A light touch at the Cooper factory

From 1953 to 1965minus a spot of National Service Terry Kitson was one of that generally happy band of Cooper Car Company staff, in their famous Surbiton factory, just south-west of London. He recently reminisced about how he got his job there, as an enthusiastic teenager. "From the age of about 14 I'd always stop by while cycling home from school," he says, "and peer through the doors. When I was leaving college I wanted to get a job there, but my father was against it and it became a stand-off between us. Eventually, my mother stepped in and said, 'If you really want to work there I'll make sure you present yourself correctly. You should ask very nicely to see Mr Charles. He possibly won't want to talk you, so I'll tell you what to say, but be very respectful'.

"She was right. Charlie Cooper didn't want to talk so I called after him and he said, 'Nah you don't want to work here' so I said, 'Yes sir, I do'. It went to and fro. Then I used my mother's briefing and said: 'Well sir, who was it that fell out of the ambulance when my father and you were on fire-watching duty and a call came in that German paratroopers had been seen dropping onto the Kingston bypass? And I believe you, sir, broke a leg'."

There was a long pause, during which Terry thought he'd gone too far, "Then Mr Charles grinned and said, 'Start at eight o'clock tomorrow, then'. I was in!"

It turned out that Terry's father, a master baker, had on the outbreak of war landed his industry's biggest job, managing the Royal Arsenal Co-op's London bakeries. In the event of invasion, he would have been required to supply bread to greater London. But on the side he'd struck a private deal with Charlie Cooper involving a straight swap off-ration petrol in return for sugar and buffer from Kitson Sr. Today Terry owns one of the F3 Cooper T72s whose chassis he made in period, and still laughs about Cooper's response when works manager Roy Golding complained that the factory should be better lit. Charlie was obsessive about the electricity bill, dismissing any such idea with the line: "Welders don't need light. They make their own!"

Doug Nye