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The Tab Wagon, 1956

They would give out two tabs in a little box for free

Back in the good old days of the fifties, I reckon most men smoked and enjoyed a pint.

Along with the likes of Woodbines, Gold Flake, Cadets and hand-rolling baccy, we had what we kids called the ‘posh tabs’.  The three main contenders were Players, Capstan and Senior Service.  Now in these times, Smiths Drydock Company at North Shields was jumping with ship repair work so the place was alive with workers, most of whom, as I mentioned, would-be smokers.

Now every now and then down beside the North Shields ferry gate, a wagon would park up.  This wagon was dressed up to look like an old battleship and its sole purpose was to encourage the men to change their brand of tabs.  What they would do is give out two tabs in a little box for free, so it did not take long for the word to spread round the yard and by the end of the day hundreds had visited the lorry.

Apart from the tabs they also had a kind of machine onboard which, if you rolled your own, you could roll one in front of one of the promotion lads, who would in turn place it in the machine.  Now if it was a pass you got some hand-rolling tobacco, free.  I cannot remember which brands, but this was a sort of a well done.  Sometimes us kids would whinge and moan at some of the lads and they would throw us a couple of packets, just for peace and quiet, then they would scatter us.

Apart from Smiths, the Tab Wagon also caught people coming and going from the ferry itself and heading for the connecting buses that ran from here.  I think the bus numbers were 6, 7, 8 and 9, with them covering from North Shields, Whitley Bay, Percy Main and Blyth.

With the stigma connected to tabs today if a company tried out anything like this they would be hung, drawn and quartered.

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