Recorded voices from the world of printing:

John Bowley, Compositor at Oxford University Press

In this conversation Martyn Ould talks to John Bowley. Bowley was a compositor in the Oriental 'ship, the team of compositors responsible for setting texts in oriental languages. (The term 'ship was short for 'companionship'). This included setting Chinese, Cyrillic, Hebrew, and Arabic. The Oriental 'ship worked in 'Top Comps', an area at the top of the building. Bowley was the last of the cold-metal compositors. I was interested in talking to him about the hand-setting done on Stanley Morison's book John Fell, the University Press and the 'Fell' types which in particular required settings of the exotic types such as Coptic and Samaritan. Our conversation ranged from the dislike the compositors had for that particular book to the management style of successive Printers.

I'm grateful to the late Mick Belson for the use of the photograph of John Bowley at work.

Part 1. I started our conversation by asking how people felt about working on John Fell, the University Press and the 'Fell' types. As we turned the pages on the book we talked about setting the 'exotic' types such as the Arabic, Hebrew, and Greek. (8:10)
Part 2. I showed him the photographs in Stanley Morison & 'John Fell': Len Bullen casting by hand, Jack Webster ('clicker', i.e. leader of the 'ship) and John Hughes (apprentice) composing at a frame, Kenneth Webb and Maurice Bowkins machining sheets of the book, and press reader Cyril Piper ('CDP'). (9:07)
Part 3. Vivian Ridler ('Woodbines' were a brand of cheap cigarette). How Top Comps received the copy for John Fell, proofed settings, and had the proofs read; page design and make-up; page imposition; correcting 'batters' (damaged type); dissing. (In fact each printed sheet yielded 16pp.) (12:45)
Part 4. Coptic and Syriac. The Fell ornaments and decorated initials. The Fell music type. The destruction of the music type when the letterpress facility was closed. The latter days of letterpress. (7:46)
Part 5. 'Barge cases'. The Press as a place to work. The 'ships and clickers. (8:40)
Part 6. The Printers: Bowley's opening words are about Vivian Ridler, and he continues with John Johnson and Charles Batey. The collaborators: Harry Carter, Stanley Morison, John Simmons, and Charles Batey. Making ready. Setting Fell: a task to be avoided. (17:52)
Part 7. The setting of Joseph Yahuda's Hebrew is Greek published by Becket Publications in 1982 - a vast work requiring the mixed setting of English, Greek, and Hebrew. (5:05)
Copyright Martyn Ould 2007.