In 1950, after leaving school, Mike enrolled in the pupil and apprentice training scheme at Humber-Hillman in Coventry, part of the Rootes Group. This offered the possibility of combining practical, hands-on work in a factory with day release technical studies at the Coventry Technical College. Here is his description of his training, as told to Peter Roberts in 1964: “After leaving school I had the option of either going on to university or entering the motor industry as an ‘Articled Pupil Motor Car Manufacturer’. I couldn’t wait for an academic education, and joined Rootes in 1950, did a three year pupillage course with them, working in various departments on the shop floor, then learning office procedure, the sales side of the business, inspection—and even the wages set-up”. Contemporaneously, he studied for the Higher National Certificate in Mechanical Engineering, which he completed in 1956.
Being a pupil was no soft option. As Mike’s colleague Tim Fry (Mike and Tim were later to be known as ‘Tin Fry and Metal Parts’ within the organisation) described it to Annabel: “You had to check in in the morning. We had to get there at half-past seven. I think we did a 44-hour week. There was always a terrible struggle to get there on time.” Can you remember what you were paid? “I think it was a bit over £3 a week, out of which we had to pay our digs, and that left about £1 a week to buy other things with.”
It is difficult to imagine Mike doing an acad emic course; what he loved was actually working on bits of machinery, getting his hands dirty. In the family home there was always a large pot of “Dirty Paws”, a specialist cleaner for getting grease off your hands, standing next to the kitchen sink. This was liberally used by all the male members of the family after sessions in the family garage, which was very well equipped even including a lathe.