Jensen Motors Works Manager | Life & Times Of Bill Silvester
After the end of the Second World War, ex-Sergeant, Bill Silvester, started work at Jensen Motors as Works Foreman. It wasn’t until 1973 that Silvester was formally appointed as Works Manager, even although he had occupied that position since at least 1962.
The job of both Works Foreman, and Works Manager was no easy-ride, but it was undoubtedly the perfect position for an ex-Sergeant with a booming voice, and a demand for discipline.
With the help of his daughter, the Museum has pieced together the Life & Times of Bill Silvester, and the strange case of the promotion that alluded him for so long.
Jensen Motors Works Manager | Life & Times of Bill Silvester | Early years
Silvester was born on 21st April 1915 in Haggerston, Shoreditch. His father was William Henry Silvester and his mother Maud Phoebe (nee Morris). Bill Silvester was one of four children. Silvester’s daughter, Cathy, would later explain to the Museum,
“Living within the sound of the Bow Bells, my father was a true cockney, through and through”.
After schooling, Silvester took work as an apprentice mechanic, and later became a commercial van driver. His father died in 1931, and becoming a commercial van driver may have been necessary to bring more money into the household.
Jensen Motors Works Manager | Life & Times of Bill Silvester | War Years
With the outbreak of the Second World War, Silvester joined the army, enlisting as a motor driver and mechanic. He was initially posted to the R.A.S.C in Bognor Regis, training as a motor mechanic.
By autumn of 1940, Silvester was posted out to Kenya in East Africa, under British Middle East Command, fighting the predominantly Italian Axis powers. In Kenya he was assigned to the HQ 3rd Line Local Transport Coy. Within a year, Silvester had been promoted to the rank of Sergeant.
During his time with the British East Africa Silvester learnt to speak fluent Swahili. Classes were organised by the British Middle East Command, and soldiers could put themselves forward for the classes.
If the applicant was successful in mastering the language, it proved an excellent means of gaining promotion. Silvester was promoted to Sergeant, and helped to train local Kenyan troops.
Silvester did catch malaria whilst in East Africa, and as a result was in and out of hospital during his service. In later life Silvester was frequently more ill than others, whenever he contracted a cold. Silvester left the army on 12th February 1946.
The testimonial on Silvester’s release papers stated,
“A really good type who can not only lead, but control men. Keen, hardworking and absolutely trustworthy. A strong character.”
Jensen Motors Works Manager | Life & Times of Bill Silvester | Jensen Days
It was 1946, and the freshly demobbed Silvester was looking for employment. Jobs were thin on the ground during this period, and that was why Silvester had to look further afield to gain suitable employment.
Silvester managed to get an interview for a job as Works Foreman at Jensen Motors’ Carters Green factory. He was subsequently accepted for the job, and according to his daughter, Silvester moved up to Birmingham, living in temporary accommodation initially.
One can be pretty sure, the statement from Silvester’s army superiors, “A really good type who can not only lead, but control men,” probably clinched the job for him.
During the war years, Silvester had met a young girl, Kathleen Lloyd. With Silvester now suitably ensconced in stable employment, the couple looked at getting married. They married in August 1948.
According to Silvester’s daughter, her father often remarked, that when he first started at Jensen Motors, he had to prove himself to all the other chaps working there,
“My father would say, I had to prove myself to the ‘brummy’ lads who weren’t terribly keen to have a ‘cockney’ lad managing them.”
Reverting back to his army training, Silvester would be the first to fight, and the last to back down. Typical of army discipline, if the employees under him behaved correctly, he was fine – but, if anyone stepped out of line, he would be down on them like the proverbial ton-of-bricks.
It was this regimented attitude to his position at Jensen Motors, that earned him some respect from the ‘brummies’.
Not long after starting at Carters Green, Silvester was transferred to the Jensen Works at Campbell Street, Stoke-On-Trent. His wife and himself moved into their first home – a council house in Stoke-on-Trent.
