A STRETFORD mum whose lightning speed on the checkout once won her a national competition has just rung up 35 years’ service with a supermarket.

Dawn Murphy was just 21 when she landed the coveted title of the country’s fastest checkout operator at the end of a tough competition against some of the most nimble-fingered till wizards in the land at a top London hotel back in 1983.

And as she notched up more than three decades of loyal service at the same busy Stretford Mall Tesco where she started as a teenaged part-time assistant Dawn, now 52, recalled the buzz of excitement caused by her victory.

“The competition to find the fastest checkout operator was a really big thing at the time but I didn’t know anything about being put forward for it until my manager told me he’d entered me,” she said.

“The final was held on the big stage at the Savoy Hotel in London with hundreds of people watching and I was representing my store against about 20 other checkout operators from all the big supermarkets, like Morrisons and Sainsbury.

“In those days we didn’t scan items in like we do now. Back then all the prices had to be individually keyed into the till, so it helped if you could remember their prices which I did.

“In the final we were all up on the Savoy stage with our tills and we each had about 15 or 20 different grocery items to till up.

“In the end I was judged as the fastest after I finished all my items in about two or three minutes – I can’t remember the exact time after all these years.

“There were a few celebrities on the judging panel but the one I remember most was Marjorie Proops, the famous columnist from the Daily Mirror.”

Colin McCrory, Stretford Mall Manager, said: “Many congratulations must go to Dawn for clocking up so many years of loyal service with our Stretford Mall Tesco.

“It is lovely to hear about her recounting this fascinating tale about winning such a prestigious competition and it reflects the wonderful stories which many of the people who work at Stretford Mall have to tell.

“Stretford Mall and people like Dawn have been a mainstay of the community for so many years and it is terrific to look back and celebrate the many positive things which have happened over the years.”

Dawn added: “I really don’t know what made me the fastest out of all those people because I confess that I didn’t do any practice at all for the competition. I think what might have helped was the fact that I’d already been working on the tills for a few years by then so I suppose I must have been quite good at it.

“There were all sorts of marvellous prizes for winning. I got a cheque for £1,000, a year’s supply of champagne, a tea-making machine and even a big Andrex Puppy soft toy, which were very popular at the time.

“But the prize that was most valuable was a holiday in Amsterdam. I went over there with my boyfriend, David, who eventually became my husband. As we got married around the same time we used it as our honeymoon which was great.

“My win in the competition also caused quite a lot of publicity. There were stories in all the national papers at the time and I even got to appear on TV when they did a piece about me on John Craven’s Newsround, the young people’s news programme on the BBC which was very popular at the time.”

Dawn, who was born and raised in Stretford where she still lives, started as a part-time assistant at Tesco in Stetford Mall while she was still at Lostock Secondary School.

As soon as she left school in the late 1970s she was given a full-time job as an assistant at the same store. Apart from a couple of short maternity breaks to have her two children, Emma, now 30, and 26-year-old Daniel, she’s been there ever since.

Dawn said: “For all that time I’ve stayed in very much the same job, basically because I enjoy it so much.

“A few years ago I went part-time again because that suits my life these days. I now work 17 hours a week over four days.

“I think the reasons I like working at the store so much are that it’s convenient for where I live, there’s a great team of staff and I get on very well with the customers. I’ve been there so long that many of them have become my friends.

“Away from work I enjoy doing a bit of reading and I also like to spend a little time looking after my two grandchildren, Harrison, who is seven, and Taylor, three. They are both my daughter Emma’s sons.

“It’s been a great 35 years at Tesco and I can’t imagine working anywhere else.”