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Mr. Bristow

Just a Job


Bristow hates his job, which bores him utterly. He was somehow bamboozled into it by an unprincipled swine called Pringle from a recruitment agency called Ponsonby’s Permanent Positions. Bristow explains this to Jones on the day that he bumps into Pringle on the train. Jones, who never even wanted an office job, has had the same experience.

Bristow is well known as 18th in line for Chief Buyer. The only reason for him to hang on to his job is to outstay the remaining 17 men and be promoted. He is well aware that there seems to be a regular stream of school-leavers whose ambitions start and end with becoming a buying clerk at Chester-Perrys. The threat that one of these upstarts might have designs on his battered desk keeps him alert.

What does a buying clerk do?

Highslide JS
Strip 4213 was published in the Evening Standard in September 1974 and in Bristow Latest. This scan was published in the Melbourne Age October 1974

A rare shot of Mr. Bristow, not just working but working at home-time.

The work seems to revolve around chasing orders and processing invoices. Most of the orders are placed on the well-known firm of Gun and Fames. Bristow has a love-hate relationship with them. Sometimes they will pass hours swapping friendly insults and jokes, at other times the requirements of business may lead to vicious slanging matches and poison pen letters. Work frequently piles up in Bristow’s in-tray, often in great heaps that rise far above his head. Now and again he will tackle it briskly, his flashing hand movements and accurate date-stamping drawing in an admiring circle of clerks and post-boys - strip 2499
Strip 2499 was published in the Evening Standard in March 1969 and in Bristow (1970). This scan is from the Sydney Morning Herald July 1969
But the mood rarely lasts. He is more likely to dump the lot into his out-tray or onto Jones’ desk. Orders marked "Urgent" tend to end up as paper aeroplanes, fill a hole in a leaky shoe or simply get lost at the back of dusty files (marked "Immediate"). Everything that requires printed output must be taken to the typing pool to be typed. This requires diplomatic skills since typists dislike receiving work late in the afternoon (Fudge's favourite time to give it to Bristow, and Bristow's favourite time to take it along the corridor to the pool). Whatever is typed must then be checked and the ink smears, coffee stains and lipstick removed before it can be posted. Sometimes a temp will be engaged to assist in the department - they provide little real help because they spend most of their time fending off Bristow's 'orrible hairy spiders and rubber clutching hands (from Joe's joke shop).

What does a buying clerk do when his boss is on holiday?

He comes to work in t-shirt, jeans and shades. He suggests to his colleagues that they go and kick a ball around in the yard. He offers to show a few conjuring tricks. He turns up late and takes long lunchbreaks, and incites others to join him - strip 3835
Strip 3835 was published in the Evening Standard in July 1973 and in Bristow.
. He issues challenges to a game of desktop football. As far as work is concerned the answer is nothing. Zilch. De Nada. Bugger all. Until the last afternoon when with feverish desperation he makes up for the idleness of the past two weeks.

The daily round

Bristow normally arrives late, sometimes sprinting up the stairs just ahead of Fudge. Declaring that any place he hangs his hat is home, he flicks his bowler at the hat-stand and sees it plummet out of the window. Provided Fudge is not on his back, he then starts work with the crossword and a packet of biscuits. He looks out of the window to check up on Myles & Rudge, the Blondinis skipping about high on the scaffolding and the always hoped-for little pink van of Miss Pretty of Kleenaphone. The big event of the morning is the arrival of Mrs. Purdy with the tea trolley. When not on a diet Bristow enjoys a sugary doughnut, oozing with jam.

If the wind is blowing from the right direction he will sniff the air to see what the firm's canteen is cooking. Sometimes he will order his lunch by phone, spelling out his name with appropriate aids ("B - Boeuf Bourginon, R - Rillettes de Veau" before plumping for the meat pie and chips. If the weather is fine he takes sandwiches to the park rather than sample the dubious pleasures of Mr. Gordon Blue's cuisine. Now and then he goes to the local pub, the "Brolly and Bowler" for lunch. Bristow is not a drinking man and probably sticks to a pint of beer at most. Nonetheless should Fudge or any other superior make an unexpected appearance he will sprint out of the nearest emergency exit and hurtle back to his desk.

