His size meant that few could miss him then but many do now. Neil Everitt reminisces with Terry O’Gorman, former editor of UK trade magazine RAC, a giant both figuratively and physically, who bestrode the UK refrigeration and air conditioning industry for the best part of 40 years.
In what could arguably be described as the “golden age” of refrigeration, Terry O’Gorman, as editor of RAC magazine, was there to witness the growth of the supermarket, the increasing popularity of frozen food and the surge in interest in air conditioning in the UK.
Now retired for more than 10 years, I was keen to catch up with a former journalistic adversary who was so highly regarded by the industry. Fortunately, by his own admission, Terry is something of a gentle giant, so any trepidation I might have had in meeting him again had more to do with concerns that age might not have treated him kindly rather than his physical presence. He had jumped at the opportunity to meet for lunch to discuss old times. Why was I not surprised? After all, “doing lunch” was a popular and frequent journalistic experience in former times.
I arrived passably early but Terry was already there, sitting very right and proper in a chair in the bar. He had not changed a jot. His only concession to advancing years was a stick – more for confidence than necessity, I felt. Before him was a glass of clear liquid. Not gin but water – an acceptance of our drink driving laws rather than health-driven abstinence.
I had barely sat down before the memories came pouring forth. The old characters, the famous company names and events tumbled out with a speed that made note-taking slapdash if not impossible. Trying to reign him in, I asked him about his early career: “I started as a messenger boy with publishers Odhams Press,” he recalled.
This role required him to be a member of NATSOPA, one of the very strong print unions, but Terry harboured desires to be a journalist.
“In those days it was difficult if not impossible to switch unions but many people helped me and I ended on Melody Maker on the clerical staff, officially, but writing for them as a freelance unofficially.”
It must have been an exciting time for a young man working on the premier music magazines in the late 50s, early 1960s, what with the rock and roll boom and the birth of Beatlemania?
And his involvement was more than just writing: He agrees and adds: “Being a big lad someone suggested me as a bodyguard for Bill Haley when he toured the UK for a few weeks in 1955. I was paid a fiver a night. I well remember the first night at the Hammersmith Palais. Nervously, I asked what I was supposed to do if the girls rushed the stage? “Enjoy”, I was told.”
Terry finally got his NUJ union card when he joined the trade magazine British Baker in December 1962 as a sub-editor. Two years later he moved within the Maclarens publishing group to take over as editor of Modern Refrigeration and Air Control as RAC was then known. It must have been quite daunting for someone, barely 30, with limited experience, particularly as he found himself up against two competitive magazines?
“I will never forget how welcoming and helpful so many people were as I attempted to get to grips with the structure of the industry, the politics, the issues of the day, and of course, my introduction to the industry’s professional and commercial organisations.”
The names pour forth. Some are still with us, some long gone: Vivian Brogden of ML Refrigeration, Mike Harley, Ken Brunton of Searle, Dennis Field (md of Prestcold), Steve Greenbanks (founder of Pendle Refrigeration), Alan Duttine (Airedale), John Scott (Rootes Tempair), Terry Smith and Reg Steele (Dean & Wood), Kingsley Curtis (HRP), Michael Brown (Airedale and Marston Refrigeration), Frank Harrison (Carrier – or Carlyle as it was then known in the UK – and ML Refrigeration), Bill O’Gorman (WH O’Gorman), Mavis Doyle (UDEC Refrigeration), George Ayres and Fred Jamieson, Frank Upton, Don Scarborough, Tony MacWhirter and the colourfully-named IoR president Colonel H Randal Steward.
“Ron Bennett [founder of RA Bennett] was one of those people who were so helpful in my early days. I thought that, as a wholesaler, he would be a great guy to approach. In the event, he sent me two sheets of foolscap paper written on all sides, telling me so much that I needed to know.
“Bill O’Gorman was not a relative, but I remember that we had a very long and very liquid lunch trying to determine if we might have the same genes.”
Some readers might also remember Tom Lee, the secretary of the Institute of Refrigeration prior to Malcolm Horlick – the current secretary Miriam Rodway’s predecessor.
“In the war, Tom Lee was a Swordfish pilot in the Fleet Air Arm; I seem to recall that he was one of those who, in that famous episode, attacked the German battleship Bismarck with airborne torpedoes, so playing a major role in its sinking.”
Someone who might be described as a traditionalist, he was a man who Terry insists frowned on the idea of women at the IoR dinner.
“That was eventually scotched by the emergence of Mavis Doyle and the Duke of Gloucester’s insistence that he wouldn’t be guest of honour unless his Duchess went too.
“There were some real characters. I particularly recall a guy called “Pog” Raven. He was a fighter pilot during the war and ran a contracting business in London. A regular feature of visiting him was being served with half-pint glasses of whiskey in his office.
“I remember “Pog” inviting me to the opening of the old British European Airways terminal at London’s Cromwell Road, where his company installed Chrysler equipment to provide the air conditioning. During the proceedings he felt the need to mop my brow, as I was sweating so profusely. ‘For goodness sake, Terry’ – although that’s not quite the terminology he used – ‘can’t you turn off that tap, I’ll lose all my customers at the rate you’re dripping’.”
