Memories of Murad - Four Stories
This article - painting a brief picture of Mr. Murad's working life - has been assembled from conversations between Ben Cook (who has an interest in capstan lathes and early plug-board automatics) and John Beech, the latter having worked for Murad on two occasions during the 1940s.
Originally from Jamaica, Mr. Wadia Halim Murad studied Electrical Engineering at Manchester University, gaining acceptance as an A.M.I.E.E. At some point before WW2 he moved to north London and set up his first factory in Watford; success was sufficient for the Company to be divided, eventually, into several divisions: "Murad Developments" - responsible for research and development; "Murad Machine Tools" - machine-tool manufacture; "Technaloy" - a firm devoted to the production of castings; "British Bronson" - design and manufacture of electric motors and associated equipment and "Murad International" - a marketing name used after a move to Sheerness.
John Beech was born in January, 1914, served an apprenticeship at John Dickinson's and studied Mechanical Engineering at Regent Street Polytechnic. Having cut his teeth in engineering, and being a gifted individual, he was appointed by Murad as Foreman of the Toolroom, a job of some responsibility for a young man in his twenties - and one that involved him in early development work on the 3Q capstan. At this stage of his career John's idea was to stay at Murad for a year or so, master the job, and move on. Events, however, intervened and two years later (at the start of World War Two, in 1939) he was called up for military service. However, being technically capable and qualified, he was seconded instead to the Ministry of Supply, his initial task being to check up on munitions factories, largely in the East End of London, that were not meeting their production targets. The general finding was they that they were too busy making shirts instead (read into that what you will!). However, an explanation can be found in the fact that, at the time, any factory could apply for munitions work and with it came the potential of access to new machinery, materials and money - all of which were in short supply.
JB was subsequently placed with the "Higher Appointments Board" as a Manager for up to sixty staff. Towards the end of the war one job, whether by accident or design, sent him back to Murad as Manager of Development and it was during this second spell with Murad that JB spent some time working on the development of a car. This project was, with the benefit of hindsight, doomed from its inception for, even if the vehicle had been sufficiently radical in its design to have attracted an enthusiastic cliental (and then developed for production), it could never have competed with the cost-cutting economies of scale enjoyed by the big Midland-based motor companies. Although an exercise without a satisfactory outcome, JB referred to the car episode as excellent experience; it had cost the company a great deal of money, and diverted resources that might have been better employed on machine-tool, electrical-equipment or research in alternative products - but this was a diversion obviously enjoyed by Mr. Murad as a (rather expensive) hobby for his amusement.
After the car episode, and in order to diversify into other areas, JB was asked to tool up to make electric fires and mincing machines - a less-than-exciting prospect which caused him to resign from Murad's and take up his next Higher Appointments Board posting with the Hatfield Engineering Company. Murad's desire to diversify into "domestic products" was, of course, not unique, and like many other engineering companies, having grown beyond their normal market share on the back of the all-out war effort, needed to diversify to survive. The domestic market was suffering from an acute shortage of household items to replace those worn out during the war - and, more importantly for the country's survival, for export. Even though the items suggested may have been unglamorous, they would have provided a steady income from a steadily growing market.
Immediately after the end of the war, in 1946, Murad moved his operation from Watford to Aylesbury, where he had a purpose-built factory constructed for the use of his Company Group. Subsequently, the Murad organisation moved again, this time to West Minster, in Sheerness, Kent, at which point some sales literature was marked "Murad International". This move, to an area with few skilled engineering workers, was prompted by Government encouragement and the promise of suitable compensation, which, naturally enough, was never forthcoming. The costs of the move, and the need to divert resources to train new staff, did nothing for profits and trading difficulties were made worse as many machine-tools firms saw a huge downturn in demand. Murad's fertile imagination caused him to counter this by diversifying into new fields - a risky undertaking even during good times - and it is suspected that over-reaching himself in this area caused outgoings to exceed income. Even so, the Company struggled on until as late as 1980, when it was declared insolvent - with the situation complicated by arguments amongst the accountants as to how the assets should be split up, the result being that no one part could be saved. The end was finally confirmed when, on the 8th of October 1980, the magazine "Machinery and Production Engineering" carried a full-page advertisement offering the rights to the machine tools and all the production equipment and drawings. At this point, JB contacted Mr. Murad who was reduced to living in a "boarding house" in London and had virtually nothing left of his business. Murad offered JB the car and some machine tools (which he declined) in exchange for the production of a prototype gearbox for a typing transcription aid powered by a stepper motor--a new technology at the time. JB produced the required parts, and sent a proforma invoice - but nothing more was ever heard.
Although Murad was an Electrical Engineer, he clearly had a flair for artistic engineering design and liked to see his ideas become reality. JB described him as: "Good electrically, completely useless mechanically and a good artist. He would be insistent about the appearance of a machine, down to some trivial line on a casting, to give the look he wanted".
His most successful product, certainly in commercial terms, was the Company's range of capstan lathes, especially the 1"-capacity 3Q of which a large number appear to have been made - and which found their way into all manner of production shops including those engaged in armament work. Part of their success was down to the Murad-designed electrical system that eliminated the need for an expensive drive gearbox and made them unusually quiet, even when working hard. They were also robust, accurate and compact.
It seems a shame that, after so successful a business career, and doubtless having to overcome more than casual racism, Mr. Murad should slip away into oblivion; if anyone knows more about the Murad story the writer would be pleased to hear from you..