Little Details

A Fact-Checking Community for Writers

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
Personal organisers in 90s UK
swingandswirl wrote in little_details
Setting: United Kingdom, 1990s, our world or close enough

I need help identifying the kind of personal organisesrs/planners that three very different kind of people would use in the UK in the early/mid 1990s. It's a small but important character detail, and although I currently use a Filofax myself, I'm aware that they had very different class connotations twenty years ago. These characters don't have to use Filofax-brand anything; in fact, part of why I'm asking is because I don't know enough about what was available in the UK at the time.

- Character 1 is super-smart, super-studious, type A on steroids. Colour-coded revision timetables, that sort of thing. Only child of educated parents with white-collar jobs; it can be presumed that they're on the upper end of middle class, and they value education and culture highly. She's also not in the least girly-girl, so nothing pink or even overy frivolous. Did Filofax make anything that would suit her, or should I go with another brand? It doesn't have to be super-cheap; she could have been gifted a nice organiser by her parents.

- Character 2 is in his early 20s, brilliant, a bit of a punk rebel, in a very detail-oriented job, and extremely busy, but nowhere near as type-A as my first character. He needs an organiser, but it should be something that could stand to get beat up; he's got a pretty physical job that can sometimes be dangerous. I really can't see him as the type to go with something as stuffy as a Filofax, but he was raised by a very traditional upper-class grandmother so perhaps. Whatever he does use has to be paper, though, not digital, if digital planners were even a thing in 90s Britain.

- Character 3 comes from old, old money, and with the kind of social clout that anything she does could start a fad. I'm debating whether she'd even buy something off the shelf- even as something as posh as Smythson of Bond Street- or simply have it commissioned from whoever has the Royal Warrant for this sort of thing. Whatever she gets, it needs to be acceptable to the toniest of the ton, so the classier and more expensive, the better.

Bonus points if anyone could recommend a suitable fountain pen for character 3. I'm currently going with a Lamy 2000, but I'm aware that's on the lower end of things, even if it is a beautifully made instrument.


ETA: Electronic isn't a possibility for any of them, it has to be paper. Sorry I didn't make that clear.

You did get digital planners towards the mid 1990s but very few people had them. they were crap. They didn't do much.

I had a personal organiser in late 1980s/early 90s. it was cheap and little more than an address book/diary with filing cards. it was slightly bigger than my hand, black plastic and was closed with a velcro strap. It wouldn't have cost a huge amount - I grew up on a council estate, but I loved it.

There wasn't so much brands of organisers as the quality of the materials. Eg leather covers, thick paper and the size of the thing.

Seconded on quality. Real Filofax was expensive, W H Smiths did an own brand that was reasonable. I had a cheap and nasty plastic one in a garish green for gardening records.

I had a grey one in soft leather that was about A5 sized and 2 inches thick(!). I don't know if it was Filofax - I don't remember it having a brand on it, but I think it was expensive. I think it locked, but I'm not sure; if it did, the lock was the kind of crappy one that's easily undone with a hairgrip. It had all sorts of things in it - diary, address book, financial planning, I don't remember the rest. It... wasn't very useful, but hey, it was a corporate regift, so I didn't pay for it. This would have been late 80s.

And yes, refills came from WHS, but they didn't always have the holes in the right place for my filofax. I don't remember how many - I don't know what they were called; jaws is the best word I can think of for the snappy metal things in a ringbinder - mine had, but I do remember they were under a lot of tension and closed easily/unexpectedly. I got several bloodblisters from them snapping shut while my fingers were still in the way.

and the cheap ones, the strap would start going at the bend, it was always the straps that would go first

It's a pity you're a few years before the Palm Pilots came along, because your A would love one. I was her; I just dug out my Filofax (it has a 1994 diary in it, suggesting that's the last year I used it - eta actually, that year I changed job to something with a much less complicated schedule so I probably just never shelled out for a new diary insert again - don't remember anything in between this and my first Palm in ?1998) but it doesn't seem to have a name on it. Many of the inserts do say Filofax. So maybe my memory that the canny thing to do was to get the thing itself from Filofax and use WHSmith's compatible inserts is the wrong way round?

