Blog : Immigration

Ian Nicholls

Alec Issigonis at the opening of the 'Elephant House'
Alec Issigonis

With the recent death of Lady Thatcher and this week’s local elections, it has been a time of strong political debate. Recently,  I watched a party political broadcast by the Labour Party, in which its leader Ed Milliband discussed his party’s policy on the thorny issue of immigration.

Now I am not about to regale you with my opinion on immigration, I don’t have one and to be brutally honest I don’t care!

But I am going to use this opportunity to point out that the designer of some of Britain’s most successful cars was an immigrant who did not set foot in Britain until he was 16 years old.

He was born on 18 November 1906 in Smyrna in the former Ottoman Empire. His mother was German and his father was of Greek ancestry, but he was a British citizen. His grandfather had obtained British citizenship through the UK consul in Smyrna, for reasons that would not be acceptable to today’s Identity and Passport Service. Neither the grandfather, father or mother of this car designer had a drop of British blood in them, and had never visited the United Kingdom.

The car designer was brought up as British, and in later life, would come across as more British than a native-born citizen.

However, WW1 resulted in the collapse of the Ottoman empire, and Greek troops occupied Smyrna in May 1919. Turkish nationalism flourished. In September 1922, Turkish troops closed in on Smyrna. Refugees flooded into the city, and an international naval evacuation began. The British citizenship of the car designer’s family came in useful, and they were evacuated by the Royal Navy to Malta. They had lost everything, and had gone from riches to rags – and Smyrna burned, to be rebuilt by the Turks. It would be renamed Izmir.

The father of the car designer was taken ill on the journey to Malta. He and his mother travelled by train to reach England, while his father languished in a Malta hospital – finally dying on 1 June 1923, after a nine month illness, and never seeing the country he admired so much.

The mother was able to sue the British government for compensation for the loss of the family fortune. She won, although the sum was only able to tide mother and son over for a short while.

The son studied engineering and went on to become a famous car designer. He was knighted in the summer of 1969 and died on 2 October 1988.

He was of course Sir Alec Arnold Constantine Issigonis CBE.

Ian Nicholls
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  1. Keith, are you feeling a tad mischievous with this blog title?!

    If his mother was German and his father was of Greek ancestry, then today he would either have a German or Greek passport. So being part of the European Union they would be free to come and go into the UK as per EU law. I think.

  2. *** STOP PRESS *** Immigrants are both good and bad – just like real people – thanks for the amazing insight…

  3. People think of immigrants they don’t think of the doctors, nurses, IT workers – core skill sets that contribute vastly to the economy, more so than a lot of ‘natives’ who are happy to sit on benefits.

    I once knew an immigrant who moved country, didn’t bother to learn the language, didn’t even bother to register his car or insure it locally, wouldn’t integrate with local culture – kept within his insular community only eating the food and drinking only the drink from his home country. His income I suspect wouldn’t hold up to a tax inspection.
    He was an Brit in Spain.

  4. I think I read once that Sir Alec was related to the infamous Berndt Pischetsrieder. Does anyone else know anything about this?

  5. @Kel

    Supposedly a first cousin once removed of Issigonis.

    Presumably why he sought to buy Rover and pushed for the new Mini

  6. I don’t think this is a problem , only the rate at which it has been happening. ‘I stand like the roman..’ and all that

  7. The diversity record of The Firm is pretty impressive from the days long before the automotive industry was totally multinational: Dick Burzi, Tadek Marek (with Austin 1949-51), Gerald Palmer (Born in England gew up in Rhodesia), several others in senior positions even in the pre-BMC days.

    The later destiny of The Firm was substantially shaped by managers and engineers from outside the UK – Filmer Paradise, Michael Edwardes, Graham Day, Roland Bertodo and Sivert Hiljemark.

  8. I see Ed Rubberband, and I see his lips move. Sadly all I hear is ‘wibbly wobbly, wibbly wibbly wobbly’…….

  9. The problem isn’t immigration per se (and I really hope I don’t sound like a Daily Mail reading UKIP member) but how many. I used to work as a care worker, and the fact that many workers from the EU and further abroad would work for less meant that the wages took a nosedive, and in many care homes there are fewer and fewer British workers- the same is true in many other relatively low skilled occupations.

    It is often said that these fill job roles that nobody else wants- in fact it is often the case that British workers, with mortgages and other outgoings, can’t afford to take them up.

