Mr W Wanley Chief Inspector Standard Triumph International talking about Standard Motor Company and Sir John Black (Interviewer, in brackets)
(Dated btw 1967 and 1975).
(We are very interested in Sir John Black)
Yes, (I mean we think that possibly his abilities as an organizer and a manager have been under-rated … but by no means perfect ….ability) No, (But we believe that he was a man of some stature for which he may not have had all the credit that he should have been given) Yes (and we would – we would like you to in fact go back to the beginning of his career when he – with Standard – we know that he came of course from the Hillman company) that’s right as Captain Black (as Captain lack) that’s right (right) and I think that was in 1929 (that’s about right yes, now can you sort of pick it up from there?) Yes (and pick out the various things which he did.)
He only made two, two master moves where he came from, he brought with him Frank Salter who was a – a very outstanding Planning Engineer – and Sir John, Captain Black as he was then, in my view got tremendous vision and foresight. He could see mass production of motor cars becoming a real thing in this country which it really wasn’t at that time and he installed through the offices of – Frank Salter really a system of conveyors within our factory, I’m sorry, within the standard Motor Company as it was then. (mm) which enabled the Company to embark on a system of mass producing motor cars. (Are you saying that that was the first factory in Coventry – to be so, to be so organised?) I can’t be sure of this but I would think that it was, but I can’t be sure of this. It is possible that Hillmans at that time had got a form of conveyor system, but I think that you will find that the Standard Motor Company round about 1927/28 – had begun to think big and then when Sir John came, I think it was 29, it could have been 28 but I think 29, very quickly saw the possibilities of the Company and began to – make it into a – a Company which could mass produce motor cars, and – he laid in conveyor systems and track systems with Frank Salter’s ingenuity but Sir John could – Captain Black could always see what he wanted and he was able to get people with him who could interpret his thoughts and visions and put them into practicalities. (And Frank Salter is now dead?) Yes, he died only twelve months ago and I’ve got a brief history of him. He was responsible for the design of the Standard 9 Engine. (mm) It was the Standard 9 of course which – put the Company on its feet and – unfortunately it got a terrific – let me put this down – when they said it would go into print …………….. (No, no) because these, these, you know, they, they’re personal observations (yes, of course) which I think are important in letting you know exactly) how things moved (yes, exactly, that’s why you’re here) That’s right and there was a terrific clash of personalities and I was only a young man at this time working very closely with the engineering side (yes) – a clash of personalities between Oscar Wilde the – Chief Engineer then and – Captain Black as he was – and – in 1931 – perhaps ’30, end of ’29 perhaps – a change of Chief Engineer took place and Oscar Wilde was going to Humber Hillman and E G Groom was coming from Humber to Standards. (mm) At the Christmas Oscar Wilde suddenly died so he never got t o Humber Hillman but E G Groom did come to Standards. (Mm) and so E G Groom then was shall we say the Chief Engineer with Captain Black and there was Frank Salter the Production Engineer and these three formed a team – which really put – Standards into the field of mass producing motor cars (yes) but Oscar Wilde actually designed the Standard 9 Engine. It was the first thing I ever worked on that was (mm) They were working on it in 1927. (yes – right, well now that’s the first stage). Mm. The coming of John Black) Yes (Now, we’ll go on from there) – Yes, well, in the ’30’s of course – the – the output of motor cars progressively increased and the history of that I have got and possibly you have got , in this precis of the – Company’s achievements in the – motor car – world. (No) You haven’t got that, well I can leave that with you. (Thank you). Could you just stop a second – Harold Weir (mm) again who died twelve months ago (We met him) Yes you must have known Harold Weir well (yes) and you must know his family. (mm) Yes, (oh no, we don’t know his family) Don’t you really? (No) Well, Harold Weir’s family is still living in St. Nicholas Street in Huddersfield, his wife and daughter still living together (mm) charming lady (oh yes) and Harold had again had several positions, He started as a boy with the Company, progressed through various – positions, he was Chief Buyer at one time on the material side. (yes) But then went into Machine Shop Management (mm) and through Machine Shop Management through the war of course he was responsible – really for the – organisation of the production of the war-time effort and then became a Director of the Company. (But wouldn’t Frank Salter be here as Head of Production?) Frank Salter was the Chief Planning Engineer (Ah, yes, I see) and this is quite different (this is quite different) from the actual production of the thing (it is, yes). He provided the facilities,