According to Silvester’s daughter, after living in Stoke-On-Trent for a relatively short time, her parents managed to do a council house exchange, and moved back to Birmingham. This was probably due to Silvester being transferred from Campbell Street, to the new Pensnett Works at Kingswinford in 1951.
It was in that same year that the Secretary of Jensen Motors, J.B.Stevenson, confirmed that Silvester had been appointed to serve on the Works Production Consultative & Advisory Committee.
These meetings which took place monthly, provided a chance for the management and the shop floor (via Silvester as Works Foreman) to work through any production issues.
Towards the end of the 1950s, lorry sales were dwindling, and Jensen decided to close-down the Pensnett Works. This also coincided with a new large factory being built at Kelvin Way. When Pensnett closed, Silvester initially went back to Carters Green.
By 1956, and doing well at Jensen Motors, the Silvesters managed to buy their first home in Bromford, Warwickshire. The Carters Green factory was slowly closing down, and many of the employees, including Silvester, moved up the road to Kelvin Way. At Kelvin Way, Silvester continued his employment as Works Foreman.
An Austin A35 had been purchased by Silvester around this time, and having built his own customised trailer at the factory during his spare time, the family would pack their tents and belongings into the trailer, and go camping around Great Britain.
Silvester’s daughter remembers the customised trailer, “We probably had one of the first trailer tents. This was designed by my dad, and was largely constructed at Jensen. He had the chassis made there, and the canvas structure was sewn in the machine shop.
We always said – if only he had patented it. Dad could turn his hand to anything, be it mechanical or with wood.”
Jensen Motors Works Manager | Life & Times of Bill Silvester | Promotion
The entire matter of Silvester’s promotion from Works Foreman to Works Manager is strange and complicated. During the later 1950s, the work load for Silvester as Works Foreman grew and grew. He would eventually be controlling a work force of around 1200.
A document dated 20th December 1967 from John Boex (the then Chairman of Jensen Motors), to Silvester, confirms that management had noted the responsibility that had fallen on Silvester’s shoulders.
Strangely, the document doesn’t state that Silvester had received a promotion, only that he had never had a management position, and now this was being rectified.
However, another document dated 30th June 1965, from Silvester’s superior, Works Director, John Moore, states that Silvester had occupied the position of Works Manager since April 1962.
It would seem that Silvester had been undertaking the role of Works Manager, and all the responsibilities the role demanded, but officially he was still Works Foreman. During this period there was very much a traditional hierarchy at Jensen Motors (as indeed with the majority of companies).
In all probability, Silvester’s cockney accent, and previous NCO rank, had held him back from obtaining true management status. There were probably those within management that objected to someone of Silvester’s background being elevated to a truly management position.
Researching surviving paperwork relating to Silvester, the Museum concludes that he continued as Works Foreman until 1973. Although, from at least 1962, he was undertaking all the duties of Works Manager, and everyone perceived him as being Works Manager.
The letter from Boex dated from December 1967 indicates that Silvester’s role was by then being treated as a management role, even although his official title hadn’t changed from Works Foreman. It is not until 1973 that clarity on his position is documented.
A letter dated 2nd August 1973, from the Managing Director, Kevin Beattie, confirms the then recent appointment of Silvester as Works Manager, along with a salary increase to £3,600 per annum. So even although Silvester was the acting Works Manager from at least 1962, it was over ten years later before he was officially given the title by management.
Former Sales Manager, Tony Marshall, is quick to mention, the job of Works Manager, was a particularly important position. It was Silvester’s job to keep the factory and the production lines operating within time-scales, and to deal with all issues relating to the shop floor employees, and the unions. As one might expect, this certainly wasn’t a strict 9-5 type of position. There were often long hours involved – unpaid overtime.
Silvester’s daughter remembered the long hours, “When dad was at Jensen his working hours were long, he always got in before everyone else, and rarely left until everyone else had gone. He didn’t have many hobbies, but he was a fantastic family man. We went on camping holidays, and later mum and dad caravanned all over Europe.”
