From ‘Boy’ to Purchasing Director – The First 50 Years of Jaguar
(written by Harry Teather Jnr)
Early Years in Blackpool
My father told me that when Sir William Lyons referred to starting the Swallow Sidecar Company with half a dozen men and a ‘boy’, Harry Teather was the boy he meant.
It was poetic licence. Harry Teather was born on 18 June 1908, left school aged 14 and while working at the Blackpool Gazette and Herald saw an advertisement being prepared for a vacancy at the Swallow Sidecar Company, which he was eager to join. He was accepted and started work, still aged 14, at Bloomfield Road, Blackpool as a general assistant in April 1923. There were only eight other employees and the Company was just six months old. He was the youngest employee and was to go on to become Purchasing Director of Jaguar Cars Limited. He was the company’s longest serving employee, over 50 years, before retiring in the summer of 1973.
For his first five years Harry was to work in every department. This involved frame-making, panelling, trimming, wood-turning, fitting and painting where his special skill was to paint the fine lines on the sidecar mouldings. Although sales were seasonal, Easter, Whitsuntide and August Bank holiday being the peaks, manufacturing and assembling the sidecars continued at a pace throughout the year with everyone working long hours to meet ever increasing demand. The company needed ever more space in Back Woodfield Road, John Street and finally moved to Cocker Street in 1926. There in 1926, in addition to the sidecars, which were by then the country’s leading brand, the first Austin Swallow was produced. The Swallow Sports Two-Seater went into production in 1927, followed by the Austin Swallow Saloon.
Harry Teather’s next transfer was instigated by a demonstration of cellulose paint – he couldn’t stand the peardrop smell – and in 1928 he moved from the paint shop to the stores in order to relieve Arthur Whittaker. His work in the stores included purchase and progress which was to set the pattern for the rest of his career. In addition to his work in the stores there was the packing and dispatch of spare parts and being responsible for the factory’s contents.
Early in the momentous year of 1928 when there were about 50 employees, Henlys placed the famous order with the Austin Motor Company for 500 Austin Swallows. The current production was not more than five cars a week and the Austin Motor Company soon dispatched the 500 chassis to Blackpool Talbot Road Station. As a result, the decision was finally taken to move to the Midlands where the chassis, screen and wings were already being made and where there was a supply of skilled labour.
The Move to Coventry
To fulfil the Henlys order, at the age of 20 it fell to Harry Teather to co-ordinate and control the move. All the factory contents from Cocker Street, Blackpool were to be transferred to the new factory off Holbrooks Lane, Coventry without loss of production – William Lyons’ request. It was to take nearly six weeks and to avoid loss of production, fifty sets of car-parts were boxed and sent in advance. He was the last person to leave Blackpool to move on to Coventry, on 7th November 1928.
By 1929 Harry Teather had been put in charge of Stores and Material Control. The next two years were busy consolidating the move and meeting ever-increasing demand. Most of the orders were for the Austin Swallow, though at the first appearance at the 1929 Motor Show Swallow Coachwork was displayed on the Fiat 9, Standard 9 and Swift 10 chassis. The employees were often working twelve hours a day for months on end at the Swallow Coachbuilding Company and the Great Depression, which perhaps peaked in 1931, was barely noticed.
In his article ‘Thirty – five not out’ in the Jaguar Apprentices Magazine, Spring 1959 Harry Teather describes how bad the situation really was in Coventry in the Great Depression in comparison. “In response to an advertisement of a vacancy for one storekeeper a huge crowd of applicants had assembled at the Time Office for interview. I was extremely busy that morning and it would have been impossible to interview everyone. I decided the first man I came to who had the necessary experience, was married and preferably wearing a discharged service badge, would be selected. I came across my man within the first fifteen – he possessed all those requirements plus three children. When I announced that the position was filled I was nearly mobbed because several others were fathers of five or more children – indignation was rife that I had not taken this factor into account. I was in my early twenties but I have never forgotten this episode”
Early in 1931 the Wolseley Hornet Swallow was introduced and the SS1 and SS2 Coupes were announced and displayed at Olympia with immediate success. The rise of SS Cars was being promoted and only months of hard work could reduce the backlog of orders. Coachbuilding using other marques’ chassis started to be phased out to make room for car production to SS Cars Limited’s own design. The last Swallow bodied car, a Wolseley Hornet, left the works in 1933.
1930s – Period of Growth
Harry Teather’s responsibilities increased throughout the 1930s. His additional duties involved supervising transport, the fire brigade and the surgery at the factory, as well as managing the increased scope of work of the stores and materials control. The SS Range of cars blossomed with an increasing range of options including the SS Airline. Export markets in the USA were also being explored.
