George Howell, O.B.E. (1914-1992)

by Rod, Judith and George D. Howell

George Russell Howell was born in Birmingham and brought up in the suburb of Small Heath.  He was an only child.  His father, whose family had been provision merchants in central Birmingham with shops in the Bull Ring and Coleshill Street, worked as a carpet buyer for the department store of Kean and Scott.  His mother was the daughter of refugees from the Irish famine who had come from Roscommon to Birmingham in about 1850. He married Rhona in 1938 and had three children.

He was educated at St Philip’s Grammar School, Hagley Road, leaving at the age of 16 after he obtained his school certificate in 1930.  His father was reluctant to allow him to stay on for higher education, so he studied part time while he worked and passed the final examination of the Chartered Institute of Secretaries in 1938, and in 1944 the final examination of the Institute of Cost and Works Accountants (which later became the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants).  He became an Associate of the Chartered Institute of Secretaries (ACIS) in 1944 and an Associate of the Institute of Cost and Works Accountants (ACWA) in 1945.

During the war George served in the Warwickshire Home Guard and when the Home Guard was revived in the early 1950s he rejoined as a Captain.

His first permanent job was as a cost clerk at Hamstead Colliery, Great Barr, followed by a spell at Wilmot Breeden, the well-known vehicle accessory manufacturers.  He then worked as a cost accountant for Daimler in Coventry before joining the accounts department of Alvis in 1940.  He was appointed Chief Accountant in 1947 and joined the board as Financial Director in 1957.  After the various mergers in the 1960s that eventually became British Leyland he was involved with other subsidiary companies as well as with Alvis, and served on the boards of Self Changing Gears and Rover Gas Turbines.  At some stage his title changed to “commercial director” and during the 1960s and 70s much of his work involved negotiating contracts for military vehicles with the MOD, and also overseas with (amongst others) various Arab states, Sweden, Canada, Nigeria and Thailand. 

He retired in 1976 and was awarded the OBE in the 1977 Queen’s Silver Jubilee honours for services to export.  After his retirement he was remembered with great affection by his former colleagues and by his extensive network of friends and acquaintances in Coventry and beyond.

For most of his time at Alvis, George was closely involved with the Sports and Social Club and acted as honorary chairman for many years.  The company was well known for the care shown to the workforce, including support for the thriving Sports and Social Club, envied throughout the local industrial community. 

Excellent playing fields adjoined the Holyhead Road factory with cricket and football pitches, crown green bowling rinks and space for archery.  Indoors the club house included snooker tables and a bar, and a rifle range in the basement.  There were numerous competitions with trophies for these sports and the club also catered for anglers with fishing competitions on the local canals and, for those with horticultural interests, an annual flower show.  He also supported the Alvis Owner Club and, even after his retirement, he and Rhona frequently attended club events.

Paris air 1959 publicity shots showing my father with George Wiltshire in glasses the publicity manager and Johnny Williams the Sales Manager for aero engines

He was a member of the Coventry Chamber of Commerce and also gave his time to help the Coventry Industrial Mission, an organisation established in 1962 by the cathedral and diocese to establish a dialogue between employers, employees and the church, and to provide a religious presence in the workplace.  Industrial Chaplain Trevor Cooper organised regular exchange visits with young people in Coventry and Berlin to break down prejudice following the Second World War.

Greeting Princess Margaret at Earls Court in 1963 with the new TE21

He always enjoyed driving, and cars he owned in the 1930s included a Wolseley Hornet, which apparently met an untimely end when the brakes failed, followed by a front wheel drive BSA Scout. Of course the BSA factory was just a stone’s throw from his home in Somerville Road.  Later, having a young family, a sensible Hillman Minx lasted throughout the war and well into the 1950s. After he became Financial Director he was entitled to a company car and between 1957 and 1971 he had seven Alvises.  One particularly memorable family trip was a summer holiday in about 1960, through France to Switzerland in the pale green TD21 (5467HP), where he sacrificed a few days of his vacation to visit the Graber headquarters while the rest of the family enjoyed the lakes and mountains.  His last Alvis (JHP903E) he kept for four years, reluctant to sacrifice it for a Rover.  He enjoyed the opportunity to borrow various vehicles that found their way to Holyhead Road, and the driveway at the family home in Cannon Hill Road was occasionally graced by unusual cars: for example there was the Ferguson four wheel drive prototype, there was an Isetta, (this was when the company was looking at the possibility of building the bubble cars under licence), and there was a white Buick Skylark powered by the V8 engine that was destined to be developed by Rover.

Rod Howell
Judith Mitchell
George D Howell
March 2021

The cars in detail…

GRH was appointed Financial Director about 1956, and was allocated a company car from then on.

PWK 602 25683

1954 Silver Grey Lady.  I think this was a spare demonstrator or test bed car, not new when he had it.  It’s still on the DVLA database taxed in 2008, so probably stashed away somewhere last heard of with a member in Walsgrave in 1979 It was auctioned as a basket case circa 2000, where are you now?

XRW 75  25955

Alice blue 1958 TD21 series 1.  Last heard of with Charles Mackonochie.

5467 HP  26189

Light green 1960 TD21 series 1, dark green interior.  The only car he had with steel wheels.  It’s still on the road, now painted dark green.  I think the original colour was experimental – might have been a Graber colour.  This was a “sale-or-return” car, dispatched to a dealer showroom and returned unsold.  It seems nobody liked the colour.  This was the car we went to Switzerland in for a summer holiday in Kandersteg, 1961 I think.   While we were there he spent a few days at the Graber offices, presumably sorting out contracts. Last heard of with a member for sale in 2013.

6687 RW  26689

Dark green 1961 TD21 series 1, cream interior.  Still on the road but carrying a different registration TSJ 136 with a current member and follower

6348 VC   26880

This picture of the car being loaded on to the ferry in Newcastle are dated October 1964, series 2 6348 VC at the start of a late summer tour of Sweden that my mother and father took.

Seal grey TD21 1962 series 2, dark red interior?  This was not new when he took it on.  I think it had been a works test-bed car and might have been the first one fitted with the ZF 5-speed gearbox, but not heard of since

AKV 645C   27172

Dark blue TE21, 1964 originally AVC 105C  Still on the road, long history, restored to concours standard, current member owner in Cheshire

JHP 903E

The 1967 picture of JHP was outside a farmworkers cottage in Kenilworth (just round the corner from Red Triangle!) that we rented after the fire, and was taken August or September of that year by my father.

Metallic grey TF21, 1967.  One of the last cars made, the company now being part of the Rover group. He kept it till about 1971.  His love of the cars and his loyalty meant he was reluctant to have a Rover!  This car is now painted dark red, belonged to the late Neil Millington, and is now in the custody of his fellow director at Autosound in Bradford.