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Saturday 23 March 2013

The Sad Saga of Jack Turner and the Olympia SM9 Typewriter

The Olympia SM9 semi-portable typewriter, in any one of its many slight variations, is one of the four or five best typewriters I have ever used. I first used one in 1969, and using one today brought back both happy and sad memories of the man who temporarily "owned" that 1969 model. I took out this SM9 this morning because in the past fortnight myself and some of my closest and longest-standing friends have been reminiscing about one John Bernard "Jack" Turner, a brilliant journalist whose life turned so horribly wrong. In 1970, I was involved in the beginning of his end.
Jack Turner
The Olympia SM9 in this final design was actually introduced in 1971. The version to which I refer in this story was introduced in 1969. Kurt McCullum has charted SM9 changes from the model's release in 1965. It is a basket- shifted typewriter, while the SM1 to SM7 models are all carriage-shifted. The first version of the SM9 has a horizontal carriage lock lever (without a cap) and a green logo. From 1966-68 the carriage lock lever became vertical with a green cap and the logo turned silver. In late 1968 the keys were changed from white to light grey, and in 1969 to charcoal, the carriage lock cap became white and the carriage knobs white and charcoal. The ribbon guide changed from dual cylindrical posts to a stamped forked bar and the following year 
to a notched bar. In 1970 the carriage also lost its chrome end plates and the tab key was lowered slightly.
In 1971 the classic script logo was replaced with the orange-red circle logo, seen above. The tab set-clear buttons left the ends of the spacebar, the touch adjuster went under the hood and the white-capped tabs button went to the touch selector position. The ribbon selector is also white capped. In the early 70s the carriage knob shape and colour changed (to charcoal). The carriage lock lever was placed on the left under the carriage (as on this machine).


Ryan Adney said...

What can you say when you hear a story like this? It's sad and fascinating and very Aristotelian. You do him a great honor by keeping his story alive. It is a true friend, indeed, that can be a friend in spite of what happened. Thanks for sharing this piece of your--and Jack's--past.

Scott K said...

Well, I think with your great writing skill, this is a story that is worth chasing. Hope you're enjoying your stay in NZ.

This sounds like a very interesting tale. I'd love to hear more. Sometimes the best stories aren't about the people that made it, but about the people that didn't quite.

Richard P said...

There is something fascinating, though sad, about watching an obsession or vice drag someone down to the bottom.

Unknown said...

Very touching post. Thank you so much for sharing.

Cameron said...

What an interesting story of this man, made more so by your personal involvement!

I was recently given an SM9 with the same vintage as yours, but with the wider carriage. Would you please tell me where the serial number is located? I have been unable to find it in the usual places.

Robert Messenger said...

Thank you Ryan, Scott, Richard, William and Cameron for your kind and considered comments. Jack Turner was the primary inspiration for what turned out to be a fairly successful journalism career, so in a way I feel obligated to tell his story in as fair a way as possible. Someone like this should not be simply forgotten.
Cameron: if you turn the machine upside down, with the back of the machine toward you, on the bottom right side (about 4 inches from the back of the machine), closest to you, there is a metal lip protruding about 1 1/2 inches toward the centre of the machine. The serial number is stamped on that.