The name ‘Jaguar’ was introduced in the 1936 models of the 1½ and 2½ Litre SS Saloons. In that year Harry Teather married Constance (Connie) Dickson. Connie Dickson had worked for the Swallow Sidecar and Coachbuilding Company in Cocker Street, Blackpool. A fortnight after the company had moved to Coventry, then aged 17, she received a telegram from William Lyons, at Alice Fenton’s suggestion, asking if she would still be interested in coming too. She was, as she had become close friends with Alice and liked an adventure. She later described her time with the company in a series of articles. For example, 1928 – A Swallow Summer was published in The Automobile, April 1985 and Early Days at the Swallow in the Jaguar Journal, January 1991 to April 1992. Harry and Connie had three sons who became engineers of very different disciplines. Harry Teather would later take them, when he could, to watch Jaguars racing in the 1950s.
Following the introduction of the SS Jaguar 3½ Litre Saloon and the SS Jaguar 100 Sports car, SS Cars Limited achieved success in competitions and Concours d’ Elegance. With the arrival of all-steel bodies in 1937 the cars were increasingly in demand, especially the 1½ Litre Saloon. More than 100 cars a week were being produced before World War II began in 1939 and car production ceased. Harry Teather, still managing the stores and materials control, was relieved of active duty for essential war work. The versatile organisation’s war-time production involved, for example, assorted trailers, sidecars, aircraft parts for the Whitley, Stirling and Lancaster bombers, Spitfire, Mosquito and the Meteor III Jet fuselage and the complete repair of Whitley bombers. Thoughts during the war also began to explore the company’s possible post-war plans.
Post War Growth
At the end of the war the final link with Swallow was gone. The name of Jaguar Cars Ltd was finally adopted in April 1945 and the first ‘pure’ Jaguar cars were announced in September. As observed by Andrew Whyte in Jaguar: The definitive history of a great British car, William Lyons had achieved one ambition – to become a complete, independent manufacturer of luxury cars. Although there was a shortage of all materials to make cars, production resumed in the Autumn. Arthur Whittaker became Director and General Manager and delegated more work to Harry Teather. By then he was the second longest serving employee with a staff of over fifty and was responsible for some 50 million items in the course of a year.
In 1948, along with the Mark V, the XK 120 and XK engine were presented and stole the Earls Court Motor Show. The beautiful XK120 and powerful XK engine paved the way for huge export success particularly in the USA, their introduction into motor racing and the inclusion of more powerful Dunlop disc brakes. To expand production, from 1951 the factory in Holbrooks Lane, Foleshill moved to Daimler’s war-time Shadow factory in Brown’s Lane, Coventry.
Harry Teather orchestrated this move just as he had done 23 years earlier with the move from Blackpool to Coventry. This is confirmed by Sir William Lyons in The Official Biography by Philip Porter and Paul Skilleter. Each department was transferred across the city gradually as Daimler slowly moved out.
The authors also write that Sir William Lyons, ”undeniably had a special regard for those who came with him from Blackpool for what Connie Teather called ‘the Great Experiment’ (for no-one not even Lyons knew that setting up a big factory in Coventry was really going to work)”. As an example, Sir William Lyons was legendary in his formal and egalitarian use of surnames, but with a few from Blackpool he used their Christian names.
The year 1951, with Jaguar’s first victory at Le Mans and the new factory at Brown’s Lane, began a decade of monumental achievement for the company. Famous models were to include the Mark VII, XK140 and XK150, C-Type, D-Type, 2.4, 3.4 and the XKSS. Jaguar exported over 60% of its production with over 40% going to North America and gained a Queen’s Award for Export Achievement. The wonderful successive victories at Le Mans in 1951, 1953 and 1955-1957 made Jaguar’s name world-wide.
My father also told me that part of his job was not only to discuss with the manufacturers how the parts for the cars were to be made but also to negotiate with them and sometimes work with them to make them for a lower price than they had quoted. The closest evidence I have to support this comes from Ted Loades, then a Partner of Abbey Panels who states in The Ted Loades Story ‘It was probably Harry Teather, who had started with Swallow at Blackpool, who brought Abbey Panels in; Arthur Whittaker was the buyer, who later became deputy Chairman, but Harry Teather was a cross between a buyer and a production man. He was a very necessary part of Jaguar – Sir William Lyons took a lot out of himself and he expected the same from other people and Harry was one of these’.
The C-Type, the D-Type and Prototype ‘D’ Type bodies among others were fashioned by Abbey Panels. Though never officially a production man, Harry Teather was a man of great integrity, ingenuity and dedicated to Jaguar. He was also knowledgeable having managed both materials control and purchasing from early in his career. His hobbies included an interest in watches and watch repair, amateur dramatics and playing the violin. Another aspect of his work involved taking account of the likelihood and effects of stoppages for whatever reason and therefore needing multiple sources of supply.
Philip Porter in his Introduction to the Original Jaguar XK: The Restorers Guide, referring to the many variations in the XK models writes ‘As the late Harry Teather explained, Jaguar had cash crises from time to time and had to obtain parts from any source to keep the tracks moving – shortages and strikes caused similar problems’.
