photo of bob pomfretBob Pomfret

Q. Bob, can you give me please your current job title?

BP: I’m Deputy Head of Media Workshop.

Q: And how long have you been at Brookes?

BP: I’ve been at Brookes since November 1986, which makes it very nearly 25 years…So I’m waiting for my party……

Q: And how long have you been in this current role?

BP: I think it’s, well, about 9 or 10 years. It’s hard to say because I was in a similar role but the job title changed. Wait, I tell you when it was: it was when we did HERA, that was when my job title changed – 2004, 2005, something like that.

Q: Right, what do you do in your current role, in layman’s terms and to help someone completely out of your area to understand?

BP: OK. I look after the graphics side of Media Workshop, so we do graphics and photography for any Faculty, any Directorate, and it’s aimed at internal jobs. So, it’s aimed at teaching jobs, it’s aimed at research jobs but it’s also aimed at things like Student Services, or the Library or other inward-facing jobs, and I’ve got two part-time staff, Lisa and Jane. Most of my work is graphics and photography and there’re some management tasks involved….

Q: If you were to describe a typical day, then, what sort of tasks would you get involved in?

BP: Well, today’s been fairly typical, and I’ve been working on a conference flier for Human Resources – the Women In Management conference, Women In Leadership, Simonetta’s and Janet’s event. They’re leading me and I’m doing it! So, I did some work on the conference brochure first thing, and we had a brief meeting all together to look at this. Then, in the meantime, I was picking up emails: for example someone was asking how we could get some black and white photos processed, and ten years ago that would have been easy but we actually don’t have a darkroom here anymore….. I really used to enjoy the darkroom and it’s sad those old technologies are disappearing. Then I did a really quick job doing a “header” for someone – people ring me up during the day and I thread it through, I don’t have a big, set, plan – I can pick up bits and pieces as I go…..And it’s out of term now so things are not too frantic…..I like this time of year, I’ve got plenty to do, but I’m not hassled by lots of tasks coming in… and someone came in from the library, an archivist. She was looking for some old photographs of Dorset House, that was quite interesting. And then Legal Services came and asked me to look for old photos with Brookes prominently shown on them – the word “Brookes” – because they’re having copyright issues with other companies who have the name Brookes in them. So Legal Services want to find as many photographs as possible with people wearing Brookes as a logo, or on their tee shirts, or anything like that, to show that we’ve been doing it for longer. I think they’re only looking pre-21st century, because most of these issues are 21st century issues…..

Q: That’s really interesting – have you come up with anything?

BP: Yes, I’ve found a whole lot of judo suits with Brookes written on the back, and that was ’97, so that was a good start.

Q: Right, thinking about your role what are the skills or the skills sets that a person would need to occupy your current role?

BP: I’m a bit of a jack of all trades really, and I do a lot of photography and graphics-related jobs. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert on any particular sort of software but I know how to use lots of it, like PhotoShop for example, and there are 7 or 8 fairly standard packages……I’m also a photographer, so I do that. And then, well, I have to have people-skills, though I’ve only got a small team, but we all have to work together, and we’re fairly diverse characters, so you’ve got to have an idea of, well, when a job comes in, who it would suit best….so fitting people to jobs…..and you have to make sure that you don’t just pass all the crappy jobs to someone else.  Allocating fairly. And then I also work with Richard and the Learning Technologists.

Q: So, LTs on one side and graphics on the other side….

BP: But, you know, there’s more of a blur these days,  because we’ve picked up lots of new stuff from each other, and also, there’s lots of graphics work in the technologists’ roles these days. We’re building up the RADAR archive of images and so on,   so I’ve been working quite closely with Steve on images from RADAR.
And at the Teaching and Learning Conference the other day at Harcourt Hill I actually did a small presentation on my work, which was scary – but it was alright. I was just before a keynote speaker so I had about 4 or 5 minutes to squeeze it in. There was time for…one question.

Q: So, you’re saying that you’re not hugely comfortable with talking in front of (laughs) huge crowds of people?