    I certainly don’t blame people from abroad for trying to create a new life in the UK. It isn’t easy.

  10. Never mind the folk with mortgages that cant afford to take these jobs up,you would dig holes in the road to keep the house,i know i have done it,the fact is,we have lazy scrounging w*nkers sponging on the dole with widescreen tellies on their wall,instead of doing an honest hard days graft.If i was in charge it would be work or starve.
    They should adopt the work ethics of the eastern europeans which put us to shame.
    The only problem with immigration is it was never controlled and no one knew who was here or was not.

  11. @4 – Thats a very good point. I remember seeing a TV documentary where a Taxi driver who complained that Britain was going to the dogs because of immigration so he was off. To live in a British “Compound” in Spain where he would be amongst “his own kind”. He couldnt see the irony.

  12. We have always been an island of imigrants and of emigration.. People forget the numbers who have left these shores, as any of us can do.

  13. Sorry but immigration is a problem,and at the rate its been running at is unsustainable.

    There is a limit to what the country can support and I think we have reached it.

    These examples of past immigration a completely different to the situation we have now. As has been pointed out Sir Alex was a stereotypical English gent.

    Nowadays immigrants don’t integrate into British society and in many areas live in ghettos.

    The scale of immigration is also keeping wages low and in some cases driving them down. How is that fair to the existing British population?

    This idea that poles are some sort of super worker in my experience is also a myth. The poles and slovos that I work with and have worked with are no more or less hardworking than the (working) British.

  14. Immigration is not a good thing. How can it be when people are forced to leave their homes, their beloved, for something stranger, unknown and sometimes hostile under the most unhuman conditions? I am sorry, but the example of Issigonis is not at all typical in comparison with what happened to the majority of the Greek populations in Asia minor and the south black sea coast during 1922. Behind an immigration current, there is always a dodgy policy (either internal or more commonly external) that caused war and endless misery in some parts of the world. Also think that British politicians that are now hypocritically annoyed with the uncontrolled immigration, they have in the recent past supported such policies. The other aspect of the issue is that the so called multi-cultural societies can only succeed as a pulp of individuals that have no historic memory of their past and ethics, no heritage, and eventualy no identity. They just exist as low paid slaves and the sole freedom that is given to them is to consume. Perhaps you might be able to just detect the later coming upon us.

    (A Greek that choose to stay in his country even in difficult times.)

  15. Ok so Issigonis is probably an extreme example but still relevant. I know people who emigrated here during the 50’s and 60’s, you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart from a British native if their skin colour or surnames didn’t give them away.

    Which is the point, a trickle of immigrants is much more easily integrated into the existing population. Which is a good thing.

    @18 I don’t think you can say the eastern Europeans have been forced to come here. They come here for the benefits they can get be it higher wages and or benefits.

  16. Mark, is this what you are saying ‘Thybrim multo spumantem sanguine cerno’? not sure this is the place.

  17. Immigration isn’t a problem but we need to be able to cherry-pick the best from around the world rather than simply let anybody in. Trouble is for a decade the floodgates were left open and now we have the mess that we have now.

  18. Despite my previous comments I’m not sure you can ‘cherry pick’ without being very elitist.

    Many immigrants only get to a point of high achievement after many years- it would have been hard to assess young Issigonis’s potential at the time of his entry to the UK- indeed he turned out to be something of an academic dud. And often it is the children of immigrants who are the achievers- stereotypically many Asian immigrants worked relatively menial jobs whilst supporting (and in some cases pushing) their children into high status occupations such as lawyers or doctors.

    So it is a case of managing the numbers rather than only admitting the very brightest of the aspiring immigrants- indeed, this can actualy have a negative effect on populations back in their home countries- the NHS has been accused of causing a ‘brain drain’ from developing countries by recruiting doctors who had in many cases been trained at the expense of their own countries only for their expertise to benefit the British NHS service users.

  19. @ ford prefect ‘Blog-Immigration’

    Going off topic, Enoch Powell wasn’t racist he gave a speech which was misinterpreted and then jumped on by both do-gooders and racists to champion there misplaced beliefs.

  20. Enoch Powell was never a racist.Ever.Dig deeper and it was a Labour man that asked him to commission a report of some kind,cant remember exactlty but it was the labour man that did not like blacks living in his area.
    When will the debate start on religion and football?Jeez.

