The UK’s last typewriter has come off the production line, made by Brother. Production is no longer economically viable. Does the typewriter’s demise stir up any Tipp-Ex-scented nostalgia?
I’m not alone in attaching certain romantic connotations to the typewriter. It’s easy to view the BC (before computers) era in rose-tinted tones.
These machines – the early models in particular – conjure up a vision of beauty for many.
Typewriters in popular culture – and women’s emancipation
And it’s not just the mechanical qualities. The noise of the typewriter is also cemented in popular culture, with that distinct clacking sound and the ‘ping’ at the end of the line! For me, it always drums up scenes of ‘proper’ writers and ‘serious’ journalism – think All the President’s Men and James Caan in Misery. I can’t hear the theme tune to Murder, She Wrote without seeing Angela Lansbury’s fingers moving across her typewriter, spelling out the name of the show in that classic font.
But the typewriter – invented in the 1860s – also had a more profound role in society. It has been directly linked with the emancipation of women through bringing them into the workforce as typists.
Which? typewriter tests
Which? tested typewriters until computers took over in the 1990s, and it seems there were quite large differences between the different models on sale. Which? staff members must have had a keen interest in the results too, as they had to use the machines for their daily work.
A ‘portable typewriters’ article from the June 1968 issue of Which? magazine advises readers to ‘type at least half a dozen full length lines, in small letters and capitals, before deciding to buy.’ And to ‘inspect the line of writing critically to make sure that it is evenly spaced, and that letters are clearly formed. (Exacting consumers use a magnifying glass for this inspection.)’
Our tests utilised 15 professional typists and 15 amateurs. By the 1970s a specially designed ‘rig’ that typed automatically had also come in to play. ‘On this rig we typed about three million letters – more than there are in War and Peace’, a 1973 article stated.
Some machines had an ‘erasure table’ or ‘platform over the roller’,which gave you a solid base on which to blot out mistakes with correction fluid – surely the most irritating aspect of using a typewriter?
Gone but not forgotten
Brother’s final typewriter is being donated to London’s Science Museum for posterity. Retro fiends may keep an eye out for old Olivettis or Underwoods on eBay, but it’s fair to say that, despite their nostalgic appeal, most of us wouldn’t even contemplate exchanging our laptops for the typewriters of yesteryear.
What are your memories of using typewriters? Is there anything you miss about them?