BP: Well, yes, but it was alright, and I know how to present and structure it and all that, and I used a PowerPoint

Q: People are often disparaging of PowerPoint, but it seems good to me…?

BP: Yes, it’s alright. And so long as you use it as a tool to help you and don’t put loads of words on the one page…..and if you’ve got some nice images as well, to keep people interested…..I think you can use PowerPoint creatively…..

Q: So, do you do any finance related work?

BP: Well we work out charges for some of the things we do, but we actually work with job-sheets, and forward them to a central finance person for processing….so I don’t have to do the books on a regular basis.

Q: So, it’s mainly internally facing, so you don’t offer your services out…

BP: Well, we do do a bit, and Corporate Affairs do work in the same building and do the external stuff and they have more work than they can cope with, so if we have the space we can do the jobs they pass to us and charge the same rate as they would. I quite like that, it’s creative stuff – the non-Brookes-branded stuff……So, for example, we’ve just done a series of posters for Oxford Open Doors, which is a series of events around Oxfordshire where you are invited to go into places where you can’t usually go. Well Lisa mainly did that – I just watched!

Q: Do you organise or discuss the workload with your team, then – are you responsible for that?

BP: We have a jobs list, which we update every week. We track the jobs that are still open, so that anyone can talk to the customer and update them as to where we are with it, and then there’s the new jobs coming in, and we see who has got space to do them, really.

Q: It sounds interesting. It sounds like quite an informally managed team…

BP: Yep, I’m lucky really. I’ve got two great team members……

Q: Thinking back on your working life, can you tell me the steps in your career history?

BP: I went to university when I was 17, in fact I left primary school a year early because I was very bright at 10! Though secondary school things didn’t go quite so well, I got interested in girls. I remember my report: it said, “Robert pays more attention to the girls than to his work”, and my mum was quite upset but I loved it. So I left school and went to Lancaster University – so an undergraduate at 17. But I did Geography, but that was mainly because I was good at it at school. I had no idea what I was going to do with that, but I didn’t really know how to choose…And when I was there I kind of decided I wanted to be a journalist, but I had no real basis for doing this, I’d written a couple of articles as a student, but I hadn’t exactly got involved, you know….and I got an interview at City University for a Journalism course. Now, I reckon I completely messed up the interview. Well the tests went really well- I was pretty good at tests but the actual interview, well – I didn’t get it.

So, I came home and started working at Blackwells, and this was good because I’d worked there in my vacations and – I worked my way up! I was working in “back issues” which was old magazines, and I worked my way up from junior storeman to chief storeman – in two years. So, in the meantime, I decided I still wanted to be a journalist and actually wrote to various local papers and I got myself a job as a trainee reporter on the Oxford Journal. And then I got transferred from there to the Banbury Cake, which is in the same group. Then I fell out with the editor because I thought I was much more important than I really was – it’s the only job I’ve ever been sacked from. It was really embarrassing. He drove all the way up from Oxford, waited till the paper was published – so I’d done all my work for the week – and he arrived in front of my desk, and told me I’d been sacked. For insubordination. All he said to me was, “Comprendez?”. So I picked up all my stuff and went to the car park outside – cos I’d just bought myself a car, a Ford Escort.  And I got in the car, drove out of the car park, and as I drove out of the car park the exhaust pipe fell off.

So that was my journalism career.

Q: What did you acquire there that has since been helpful to you? What had to intensify to get you to make the jump from assistant to chief storeman for example?

BP: Well, Pete retired.

Q: (Laughs) Ok, so nothing to do with skills development or anything like that. Pete retired.

BP: Yep, you can’t tell what’s going to happen sometimes. In fact, after I took my job at the Banbury Cake, Blackwell’s took me back! So I went to work at Blackwells for another couple of years. Then I decided I was going to be a teacher. And I thought I’d be a primary school teacher – because I’ve got no specific skills (laughs). And I nearly went to Newcastle, because I got accepted there, but I didn’t go. But the following year I went to the Froebel Institute – it’s a really great place, if you’re going to do primary school teaching, go there, it’s very forward thinking and exciting.