People certainly called their organisers Filofaxes even when they weren't, btw. But lots of people used small pocket diaries; maybe that's what B does.

I think C is likely to write using the Parker she was given when she started senior school at 11.

Edited at 2014-08-13 07:12 am (UTC)

A Psion 3 electronic organiser seems a strong possibility for the super-organised. That already had fairly good memory, long battery life, and excellent address book and database features - I know someone who still uses a slightly later version today because he can't get similar database functionality on any similarly sized computer currently available.

Edited at 2014-08-13 07:41 am (UTC)

I was in the UK at a state secondary school in a 'nice' area and university in the 1990s, and saw the following:

Before about 1994 I used a paper homework planner provided by the school. I had a friend with a Filofax (I think his parents had given him a spare) and we gently teased him about being a yuppie. </p>

My Dad gave me a digital organiser in about 1994 and I loved it. It was in colour! Ok three colours. The screen was tiny and it had several different functions such as notes, calendar, lists, and at least one more. Spellcheck? I used it to keep track of birthdays, make lists of cinema visits, keep notes about universities I was considering. It felt very high tech at the time, but would not have been at the costliest end of the scale. I can imagine it being the sort of thing given as a present to someone who loves organising.

When we were in sixth form (1995-1997) two friends had psion organisers. These were expensive (or I saw them as such) and they used them to keep track of homework etc, and to play othello... I think they had a lot of functions if you got into them. My digital organiser died at some point when I was in sixth form, but I mostly used a paper diary anyway. I did have a purple leather (probably pleather) Filofax type organiser with my name on the front which I loved, but the inserts were expensive so after the first year I didn't use the diary part of it. I also had a separate digital phone book which still worked when I found it last year!

At university I used a hardback week to view diary with a rubber band around it to hold stuff in. My mum used a page a day variation and used to staple papers and receipts to the relevant day - it always looked very official and was very battered by the end of the year! I can't remember when Palm pilots came in, but I remember a few people using those as organisers - they were smart and could e-readers too.

I had an uncle who was a stockbroker who had a beautiful leather zipped folder with slots for cards, a cheque book cover, a diary/notebook/address book and the works. It would have been very expensive - they always boasted about how much things cost.

Anecdotal, but maybe there is something in there.

I don't think any would be geeky enough for a Psion in those years - I got my dad's old one a couple years later, but they were business use only at the time.

So A - nice Filofax. B - a notebook or diary, basic variety from a newsagent. C - very nice Filofax or Moleskine notebook, and a Waterman or Parker fountain pen.
This period coincides with wealthy people getting pagers and then mobile phones - in my last year of uni in 96, only a couple posh people with aspirations to be producers etc had mobiles. By 98 anyone with a reason had one - I got mine in 99.

Re the fountain pen for Character 3, it depends how wealthy she is. You don't say the age of the character, but assuming she has plenty of cash to spend you could give her a Mont Blanc - they're priced from a few hundred to several thousands of pounds. Waterman or Sheaffer would be good quality mid-range brands. I'd class the Lamy as a budget model, but it would work if she was a student.

Pen geek here, seconding the above. In that era (and still, to those who don't know better *cough*), Mont Blanc pens were a form of power jewelry, almost. Major status indicator, that little white star on the black cap of your pen. There were and are a number of other makes/models that are just as expensive and, many of us would say, considerably better instruments... but none has the same social clout.

My first instinct was to suggest Montblanc as well ... and it's STILL the brand I'd go for today. :) When I was still at school (in the seventies *cough*), I unearthed the classic black Montblanc fountain pen my mother had received for graduation in the early 1950s (!) ... and have been using it ever since. I bought a Lamy, nicked my father's 1070's Montblanc, and received a replica Montblanc (not top-of-the-line, but still a price in three figures) in the early eighties.

