By me, as I type, is a Coronation stool used by either my father or mother seventy years ago. My father, Major General Sir Leslie ‘Bill’ Williams was Representative Colonel Commandant RAOC although his day job was as export director of the Rootes Group with a particular focus on the Middle East.
The photograph was taken on the first floor of Devonshire House, the Rootes head office. My father is in uniform and he is with Emile Bustani and a US broadcaster, Jinx Falkenburg. Devonshire House was on Piccadilly opposite the Ritz Hotel and so had a wonderful view of the Coronation procession.
Emile Bustani was a remarkable man who, from humble origins, graduated from the American University in Beruit. His first job was teaching mathematics in a Quaker School in Palestine. He then went to America and, with a degree in engineering, returned to work in Palestine. Soon he set up his own contracting company, with work across the Middle East. The company was a great success, and Bustani became Minister of Public Works in the Lebanese government, forgoing any salary. British journalist Woodrow Wyatt said of him, ‘he does care about what happens to ordinary people. In many ways he is a natural ‘do-gooder’. In the Middle East where corruption was never far away, ‘even his enemies say he is not a corrupt politician’. Bustani was killed in an aircraft accident in 1963. Bill met Bustani a number of times and they enjoyed a good business relationship. I also met him when he came to our house for Sunday lunch. My mother recorded that I was impressed how he ate lemons as if they were oranges.
Jinx Falkenburg was a broadcaster and to me represents the strong relationship which both the Rootes Group and my father had with the USA from his work during WW2 as Controller of Ordnance Services. For Rootes, the USA was a major export market during the 1950s.
You can read more in Dunkirk to D Day.
So, what is it that resonates? The continued importance of the relationship with the USA. Rootes, and indeed the RAOC, have disappeared, but the UK defence industry is performing strongly both for home consumption and for exports. Aerospace and pharmaceuticals are performing well and British built motor cars are being sold in the USA and elsewhere.
In the fifties, it was manufacturing exports that mattered to rebuild the nation’s finances after the war. Today, manufacturing has as big a task, as the damage caused by governments focusing on other areas of the economy needs to set right. The country needs home grown supply chains as well as imports; it also need to manufacture for export what other countries want.