I really could do the course, didn’t mind being a student teacher, though I never could take control of the class, And then – I got my PGCE – and then I went back and… got a job working in a pub in Stow-on-the -Wold. As a live-in bar man. It’s because, when I was a student I worked in a pub to earn some money, and I really enjoyed it, I really did. So I got this job in Stow-on-the Wold but I really didn’t get along with the landlady – me and the landlord were fine. So me and the landlady just didn’t work but – I lived in a really interesting house. There was this old lady  - she made costumes for the Sealed Knot. And whilst I was there she was making a bear suit – for Warwickshire County Council. She was making a bear suit I remember. At the end of the summer, when they didn’t need any more staff in the bar, I moved. Guess where I went?

I went back to Blackwells.

It was my third time there. Same department. Quite a lot of the same people. This time I had to do deskwork, a clerical style job. And I actually found that a bit boring.

So this is 1984. A friend of mine who had also qualified as a teacher and hadn’t got a job - she sent off to be a travelling teacher in the Falkland Isles. Bear in mind this is a year after the war. When she got all the information, she decided she didn’t want to do it. So, I filled in the application form – on a complete whim. And a month later – I’m being interviewed in Whitehall by the Chief of Education in the Falkland Islands and I got it. And I was due to go the Falklands in September 1984, then about a month before I was due to leave – I broke my leg. So I couldn’t go. And then, I agreed to go in April; that’s April 1985, but the only problem was that, in January 1985, I’d met a woman called Agnes – who, I’ve now been married to for 25 years. I kind of met the love of my life at the very worst time…..So, do I go to the Falklands in April? I say, “Yes”. And I’m @*&% miserable. Instead of going at the beginning of the Falklands Summer, I go at the beginning of the Falkland’s winter, and it’s lonely.

I had a year’s contract, but after 4 months I bought myself out of it. I got my mum to sell my Austin Allegro which paid for my return flight. Then I went back from a Falkland’s winter to a British winter, so I did 3 winters in a row.

Q: So did you do any teaching in the Falklands?

BP: Yes, it was quite good. I never had a class of more than 3 people. And I’d go from one island where there was 1 child, to another island where there were 2.

Q: Not too onerous, then (laughs) but you developed teaching skills and confidence?

BP: I’ll never feel confident as a teacher. So, I came back, and I decided…well, I’ve always had a bit of an artistic bent… to set up my own business, using one of those government schemes….the Enterprise Allowance, where you would be given £40 a week. I decided to design and print my own cards. And I bought a printing set – it cost me about £200 – and it’s still in my mum’s spare room somewhere. Then I designed these cards, got plates made, and printed them. I really liked designing them and printing them but…..I had issues with selling them. You drive to Burford, to some little shop and they say, “Yeah, we’ll take…20.” So, you’ve driven across half the county, so you’ve probably made 50 pence on a card, and then you go to Witney and do the same….The only time that I made any money was when I went to craft fairs, where I could sell my pictures as well. I really enjoyed it though.

But, in the meantime, one more go at a little job – I was listening to Women’s Hour on the radio when William Smethurst said they were looking for new writers for The Archers. So, he invited Women’s Hour listeners to send in a script. I sat down at my typewriter – which I had from being a journalist – and I wrote a little script and sent it off to WS, and he wrote back to say that, of the 200 he’d received mine was one of 2 or 3 that he actually liked. So he offered me fifty quid to write another practice script based on a specific set of characters, according to the protocols, which I did. So I was invited in to meet the cast at a writing meeting, four writers for the four coming weeks, plus the editor and the agricultural editor and other experts, and they talked about the story lines coming in, and eventually I was given a week to write for. I had to write for week 2 of a cluster of 4 weeks and this was Spring 1986. So, they liked it, and I got on air and my name was in the Radio Times. It’s great, that, but as soon as I’d done my scripts, William S left The Archers and took his writers with him to ‘Crossroads’ on the telly – not me, because I was brand new. And this new editor came in and she said that, because she was new to the job, she wanted to write with established writers only. So I was cast adrift.