The various section foremen would report to Silvester, and likewise Silvester was the lynch-pin between the factory floor and management. To this end, Silvester would be in attendance at the famous ‘Monday Management Meetings’.
Marshall attended the Monday Management Meeting, if Richard Graves was unable to attend. He remembers that when issues came up about production, and the amount of finished Interceptors being made ready for sale, the fingers would often point to Silvester, as to why they were falling behind schedule.
According to Marshall, Silvester, who apparently never lost his cockney accent, was quite adept at fighting his corner [but then he had been a sergeant] , and would often fight back with replies such as,
“ what we are not taking into account, is that there are three more Interceptors just about finished, and having minor rectification – they should be included in the figures of finished cars ready for sale.”
However, what the finger-pointing did prove, was if there was any problem in regard to the production of cars, the responsibility was on Silvester’s shoulders. And management would hold him solely accountable.
Other situations where Silvester would be the middle -man, was with instances where dealers or distributors made last minute changes to specification. As Marshall states, dealers and distributors would make block allocation of cars, along with their colour and specification. These were made either as stock cars, or indeed as customer specification.
If a customer suddenly contacted the dealer or distributor, and wanted to change the colour of their car from say green to tangerine, the call came to sales at Jensen Motors, who in turn would call Silvester, and have the production card changed.
As Marshall clarifies, sometimes this could be last-minute stuff. If we couldn’t reach Silvester on the phone, one of us would run off to the factory floor tracking him down. Just hoping the car hadn’t reached the paint shop !
“No, it wasn’t normally up to the wire like that – but it did get edgy on occasion”, states Marshall.
Jensen Motors Works Manager | Life & Times of Bill Silvester | A Tough Boss
Typically, the role of Works Foreman, and Works Manager, didn’t mean being Mr Nice Guy, with the employees. It was a part of Silvester’s job, to keep order and discipline within the factory. And he had already heard every excuse, and seen practically every trick being played, while he served in the army.
Most factory floor employees at Jensen Motors found Silvester to be a tough boss, and did their best to keep their heads down whenever Silvester was prowling around the factory floor .
Clive Kendrick, former Interceptor assembly line finisher at Jensen Motors, remembered Bill Silvester,
“He [Silvester] seemed to be everywhere, he was a shortish man with glasses. He had a bellowing voice, and was very animated, always waving his arms around when speaking, gesturing to what needed to be done.
He would often be on the factory floor with John Moore, the Production Manager.”
Kendrick, also remembers one particularly unpleasant run-in with Silvester,
“ I had arranged to go to the Dutch Grand-Prix with three friends from the factory. There was myself, Nick Boex – he was the son of John Boex one of the money men with Jensen Motors, and his son Nick was placed on the factory floor to learn the ropes.
I got on really well with him. There was also Clive Jackson, who was on the assembly line usually working on tailgates, and Iris Burford from trimming.
The four of us had planned to go the Grand-Prix, leaving on the Friday after work, and hopefully returning on the Sunday evening. However, just in case anything went wrong coming back, we thought it best to explain to our manager [Silvester] that we might just be a little late into work Monday morning. I was the one given the dubious honour of knocking on Silvester’s office door.
I explained the whole plan to Silvester, who sat in his chair with a cigarette. After I finished, Silvester told me, it wasn’t acceptable for us to go off for the weekend, based on the fact we might be late on the Monday morning.
He continued, saying if we went, and weren’t clocking in on time Monday morning, then we would be fired. Now, if Silvester had the authority to fire Nick, I don’t know, but there was no doubt, he could fire the three of us.
I had one last trick up my sleeve, my friendly Shop Steward, Gilbert Hughes.
Leaving Silvester’s office somewhat despondent, I decided to have a word with Gilbert, who worked in the trim shop. I knew Gilbert pretty well, and thought if anyone could get us out of this pickle, it would be him.
