The Master Graham Cole CBE

Coachlines - October 2018

03.10.18 Graham Cole CBE

Master’s message October 2018

Following my installation on 3rd September at St James Garlickhythe, I had the honour to address Past Masters, Wardens, fellow Coachmakers and their distinguished guests at the dinner which followed at Tallow Chandlers Hall. For those who were unable to attend the evening, the address outlining a little of my background and my ambitions for my year as Master can be found here.

I would like to thank the members of the Court who have elected me as the 341st Master of this Worshipful Company of Coachmakers and Coach Harness Makers of London, it is a great honour. As my first act as Master, I want to pay tribute to Immediate Past Master Tony Edwards, whose tireless work, leadership and generosity to the Livery has been extraordinary. There have been so many achievements and successes under his Mastership, but there are two I particularly want to highlight.

First, the outstanding success of the Banquet, marking the 100th anniversary of the Royal Air Force – I’m delighted we could mark the RAF’s centenary and our 100 years of friendship. For the Lord Mayor to confirm that the Banquet was one of the highlights of his year is a measure of what was achieved. The second is the extension of apprenticeship activities, a subject very dear to my own heart. Due to Tony’s work, we now have a platform from which we can move forward to further support young people in our industries. It has been a privilege to be Tony’s Senior Warden in this special year, and on behalf of myself, the Wardens, the Court, and the whole of the livery – thank you. Huge thanks also go to Linda, the Mistress of the Company. I know, from having been a Warden, how important it is to have someone to help and support you in the running of the livery, and Linda has been with Tony every step of his remarkable year.

I would also like to offer thanks to some others, first, to Court Assistant Sarah Cook for her welcome to myself and the Wardens. As Sarah mentioned, I am teetotal. As a matter of interest, there are more than 100 different brands of sparkling water on sale in the UK; perhaps I should ask our new Renter to arrange some special events for fizzy water tasting. Sarah was an outstanding HR Director at Westland. However, I remember our conversation when we discussed her taking on the role of a Divisional Managing Director. Sarah wasn’t sure. It was one of the few times when I was right and she was wrong, as she has become an outstanding MD in transforming the company she leads.

I must also say how much I am looking forward to working with such an outstanding team of Wardens for my year. My sincere thanks to a number of our Past Masters who have willingly given me encouragement and wise counsel over many years – without their support I would not be here this evening. Thanks also to our Chaplain, Ray, for conducting this evening’s service and for his continued advice and friendship. I am delighted also that my good friend Canon Ian Woodward offered prayers this evening. My thanks to our Clerk and Assistant Clerk who have arranged this evening and coped calmly with my regular queries and changes of mind. And of course, to my family and friends, who are with me, I really appreciate your presence. My good friend Michael Joliffe has travelled from his home in Athens to be here; both my sons are present, and I am delighted they have indicated their wish to be considered for membership of the Livery. Finally, to Pat for all her love and support – we celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary just a few weeks ago. As always – yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

The advice I received from one of our Past Masters on the speech of a new Master was to, “tell them a little about yourself – tell them some of your plan for the year – don’t drag it out”. On the assured basis that, now elected, the Court cannot quickly change its decision, I will follow the advice.

Home was post-war Coventry, at that time a city at the centre of the motor industry; I am the younger son of a car worker and a housewife. School was one of the new comprehensive schools. In truth, 2,500 children brought together in a type of bubbling settlement, in a challenging area of the City. Apparently its only real claim to fame was that it became an integral part of the feeder system to Winson Green Prison. I’m afraid my own educational achievements fitted very well with the general performance of the school. After four years, I left aged 15 with my total qualification being a swimming certificate – which I took twice before passing. I fear I am likely to be the first Master Coachmaker to have built his career on the retake of a 100 metres’ breaststroke.

The majority of my working life was spent at Westland Helicopters. For those of you who are acquainted with helicopters, my career spanned the exit of Whirlwind and Wessex and the introduction of Apache and Wildcat. For those of you not so acquainted, just over 40 years. It was a wonderful time to be at the company.  One of the many blessings during those days was to work with such outstanding people. I have already thanked Sarah for her words, but I would also like to welcome my former colleagues, John Ponsonby, Nick Whitney and Richard Smith, all Coachmakers and good friends. Together with Dave Pitchforth, who is overseas today, they formed an outstanding management team, which was a privilege to lead. Each of them has gone on to achieve Board success and I am so very proud of all of them. Thank you for being here.

My father was orphaned at 12; to the best of my knowledge never read a book in his life, but had mastermind-level knowledge of the Daily Mirror. He started work at 14. As a young man, he had the good fortune to obtain some limited training at Siddeley Deasey and then Vanden Plas. He achieved to the extent that, after several years, his journeyman papers read, ‘Coachmaker’. For him, for the rest of his life, that was special. Not for him the untrained fitter, but a Coachmaker. His pride in what he had achieved is an emotion that has stayed with me throughout my life. So, when Past Master Gerry Bunn invited me to become a Coachmaker myself, it was an invitation that linked me back to my father, one of life’s good guys. Thank you so much, Gerry.

I will always believe our Coachmakers’ Livery is also special. Special, because of our history – 341 years of service to the City of London – and counting.
Special, because of our Past Masters, who bring such experience, knowledge, and dignity to our livery.
Special, because of the work with our industries – the modern inheritors of traditional coachbuilding – and our promotion of excellence in industry.
Special, because of our focus on charitable giving.
Special, because we work with and encourage apprenticeships and young people. And, special, because of the friendship and care for one another that is a key part of our Livery.

I hope and believe that out there are more aspiring apprentices that we can help, who may become new Coachmakers with the same pride and excitement that my father did in inter-war Coventry. It gave him and his family a chance – the chance for a better life – and people who have helped me, when they didn’t have to, have given me and my family a chance for a better life. I’m so proud that this Livery of ours can do the same today. During this year, I look forward to being able to welcome new liverymen to our company. I would like our liverymen, whether they are at the start or the end of their careers, to understand the duties of being a Coachmaker – making a difference in the world around us. New liverymen to be invited, to be proud and to be committed, and to play a full and active part in our livery and never forget the privilege they have been granted.

In nine years, we celebrate our 350th anniversary, and I want us to begin planning for that date. Together with the Wardens and Court, I want to make sure we focus on this anniversary as a target to grow our Livery’s financial base, so we can continue to help new apprentices, encourage innovation in industry, and play our part in the life of the City of London. What better legacy can there be for today’s Coachmakers than to secure our Livery and ensure continuity of our work for the next 350 years? This will be a focus for me during these next 12 months.

Much has changed for our livery since we received our Royal Charter in 1677. Although we still celebrate the traditional art of coachbuilding with our craft members, we now spend time on aircraft and motor cars as well as on phaetons and hansoms. The simple creed of our forebears in the livery, in those centuries past, was that we should practice our craft honestly and produce goods worth making. I passionately believe the same pillars of honesty, quality, fidelity, and friendship remain in abundance in this livery today and will guide our hand as we continue our work for many years to come. So, I stand here as your Master – proud, more than a little nervous, ready to do my best for our livery. I thank you for the trust you have placed in me. With your help, I hope that I – and we – will have an enjoyable and successful year.