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Wednesday, 24 February 2016

England's Right Royal Embarrassment: The Prince of Wales and his Underwood Portable Typewriters

Tally-ho! The Prince of Wales rides roughshod over royal sensitives, all for the sake of this wonderful (and worthy) little American-made Underwood portable typewriter:
Owners of the first model (and British-made) Imperial Good Companion portable typewriter (1932-) will be familiar with its royal warrant decal, prominently placed on the right beside the top plate collar. Image if this had instead first appeared on an American-made portable typewriter, which might well have been in the case in 1926 if the Underwood-using then Prince of Wales had had his way.
Well, there WAS a precedent, of sorts, because although the Royal Bar-Lock was sold in Britain and elsewhere in the British Empire under licence held by Englishman William James Richardson, with a royal warrant from King Edward VII, George V's father and Edward VIII's grandfather, it was actually only assembled in England (until 1914) from parts made in the United States by the Columbia Typewriter Manufacturing Company, established by the Bar-Lock's designer, German-born American Charles Spiro, and presided over by another German-born American, Julius Freudenthal.
It was 90 years ago today that the ornate walls of Buckingham Palace rang with cries of anguish over revelations about the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VIII and Duke of Windsor) and his six Underwood Standard Portable typewriters.
It had apparently escaped the notice of King George V (and understandably so) that seven weeks earlier, on January 1, 1926, his eldest son and heir to the throne of England had declared in the London Gazette that the little three-bank Underwood portable was deserving of a royal warrant. Admittedly, the Underwood was tucked in among a long list of things to which the Prince had extended his royal favours, somewhere in under Telfer biscuits and Twining's tea.
The list had been put together by the Prince's senior fag, Admiral Sir Lionel Halsey, who had made the critical mistake of claiming Underwood Portable Typewriters Ltd of London was a portable typewriter maker. It was not. The Underwood portables sold in England, and everywhere else for that matter, were made in Hartford, Connecticut. The main decal on the portable's paper plate clearly stated, "Made in U.S.A." There might have been a Connecticut Yankee in the Court of King Arthur, as Mark Twain imagined, but the Connecticut Yankees in St James's Palace were portable typewriters.
The only English connection with the construction of the first Underwood portable typewriter is that it was designed by Lee Spear Burridge, an American who was born in Paris and went to school at Royal Tunbridge Wells Grammar in Kent.
The Prince of Wales loved all things North American, including Americanisms, corncob pipes and Underwood portable typewriters. Here he is dressed as "Chief Morning Star" at a "pow-wow" of the Stony Creek Native Americans in Alberta during a royal tour of Canada in 1919.
Part of the awful truth about all this had dawned on King George V on February 18, 1926, while he was visiting the British Industries Fair at White City at Shepherd's Bush in London. Told that typewriters used in Britain were predominantly American-made, the King declared this to be a scandalous situation, and that henceforth the British were to buy British. It wasn't until three days later that the King became aware of just how thin the ground was upon which he had made his stand - and that his own eldest son patronised a decidedly American brand, Underwood.
From The Daily Express, January 18, 1926
To rub salt into royal wounds, this revelation came through the pages of a newspaper the King despised - the Daily Herald. The Herald was a distinctly left-wing daily started by the London Society of Compositors to argue for a socialist revolution based on workers' self-organisation in trade unions. By 1922 it was in the hands of the Trades Union Congress and the Labour Party and backed by Russian money. During the last days of Hamilton Fyfe's editorship, it took an anti-royalist stand on the British-made typewriters issue, pointing out George V had been hypocritical in taking his position on British-made goods. The Herald was, of course, all for buying British, and keeping Britons in work, but thought the example should start at the very top - with the royals themselves.
(For "controller" in The New York Times story, read "comptroller"
Just as he had done in Canada in 1919, the Prince of Wales was happy to be photographed wearing "native dress" during his tour to Japan and India in 1922. In the photo below, the prince, front and centre, is kneeling beside his No 1 lackey Lionel Halsey. Halsey also wore a Māori piupiu (war skirt) over his uniform during the naval battles at Heligoland and Dogger Bank.
The Herald had somehow gained access to a letter written by Lionel Halsey to Underwood's agency at Underwood House, 70 New Bond Street near Hanover Square, London, in which Halsey had passed on the Prince of Wales's praise for the little Underwood portables he had been loaned by Underwood and had taken on tour to Japan and India in 1922. Halsey said the prince had subsequently acquired four more Underwood portables and that Underwood would be considered among applications for a royal warrant. This was duly approved and Underwood was issued with the warrant when it was gazetted on January 1, 1926. The timing of this could not have been worse for an embarrassed George V. The Underwood portables might have "behaved splendidly" for the prince in Japan and India but, apparently, in approving the warrant the prince himself had not.
The genius behind the masterstrokes of a loan of typewriters to the Prince of Wales and the subsequent publicity and advertising for the Underwood portable was Arthur William Pollard (above, born Bradford, Yorkshire, April 1882). Pollard knew his stuff. He had been appointed to take charge of Underwood portable sales in Britain in August 1920, less than a year after the three-bank had been launched in the US. 
Previously Pollard had spent five years as Corona's head man in London and, before that, eight years with Blickensderfer from 1907 (including a health-restoring break in Australia in 1912). During his time with Blick, mainly in Liverpool, Pollard's sales efforts had been rewarded with a gold watch from George Canfield Blickensderfer himself. Robert Bastow had Pollard set up Corona's first British branch office, opposite the Hotel Cecil on The Strand, in 1915, and, as in the case of the Blick, Pollard achieved record sales while in charge.
These large display adverts began to appear in The Times of London, a newspaper the Royal family did like to read, after Pollard had taken control of Underwood's British marketing in September 1920:
