Saturday, 26 February 2011

Still dreaming…

lotusLogo In my youth, back in the last millennium, I lived not too far from  Lotus Engineering in Norfolk. i would watch the cars going past on transporters, and dream of the day when I would be rich enough to own my own Elan…

After all, Emma Peel drove one in the Avengers [when not riding a motorbike] so they were obviously the coolest car for a girl to own.

lotus elan emma peel

The Elan was designed by Ron Hickman, who died this week. Before working for Colin Chapman at Lotus, his first car designs were at Fords of Dagenham, on the Anglia 105

ford anglia 105

Much less glamorous!

But Ron’s other great design, which I am proud to say we do have in the garage downstairs is this


A Workmate.

Ron had the brainwave in 1961 after sawing through the expensive Heal’s chair which he was using as a makeshift workbench. He tried to sell the idea to tool companies - who turned it down. Black & Decker did not think that the average DIY enthusiast would need such a big device, while tool company Stanley told him the bench’s success would be measured ‘in dozens rather than hundreds’. And so he set up his own manufacturing company.

In 1972, Black and Decker saw the error of their ways and began mass production. By 1981, 10 million had been sold [Ron earned £1 for every one!] He was justly proud of his invention.

workmate Ron-Hickman

Bob’s Workmate, still in regular use, was a Leaving Gift from his workmates at Marconi Instruments in St Albans when he left there in 1981 to go into the ministry. At the time, it was a larger departure gift than was usually given, but his colleague explained to me that “Everyone knows he is going to do something he really believes in – and anyway, nobody ever leaves this place to go to a job where they earn less money - so we have all put in more than usual!” I wonder how many other leaving gifts are still used thirty years later?

Great designs, Ron! As the Guardian Editorial said

For manufacturing's sake, we need Hickman's design elan and the Workmate spirit today.

I’m still dreaming about getting my Lotus Elan though…

1 comment:

  1. Chris wouldn't be without his Workmate. Perhaps Ron Hickman would have had success much earlier if he had pitched the idea showing Emma Peel using one!
    Jane x


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