After Sir William Lyons was knighted, 1st January 1956, HM the Queen and Prince Philip visited the Brown’s Lane factory on 23rd March. My father, by now Purchasing Manager, was presented to the Queen on that occasion. He told me it was his proudest moment. In the Jaguar Apprentices Magazine, Spring 1959’ Harry Teather writes “It was the most outstanding event in my 35 years of service”.
The year 1957 began with the introduction of the 160 mph XKSS ‘Supercar’ only a few of which were produced. Soon after, the infamous fire broke out at the north end of the Brown’s Lane factory. Production was restored on a shortened line within six days. My father took me to witness its effect on the many beautiful cars that were doomed to be destroyed for scrap, some even for the slightest defect. The fire quashed any possibility of continued production of the D-Type and the XKSS and delayed the introduction of the 120 mph Jaguar 3.4. As stated by Andrew Whyte, the 3.4 gave the firm a new interest in racing and rallying after it had officially suspended entering any works team and this “enabled it to dominate the touring car racing scene for a long time to come”.
As Purchasing Manager and Materials Manager, Harry Teather saw the introduction of the 2.4 and the 3.4 Saloons after which production almost doubled. To expand production, in 1960 Jaguar bought Daimler with its over 90,000 square metres factory in nearby Radford, Coventry. Guy Motors was also bought when it was in liquidation. According to Philip Porter and Paul Skilleter production in 1961 was over 500 cars a week before the E-type fixed head Coupe was unveiled by Sir William Lyons in Geneva in March. It was as enthusiastically received as the XK 120 had been thirteen years earlier and variations of the iconic E-Type were manufactured all through the decade until 1970. Another great acquisition by Sir William Lyons came in 1963. Coventry Climax with its Formula One racing engine, brought more of the finest engineers within The Jaguar Group.
Executive Director Purchasing
Early in 1966 Harry Teather was officially appointed Executive Director Purchasing. At the time Jaguar had a strong future model programme in a period of financial constraint. In the winter of 1966/67 Jaguar offered four, six-cylinder engine sizes, four saloon body types, 3 sport car body types as shown by Eric Dymock in The Jaguar File and several Daimler equivalents.
The merger with British Motor Corporation agreed by Sir William Lyons had been announced in July 1966. This was followed in 1968 by the unexpected further merger with British Leyland. Arthur Whittaker retired as Deputy Chairman of Jaguar Cars and ‘Lofty’ England took over.
The XJ6 was finally announced in September 1968. According to Philip Porter and Paul Skilleter the car was the culmination of all the ambitions of Sir William Lyons and was his favourite model. It won much praise from around the world. In 1970 the saloon range of Jaguars was rationalised and reduced to one shape, the XJ, and the V12 engine was being developed.
The year 1972 was the fiftieth anniversary year, which was celebrated in both Coventry and Blackpool and the XJ12 became ‘Car of the Year’ for Jaguar. After these accolades, Sir William Lyons retired, though he still acted as consultant to the firm of which he was President. ‘Lofty’ England became Jaguar’s Chairman and Chief Executive.
Soon after, at the age of 65, Harry Teather retired as Purchasing Director in the summer of 1973, the longest serving employee after fifty years of service. At a gathering near the time of his retirement a business colleague asked him “To what do you attribute the success of your career, Mr Teather?”. Harry replied, quite simply, “I was hitched to a star”, which neatly sums it up.
His service to Jaguar Cars was celebrated in an article which appeared in the Coventry Evening Telegraph, 26 April 1973.
Sir William Lyons said, when Harry died 4 February 1984, “There were just a handful of staff when he joined us at the age of fifteen. He was one of the most loyal members of the Company”.
Harry Teather was in fact only fourteen when he joined the Swallow Sidecar Company in Blackpool when it was six months old in April 1923.
Author: Harry Teather (Junior)
Honorary President Swallow Register
© Text and Images – Harry Teather 2019 except where (stated)
Dymock, E., 2004, The Jaguar File; All models since 1922: The Third Edition, (Rothesay, Dove Publishing).
PLC., http://www.loades.com/edward-loades-story/page-4/ [accessed 17 April 2019]
Porter, P., 2003, Original Jaguar XK: The Restorer’s Guide, (Minnesota, Motorbooks International).
Porter, P. and Skilleter, P., 2001, Sir William Lyons: The Official Biography, (Somerset, Haynes Publishing).
Mond, G., Registrar and Historian, Swallow Register
Rankin, E., Editor, ‘Personality of the month – Harry Teather’, Jaguar Journal, 1946
Teather, C., ‘1928 – A Swallow Summer’, The Automobile, April 1985
Teather, C., ‘Early days at the Swallow’, Jaguar Journal, January 1991 to April 1992
Teather, H., 1959, ‘Thirty-five not out’ Jaguar Apprentices Magazine, Volume II, No. I , (Coventry, W.W.Curtis Ltd.)
Whyte, A., 1980, Jaguar: The definitive history of a great British car, (Cambridge, Patrick Stephens Ltd.).
Coventry Evening Telegraph, April 26, 1973 and February 6, 1984