The long afternoon is whiled away waiting for tea, chatting with colleagues and sleeping. If the phone rings while he is dozing he will answer it in his sleep and request the caller to hang on, or a passing post boy will explain to the caller that he is in conference. He has to keep a wary ear open for Fudge though, as there is a limit to how many "lazy bungling fool" bawl-outs he can manage in a week. Perhaps a quick game of desktop football or a review of the latest bumper issue of the House Journal. Sometimes Bristow will reorganise the filing system, throwing away papers from any company whose name he dislikes. He may settle down to write a few pages of his latest literary blockbuster or bone up on Brain Surgery for Beginners.

Bristow (and Jones) complain that they are bored and fed up by the tedium of their jobs. Not that they intend to alleviate the dullness by actually doing any work, you understand - strip 4985
Strip 4985 was published in the Evening Standard in September 1977 and in Bristow vs. Chester-Perry.
. They are never happier than expounding on how dull and tedious everything is, and planning to leave to take up jobs as sales reps.

Should there actually be any orders to chase he will phone Gun & Fames and engage in hours of insult and trickery. He will be interrupted by the two men who are always inspecting the building, Mrs. Chrisp with her endless subscription lists, the post-boy with the latest gossip from the City and Miss Sunman coyly asking him about the Christmas Dinner & Dance.

Highslide JS
Strip 4986 was published in the Evening Standard in September 1977, in Bristow vs. Chester-Perry, Bristow's Guide to Living and in The Big Big Big Bristow Book

A Buying Clerk displaying the concentration for which C-P staff are justly famed

At some point during the day he will wander round to the factory to gossip with Charlie of the machine shop, drop in to irritate the girls in the typing pool and swap rumours with the lads in some of the other departments in the office.

Bristow is normally out of the door on the stroke of 5pm but is happy to sit late in the office calculating his earnings on the rare occasions he works overtime. In fact this appears to be all he actually does when he is on overtime.


Bristow to his reflection in the cloakroom mirror
We are buying clerks - mere mortals
We have eyes, hands and feelings
If you prick us do we not bleed
If you tickle us do we not laugh
if you pay us do we not work?
strip 96, published on Frank Dickens' website in August 2001

How much does Bristow earn as a buying clerk? This was a very important question, for his colleagues, when the strip started. And Bristow was just as keen to find out their earnings. Naturally nobody asked directly. Instead they calculated their colleagues cost of living, or held their blotters to the mirror, or just passed by with smug smiles hinting at secret pay rises. This does not seem to be so important now, probably because there is only Jones left in the buying department to compare with, and Bristow has always assumed that he was doing better than Jones.

Bristow was very competitive in those early days. Here he is in strip 28
Strip 28 was published in the Evening Standard in April 1962 Apologies for poor quality of scan
contemplating a possible bonus. The clerk presenting the wage packet is obviously not Atkins.
Of course the wage packet is inevitably followed by Mrs. Chrisp, Hickford and their ilk soliciting subscriptions, wedding presents or just demanding the repayment of loans. And the firm expect you to be grateful for the pittance that remains - strip 500
Strip 500 was published in the Evening Standard in September 1962. Apologies for poor quality of scan
- and see strip 3528
Strip 3528 was published in the Evening Standard in July 1972 and in More Bristow and Bristow's Guide to Living. This scan is from the Melbourne Age August1972.
for a harsher view

Bristow has long given up expecting a bonus. He continues to look incredulously at the amount that remains for him to live on after everyone else in the world has taken a share of his wages. Although sometimes he has an attack of conscience and deftly fends of Atkins as he tries to hand over the little brown envelope. These moments do not last. Bristow cannot afford this sort of gesture.