So she suggested I write a play -  which I did. I wrote a play about being a teacher in the Falklands. And I sent it off and they rejected it – and I lost interest. So, up till now I’d been butterflying from one career to another, though I’d been earning much more money writing for The Archers than I ever made out of designing cards.

My Enterprise Allowance ran out in September of 1986 and I was looking for the next thing to do, and Agnes worked in the library here, and somebody in the library said that Bruce in Audio Visual was off sick for 3 months. So I interviewed for the job and I got it. Bruce’s job was half AV, going around the place doing the overhead projectors and so on, and half doing Graphic. And after 3 months, Bruce did come back but he’d found himself another job. He came to do his notice, but I got the job and was shifted up to EMU at Wheatley.  I worked up there as an AV technician while he worked his notice and then I was given a full time job. So, no career plan, I just sort of fell on it, but I came in for 3 months and I’ve been here ever since.

And in 1989, the Senior Graphic Designer decided to leave, and I was interviewed for the post with various external people – I think I was quite lucky to get the job, to be honest –

Q: So, Senior Graphic Designer. What sort of technology was happening?

BP: Well, we had computers – we had little Macs. But most of the work was actually on a drawing board. And I’d got some good experience designing cards….

Q: So, it actually all positioned you really well…..

BP: I think I’d be lucky for that to happen, now, to be honest…

Q: A lot of people have said that to me – “I was lucky, you wouldn’t be able to do that, now – you wouldn’t be able to jump from that job to that job, it wouldn’t be allowed…”

BP: Hmmm, my son is going to university to do Illustration. But I worry about where he’s going career-wise, because he lacks my work ethic. Though he’s worked in Starbuck’s and as a night club attendant and various little jobs since he’s left school.

Q: Ok. So you’re Chief – no, Senior, Graphic Designer, and you had no intention of getting there.

BP: Once I got the senior job, Lisa – who works with me now – got the job that I had. So that’s 1989/90 that we started to work together. And the work was not a million miles from what I do now – well, it was a bit more clunky, with paste-up boards and so on. And there was lots of black and white photography, and working in the darkroom.

Q: So photography is really core to your work….

BP: Hmmm, yes, I suppose, but the weird thing is – I knew sod all about photography…...But Steve,  a colleague who was a photographer, taught me a little bit in the post, and I went on one of the degree modules, Introduction to Photography. And I did another course – not a module – run by Mike Skipper, a technician here at Brookes. He was a brilliant photographer.

Q: So, you became an artist-grade photographer?

BP: Well, I don’t know….the whole technology is different now, you get your picture so quickly, and the new tech is quite reassuring – you can take hundreds and hundreds of shots…….Mind you It was nice watching the print come through in the darkroom……

Q: Where are we now? You’ve got the big job………

BP: Well, EMU joined up with OCSLD. EMU was always associated in some way with the teacher training side as well, and there was always an academic in charge of EMU…….Gibbs, Jacques, Chris, heavy academics…..

Q: Did you see yourself as a separate, “technical” side within his area?

BP: Well, no. I work with images, and I do a lot of cartoons, and that sort of works in addition to what the academics do livens it all up…

Q: So, you’re a translator of complex ideas into these useful cartoon images……

OK, your job has been pretty constant between then and now, in terms of tasks and skills, and you’ve weathered all the changes, and are now in the Media Workshop, which is part of Learning Resources along with Library….

BP: Yes, the academic side had sort of split off with OCSLD setting up in Headington, near the shops and we stayed here on campus getting linked first to Computer Services and then establishing ourselves as the Media Workshop under Richard Francis….

Q: Ok. During all this time, then, any new skills coming on-line?

BP: Yes, I think having a team and becoming a team leader, but it’s all come through experience, really. And managing people from a distance – there was a graphics designer on the Wheatley Campus who I needed to communicate with, though he eventually joined the team here….And, basically, since about 1990 I’ve had the same role but because of extreme changes in the technology, I’ve adapted, and I’ve never worried about change in that I’ve not been so attached to the ways things were done before that I couldn’t see a way forward with the new stuff…I always think, if something’s going to help than we’re going to use it.

