toss pots that any of you that have read my previous posts will have recognised.

I was asked to leave Customer Services and take it on.

It took some thinking about because I had never been trained to be honest, it all came naturally, but leading a new crew in disciplines I wasn’t too sure of?

I thought long and hard and decided to give it a go.

Just to add here that I left the Customer Service Team in the capable hands of Martyn Stork who worked with me for many years and of course ably assisted by the other colleagues, Huw, Russel, Steve, David, Adrian and of course Julia.

First day I brought everyone in and we had a long chat about what was going wrong and what they thought about the problems.

Basically they were being treated like idiots by the morons that were now gone. They were not respected, they were being told exactly what to do without any chance of input and they felt like they had no respect in the company like for instance they pointed out, the Customer Service guys (sic).

They were constantly told to sweep any problems they had under the carpet.

So in a bid to try to raise moral I bought everyone (and me) white coats, we all had ID badges, installed push button access pads with "Authorised personnel only" above the doors. 

There was a secondary and far more important reason for the latter but I will come back to that later.

 I started two systems of appraisal, I appraised them and (and this is unusual) they were asked to appraise me, and they were commanded to attend exhibitions.

It wasn’t a magic transformation, it took time, but heads were held high(er) and more pride was taken in the work.

Things changed.   

One thing didn’t, my hatred of the huge IBM main frame machine, well not exactly the machine but all that it meant in terms of waiting for the Data guys to prepare reports and input data and Jaisus H christ. (apologies)

We would prepare the BOM’s from an available (previous machine) parts list (IBM output, wait). We would then have to ask for that parts list to be copied and have new part numbers input and costed (wait) and of course some parts deleted in the new machine listing, then after they were put back in we would have to wait for a costed BOM to be created or printed (wait) so we could let Jack know how much the new machine was going to cost.

So sod that, I persuaded my new boss, Alan Parker (yes the P in JPM)  to buy an actual IBM PC, which were by now coming on stream and so we had this new machine delivered with a hard disk!

My god 10MB hard disk, we were never going to fill that.

Anyway.

We bought the new Lotus 123 package and as I had some (limited) experience with spreadsheets we started to make our own BOMs from the system by copying the numbers from the screen on the System 38 terminal that we had into the system.

Oh explanation, the IBM PC had the ability to interface with and display, not record, information data from the IBM main frame.

This is when I realised that a guy that had been working with us, John Lockwood yes Julia’s brother no less, was taking to this new machine technology like a duck to water.

Trouble is he was a little, lets say, wild. 

All he wanted to do as I remember was go off to Teneriffe and get drunk and shag anything that stood still long enough

No one had any time for him but I gave him some brotherly words of advice and tried to point him in the right direction.

We enlisted the aid of another guy who described to us some (illicit?) software from the states called SideKick, that allowed us to grab the screen ram contents while were in the IBM’s ‘terminal’ mode and dump them into the PC’s hard disk as a comma delimited file. 

Like I knew what any of that meant!

We bought and installed it and by doing so we could load the data into a spreadsheet, select the parts we needed and prepare ‘live’ BOM’s that were costed at that days buying cost, something we would have to wait days for.

It’s hard to comprehend these days, given the distance we have come, but back then the systems guys were hugely protective and, it must be said overly busy, or was it the other way around?

The machines were comprehensively labour intensive and of course the GUI was yet to be introduced and many things were command line driven and of course no mouse!

I remember the first mouse manual. Honest! Around 10 pages.

Anyway, I got called into a meeting in Jack’s office to explain how I was once again bucking the system, and of course the hugely expensive IBM monolith.

I seem to remember his wry smile and the shaking of the head as he stood and defended me in front of the Irate Data Team manager.   

The days of the IBM were numbered thanks in no small way to me, Johnny Lockwood and the other nerd who’s name I cannot for the life of me remember!

John went on to become a leading Computer Specialist with a national multi branch company. Good man.

One other humorous departure.

I asked a colleague to bring me some striped wire as I was helping with a wiring task due to an urgent preparation, cant remember what for!

I said bring me some brown-red cable and some brown-orange (colours may be wrong by the way) 

He brought me some Red yellow and Red-green.

I obviously said "don’t be a dick" and with that he looked at me strangely and asked what was wrong?

He had been taken on as a junior in the department and was colour blind!

You couldn’t make it up!

The reason I know it was 1982 is that it was my 30th birthday while I was in Development and I walked in to a clean desk (not my way at all), a bottle of Jameson's Whiskey and a glass.

The day went down from there but that's a whole different type of story and doesn't belong here!

Edited by Frank Bird
Mention the guys in Customer Services
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Good read frank

Was Ron Watts still there when you took over the R&D department as I always thought he was the main guy and very competent(going of what I’ve read about him) and couldn’t imagine him putting up with the department falling  apart like it seems to have been doing at that time?

as you’ve said though it’s probably down to the toss pots.
 

looking forward to the Quiz machine tales.

 

 

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16 hours ago, Road Runner said:

Good read frank

Was Ron Watts still there when you took over the R&D department as I always thought he was the main guy and very competent(going of what I’ve read about him) and couldn’t imagine him putting up with the department falling  apart like it seems to have been doing at that time?

as you’ve said though it’s probably down to the toss pots.
 

looking forward to the Quiz machine tales.

 

 

Yes Ron was there and we had a great relationship both in work and socially and of course it continued, eventually, into Astra games!

I take your point about him not putting up with it, and believe me he was as frustrated as the rest of us but there moves afoot company wise, as well as just machine production.

Eyes were on the future and the preparation for the sale I am sure. It was about this time that we had a visit from Margaret Thatcher by the way.   

Forgive me but I never said I took over R+D, only 'machine' development, the 'hard stuff' not game dev or testing. Things like cabinet proving and fitting, wiring loom development, prototype build, Bills of material, change control, testing suppliers new devices etc.

Ron as you may know was the main guy behind most of JPM's 'games', him and Alan Parker.

He was a consummate prankster, I am sure it was him that arranged for the strip-a-gram company rep on my 30th birthday!

My move to Dev meant I worked more closely with both of them again as I did when I first went into Dev all those years earlier.

As an aside we more often than not played Backgammon or Trivial Pursuits lunch time, but more of that later! 🙂 😉

 

 

  

Edited by Frank Bird
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16 hours ago, Road Runner said:

Another point is a 10mb hard disk drive in 1982 was mammoth for the time.

its probably equivalent to around 100tb today(ten grand +)

It was insane, we never thought we would fill it.

If I remember correctly we had MS Dos and, Lotus 123 was it? ( Memory is not what it was! )

I know we used Ashton Tate's Framework a little later and that was way before it's time.

Quite where that product went I don't know as it had Word processing, data base, spreadsheet and a programming language, Fred I think it was and as a user you could switch between them and leave them suspended in 'tabs' - I cant say windows can I, (he he).

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