Wife of Sir Bernard Docker and ‘Designer’ of the Docker Daimlers
Norah Docker (née Norah Royce Turner) was born in 1906 in Derby, to Sydney Turner and his wife, Amy. Her family moved to Birmingham where her father part-owned a car dealership. At the age of 16 her father committed suicide, leaving her to earn her own living.
As a young woman she became a dance hostess at Café de Paris, a club in London. She had an affair with one of her male friends, Clement Callingham, the head of Henekeys wine and spirits merchants. Norah married Callingham after his wife divorced him, citing Norah, and they stayed together until he passed away in 1945. They had a son Lance, and a daughter Felicity who died aged nine months.
In 1946 she remarried, to Sir William Collins, the chairman of Fortnum & Mason in London, becoming Lady Collins. Their marriage lasted until his death in 1948.
In 1949 she married Sir Bernard Docker, chairman of Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA) and its subsidiary, Daimler, becoming Lady Docker.
Lady Docker had inherited the wealth of her first two husbands and when she married Sir Bernard Docker, she decided that Daimler had to be marketed in a different manner to appeal to a new generation of buyers. She wanted to make Daimler a household name and had set ideas about how to accomplish that goal.
“If I could find a single reason for my elevation to the dubious rank of a celebrity, then I think I would have a motor car to thank. I must say, right from the start, that the gold-plated Daimler was not produced with the intention of reflecting any personal glory to me. Its primary object, and it achieved it magnificently, was to make Daimler a household name and keep it in the minds of the vast car-buying public. It also spotlighted the high quality of British craftsmanship, for the benefit of foreign markets. I was ashamed, when I married Bernard, to discover that, both at home and abroad, the superb Daimler car was in danger of becoming a relic. I told him (Sir Bernard Docker): ‘The only people who know about the Daimler are the royal family! I know you couldn’t find better customers, Bernard, but Daimler can’t survive on status alone. It’s got to sell to the masses. Look what happens when we go abroad with our cars. Whenever it is admired by the Italians, or French, they call it a ‘Delahaye’. I’m fed up with repeating: ‘No, Daimler please’.”
Lady Docker at Daimler and Hooper
Sir Bernard appointed Lady Docker to the board of Hooper and her brother and brother-in-law (R.E. Smith) also joined the group. It is said that she personally designed some of the cars that became known as the ‘Docker Daimlers’ which came out for the Motor Shows from 1951 to 1955.
In practice she contributed ideas to the design staff, working with Hooper’s chief designer Osmond Rivers but the excesses that were perpetrated by Daimler were hers and hers alone. The gold-plated brightwork and the lizard or zebra skin upholstery that were in evidence on some of these ‘Docker Daimlers’ were the signs of someone with dubious taste. However, in the dull 1950s these Docker cars were the highlight at any appearance and that was what mattered. People read about Daimler and saw photographs of the Dockers and their Daimlers. In many ways they were no different from many footballers, film personalities and celebrities of today.
The Docker Daimlers were:
- 1951, The Golden Daimler – based on the DE36 chassis
- 1952, Blue Clover –based on the DE36 chassis
- 1953, Silver Flash – based on the Daimler 3-litre chassis
- 1954, Stardust – based on a prototype DK400 chassis
- 1955, Golden Zebra – based on a DK400 chassis
For 1955 the company also unveiled a more powerful version of the Regency II as the One-O-Four. This model differed externally only in detail, but under the bonnet was an uprated 3½ litre engine producing 137 bhp. The car got its name from the 104 mph clocked by the prototype during trials.
The hand of Lady Docker was again evident as the range included a ‘Ladies’ model which offered a redesigned fascia panel that ‘incorporated a sliding drawer (containing torch, cigarette packet holder, note pad, rolled gold pencil, sunglasses); automatic map, radio and speaker built into panel; collapsible umbrella adjacent front passenger’s seat; burr walnut surrounds to windows and screen; power-operated door windows; complete make-up box in centre armrest; sheepskin floor rug and travelling rug in rear compartment; four suitcases, picnic case, ice box and shooting stick in rear boot; rim embellishers on the road wheels.’
This model was short-lived although the ‘Ladies items’ were later offered as ‘optional extras’ in the catalogue.
Jet-set Life Style
Lady Docker was always in the public eye, sometimes of her own volition, sometimes of her own making, often under the headline of ‘Naughty Norah’. The Dockers often went to Monaco – leading to two of their most notorious incidents.
In September 1952 she slapped a waiter from the Monte Carlo Casino in the face, resulting in the Dockers being banned from the Casino. The press stories were discussed in Parliament including raising questions about how much money they had taken out of the country during a period when people were only allowed to take out £25 each. The negative publicity arising from this episode and the possibility of a court case about the currency issues caused the Directors of the Midland Bank to ask for Sir Bernard’s resignation in January 1953.
They attended the wedding of Prince Rainier of Monaco and Grace Kelly in April 1956 and after an incident at the christening of Prince Albert in April 1958, they were banned from Monaco altogether. Lady Docker was not happy about her son, Lance Callingham (it was his 19th birthday), not being allowed to attend the event and while seated at a table at the Hôtel de Paris, she tore up a paper Monegasque flag. As a result, Prince Rainier of Monaco had her expelled and their christening gifts were returned. This ban was extended throughout the French Riviera through a 1951 treaty with France.
In 1954, she invited some of the miners from the Water Haigh colliery she visited at Woodlesford to a champagne party on the Dockers yacht, where she danced the hornpipe.
In 1955, while wearing a sequin dress and diamonds at the charity event for the Cancer Relief Fund in Castleford’s, “Reight Neet Aht”, she won a rigged match at the marbles championship. The following year, she challenged the suburb of Collingwood to a marbles match while watching the Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia.
Lady Docker and Sir Bernard’s extravagant lifestyle was often funded by tax write-offs and company expenditures. In the early 1950s BSA purchased Glandyfi Castle in Wales, for use by the Dockers, and this was refurbished at the company’s expense. Lady Docker only ever had use of The Docker Daimlers, ownership being retained by Hooper. Her ‘business expenses’ for the 1956 Paris Motor Show included a £5,000 gold and mink outfit as she claimed she ‘was only acting as model’ at the show – which itself was rejected by the Inland Revenue.
Decline and Fall
By 1956 the Daimler Company was not in good health and the top management became increasingly disillusioned with the Dockers. In May 1956, Sir Bernard Docker was voted out of office by six directors against three and a new management team took over the ailing company. Jack Sangster of Triumph Motorcycles (a BSA company since 1952) took over as chairman and managing director of Daimler. This was all ratified by the shareholders at an extraordinary meet in 1 August 1956. On 29 August it was announced that ‘Mr R.E.Smith’s [Lady Docker’s brother-in-law] appointments with the Daimler Group of companies have been terminated by mutual agreement.’ The Company sold Glandyfi Castle. Lady Docker also left the Hooper board.
After Sir Bernard Docker lost his position as chairman and managing director of Daimler, the Dockers began to run out of money. Their estate in Hampshire was sold and the MY Shemara was put on the market for £600,000, but only sold for £290,000. In 1965 the Dockers moved to Jersey in the Channel Islands becoming tax exiles. Lady Docker is reported to have said of the people of Jersey “they are the most frightfully boring, dreadful people that have ever been born”.
Lady Docker died on 11 December 1983 in the Great Western Royal Hotel in London, at the age of 77. She is buried in her first husband’s family plot at the churchyard of St James the Less, in Stubbings, between Clement Callingham and Sir Bernard Docker who had died in 1978.
Authors: Shihanki Elpitiya and Tony Merrygold
© Text and Images – Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust (unless stated)