Mini’s and mini skirts: Barbour Index was a job for an independent woman in the 1960’s

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This classic photo shows Patrick Barbour, founder of Barbour Index, with his army of glamorous ‘Barbour Index girls’ in 1967.

My mother can be seen in the furthest top right corner, with her hands shoved firmly in her pockets.

Being a Barbour Index girl was decent employment for a young woman in the 1960′s, ideal for launching adult life once college or leaving home was dealt with.

The job involved being a professional filer, using an indexing system based on SFP and invented by Barbour. It was used to file away the information supplied to architectural firms by service providers.

BI covered a large part of the UK, with regions divided between the girls, each of whom would have a special BI mini. Sadly for my Mum, this didn’t include London.

Wearing the by now ubiquitous 1960’s mini skirts and dresses, and some kitted out with buttoned-up camel hair coats much coveted at the time, the BI girls would spend each day travelling around their territory visiting the architects offices.

On arrival, they would scoop up the piles of advertising leaflets and cards left for them and file them diligently using the “fearfully complicated” BI system into the special Barbour Index filing cabinets.

This sociable routine would be broken up once per month when BI girls the length and breadth of the country would all be asked to gather at Whiteley’s in London where BI had the entire top floor with its extravagant dome.

Their indexing skills would be then be subjected to the monthly test. Failure to pass meant the sack. Then a huge tea with sticky buns would be provided.

Mum, who was twenty-two at the time, was living with three friends in St Georges Square in Pimlico, on £12 a week. Her weekly rent was an incredibly reasonable sounding £4.10s.

She had been making money by working from home making dirndls for a Dutch theme pub, when she decided a more ‘serious’ job was in order.

When she first went along to get the job, there was a week’s training to master the system.

This she enjoyed, spending most of the time messing about with her friend. She remembers having to work extremely hard to pass the monthly test as a result.

Patrick was the Richard Branson of his day. Now 76, he founded Barbour Index with his brother just two years after his national service, making him almost certainly in his late twenties when he launched the company.

According to the Independent, on his retirement in 1965, Patrick sold his Barbour Index shares for £22m in a fierce auction in 1999. French media group Havas won the auction, despite fierce competition from Emap, and Lord Hollick’s United News & Media.

Mum remembers the financial and business press and staff alike being very impressed with Patrick Barbour, reporting him to be a quiet, straight forward and respected boss. Not entirely Bransonesque, then.

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4 Responses to “Mini’s and mini skirts: Barbour Index was a job for an independent woman in the 1960’s”
  1. Leonora Burton (Fairclough) says:

    I, too, was a Barbour Index girl. Loved driving that red mini. My territory was North London, Essex, and Norfolk.

    Leonora (Fairclough) Burton

    • Judith Quin says:

      I was also a Barbour Index girl – from 1966 – 1973 and (couldn’t keep away) from 1977-1980.
      Initially covered Oxford/Berkshire – then bigger fish! Area Manager for Home Counties North (including Hampshire and Isle of Wight) – not sure about the geography! Rejoined in 1977 selling Plan Storage and working with Peter Bates on the initial sell of the Barbour Design Library (another great success!).. Also library sales in the south with the lovable Nicki Leggatt selling in the north! What great times thanks to Patrick! Judith Quinn (Greenwood)

    • I too was part of the Barbour Index on the Inside Sales making appointments and based in Praid St Paddington, and was trying to think of the leadership team at the time in addition to Patrick. I suspect they were mostly ex-Army, Philip, Freddy, Be fun to reconnect?


  2. Pauline (Bennett) Harrison says:

    Those were the best days of my working life! I too was a ‘Barbour Girl’ and even now at the age of 72 and living a slightly reclusive lifestyle in Cornwall, the memories are very lively! Would love to hear from anyone who remembers me……………….Pauline (Bennett) Harrison

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