Harold Weir was the man responsible for organising the – the effort shall we say. (yes, yes, but anyway don’t let me interrupt) No, now after the war period, did you want to fill in anything between – during the 301s? (- well there are various points perhaps – did you come much into contact with – Sir John Black’s connection with William Lyons for instance?) Yes, that is recorded very briefly in there – when Sir William Lyons –brought down – first of all the sidecars into the Midlands – he – he saw the possibility of going into the motor cm market and – there was a link between – the two of them so that we provided the complete chassis with its engine (mm) and everything to – Swallow Cars (yes) the start of Swallow Sidecars, (yes) It went t o Swallow Cars (mm) and they put bodies onto these things and called them SS Cars (mm) and then it became SS Jaguar and then the SS dropped out altogether (yes). At the same time of course there was a – body producing company in Warwick called the Avon Body Company who did exactly the same thing and – the Company’s founder R W Maudsley, his son had an interest in Avon Bodies at one time (mm – What happened t o the Avon Body company?) It died. (Ah: I see, but the Standard were doing the same thing for them?) Oh yes, as we did for SS (yes, I see) So we had two outlets of – complete engines and chassis, one going t o Avon and one going to SS.
(Now a further point which I’d like t o ask you about) Yes (Those earlier days) Yes (is Sir John Black as an employer) Mm (For instance, the things that we have been told is that he was one of the first to emphasise keeping the place clean) Exactly (Keeping machines nice and tidy) White lines everywhere (yes) But it created discipline within the plant and – he also gained respect by – spending (long times himself through the factory. He made a habit of – of walking through the factory making – people know that – the boss walked along the shop floor and – if a piece of machinery was overlapping a white line then they were ………………. upon (mm). He was a strict disciplinarian (mm) but he also had a very – or showed a very keen interest in the livelihood of the people who worked for him (yes – when he walked through the shop floor could people speak to him?) ah yes, he would stop and talk to them, Oh yes, (mm, I see) There was no familiarity but – he – he would stop and ask people about the operation which they were doing (mm, were there other things that would mark him out as a rather forward-looking employer? What about for instance, insurance schemes, anything like that?) Well, there were (or did those come after the war?) No, the insurance schemes were – were part of Sir John Black quite frankly, (mm) He – encouraged a pension scheme – for all the workers (and – I’m sorry to repeat this , but this is before the war?) Before the war yes (and it is quite early on isn’t it?) Yes (This sort of thing) Oh yes (yes) And he I would say was instrumental in getting the shareholders to agree to an allocation of the profits each year to go into what was called an employees ‘special fund, which was non-contributory (Non- contributory?) Non-contributory (Ah! there was no stoppage from wages then? – I see – By the way have you any idea) It has died now (Ugh? Ugh?) It has died now. (Oh yes,) He was instrumental in doing this and people who are retiring from the Company now – 65 years of age some – some older than that of course are – are reaping still from – from that fund (mm) the benefits which had accrued up to the time of about 1961 (mm) when it ceased. (By the way, have you any ideas as to how we could if we wished get copies of Standards annual accounts and – Chairman’s Reports? because we) from the Company Secretary surely. (It requires a little pressing) mm (but however – if you know anybody sort of in that quarter) Yes, I’ll, I’ll ask the present Secretary of course ………….. but I’ll ask him ———- balancesheets———— sums of money which reached – which reached a hundred thousand pounds from one year’s profits (mm) to go into the employees’ special fund (mm) it started I think – at – ten thousand pounds and – (mm, you see we are having difficulty in this quarter precisely because the people are new) Yes, (and people who have long since) A lot of people don’t want to talk about it do they? (No – and – lots of people – if people of long service can give admirable help to us, you see) Yes, (by seeing that we are not as terrifying as all that) Yes (You see) Yes (and all that we want to know is something that will merely put the record straight) Yes (we’re not interested in raking over old scandals) Oh