curiosity about the ways of the world

RIP the quick brown fox

Ah, the typewriter. I’m sitting, hands on laptop keyboard, staring at the screen but my mind’s eye looks back to an old Royal machine in a long-ago newsroom where I sit, fingers poised above firm round buttons, piles of screwed up copy paper on the floor, staring into the middle distance, waiting for words.

Writing was tough muscular exercise in those early days of the young trainee reporter. Still is if truth be told – or it is for me – tough on brain, hands and eyes. Words can take their wayward time in coming however you seek them. But before the invention of the word processor the very act of typing was a physical feat.

News of the last typewriter rolling off a production line in Wrexham flashes me back more than 40 years to a room of keen, if cynical, young hacks. We’re sitting in long rows, each one of us at a desk with a typewriter, eyes glued to a big screen on the far wall, headphones receiving the voice of Big Brother taking us up and across the keyboard, finger by finger, one line at a time.


old typewriter qwerty keyboard

It was a brave new idea, introduced by the NCTJ ((National Council for the Training of Journalists) who thought it was high time young reporters got beyond two fingers. The ability to touch type at a minimum of 80 words per minute was one of the qualifications that gained me a certificate at the end of my three-year apprenticeship.

The Quick Brown Fox Jumped Over the Lazy Dog

There was scoffing among the two-finger merchants on our block-release course at Harlow Technical College, never convinced that ten fingers would speed the flow of good stories. And they were probably right.

Oddly, I became quite good at it. I was probably among the minority who enjoyed the tap and rhythm of touch typing. Never mind the copy, feel the action! Even now I sometimes find myself tapping out the shape of a new word with my fingertips on an imaginary typewriter. Fast, though not always accurate, I can type proper sentences while looking out the window which always amuses my young tecky sons whose thumbs are much more at home on the touch screen of a smartphone.

I was a reluctant convert to the word processor. My sons took a long time to coax me to our first desktop computer (a then state of the art Amstrad). At first I was inhibited by my own words taunting me on the screen but soon grasped the liberation of cut and paste (no more tipex, no bins full of paper). Now I can move words, sentences, paragraphs – whole pages – around with a few quick keys. But I still stare into the middle distance, hands ready, brain stalling on 80wpm.


backspace key in sepia colours


  1. Ray

    Very good, but what about the sweep of the manual carriage return (punctuating each line with a bell on some machines) and how we missed then when we got our first electric typewriter?

  2. Administrator

    Was it an Olivetti or an iPad that Gordon Brown allegedly hurled across his desk?

  3. Arlene

    When I was in my late forties I took my first typing class and earned a certificate that said I had typed “57 gross words a minute”. The kids were delighted, as they said they didn’t think I knew fifty-seven gross words.

    The thing I miss about the old newsroom Olivettis is their sheer indestructibility. I have seen them hurled across the room and be none the worse. I am writing this on an iPad with a cracked screen, $150 to repair. Mind you, hard to imagine hauling an old Olivetti around in my handbag!

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