Comedian Mark Steel reflects on being a milkman in the 1970s

Comedian and former milkman Mark Steel has shared his hilarious and heart-warming memories from his days on his milk round.

"This is marvellous news. Britain’s dairies are desperate to recruit as many milkmen as possible, as there has been a huge surge in demand for deliveries.

"To people under 30, the idea of a milkman must seem baffling.

"Maybe they learned about them in history, and say: 'So, back in the day, like the Middle Ages or whatever, a man come to your crib and bring milk and butter while him whistle? That is SICK, bruv, innit.'

"But, like vinyl records, pints of bitter and being ruled by terrifying people who went to Eton, this old custom from the 1800s has suddenly become popular again.

"I could apply for a job myself, as I was a milkman in the 1970s, back when people had proper jobs that involved real things that weren’t digital, and could get away with being utterly useless at them.

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"There was so much I loved about being a milkman, such as the freedom, chatting to customers and feeling part of a community. It’s just a shame it was the bit where you have to deliver milk that I couldn’t manage.

"Yes, I have a decent claim to be the worst milkman of all time. Sometimes, a colleague would get back to the yard and realise he’d missed a house on his round, so he’d pop back with the customer’s bottle and apologise. But I often got back and realised I’d missed an entire housing estate.

"For a moment, I’d wonder why I was back two hours early and still had 30 crates of milk on my float.

"Then the manager would tell me he’d had 58 calls from angry milkless customers and I’d set off again. Friday was the difficult day, because as well as delivering milk, you had to knockon each door and collect money.

"At my first attempt, I was amazed at the neighbourly manner of the village of Horton Kirby, in Kent, which was my round. About 10 people asked me in for a cup of tea and the pub on my round gave me a pint.

"Everyone wanted to chat about how I was finding the village. One very old lady invited me inside to hear her play the piano. And I accepted every invitation, as it’s a fundamental role of milkman to be rooted in the community.

"Then I realised it was seven in the evening and I was only halfway round.

"The manager of the dairy arrived in his car, screaming, ‘Where the **** have you been you ******* idiot, you should have been back five ***** ********* ******** ******** **** hours ago, you ****** ****’.

"Nor could I ever get the knack of driving the milk float. They run on batteries, and go from 0-8mph in two days, at which point they run out of charge. But they could go really fast if you let them roll down a hill.

"Luckily, to get to my round, I had to go down the gloriously long steep Farningham Hill, where I could get the thing to hurtle at about 60mph overtaking astonished motorists as the crates clattered like a box of fireworks that have all gone off at once.

"I expect many people called the police, who would say: ‘I see, sir, a flying milk you say. Have you been on medication lately, sir?’

"My driving skills were tested at one of st houses on the round, a huge new building with a glass front and two immaculate, shiny BMWs on a long gravelled path.

"It was owned by Dave Charnley, who had been a lightweight boxing champion, and now ran a building firm. One morning I delivered his milk and orange juice, as this was a time when orange juice was the height of sophistication, the equivalent of a milkman now being asked to deliver milk and a Gucci handbag every day.

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"As I was leaving, I backed the float up to turn it round and heard an unwelcome crunching sound.

"I wonder what that is, I thought. But it was so obvious, if you played that noise to anyone in the street and asked what it was, they’d say, it sounds to me like a milk float backing into a BMW owned by a boxing champion.

"As an 18-year-old with limited life experience, I behaved with perfect clarity under pressure and decided to flee as quickly as possible.

"But that’s quite a frustrating task in a milk float. So the vehicle groaned and whirred very slowly across the gravel, as I muttered, come on, come on, and wished I had a jockey’s whip to try to speed it up. All day I was in panic as to whether I would be caught, and I convinced myself no one can have seen the incident so I’d get away with it.

"I finished the round and, as I drove back to the yard, I could see the manager at the gate, screaming with arms firing in all directions. And while I couldn’t hear, my understanding of body language was so accurate, I knew that he was yelling, ‘You smashed up Dave Charnley’s wife’s BMW, you ****** ******** ****** ***** stupid ***** ****’.

"He drove me down to the boxer’s house, where I was made to apologise to the boxer, in front of the twisted strips of metal and shattered customised dark glass that had once been the left-hand side of his wife’s car.

"The job of milkman involves enormous responsibility, as each day when you return, you have to order anything requested by the customers for the next day.

"I delivered bread to many houses but this was 1978 bread – white sliced loaves made of an absorbent, squashy polystyrene that should be brought back so they can be used in flood areas as they’d soak up a burst river in minutes.

"But some affluent customers were so ridiculously upperclass that they would order brown, unsliced bread.

"This was showing off in the same way as it would be now, if you left a note for the milkman saying, ‘Two performances of the Bolshoi Ballet tomorrow, please’.

"One customer on my round had a specific crusty, seeded cylindrical loafevery Wednesday, which I had to order specially every Tuesday.

"But one week I forgot they were on holiday, and no one else wanted it. So rather than waste it, I decided to deliver it to them the next week when they were back.

"In my defence, I was only 18 and hadn’t yet learned that bread loses its bread-like quality after bouncing round the back of a milk float for a week. So I got back to the yard to find the manager screaming: 'Mrs Warhurst rang to say her bread was ******* GREEN with patches of GREY and BLUE FUR, you ****** *** ******.'

"Eventually, I was told: 'The customers all say you’re good and cheerful but they find you ******* useless,' and I was sacked. I was quite pleased with that assessment. I might give being a milkman another go."

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