OK, I have just got one more little thing. When I hit 40, I did have a bit of a mid-life crisis. I’d been here then about 15 years I suppose, and I thought – well, what would I do if I could just choose any career? And I thought, well, I like the environment and, well, ideally I’d like to be a warden on nature reserve. So, I thought, “How am I going to get this new job working in the environment? With a wife, and children and a mortgage?”  So I decided to do an MSc. in Environmental Assessment and Management. So I took some time out of work, and did evenings and weekends – I worked pretty hard actually – and I did about 40 per cent of the course, but then my wife was really unwell, so I just couldn’t carry on because there weren’t enough hours in a day to do it. So it kind of lapsed – more by circumstances than choice. And then your time limit is 5 years, and if I wanted to do it I’d have to do it all again. And it was expensive and I’d already spent £1500 on the modules I’d done…..  But, it did do good stuff for me, because I learned that I actually couldn’t afford to get into work that was to do with the environment at a place on the ladder where I could afford to live and so on. I was competing against people who were 21, 22, who had no responsibilities whatsoever, and would be able to work for £12k, £13k, and I needed twice that, in order to service my life. So, I learned that. I also learned a bit more about management and – there was an area of land at the back of my house, which was an old railway line, and in 2004 the woman who owned it died, and it was offered for sale to people in our little housing estate.

I was always walking up and down it and keeping a note of birds and things, and went to the town council and said, “Why don’t you buy this piece of land and turn it into a nature reserve?”…….and THEY DID. So ever since then, I’ve been the warden.

Q: You pulled it off.

BP: Yes, and well, sometimes it includes some embarrassing things, so for instance, I have to go round and talk to a neighbour because he keeps cutting down the hedge at the end of his garden and dumping it on the nature reserve….

And the other good thing that happened –do you remember in 2005, Brookes had the Uni Expeditions? Inviting applications from non-teaching members of staff to apply to go on an expedition – you could choose where you wanted to go. I was one of three winners and went to Canada – to look at climate change on the edge of the Arctic. I don’t think I would have thought about applying if I hadn’t done the MSc. in the first place. I had a brilliant time – we went to this little place just on the edge of the tundra, and we used a machine which sent radar waves underground. By bouncing waves off the ice-layer underneath you can see how deep the soil layer is. And.... it’s getting deeper as the ice retreats. Of course to make things interesting, all the time, there was the risk of being eaten by a polar bear. Whilst we were doing our work, a man stood there with a gun………

There was a really interesting guy there – Peter – who like me was into training, so after our day me and him would go for a run across the tundra, and he always took a little flare gun with him, so – if we were to meet a polar bear – he could fire it in the air to frighten the bear off long enough for us to run away……and we’d been doing our run out there for a couple of weeks, without meeting a bear, when we came back to the centre one day and Pete said, “I’m just going to shoot the gun, to show you what it would have sounded like……” so he shot it, and the pellet that had been in there the entire time was a DUD, so it never did go off. So had there been a bear I probably wouldn’t be here because Pete could run faster than me! What’s this got to do with my career? Not much but it’s just another one of those ‘chance’ things that find me where I am now.

So, with all this going on, if I ever get to retire – and it might never happen with the goal posts for retirement age being moved all the time, they’ll not let me retire – I’d be a volunteer.

Q: Any memorable turning points or moments to finish off with to help people reflect about their own future moves?

BP: Well, I think a lot of it was luck, but always making the best of the opportunities in front of me at the time, and keeping doing things that I could then build other things from. It all kind of shows that I had no idea at the start about where I was going, but I was quite good at a lot of things, though I never had that thing that some people have right from the start where they know exactly what they want to do. But you know what – most days, I’m really happy, and when I go and have my PDR with Richard, I can talk about goals but I say to him, “I have absolutely no ambition to have your job.” I really don’t want to do that sort of thing. I don’t want to go to meetings and manage people all the time, I like working in graphics……

Q: Well, it sounds like you’ve actually got to where you need to be. I was going to ask – what will your ideal career look like when you get there? However I think you’ve already answered the question.

BP: Well, yeah, but I wish that I’d learned to play the guitar…..


Updated October 2011