Alison McQueen


The Last Typewriter

The last typewriter to be made in the UK rolled off a production line in Wrexham this week and was boxed up and sent off to the Science Museum in London, where it will sit alongside the very first typewriter, a strange-looking contraption invented back in the reign of Queen Anne or someone like that.

I learned to type when I was a teenager. We were given typewriting lessons at school, the old-fashioned way, starting first with the home keys, committing every one to sightless memory before moving on to the next set of letters. It was called touch-typing, the ability to transpose error-free words without once looking at the keys, and it turned out that I was brilliant at it. (As a teenager I wasn’t brilliant at anything, trust me.) Some years later, working my way through various dead-end but nevertheless enjoyable jobs, I used to get a kick out of being tested in temp agencies, where stopwatches would be shaken and frowned at after I’d handed over a test that appeared to have hit over 110 words a minute. It’s nice to be good at something, however small.

The best typewriter I ever encountered was the IBM Selectric. The revolutionary golfball got around the infuriating issue of the basket tangling up and jamming if your fingers went too fast for the machine. With the Selectric, you could go like the clappers, and the golfball made a gorgeous, soft thudding sound as it raced along the paper. Typing became exhilarating, but I kept thoughts like that to myself. It’s not cool to be thrilled by such things.

My fascination for typewriting had come from watching my father who, as a never-once-promoted private in the Royal Signals, learned to touch-type in the army while doing his national service. My father was an interesting, eccentric character, a jazz musician with friends and acquaintances all over the world. This was all in the days before computers and affordable overseas telephone calls, so he would write letters, bashing them out on an old black manual typewriter that weighed half a ton. I loved that machine. Writing about it now, I realise that I have no idea where it disappeared to. I hadn’t thought of it at all until today, and I found myself wishing more than anything that it was here with me. I would make good use of it, and it would remind me of him. He died in 2007. I miss him a great deal.