And this one appeared in Typewriter Topics, a journal the royals did not read, in 1922:
To make matters worse, after the February 1926 royal blushes, Pollard jumped on to the bandwagon and began to advertise the Underwood portable as "the King of its class". It sold in Britain at that time for a princely £12 12s. Pollard twisted the knife even further by saying British typewriter manufacturers had persisted with "obsolete methods and design". American machines could not be matched for size and speed. He was, of course, absolutely correct. Imperial was still six years away from producing its first portable, the Good Companion (an even then it was designed by a German-based Englishman, and based on a German portable, the Torpedo). In the meantime, the little Underwood had nothing which rivalled it among British-made typewriters - only the British-assembled Remington and the Corona 3.  Well, the Underwood is most certainly one of the princes of portable typewriters, that much is true.
This image taken at White City on February 18, 1926, shows Bill Mawle (circled white), then a long-standing head of sales for the Imperial Typewriter Company of Leicester, telling George V (circled red) about the plight of the British typewriter manufacturing industry, as George's consort, Queen Mary (circled blue) looks at work produced by an already outmoded, wide carriage Imperial Model D typewriter (circled green). Later this same year (1926) Imperial finally abandoned Moya-designed typewriters in order to compete with the like of Underwood and gain domestic and British Empire sales with a conventional standard, the Imperial Model 50 designed by Arthur Bott Pateman.
It was Norman William Reginald ("Bill") Mawle, a World War I flying ace who was then general sales manager for the Imperial Typewriter Company in Leicester, who sparked George V's White City "British-made" outburst. Mawle told the King his company had just supplied 900 typewriters to the Swedish Government, yet 1200 American-made typewriters were being shipped into Britain each week, duty free. Ironically, American typewriters were in official use at the Industries Fair - and it was later found that 17,95o of 18,000 typewriters being used by British Government departments were American-made (that's 99.72 per cent). (Mawle would in 1935 earn portable typewriter immortality by gaining the rights to make the Hermes Baby in West Bromwich in England as the Empire Baby, later the Empire Aristocrat.)
Mawle complained to George V about the British Government's Stationery Office buying American-made typewriters in preference to British machines. In April 1926, however, a British newspaper reported that "It is common knowledge that British-made typewriters are in very few commercial offices in this country ... It is, in truth, little wonder that English business houses did not install British typewriters, for hardly anyone has ever heard of their existence ... one could have asked almost any businessman or his typists what the names of the British makes of typewriters were, and he would not have been able to give the information. If the firms find that they have no home market for their machines, they have only themselves to blame."
By the time Britain's Financial Secretary to the Treasury, MP Ronald McNeill (later 1st Baron Cushendun) came to address the issue in the House of Commons, on behalf of Stanley Baldwin's Conservative Government, the "foreign typewriter" figure had risen from 17,950 to 24,700. Asked what they were all used for, McNeill retorted, "For typewriting."
American newspapers called him "rotund", but British MP Ronald McNeill was also quick-witted. Asked what almost 25,000 American-made typewriters were used for, he snapped back, "Typewriting."
McNeill added that British workmanship had not yet produced such good value in typewriters and labour saving machines as America. "The typewriting machines used are still of American make, but whenever they could use a British machine which was at all equal in efficiency to the foreign one the Stationery Office would give preference to the British article."
Forelock-tugging Australian newspapers were to back the foreign monarch of their country, railing against outdated attitudes toward free trade and saying freetraders had the "benighted vision of a wanderer among the fogs of antiquated principles". The Melbourne Age said the contrary view was "enlightened common sense". All very well, provided Britain could make typewriters of comparable quality. English journalist and Tory MP Sir Henry Ernest Brittain, of the Tariff Reform League, tried to curry favour with the King by asking questions about British patents being taken out on machines (such as the Remington portable) which were assembled from American-made parts in Britain. To what end, one cannot say. Brittain also made inquiries about typewriters made in parts of the Empire (such as Canada, where the Prince of Wales owned a ranch).
Naturally, American newspapers were all over this story, taking every opportunity to mock Britain's failure to match American ingenuity and the standard of American-made machines ("showing British machine inferiority"). American typewriters were "real news", one US paper said, resulting from revelations and repercussions of the King's outburst. Another declared George V as "the world's best press agent for American typewriters ... against his majesty's will".
Some stories implied the Prince of Wales - along with his younger brother, the later George VI - had backed his King dad on the "Buy British" campaign. But Edward remained, at least for the time being, staunchly pro-American, and stuck to his Underwoods:
As for skirt-wearing Halsey, in 1936 he was dismissed from the staff of Edward, by then King Edward VIII, because of his opposition to American double-divorcee Wallis Simpson becoming queen. In 1937, however, Halsey got back his stripes when he was appointed an extra equerry to King George VI.
Halsey, in bowler hat, back seat, gets driven around the bend by Edward, at wheel.
Underwood portable typewriters get driven into Kyoto in 1922.

3 comments:

Joe V said...

An enjoyable read, and obviously you've outdone yourself again, Robert, congrats.

This reminds me of my dad, a WW2 veteran who, back in the 1980s, wanted to buy a VCR but didn't want anything Japanese-made. I had to convince him that even American-branded machines (like RCA or Magnavox) were of Japanese manufacture, so he finally relented, reluctantly.

~Joe

Bill M said...

I never typed on a British typewriter, but I'd happily put my worst Underwood up against one and probably find it a better typewriter. I find it difficult to beat an Underwood (Adler comes close). Then we all have our favorites.

Steve K said...

Almost as embarrassing as giving Prince Philip a knighthood! An Underwood portable would have gone down better.