Thursday, February 22, 2018

Mike Foster

Lilac Time - Minor Million Paint Colour

It is with great sadness that I have to tell you of the passing of former Morris Motors Publicity Manager Jack Field at the age of 93. I can well understand that many of you may not perhaps know of Jack but it is equally certain that virtually all Morris Minor Club members will have seen, and probably had a strong opinion upon, one specific aspect of his work.

Every July since 1998 it has been my pleasure, as a former long term employee of Nuffield Exports Ltd, to organise a get together with as many former N.E.L folk as I could trace! At our very first muster there were just seven of us and the specific purpose on that occasion was to reunite we old fellahs with our former workmate Brian Camamile - who none of us had seen for over 27 years - and who was visiting the U.K from his home in Florida. Our meeting point was then (and continues to be) the Trout Inn situated on the river at Wolvercote, just north of Oxford. Avid followers of TV's Inspector Morse will certainly recognise this delightful spot from that character's regular visits there.

After a couple of annual and increasingly well attended meetings I began to receive requests from employees of our former neighbours, Morris Motors Ltd, asking if they might join our intrepid band! The response from me was an enthusiastic positive such that our average attendance in recent years has been around 30, plus wives and girl friends. Of course I knew of Jack Field, who became a regular attendee, but had never had direct contact with him at work so I was delighted to have the opportunity to talk with him at some length at the Trout. What follows later is his story as told directly to me by Jack.

In late 1959 the millionth Minor was due to be coming off the Cowley production line and, to celebrate that unique milestone in British motorcar history, the Directors of Morris Motors sanctioned the production a limited edition to be called the Minor Million. Its specification was not to wander far from the standard model but the colour scheme would be a bit special and several paint colours were considered. Metallic Silver was high on the list of favourites but, happily, was vetoed by the paint manufacturers! The reason for their resistance was that in 1954, just after my arrival at Nuffield Exports, the new Wolseley 4/44 was starting to be shipped overseas through our preparation sheds. I had been assigned to the 'Africa' zone and within a matter of two or three months began to receive complaints that the metallic silver paint was 'chalking' under the tropical sun. There was no remedy so each and every 4/44 so blighted had to be stripped and repainted by our overseas Dealers and the heavy cost borne by Cowley.

But this paint problem should have come as no surprise to anyone in authority as it had been ongoing practice to airmail 'Paint Test Panels' to selected Dealers throughout the world. Panels were exposed to the elements for periods varying from six to twelve months and then returned to Cowley where their reactions were analysed. At NEL we would sometimes wander into the shipping department sheds and - even though the metallic paint issue was well known at Cowley - we watched with incredulity as we saw metallic painted cars heading off to the likes of Bulawayo or Singapore knowing that, within a few months, each of these cars would require repainting at the factory's expense. Thus the Directors, having been reminded of previous paint histories, decided that they would jointly determine their favourite colour and to aid them Publicity Manager Jack Field was to assemble a small group of Morris Minors painted in non standard colours. This inspection would commence following a celebration lunch in the Directors dining room. Well it appears that lunch was somewhat protracted, wine flowed freely and that, by general consent, group scrutiny was set aside. Instead the Morris Motors Sales Director was despatched to the factory showroom armed with the responsibility for making a colour choice on behalf of the full Board of Directors. Here he was met by Publicity Manager Jack Field, who had been waiting patiently for the Board to turn up!

Now the Sales Director had by no means been apart from, or immune  to, the conviviality enjoyed by his fellows over luncheon and confessed to his Publicity Manager of feeling incapable of making a sober judgement. He therefore, in turn, deputed Jack Field to make the final colour choice so next time you see a Lilac Minor Million spare a thought for Jack! 

Jack Field with his partner Mary at the Trout with a model Lilac Minor Million given to him by his family to celebrate his 90th birthday.  Jack was a true gentleman and a delight to know.

Copyright Mike Foster

Article posted 29th February 2012