Kingston Aviation
Name: Gordon Jefferson
Transcript: 11 – Sir John Lidbury

John Lidbury had joined Hawkers in 1940 and became Company Secretary in 1948 and Director and General Manager of Hawker Aircraft in 1952. He is chiefly credited with steering the company through the difficult years after the end of the Second World War when demand for new aircraft fell away and for maintaining the commercial strength of the company in the following decades through his sound financial management.

He was very much Sir Thomas Sopwith’s right hand man and was responsible for developing the iconic frontage of the Richmond Road site. He was knighted in 1971 and became Vice-Chairman of the Hawker Siddeley Group in 1974. He died in 1994 aged  81.

Lidbury and Rubython were sitting at the end of the table with their enormous cigars and you could barely see across the room. And the general attitude was strained to say the least.

Do you have any recollections about Sir John Lidbury? The received reason I’ve got is that he was a very sound financial chap who had really – he had joined Hawker I think towards the end of the war. He had really seen it through the post war downturn which was quite a difficult period. So he had been quite successful and of course he built the frontage of Richmond Road as well. But I am, sort of, getting a different story about him from you, I think.

Well no, I thought, I agree with you. I don’t think there is any doubt about it, his genius, if you like, for sorting out the finances was what kept everything going. And I didn’t have an awful lot – I had very little to do with him.

But one little incident was, I was given the job of being Liaison Engineer at Dunsfold while we were doing the Hunter development. My father bought me a car and it didn’t take long – it was a brand new Ford Prefect – before I had worn it out.

So I wrote a letter to Lidbury and said, ‘ I am only getting twopence halfpenny a mile which just about pays for the petrol but I have worn the car out. Would it be possible to have a new engine?’  – or something like that. And Lidbury said to Chaplin, ‘For God’s sake buy this lad another car.’ And Chaplin said. ‘Under no circumstances can we possibly do that.’ Because you can just imagine what that would have caused. But never the less they decided that it would be reasonable to put a new engine in the car. Which they did and that was thirty quid and that was a lot of money because I was getting probably about twelve or fifteen a week then. So I suddenly got two weeks.

And that was his view you see. If the chap was doing a job and he’s doing it to the satisfaction of the company, I hope to God I was, and he needed- and he’s worn out some of his own personal stuff, we ought to do something about it.

But you can’t just give new cars to lads in the office it. It just doesn’t make any sense and now of course, I appreciate that. Afterwards of course, when you become an executive, in those days you got a car. And that was the biggest boost you ever got in your life.

I mean that sounds eminently sensible and good management practice.

Oh yes, that’s right. And he never pretended to know anything really about the engineering. But he didn’t need to because that wasn’t what he was supposed to do. He was to make sure that we didn’t …   –  you know, that we knew what we were doing.

And – well, I think he got on very well with the Ministry. But frankly it was out of my ken to know, or whatever the word is, to know that side of the business.