Why typewriters are cool (and pricey) thanks to Tom Hanks– column

Typewriter in Fife Free Press office
Typewriter in Fife Free Press office

I’m now the proud owner of two typewriters.

They’re solid pieces of kit - muckle big beasts which weigh a ton.

An old Imperial typewriter

An old Imperial typewriter

When you look at the sad state of those early PCs after just a decade or two, these industrial workhorses are actually in fine fettle.

One is an Olivetti, one an Imperial. Even the names take you back to the days when newsrooms resounded to the tap-tap-tap of keys striking paper - a musical chorus which reached a crescendo on deadline day as everyone hit top speed, and the noise levels rose to a level that would have today’s health and safety conscious bairns reaching for headphones.

If the phone rang, no-one stopped to give you peace to have a conversation. You just stuck a finger in your ear or shouted down the blower.

Deadline days also brought a remarkable synchronicity as journalists reached the end of a line and instinctively hit the handlebar that sent the cartridge flying back to the other end of the machine.

Not a single full stop was missed while pieces of these hulking machines hurtled from left to right. I had colleagues who could smoke, drink coffee, type and conduct a phone conversation all at once, while also listening out for the editor shouting where the flippin’ heck the page five lead was, and if he didn’t get it in the next ten minutes there’d hell to pay. For historical accuracy, the word ‘flippin’ may not have been the exact one used by the boss … but this is a family paper.

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A typewriter going at full speed creates a sound as thrilling and evocative as Casey Jones’ steam train hurtling down the tracks.

The actor Tom Hanks has turned these machines into collectors items, so you can imagine my joy at getting two for £20 quid each.

I can still recall my very first day sitting behind an Olivetti. It was like putting a learner into the driving seat for the very first time – clueless but excited to get started. It was probably painful to watch as I picked out the letters one by one with my tongue stuck out as I concentrated so hard my head hurt. ‘T’ then ‘H’ and then ‘E’ - one word written. I was now a reporter. Well, sort of.

I soon graduated to two-fingered typing. Thirty-seven years on and those same two fingers are all I use.

Typewriters were glorious feats of engineering.

From the keys which flew up from a perfect arc to strike the page, to the space bar which sometimes shoogled, to all the wee buttons which changed your settings, everything had a purpose.

Then there was the kerfuffle of changing a ribbon once it had been worn through, and the art of taking a carbon – or ‘blacks’ as they were known back then – and counting your words. Ten words per line, ten lines per page – the quick way to check if you’d done enough.

We repaired typewriters with paperclips and string as we went along until the machines dissented and we were packed off to a bloke in Maria Street who set about restoring our Olivettis and Imperials back to how the craftsmen made them.

Today, keyboards break and you bin them.

But these machines were built to last. Wonder if we can produce an edition of FFP on them?