no, no (You see we just want) We want to leave that side out of it (That’s right, yes) A man’s private life is his own. (yes quite) – and it ‘S his achievements in industry (It ‘s his achievements in industry which I think are being seriously under-rated) – I’m sure that they have (seriously under-rated) Yes, yes (You see, and -) He was a man of such clear vision and was able to see – what was going to be accepted in three or four years’ time and to be able to tell his people (well in fact) what he thought. (So far we have touched upon his organisation of production, his emphasis on cleanliness and organisation in the appearance of the shop) Yes (the non-contributory insurance scheme) Yes (well that is before the war) Yes (and of course his connection with Swallow and with Avon) Yes (Now is there anything else on that period you can tell me, if there is, that we have overlooked so far) There’s nothing that springs to mind but – you know – now that I – I’m more aware of what you’re after I can – (You can sit and have a further think) Yes it’s something that you have got to sit down and think about (oh yes quite) and – try to trace it by the year you know (yes, sure) Things may come to mind (yes, and that is why this discussion of of course helps both of us) Oh yes quite true (It stimulates you and stimulates us and – we don’t want you to regard this as – as – the whole thing as being closed you see. What you) Oh no, no quite true. (I mean, think around it) Yes, I’m quite sure that things will come to mind – worth recording (yes quite, and now then we come to the Shadow Factories Scheme – the outlines of which we know) mm, yes (and we’d be glad to hear what you – what – you have to say about that) Yes well, there were two shadow factories which were directly associated with the Company. One was in our own Canley plant at Fletchamstead South (yes) which produced carburettors and the Banner Lane factory of course which (yes) produced the engines (yes). They were the two shadow factories which we were associated with. The aircraft manufacture went into the car plant (mm and you were there at the car plant?) Yes – I never associated with either of the shadow schemes (well tell us what the mosquito was) Well we started with the Oxford first, the Oxford trainer of course (yes, what was it?) It was a trainer aircraft. (mm) Two engines – Armstrong Siddeley engines (This is where the – the cheetah?) That’s right, yes (Right, now and then – you) The quantities we produced are here, I suppose you’ve got them have you? (I doubt it, no – you built the whole of the Oxford and of the Mosquito while you were building them?) Yes, yes, we assembled them complete. We transported them out to Ansty Aerodrome and I was in charge of Ansty Aerodrome on the flying side (were you?) Oh yes, (what was at Ansty in those days just the airfield?) – Ansty in those days was the – what did they call it? – the – Royal Air Force Pupil Training Flying School of course (yes) and we seconded – lads seconded to us (mm) and – the chief flying instructor from – the school on – to us as a test pilot (mm) not immediately but during the course of our production (yes, mm) We started producing the ASB at Oxford very quickly – (mm) E.G. Groom I would think was as responsible as anyone for that (mm). He quickly – got moving on – on this (What about Black himself? Did you see much of him in fact?) Oh yes I saw a lot of him. There are a lot of relationships that don’t work (no no) I’m one of the very few people he called by Christian name. I was always Bill to him, because I, you know, he’d seen me grow up I suppose (yes) it’s one of those things and it was the cause of a lot of – petty – jealousies (mm) – My bosses couldn’t understand why he called me Bill and he called them blah blah blah their surnames, but (mm) you know it was one of those things, I grew up as Bill and I’m still Bill to everybody now (mm) but it was very rare he used a Christian name you know (mm I see) and – you know this ASB at Oxford thing got under way very quickly and – he and Mr Groom were very very closely associated with this. (mm, now – you know that Sir John Black in fact had no formal engineering qualifications at all – he had – been a Tank Officer in the First World War. He’d sort of picked it up as he went along) mm (NOW what kind of contribution did he actually make – then to all this? It must have been difficult particularly since he was backed up by first-class people who had.. . . . . . . . .) Yes, he was able to give a conception of what he thought the public wanted, he gave a conception of what he thought the public wanted. (yes) and, you know he had got good engineers with him who were able to (translate) transfer this conception into an engineering – concept (yes) and then he was able to tell Frank Salter, we want – overhead rails, we want lines which are mechanised, we want a stores which feeds it, but you get and do it (yes quite) and I had a