Air conditioning was really taking off in the UK and one of the major players was Carrier or, as it was known in the UK then, Carlyle. The US manufacturer’s network of distributors eventually formed into an “unholy alliance” of DES, Weathermaker and Walker Air Conditioning in Ireland, led, respectively, by three characters –Trevor Gosling, Brian Streatfield and Jimmy Anderson.
“I remember I commissioned Trevor Gosling to write a series of articles, headed The ABCs of Air Conditioning. They later formed the basis of a successful book, under the same title, again written by Trevor. I believe it went into at least a second edition.
“Another who I remember well was Jimmy Anderson. He, like Trevor, worked hard and played hard as did so many of the other people I mentioned.”
Although new to the industry, Terry obviously displayed no lack of confidence. Within a short period of time the word Air Control in the title – a tip of the hat towards the growth of air conditioning – was gone to be replaced by the more direct, no nonsense title Air Conditioning.
At the end of the decade the word Modern was also dropped. But while the use of “Modern” seems a slightly incongruous title now from a historical perspective, its removal was a controversial one at the time.
“I have to say it was not a popular move but within a very short period of time the journal was being referred to by its new acronym – RAC.”
And there were his colleagues at RAC – ad managers Bill Reeves, and many will remember Gordon Moorey.
“Gordon was a real character and because of our respective sizes [Gordon Moorey was by no means a small man] we soon became known as “the heavy mob”.
While Terry brought many changes to the magazine he also had the foresight to keep one of it’s most popular features that he inherited – the Out in the Field column. For those who don’t remember it this monthly feature documented the everyday trials and tribulations of real-life engineer Les Collett, who sadly, Terry informs me, passed away recently.
Terry’s decisions were obviously good ones because, while the two competitors World Refrigeration and The Journal of Refrigeration soon disappeared, RAC continued to prosper. In fact, for a period of nearly 20 years it remained the sole magazine in the market until ACR News was launched in the mid-80s.
The industry gave Terry so much – a living, most importantly – but he was also able to give something back. He served on the council of the Institute of Refrigeration, the service engineer and education and training committees, amongst other industry contributions, as well as acting as his employer’s representative on the Periodical Publishers’ Association training committee. He also served as an assessor of journalism entrants for the London College of Printing.
I had known Terry since, as a damp squib of an assistant editor, I joined Heating & Ventilating Review in 1979. Our journalistic paths crossed on occasions of air conditioning interest but we became closer competitors when I moved across to edit ACR News in 1989. However, we never had the opportunity to completely “lock horns”, as Terry, by pure coincidence, decided at this time to take more of a back seat on the magazine. Andrew Bailey came in as editor and Terry took the newly created role of commercial editor.
Terry remembers with humour and affection his secret retirement party in 1996.
“It was after the Student of the Year Award at the Belfry. I was told that I was being taken to Ronnie Scott’s in Birmingham and that I needed to wear a dinner jacket. My former colleague Jack [McDavid, one-time editor on sister paper H&V News, now head of communications at trade association B&ES] was given the role of keeping me in the dark, I recall.
“Instead of going to Ronnie Scott’s, though, I was taken to a suite at the Belfry where to my surprise was a huge number of friends and colleagues from the industry. IMI sponsored a jazz band and I remember being quite emotional – I was afraid I owed them all money.”
Despite the “retirement”, Terry continued to have links with the magazine, being heavily involved with the production of the magazine’s special centenary issue in 1996, before finally severing all physical ties in 2003 at the age of 70. Before that, though, his long involvement with the industry was put to good use when in 1999 he was called upon to edit a special magazine to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Institute of Refrigeration.
I hesitate to bring up the subject of Terry’s handicap – his golfing expertise, or lack of it, being another reason for his legendary industry status. Sadly he doesn’t have much time for the game now having become a full-time carer for his wife Jessie.
“I joined the Royal Eastbourne Golf Club and, later, Eastbourne Downs but I can’t say it improved my handicap to any degree. The best I can remember during my time at RAC was at, I think, a Climate golf day when I remember I got nearest the pin. At the prize-giving presentation the host jokingly pricked my bubble by mentioning, quite rightly, that I never again troubled the scorers.”
On his retirement, Terry also took up ten-pin bowling and continued his passion for sea fishing. Having entered his 80s he takes great enjoyment from his nine grandchildren and one great grand-child. His son now lives in Australia but his two daughters live not too far away in West Sussex.
He clearly retains fond memories from his time in the refrigeration and air conditioning industry but does he miss it?
“I don’t think it’s anything like the industry I joined. I loved seeing the industry develop and being involved with that but I think I was in there at the best of times.” It’s not known what sort of future awaits our industry and our trade magazines now but one thing is for sure Terry O’Gorman was the industry’s main correspondent at a time of great change and unprecedented growth. It probably was the industry’s heyday and it needed a special person to record its progress.
Has this interview sparked some memories? Tell us about them. Do you have a comment or (publishable) memories of Terry and his time in the industry? Add a comment in the box below.
Subscribe to the Cooling Post newsletter