Theme : Glamour – Grit in the Mascara

An old-fashioned Glamour Girl, or an unlikely precursor of Girl Power. We look at Norah Docker’s Golden Years.

One of the more tasteful ones - Blue Clover
One of the more tasteful ones – Blue Clover

In the period after the Second World War, and the long climb out of austerity, the Dockers were the visible end of the malaise of much of UK industry, particularly the motor industry. Most car companies had been started by hard working individuals, often from humble backgrounds, and their energy and ambition had allowed them to prosper, But, by the middle of the Century, many had become personal fiefdoms, run by bosses who were, at best, paternalistic philanthropists such as William Morris (Lord Nuffield) and, at worst, greedy and self-important incompetents.

In 1949, the one-time dance hostess, Norah Turner, married her third husband, second-generation industrialist Sir Bernard Docker who had inherited the chairmanship of BSA Group from his father. BSA had owned the Daimler car company since 1910. In 1953, Bernard took over the additional responsibility of running Daimler which, by then, was producing rather staid luxury cars, buses and specialist commercial vehicles. Norah took a particular interest in Daimler and decided that what the company needed was an improved image with some lavish one-off cars built by coachbuilder Hooper, also a BSA company.

From 1951 to 1955, she had 5 show cars produced to her specifications : The Gold Car, Blue Clover, Silver Flash, Star Dust and Golden Zebra. Refined taste was not on the agenda, the last named reflecting the metal plating used on the brightwork and the animal used to trim the seats.

Lady Docker in Star Dust (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
Lady Docker in Star Dust (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Having risen herself, Norah wasn’t the sort to give anyone else a hand-up and, by accounts, was a graceless snob. Certainly her championship of Daimler was far from altruistic, the price of her helping bringing the staid brand into the second half of the 20th Century was that these show cars were at her personal disposal.

In a country where food rationing only ended officially in 1954, and parochial, conservative values still reigned, the Docker’s high-profile exploits attracted mostly scorn. Banned from the Casino in Monte Carlo for assaulting a waiter then, after further outraging Monaco, rather fabulously banned from the entire French Riviera, Norah Docker and her somewhat hapless husband were prime fodder for the popular newspapers.

In 1956, Bernard Docker was forced to resign from BSA and to give the Daimlers back. If there had ever been a chance of reviving Daimler’s image, it’s likely that Lady Docker put paid to it. By the 1960s, the Queen no longer used Daimlers and Jaguar had acquired the company. Although it had a swansong with the excellent Edward Turner designed V8s, including the underestimated Majestic, by the end of that decade the only Daimler that wasn’t a badge-engineered Jaguar was the Mark 10 derived DS420.

In fact, Norah Docker was probably just a woman born out of her time. In the buttoned-up 1950s, she was largely reviled. Today, she’d have millions hanging onto her every Tweet.

8 thoughts on “Theme : Glamour – Grit in the Mascara”

  1. Whilst we like to think of corporations as corporeal entities in their own right, capable of making decisions irrespective of their make up, in reality only one or two people at the very top of a business make all the key strategic decisions – the brains of the corporate body, if you like. Often founder members of the business, it is their talent and charisma that drives the business on. But once the physical vigour or mental rigour of these key figures declines, malaise can set in.

    Thus one of the biggest long term issues that businesses face is that of succession. Perhaps reflecting the vanity of the founders, the desire to avoid being put out to pasture, or the plain old inability of humans to consider our mortality, succession planning is often put on the back burner. British car manufacturers historically appear to have been poor at succession planning, certainly worse than their American or German counterparts.

    It perhaps did not help matters that a lot of British businesses faced accession issues just as the home economy entered a period of turmoil. Businesses faced widespread disinvestment as families with rich histories (so to speak) in manufacturing withdrew their capital, lest it be entirely frittered away by collapsing markets, profligate left of centre governments (in their eyes at least), and widespread industrial strife.

    1. The accession problem and the idea that all major decisions went through the top was, possibly, very much a UK phenomenon. In Germany at least, you’ll find a lot of qualified engineers in management and, also, a lot more autonomy at all levels (a fact that is, possibly, coming home to roost at Volkswagen). The old-school British system was strictly hierarchical and class-ridden. Graduate engineers traditionally attracted the resentment and suspicion of those who had risen through apprenticeships and hard labour, and who regarded them as having an easy path. At the other end, they attracted the disdain of those who had the normal essential qualifications for direct entry to management, a third class degree in History from Oxbridge or, maybe, just a rich dad, and who regarded engineers as having dirty fingernails.

      Not that all engineers are the best people to run motor firms, but an engineer with a broader education often has as good an understanding as you can get for the product. The people who took over from the founders of the UK industry generally seemed to have lacked the foresight required though, in fairness to them, it always has been a very odd industry.

  2. It´s a shame, Mercedes did not copy this interesting way of Merchandising.
    My favourite combination for this scenario are the wonderful narcissistic Klaus Kinski and Luigi Colani, able to to press every megalomanian concept into steel (but nothing else..

    Ok, maybe it was better for the life of some exotic animals not to end as a part of an armrest for Klaus Kinski and i really do not want to see a bonnet mascot with his naked body but it would have been pretty amusing to see Klaus Kinski and his ideas shocking the pietestic world of Mercedes-Benz 🙂

  3. Colani’s revolting projects are known to me. I am worried what will turn up if I do a Google image search on Kinski. A Google “no images at all” search would be a nice feature.

  4. There doesn’t seem to be any allusion as to what BSA was famous for manufacturing in the 1950s…

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