row of machines down here which would produce without a lot of men being on them and it would feed from one machine to another – start of automation (When was this?) I would think in the late 30’s he’d got these sort of thoughts going on the – the Vanguard (but of course you couldn’t translate those into reality because the war came) No, that’s right, but immediately after the war we started the Vanguard block (yes) this was a mechanised automatic plant (mm) We produced the cylinder block on an automatic plant, the first that we had in our Company. (This was well before Banner Lane?) No, no, this was nowhere. At the end of the war (yes, yes) when he had this vision of one model to suit the world, the Vanguard (yes, yes) and – that’s how we started on the cylinder block machine on an automatic plant, (you did?) Oh yes, (I see. Now – that is the wartime period) mm (we know a lot already about his work in the Shadow Factories Scheme) Yes, I can’t tell you much I was never connected with the Shadow Factories Scheme but of course he was, he was by the Government on these Schemes (mm, yes and now we come to the difficult period after the end of the war – and this is where it gets ncontroversial because as far as we can see Sir John Black is the man who in fact prevented the slump in Coventry after the second world war, in wage levels, of a kind that happened after the first world war) . That’s right, yes, mm, mm (By actions which have not made him, his memory popular down to the present day) No (that is by concluding his own agreement) that’s right (with the Trade Unions) It was Mr Wheeler actually who concluded the agreement but it was Sir John’s brainchild let us say that. (Mr who?) Mr Wheeler who actually negotiated (oh was it?) Oh yes, definitely, there is no argument about this at all (oh – I see – mm) but he, you know, it was the brainchild of Sir John, he was going to pay the best wages in the country but he was going to get a good ………. and he didn’t mind wages going high and he openly said this and he worked with the Federation because of this. (What effect would you say that this had on the – trading prospects of the Company after the war?) I don’t think there is any doubt at all that it enhanced the – prosperity of the Company and – I don’t think the Company would have made the progress which it did and made the profits which it did (there were profits and substantial ones?) Oh yes, mm, yes, there were substantial ones, yes (I see, yes, that again is contrary to what some people have endeavored to tell us) Really? (yes) Well, as you say really you want to – get sight of some of the balancesheets of those times. (Now you could help us) Well, I’ll try and help you, yes. (yes, thanks, then we can – if necessary we’ll go up t o the offices at Canley and have a look at them) Yes, that’s right, yes – quite true (No reason for them to let them out of their sight) and I’m quite sure that – the fact that the employees’ special fund had deductions from the profits of the Company the shareholders would not have agreed with this had there not been (good profits) good profits to do it from (yes, quite) and so these deductions reached I know at least once, a hundred thousand pounds. (mm, so you would not be one of those who believes that Sir John Black’s post-war labour policy had anything to do with the difficulties of the company?) I don’t think so personally (mm, right, thank you very much) (Now were you brought into any kind of contact with the, with Harry Ferguson and the tractors?) Not really – I was still engaged on – aircraft production when the agreement with Harry Ferguson was drawn up to produce the tractor at Banner Lane of course (You were engaged on aircraft production?) Yes you see they started on – negotiating for tractor production in 1945 I would say. (Really?) and I was still engaged at Ansty until the last aircraft were completed and away you see (That would be) It was after the end of the war really when we actually wound up (Oh I see, yes, I see) so I – I was never really – involved in those sort of negotiations (so you can never, I mean you never actually met Harry Ferguson?) Oh I met him Sir a lot of times (Did you?) Oh yes. (yes, we know again quite a bit about Harry Ferguson including a fact which is very important to us which is that he has quite rich brothers still alive in business in Belfast.) Yes (- we have also met Trevor Knox) Yes (who was one of his apprentices) -Quite true (and we got a very good tape from Trevor Knox on Harry Ferguson) Yes, mm. (Did you form any impression of him yourself ?) Not really, there’s not really much I would like to discuss. I certainly didn’t know him on the same terms that I knew Captain Sir John Black (NO) not at all. I mean (I see) my associations with Harry Ferguson were on engineering matters really connected with the, with the tractor but I didn’t know him as a man like I knew Captain Black (yes). –
Bill Wanley, photo HERE