When there's need for a formal handwritten note today, I'm still using the 60-year-old pen of my mother's, beat-up and chewed as it is. A few years ago I invested in a new cap, but it's still the one pen out of all I've ever owned that fits my hand best and where the nib is just right, even though it never was intended for my hand. :)

(I also bought a solid-silver biro for my husband nearly 40 years ago; it's the one he loves to use at his desk at home, even today.)

Tl;dr -- so yeah, I'd argue you on "better quality". :)

I'd agree that Psion organisers were available then, because I was using one (and still have it, somewhere).
"Filofax" might well refer to any Filofax-compatible product, with those from Smiths being the best value. The default was black "leather", so that would probably suit 1.

Your 2 might go for a Filofax compatible, but with an "interesting" cover. I remember getting one for my brother-in-law that had the cover made of printed circuit boards, for instance.

I bought my Filofax in about 1990; it was plain black leather with a snap-fastening strap to hold it closed. Something of that sort would probably suit your Character 1. (It doesn't sound like money's much of an obstacle for her, but FWIW, it was one of the cheapest varieties that Filofax did at the time.)

By about the mid-90s it was quite easy to get all kinds of interesting papers and insterts for them. I remember having notes pages of rich red, yellow, green, and blue in mine. Also pages of squared paper in pastel blue, pink, and yellow. If you give Character 2 a Filofax he might go for coloured pages like that.

Edited at 2014-08-13 12:10 pm (UTC)

Second sidheag in that people were likely to call their personal organiser a 'filofax' even if it wasn't one, just the way people say 'sellotape' or 'hoover', whatever brand the thing they are referring to actually is.

There really wasn't any class distinction between brands of paper personal organiser. What is true is that posh British people used to sneer at anything too techological, modern or even unduly efficient (in 1956, the great arbiter of 'U and non-U, Nancy Mitford, stated “any sign of undue haste, in fact, is apt to be non-U, and I go so far as preferring, except for business letters, not to use air mail”) and for your character C it would be more in keeping for her to spurn a personal organiser and only use an address book, diary and notebook hand-made specially for her by a craftsman in some tiny atelier. (Certainly a 'traditional upper-class grandmother' would probably never even have heard of personal organisers, and if she had, would have dismissed them as 'modern foolishness, we didn't need anything like that when I was a gel'.)

Also, 'pink for girls' is an amazingly recent idea. Back in the 1990s even children's stuff wasn't routinely colour-demarcated, and grown-up women would have reacted with baffled indignation to the suggestion that they 'ought' to have pink accessories.

Around 94 I had a small (probably 2.5x4xless than a half inch thick type small) electronic organiser. It held name, address,phone number, DOB for people - I vaguely recall it had a max of something like 100 numbers. it had a calendar, a couple of simple games like hangman and I seem to recall I could make short notes as well. It only had a three line LCD display but it could be set with up to 10 letter password protection on the whole device or, I think, different parts of the system.

it also had a battery that only needed swapping out every few months and once survived full submersion in a bath for so long it had to have the water poured out.

It lasted for years and I loved it - even when I first got a mobile not long after (We're talking early mobiles here - very poor battery life so being able to access contacts when phone dead was awesome...)

I also, rather embarrassingly, think it was a freebie with a magazine subscription (likely Time or Readers Digest)

Before that, most of us tended to use a diary size book or small address book. A few friends had small index card things at home.

This was in the UK I should probably add.

I'm in the US, but fountain pens are international... :)

Off the top of my head, I would suggest either a Montblanc or an OMAS as far as the brand; both are very highly rated and exclusive (read: expensive). Montblanc are German and date back to the 1930s IIRC, and OMAS are Italian and go back to somewhere around the start of the 20th century.

I can't give advice as to what specific pens she might have, as I don't know when particular lines came out. One other thing to keep in mind is that she might have a vintage pen - high quality fountain pens in good condition tend to increase in value over time.

At a guess she would have a gold nib, possibly handmade.

(edited for accidental caps lock)

Edited at 2014-08-14 12:25 am (UTC)

Character 1 sounds enough like me for me to suggest what I had at the time, WH Smith house brand organiser. It had a huge range of inserts (including map of London Underground and chemical formulae)