  21. It really depends on the motivations of the people immigrating to the UK, my father and his family moved to the UK from the Middle East in 1958 as they gained British citizenship beforehand from living under British rule in Yemen.

    Like many immigrants at the time, they sought a better life for themselves, were ardent Anglophiles and had enough of the problems typical of living in a crazy part of the world where rabid fanaticism (whether the secular nationalist or religious variety) is the rule rather than the exception.

    The problem nowadays (apart from the country almost reaching its limit on many people it can support) is that unfortunately many (but not all) immigrants are out to game the system to see how much they can get, are either indifferent to Britain or outright Anglophobes / Anti-Western, who treasure rather than discard the racial, ideological or religious bigotry they’ve brought along from their original countries, with quite a few even openly making no bones about seeking to change the UK (and other Western/Westernized countries) into the very countries they themselves sought to escape from.

    It is the loathsome actions of the latter with and the overall impotence of the government (who are running the country as if it were British Leyland on a country-wide scale or a non-autonomous English-speaking province of Europe) in dealing with those bad apples that concerns me more than the far-right.

  22. I know Mr Powell was no racist. Micheal Foot was quiet vocal at times on that subject. Denis Healey said of him that he was “far from being the racist bigot”. I think the Con party were afraid of him taking over and doing the job properly!

  23. It was a bit ironic that he had managed to recruit a lot of NHS staff from Commonwealth countries while working as the health minister.

  24. @13

    Unfortunately it’s no longer as simple as that.
    I dug myself into debt that i am still paying off nearly ten years later.


    Because I chose to work.
    I would rather work than sit on benefits, but in hindsight due to the lack of proper jobs (not even min wage jobs of a decent amount of hours) I earned less and was liable to pay more than if I had continued to ‘seek work’

    I honestly wish i’d chosen to wait until a proper job came along as dignity etc is all very well but doesn’t mean much when you cannot afford to eat.

  25. I sense a idiotic left wing meaning to this essay, the facts are, however, there are TOO MANY useless and destructive foreigners in the UK!!!

  26. @ 35 – and even worse some of them vote conservative… I havent voted for a while and to be honest I’d vote BNP on a simple principle. They may be bigoted, racist, homophobic, transphobic schutzstaffel rejects with the emotional range of a teaspoon and the social grace of duckweed but at least they are honest about (if not proud) of the fact. And lets be fair they couldnt do a worse job than the last few incumbants.

    I find it most illuminating that its ok on here to discuss immigrant bashing and play whack-a-single-mum in the comments but its not ok to publicise the hounding to the point of suicide of a trans teacher. I think the term is hypocrisy.

    The comment re a living wage is also worth mentioning. How is it that people cannot afford to live without payday loans at 275% but that being in work and being £20k in debt is better for some reason than just about managing to survive on benefits? Ask 99% of people and they’d be happy to work, but whats the point of 7 years of post. Doc. Geology when they want to force you on to a till for a wage you cant feed your family on.

    Immigration has its good and bad but dont forget we’ve got our own homemade idiots that are twice as bad as the average immigrant – Wacki Jacqui, Camilla Park-yer-balls (as was), Theresa May(be we got it right this time) and all the rest of them.

    Oh, and some food for thought, if it wasnt for immigrants Winston Spencer Churchill wouldnt have existed. You know, the bloke who shot alot of blacks & Irish, nicked his most famous quote from a chap called Goebbels, and ‘won’ WW2. Mind you given the current performance of the conservative leader you’d be able to break the human powered land speed record – just bolt Churchill’s spinning coffin in the space where the engine used to go. The extras from Shaun of the Dead would make a better hash of government…

    And for dessert. If the Totenkopfvebande found out that a Jewish family (or a member of same) had British or American citizenship they ended up in so called transit camps, which in comparison to other destinations on the Eichmann Express were practically Butlins – an early form of ‘human shield’ that saved more than a few Jewish lives, many of which ended up in the UK.

    • Dear Jemma

      Way to piss off the editor and creator of this car site. Call him a hypocrite for not running a non-car story on the site.

      ‘I find it most illuminating that its ok on here to discuss immigrant bashing and play whack-a-single-mum in the comments but its not ok to publicise the hounding to the point of suicide of a trans teacher. I think the term is hypocrisy.’

