A cup of tea with… Suzanne Hankey

Suzy Hankey

by practical-classics |
Published on

For 13 years, Suzy was Alec Issigonis’s secretary. Here, she chats to us about her working life with her ‘Issi’.


Suzy Hankey

Q So, early Sixties Longbridge. How did you begin?

I left school before I was technically even 15 because somebody told me that if your birthday was in the holidays, you didn’t have to come back. I thought, ‘Gosh, that’s good!’ So I forged my parent’s signature and got an interview.

I went for the interview in a matching coat and gloves, as you did in those days. I remember thinking, ‘Should I have a hat?’

My interview was with a glamorous blonde lady called Miss Lilly. There were 20,000 people working at Longbridge at the time, and Miss Lilly had interviewed them all.

I said all the wrong things.

‘I do go to typing lessons, but I’m not very good,’ I said. Even so, I was offered a job as an office girl in the BMC design office at Longbridge. And that was how it all started.

I started with Sidney SV Smith. He was the technical director but he was an administrator not an engineer, really. The chief engineer, based at Morris Motors, Cowley, was Alec. ‘He designed the Morris Minor, right?’ I asked. The deputy chief engineer was Charles Griffin, who was actually a development engineer.

Q What was the set up then and who worked where? What was the office like?

Alec was there, splitting his time between the Longbridge and Cowley premises; his secretary was a young woman called Jennifer Ellis. Charles Griffin’s secretary was Alice Rothman, who came from Glasgow. I shared an office that was a sort of metal-and-glass room in the design office, with all the draughtsmen working on their big drawing boards all around us.

Through the foyer there was a commissioner, and in the posh office were Miss Greaves and Jennifer. In the inner office was SV Smith and then, further along the corridor, Alec.

I had to make coffee in the morning and, of course, tea in the afternoon – quarter to three! I did copy typing. You couldn’t reproduce a document without retyping it – impossible to understand nowadays! There was a typing pool but, because I was the inner office, I wasn’t in the typing pool; it was sort of more confidential. I can still remember the first copying we did with the Xerox – a giant copying machine that had to have a room of its own. And the copies had to be hung up to dry as well!

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