Calling time after half a century’s service

An industry stalwart of nearly 50 years closed the workshop door behind him for the last time this week. We caught up with Mick Hunn, stores controller at East Bilney Coachworks, Great Yarmouth, to find out what’s changed in the past half century.

Mick started work back in 1966. The Beatles and Frank Sinatra topped the charts that year, the average house in the UK was £2,530 and a season ticket to Manchester United was the princely sum of £8.50.

A lot has changed since then.

Mick said, ‘I started at a general engineering garage working on anything that had an engine in it or needed bodywork repairing. It was called JR Pitchers in Great Yarmouth. That’s where I served my apprenticeship and it’s still going today.

‘I still remember my first day. I’d just left school and was a young lad, just 15. I got there really early and stood outside waiting for them to open up. I was anxious and ready to go with my overalls and new boots on.

‘When they arrived they asked if I was the new lad. I told them I was and they said my most important job first of all was going to the cafe to get the teas. That was my first job every morning for a few years, getting the teas in before they started at 8am.’

Mick went on to work at Ford and Volvo dealerships, either side of a year on oil rigs, before joining the garage where he’s now worked for 33 rewarding years.

‘Learning has been an ongoing process because the industry has changed immensely in that time, especially over the last 10-15 years. It’s completely unrecognizable.’

It was called King Street Motors back then, but while the name has changed – to Warwick Schubrook then to Thurlow Nunn and most recently to East Bilney Coachworks – Mick has remained constant, employed at the site variously as manager, workshop controller, estimator and stores controller.

But, he admits, he never expected to stay so long.

He said, ‘A friend asked me to help organise the workshops at King Street Motors, where his brother was the manager. I expected to come here for 18 months then go back to what I was doing.

‘But I got into estimating and bodywork and I never looked back. I never left.

‘David Leighton was the manager then and I learnt so much from him. He taught me all there was to know about bodywork and body shops.

‘I’ve been here 33 years now and learning has been an ongoing process because the industry has changed immensely in that time, especially over the last 10-15 years. It’s completely unrecognizable.’

Car safety is one area which Mick thinks has progressed in leaps and bounds.

He said, ‘The construction of the cars is much safer now in my opinion. There’s no comparison between a car now and car even from the late 1990s.

‘We went to a Vauxhall course a couple of years ago and they showed us films of cars hitting walls. They were comparing Chevrolets and the new Omegas and you’d think a great big, long-bonneted Chevrolet would withstand the impact better, but it absolutely collapsed compared to the new cars.

‘That’s been the biggest change I’ve seen, the bonding of panels. You started getting the high stress steels and the pillars behind the panels and the seals. It only started to kick in about seven or eight years ago but it’s made a vast difference.’

Mick continued, ‘The technical side of the industry is incredible too. With computers and everything electrical, there is so much for the guys in the shops to learn these days to do the job professionally and competently. Everything is so complex you have to take your hat off to them.’

After such long service, Mick could be forgiven for rushing into retirement without a backwards glance. Instead, he’s excited about where his industry is heading and is even slightly envious of colleagues still in the foothills of their careers.

‘The industry is alive and buzzing now,’ he said. ‘With electric cars and all the development taking place, it’s very exciting. It’s a shame really that I’m getting a bit old to keep up!’

Final word goes to Chris Browne, body shop manager at East Bilney Coachworks, ‘Mick shares a vast knowledge and experience of the industry, and has been a fantastic, hard-working employee. He has given the business his all and is a credit both to the Accident Repair Industry and to East Bilney Coachworks.

‘He will be sorely missed.’