September 2015

My name is Gillian Bardsley and I am the BMIHT Archivist.

Our Archive Collections contain a wealth of information about the companies which made up the British motor industry, including minute books, financial records and all the other official documents which are created in the course of an organisation’s business activities. Sometimes, however, they also reflect the personalities of important industry figures. One of these is Sir Alec Issigonis (1906-1988), best remembered as the designer of the Mini and the Morris Minor. The Issigonis Papers contain many detailed technical and business documents accumulated during his working life as you would expect. But there are also more personal items which illustrate how an everyday object can take on significance when associated with a key person or event – both, as it happens, in this case.

Why This Document?

In 1969, Issigonis was awarded a knighthood in recognition of his services to the British motor industry. He hired a suit from Moss Bros to attend his investiture as a Knight of the British Empire at Buckingham Palace. Among his papers is the receipt for that day. It tells us several things. He is already styling himself ‘Sir Alec Issigonis’, a title of which he is rightly very proud. He hired the suit in Birmingham on 18 July 1969, to be worn on 21 July, the date of the great event. It consisted of a black jacket with a grey waistcoat and pin stripe trousers, and the hire fee was £3.00 (equivalent to about £50 in 2015 values), with a deposit of 5 shillings (around £4).

 

Issigonis in the suit he hired from Moss Bros

In the period following World War Two Issigonis had become well known for his innovative car designs, which also included the best-selling Austin/Morris 1100. From humble beginnings he had risen to become the Technical Director of the British Motor Corporation (BMC), Britain’s leading motor manufacturer, heading up a team at the Longbridge factory near Birmingham. 1969 would be a pivotal moment in his career. BMC had just merged with the Leyland Motor Corporation to become the British Leyland Motor Corporation, and he was not popular with the new management. Nevertheless the Mini and the 1100 were both best-sellers for the new company as well as the old one, and Issigonis’ reputation with the public and in the press was very high. As if to emphasise the point to his new employers, a stream of public honours was conferred on him, culminating with the offer of a knighthood. His friends rushed to congratulate him and Princess Margaret wrote to him: ‘… no-one could have deserved it more and I bet the whole of Longbridge is basking in your reflected glory’.

Unfortunately, on the day in question, he was unable to take his beloved mother, Hulda Issigonis, with him to Buckingham Palace because she was in hospital after a fall having become increasingly frail at the age of 85.  Instead, he asked his closest friends, George Dowson and John Morris, to be his official guests.  His two companions were rather shocked by his choice of outfit, as they had chosen to wear the more customary morning suit for the occasion. Issigonis, however, was unmoved by their criticism, pointing out that the letter from the Home Office had prescribed ‘service dress, morning dress or dark lounge suit’. So he attended in his black jacket and pin-stripe trousers, as documented in this humble receipt, which provides a touching insight into both his pride at the event, and his down-to-earth approach to such things.

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