Quite A Good Two Finger Typist

In the first volume of his memoirs Quite A Good Time To Be Born (1935 – 1975), English novelist and academic David Lodge gives an interesting account of his two years of National Service as an army clerk:

“The one component of the clerk’s training that might have been useful to me was learning to touch type properly, but there was so little time devoted to it (the whole course was only four weeks long) that we struggled to reach the very modest word-per-minute rate required, and rather than risk failing the final test I reverted to my own two finger method, and continued to use it for the rest of my army service, and indeed my life.”

Lodge first developed his “two finger method” of typing when he was in his second year as a sixth-form student (1951-52) just prior to leaving school to begin his tertiary education at University College London:

“By now I definitely harboured ambitions to be a writer. For a combined Christmas and birthday present I requested and received a portable typewriter, an expensive gift, to which I think my aunt Eileen contributed. It was an Oliver, a British make perhaps hoping to be associated or confused with the more famous firm of Olivetti. It served me well for many years.”


An example of the portable typewriter Lodge is likely to have owned.

(“Oliver” typewriters were named after the company’s founder, the Rev. Thomas Oliver.)

“It astounds me now, as I move words, phrases and sentences around on a computer screen, and effortlessly undo, revise, cut, paste, and insert footnotes, before pressing a key that instantly produces pages of pristine typescript, that I typed this monster of a thesis (760 quarto¹ pages, approximately 180,000 words) myself on my Oliver portable. I did so to save money, for the cost of having it typed professionally would have made a large hole in my getting married savings, but it was a formidable task.

Four copies of the finished work were needed: one for the University of London, which would be deposited in the Senate House Library, one for UCL and its library, one for myself, and a spare copy for lending to interested friends and sending hopefully to publishers.”

So four sheets of carbon paper had to be inserted into the Oliver’s roller and the keys had to be struck with enough force to ensure that the fourth sheet received a legible impression. — and at a slow tempo, for I could not type quickly without making mistakes.”

By 1984, David had “two-fingered” his Oliver portable into oblivion and had (possibly) moved onto an electric typewriter/word processor. Anyone able to identify the make and model? …


Here’s Lodge describing Malcolm Bradbury’s two typewriter method of typing …

“… [Satirical] Revue is an essentially collaborative genre and Malcolm was an enthusiastic collaborator throughout his life. He claimed that he and a young American friend at Indiana University used to write short stories together sitting on opposite sides of a table, typing energetically until one of them said ‘BLOCKED!’ upon which they would change places and continue the other’s work – an anecdote which itself has the makings of a revue sketch.”

Malcolm Bradbury was David’s friend and colleague at Birmingham University in the ’60s.


¹ Quarto: A British Imperial (pre-metric) paper size of 8 by 10 inches (203.2 x 254.0 mm).