WHEN Alison Houston started work at the GPO in Glasgow, the world was a very different place.

It was the year Lord Lucan disappeared, the Watergate scandal brought down President Richard Nixon and the Bay City Rollers dominated the charts.

It was 1974, and the shy 17-year-old from Kinning Park was following her night operator dad into the business, then known as the General Post Office.

Now, Alison is “hanging up” after 50 years service with the GPO, BT and latterly Openreach, as an operator-turned-engineer.

Glasgow Times: Alison HoustonAlison Houston (Image: Openreach)

Alison is Openreach’s longest serving female engineer in the UK, and the only person in its 3400-strong Scottish workforce to notch up 50 years.

The 68-year-old started her career in the city’s Pitt Street exchange, connecting local calls to operators around Scotland, then moved to International Enquiries and into clerical roles.

She switched to engineering more than 20 years ago – and says communications have "changed beyond recognition" on her watch.

Glasgow Times: Archive image of a telephone operator

“When I started out, there were places in the UK you could not dial direct, like the Scottish islands,” she explains. “You had to dial 100 for the operator, and I would answer and then contact the operator up north to connect your call.

“Nowadays, it’s all changed, and you can call the world.”

She adds: “My old granny and grandpa were amazed with a cordless phone, never mind a mobile. If they could see where we are now, they’d think it can't be real, it’s space age stuff.

“I remember when nobody had even heard of broadband. A lot of people still don’t realise we connect everything from traffic lights to the lottery machine in your corner shop.”

Glasgow Times: Jenni Macfarlane (L), Openreach Scotland’s Service Delivery Director and Lesley Keith (R), Senior

In the 70s, explains Alison, the majority of clerical workers were female, while on the engineering side, most were male.

“I've personally found male colleagues are more than willing to help you out or offer advice,” she says.

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“I’d say to any girl thinking of a career in engineering, if it’s what you want to do, go for it.

“I've been thoroughly happy being an engineer. Ultimately, it’s all about getting the customer connected up to whatever service they want. I run the wiring and suddenly they're connected to the world.”

Now that she’s retiring, Alison says she will miss the camaraderie with other engineers, and she is already planning to check on any she spots working locally.

“I'm contemplating buying a wee house with a garden and maybe getting a wee dug, as they say in Glasgow, and take them for walks,” she said.

“I’ll annoy the Openreach engineer that's working at the local street cabinet and say, ‘I used to do that, so I'll tell you how to fix it’.”

Jenni Macfarlane, Openreach Scotland’s service delivery director, said: “Alison is our longest-serving Scottish employee, a trailblazing female engineer and a stalwart of the General Post Office (GPO), BT and Openreach over the past 50 years. It’s a truly remarkable achievement.

“Her career journey from operator to engineer is inspirational and she’s made a huge contribution to the company and the people and communities she’s served.

"We wish her the long and happy retirement she has more than earned.”

In 1974, the year Alison joined the General Post Office, Little House on the Prairie and Happy Days hit our TV screens, glam rockers Slade, Mud and the Bay City Rollers dominated the charts, David and Nicola were Scotland’s most popular baby names, and the average UK house price was £8936.