In October 1969, she saw a "railwoman" position advertised, and applied for the role as she had just been made redundant from a job in a cigarette factory. On the day of the interview Hannah was clearly no expert on the Tube. "I didn’t know where I was going at first, because I didn’t know the Underground. I hardly went on it. Tower Hill was the furthest I had travelled!" she joked.
Despite this she sailed through the entry exam. Hannah's Cockney sense of humour and irony shine through as she recalls the "idiot’s test", as she coined it: "Well, it was so stupid. ‘Pick the wrong one out: A boat, a car, and a bus. So obviously they’ve all got engines but the boat goes on water, the other two go on the road. I mean that’s a silly question. Then you’ve got the adding up ones, that a kid of five could do".
After eight and half years as a collector, Hannah applied to become a guard and to travel on the trains with drivers in 1978.
She knew that with her length of service, that after six months working as a guard, she could apply for a driver’s job. "Sometimes you are there for a couple of years before you’re approached to go from guard to driver", she said "After all a guard is an emergency driver. That’s part of their grade. They’ve got to be able to drive the train in an emergency, even if the driver’s OK, he’s in charge of the brakes. But sometimes you have to have someone to drive and someone to brake, depending on the defect."
Even though the Tube drivers’ position was technically open to both men and women, very few women applied for a driver’s role prior to Hannah. Legal changes with women’s rights, such as the passing of the Equal Pay and Sex Discrimination Act in 1975 appeared to have very little effect on women’s enthusiasm to apply for what was seen as a very male job.
On the 20th August 1978, Hannah set off for Tube driver’s school and was the only woman in the class. Strong willed Hannah always felt that she had to be better than the men and that there was pressure for her to do this.
She recalls her training. “I was asked more questions than any man. There was five of us from the District Line together in the classroom – four men and me and I was definitely asked more questions. After one morning I said, ‘They haven’t half asked me a lot of questions. Have you noticed?’ The men said, ‘Yeah we’ve noticed that’. So in the afternoon I put strokes, like the date method, on my cigarette packet, and I’d been asked 19. The next day, the trainers did the same thing, and I’d been asked 18 in the morning and 19 in the afternoon… 37 questions in the course of the day. You added the four men’s questions up and they hadn’t been asked 37 questions between the four of them! Even if a question wasn’t directed at me to start with the trainer would come back and say ‘Do you agree with that, Mrs Dadds?’ ”
By the 5th October, Hannah had passed, but she seemed shocked by the level of publicity her achievement attracted. Especially as her story was leaked to the press a few weeks before London Transport were to officially announce it.
Hannah recalls one of the very few occasions when something derogatory was said about her. "I hadn’t long qualified for driver, and my driver, Bert, was sitting in the Mess Room at Earl’s Court in the canteen, and this guard was running me down and said ‘Yeah, I heard she’s a nasty bitch! Passed first time’ he said. ‘So big headed that even her driver don’t get on with her. Always arguing and rowing’. So Bert’s taking this all in and all of a sudden, a driver from Upminster turned round and says to Bert, ‘Ere, Bert, where’s your mate?’ ‘Oh’, he said, ‘She’s out driving. She’s got so much seniority, she doesn’t get to work with me any more’. And then the guard who’d been running me down, went all red and walked out!"
The unions also had a slightly sexist attitude to women staff, but during the period that she worked for London Transport, Hannah clearly noticed their behaviour towards women change. “I was in the NUR the whole time I was on. The day you join London Transport, you go and pick up your uniform then sit in the canteen. Then you’ll have the Union reps come round. If it was ASLEF they used to walk past you. When my sister joined, ASLEF said, ‘Oh you’re the wrong sex’ and ‘Don’t want you, you’re a woman’ that sort of thing. But it all changed when Women’s Lib came in. You had them coming round canvassing and wanting you. I then turned round and said ‘What have you ever done for us?’ "
Hannah continued working until she was 53 & retired to Spain. She had always wanted to take an early retirement and not work all of her life. She recalls how she was going to approach her last days on the London Underground. "I was going to pack up working when I was 50. I said I wouldn’t work until I was old. My mum died before she was 61 and I said I was going to have a bit of life and not be like my mum. But when I was 50, the depot clerk said ‘Don’t yet Han, they go into the Common Market and you’ll have the Citizen’s Charter and all that, you might get a better pension’."
As much as Hannah was a pioneer – her position didn’t suddenly open the floodgates to women drivers pouring into the London Underground. By 1990 there were only 30 women out of 2,500 London Underground drivers. Diane Udall, a driver who became an NUR Union Branch Secretary said at the time, "There are opportunities for women, as good as any other type of job. You don’t need skills or formal qualifications to enter and if you’ve got commonsense you’ll be OK. It’s less boring than shop or office work and probably better paid than many jobs women do. The problem is getting accepted in the first place; you need skin like crocodile hide."
However, numbers of women drivers, were and still are comparatively low. Diane Udall also felt that the problem was that women didn’t actually think about becoming Tube drivers. She believed that London Underground ought to do something to change this perception. "They should target advertising towards women and liaise more with the careers service so young women get to hear about the opportunities."
In 2001 London Underground started just the type of advertising that Diane referred to. They began their recruitment campaign in one the glossiest women’s magazines in the UK – Cosmopolitan. Hundreds of women responded to the half page ads. Mark Summerfield, then Head of Resourcing at London Underground, said "We believe that London Underground should reflect the community it serves and we are determined to take positive steps to encourage women to apply for jobs in every part of the railway."
The recruitment drive continued for 18 months, in 2001, 75 out of the 3,000 London Underground drivers were women, by the end of the campaign this had risen to 167 women drivers. It appears that this increased female touch had a positive effect on the system. An article in The Times in 2002 said that "London Underground recorded a record peak-time performance last month, largely because of the impact of women drivers. They have endured taunts from male colleagues and abuse from passengers but the army of women drivers recruited by the London Underground have proved that they are better than men at making Tube trains run on time. Managers believe that their influence has helped to end a culture of absenteeism and militancy in the workforce."
When Hannah retired to the sunshine of Spain in 1993, she probably thought that she had had her last experiences of being in the public eye. However, in 2004 she was invited to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen as part of the first Women of Achievement lunches. Hannah was amazed, "I thought someone was having me on, when I found out, but it’s great to be recognised for making a contribution".
As one of only 200 women invited to this VIP occasion for her special contribution to society, Hannah had not realised the inspiring effect her role had on equal opportunities and women being able to break into “male industries”.
Her first brave steps of getting into the driver’s carriage in 1978 were far reaching and Hannah's recognition by the Queen truly deserved. Women drivers may now still face the odd joke by passengers, but the London Underground itself has tried to stamp out any workplace problems. In 2002, Cherie Booth QC presented London Underground Ltd with an award from Opportunity Now, for the excellence of its harassment policy. These policies make it much easier for women entering as Tube drivers now. But it is lucky that Hannah Dadds had the personality to hold her own and ignore any taunts to become the very first woman to take on this traditionally male role.