So, there I was explaining the whole thing again to Gilbert. He listened, but to my surprise, said, Clive, I can’t help you on this one. If Bill Silvester has said you will be fired if you come in late on Monday morning, he has given you fair notice, and there isn’t anything I can do.
Pushing things further, I said, Gilbert, can’t you at least have a word with him – but the glazed look in Gilbert’s eyes confirmed it wasn’t happening. I left Gilbert even more despondent.
Well, there was a happy end to the story. Discussing it with the other three, we all decided to take the chance, and hoped that we would be back on the Sunday evening. So, off we all went.
I was too young to drive on the Continent, but both Nick and Clive were old enough, so we drove down to Nick’s parent’s place in Oxfordshire, had a lovely meal, and then made off for the ferry.
Monday morning, myself and the others clocked in on time. I noticed that Silvester was hanging around watching when I came in, but didn’t say anything to me – I just gave a courteous ‘morning’ and went off to change ready for the assembly line.
No one told Silvester that we went, and I guess he never ever knew.
Peter Stait, one of the painters at Jensen Motors, also remembered Sylvester. As with Kendrick, it related to clocking in.
“At one point my car packed up and I had to get a couple of buses into work, this meant that I was late clocking in a few times.
It hadn’t gone unnoticed by my immediate superior, Jack Gilchrist, and in turn it had been mentioned to the Works Manager, Bill Silvester.
The outcome was me being told to see Silvester. So, I walked over to his office thinking I was really for the high jump.
Knocking on the door, I was called in, and there was Silvester behind his desk, sitting on a large reclining type office chair, smoking a cigarette.
I explained why I had been late, and Silvester asked when my car would be roadworthy again. I said it would be about another week, and he replied, so once you’ve got your car back you wont be late again.
That’s right I said. Okay, I’ll be keeping my eye on you, but just do your best to get in on time until you’ve got your car back.”
Jensen Motors Works Manager | Life & Times of Bill Silvester | Retirement
When Jensen Motors closed in 1976, Silvester was one of those asked if he would like to join Jensen Parts & Service.
It was Ron Freckleton that had put forward Silvester’s name to Edmiston, since the two men had known each other since the Carter’s Green days. Silvester continued working at Jensen Parts & Service through to 1982, at which time he retired aged 67.
Silvester’s old friend, Freckleton, wrote to him Christmas 1981,
I find it very difficult to put into words my feelings regarding your impending retirement. It goes without saying that you will be a great loss to the company, but also to me. Not only from a working point of view , but also as a very dear friend.
I would like to thank you for all your efforts over the past years, not only in our working for Jensen Parts & Service, but also in our many years of association for Jensen Motors.
One tends to feel, with you having been here for such a long time, that you are a part of the furniture and it is a great loss to me personally that you have to go.
May I wish you and Kath all the health and happiness you deserve in your retirement and, as we have already spoken, there will not be a complete severance; it will be nice when you are around to see your old smiling face poking round the door.
Once again dear friend thank you for everything
According to Silvester’s daughter, Cathy, her father missed work. At home he continued to look after the garden, and to offer his DIY services where needed. Silvester continued to undertake any mechanical work required to his car, and also serviced the cars of some of the neighbours.
William Fredrick Silvester died on the 6th June 2000 at the age of 85.
Jensen Motors Works Manager | Life & Times Of Bill Silvester
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Clive Kendrick, former Assembly Line Finisher, Jensen Motors | Cathy Lance (nee Silvester) | Nick Maltby, former draughtsman, Jensen Motors | Tony Marshall, former Sales Manager, Jensen Motors | Peter Stait, former painter, Jensen Motors.
COPYRIGHTS: Jensen Museum | Cathy Lance (nee Silvester)
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: If you have any additional information relating to this feature, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or telephone +1694-781354.
We hope you have enjoyed this feature.
If you would like notification of when new features are added to the Museum website, then why not subscribe.
It’s free, and takes just a couple of minutes. Simply press the Subscribe to our mailing list link below.