Lady Docker – a woman out of time.
Amid these two broadly similar, yet so different Islands, ideals of propriety were for some considerable time, strictly constrained. In Fifties Ireland for instance, this was a task enthusiastically carried out by the Church, who policed matters with an iron will. Across the channel in post-war Britain, the repressive atmosphere was a little less orchestrated, but no less restrictive. There, the engrained social stratifications of money and class were for the most part sufficient to keep people firmly in their place.
Within such an environment, anyone who exhibited the temerity to step outside of decorous norms opened themselves up to a fearsome backlash. It therefore took bravery and perhaps no small portion of self-confidence to take the route chosen by Norah Turner, following her marriage to Sir Bernard Docker, chairman of the Birmingham Small Arms group, which then included the storied Daimler Motor Company.
Women have always had something of a raw deal in society anyway. While their male equivalents were allowed their indiscretions, Ms. Turner has for more than half a century been characterised as the scarlet temptress who ensnared the hapless (and rather ineffectual it would seem) Sir Bernard into marriage, exile and notoriety.
While it’s clear that Norah was something of a social climber and not a lady to be trifled with in her quest to attain the position she so desired, it’s neither unusual, nor especially these days, frowned upon to try to better oneself. In Fifties Britain however, when forelock tugging deference was not only alive and well, but in full bellringing force, Lady Norah (as she became by marriage) was viewed as a pariah, not least because of her rejection of the accepted nostrums of propriety.
In short, she was probably a bit of a monster, but as we can all recognise, monsters (who are generally the ones who truly inherit the earth) are inevitably far more interesting subjects than the meek. Lady Norah (she would have insisted upon the title) therefore was and remains a fascinating character in herself, but beyond that, for her refusal to accept her original position in life, for her willingness to upend accepted codes of behaviour and let’s not forget the cars she inspired – which are equal objects of often lurid wonder.
In some respects they were throwbacks to the carefree and bucolic (for those who could afford its charms) immediate pre-war streamliner era, enjoyed by the 1930s super-rich in their exclusive Riviera enclaves. As social metaphors amid Blitz-riven post-war British austerity however, they were so off-zeitgeist as to beggar belief.
And yet, as she no doubt grasped, they offered entertainment and diversion when there probably wasn’t much of either to go around, and while the establishment turned their finely bred noses at the Docker-Daimlers’ consumptive excesses, she gained the company column inches in a manner no advertising campaign could have replicated. By today’s standards, she might even have been a visionary.
Having become notorious, Lady Norah and the compliant Sir Bernard retired to Majorca during the 1970s, living quietly outside of the limelight Norah once so openly courted. Following her husband’s death in 1978, she returned to the UK, spending her latter years as a long-term guest at Paddington’s Great Western hotel (it would probably once have been Claridge’s), where she quietly passed away in 2003, aged 78.
Colourful is a word often employed to mask other, less comely characteristics of the deceased. In Lady Norah Docker’s case, it was probably entirely appropriate. A woman who got what she wanted, on her own terms. One has to admire that.
There is always more than one opinion on any given subject. From the DTW archive, fellow scribe, Sean Patrick lends his view on Lady Docker and her automotive legacy, which you can read by clicking here.