      Feel free to comment your heart away about Lucy Meadows. If you think it’s relevant. But you asked me to write a story about her suicide on this website, which is not relevant in terms of content one little bit. It’s a shocking and distressing story, and I am of the opinion that Littlejohn should be strung-up. However – it’s not a car story, is it? And I said as much in my (unacknowledged) reply to your email.

      And for those who have no idea what I am on about, here’s a link. Happy Jemma? Probably not.

  27. @36, Jemma,

    You don’t comment on all that many threads but the ones you do are always worth reading (not that I always agree…)

    Like you I was appalled by the hounding of that particular trans teacher (nothing new there from the Street of Shame- remember how they hounded one of the cast members of the Tellytubbies for being gay- as if a bloke in a furry costume could somehow turn viewers children gay)- but there wasn’t really anywhere on this car blog where comment on the matter would have been relevent- until now.

    Agree with your comments re Churchill- who is treated in this country like a sort of demigod. He was at least right on some things, which is more than can be said for Theresa May- in fact the only thing she and I agree on was when she suggested that many considered the Tories to be the ‘nasty party’- followed by a debate on gay adoption where Tory after Tory spoke out against it and proved to many of us that they were just that.

  28. I did nothing of the sort. I asked you, on the basis that I didnt think you knew, whether it would be possible for me to post something on here, regarding something I consider very important. At no point did I ask, nor intend you, to write anything since I didnt know you knew about what the charming Dickie Littlejohn had been up to, again I might add.
    As to its appropriateness, yes its off subject, as I stated to you at the time – but its odd is it not – someone is perceived to be Jew bashing and the reaction is akin to the charge of the light brigade (ironic since the first EU country to make Jew bashing government policy? England – Edward Longshanks to be exact), someone does the same to a transwoman or a Pagan girl (look up Tempest Smith) and its ‘well, they asked for it, theyre weird’. Its a damn short ride from ‘theyre weird’ to ‘theyre to blame for everything, now where did I put that maschinengewehr 43…’.
    Ever tried to deal with a 4 year old trans child whos mother and elder sister are being victimised because of closed minded social workers? I have, its not fun. Ever been verbally and physically abused by the Police for your religion? Guess what, another yes.
    I asked your permission and you didnt give it, fair enough, I understood your reasoning. Couple of weeks later, you allow an article to be posted on an even more divisive subject on the flimsy pretext of Issigonis having the joy of being born in the then imploding Ottoman Empire. Not that it wasnt interesting, but yes, I do consider that a somewhat interesting decision.
    One of my major interests is history, automotive and otherwise, and one of my interests within that is the little truths that people dont want you to know. Like the fact that Eichmann, was hanged for doing exactly what he said, problem is he probably didnt have any choice in the matter, didnt see it as wrong, since he shows alot of signs for Aspergers.. Which means, if true, that he had as little chance of disobeying as Theresa May has of getting ‘look no hands’ Hamza out of the country. Inconvenient fact if true, but there you go.
    I have been banging my head against transphobic abuse for as long as I can remember to the point its made me ill. Police stand by and watch it happen, doctors wont treat a girl because shes pre-op after a car crash and she dies – Dickie Littlejohn goes trannyhunting with his usual flair and tact and breaks 3 UK laws that I know of.. The police do? Nothing. The newspapers? Ignore it. BBC news? It never happened. Some UKIP berk thinks he’s back in Pax Chavicum and waves in an unfortunate way – and its splattered all over the place like a Brazilian electrician.

    Can someone explain to me, like I am four, how thats in any way, right?

  29. To get back on the subject, the problem in the UK is that the current government is now being so restrictive on immigration from outside the EU that genuinely talented scientists and engineers are being made to jump through impossible hoops to come and work here. We should be welcoming wannabe Issigonises with open arms.

  30. @41, You must be Joe King? (sorry).

    What a bizarre man Nick Griffin is- why the hell would children die because their parents are not married hetrosexuals?

  31. Out of interest, did Longbridge ever have a large number of West Indian workers, or did they try to keep the site whites only as I know the National Front had a branch on the site in the seventies and even the militant unions then weren’t too keen on black men doing the same jobs as white men? ( Check out Love Thy Neighbour, where the white bigot is a hardline union man and Labour voter.)

  32. as a long term viewer of this site it dis-heartens me to see bickering over such a trivial issue !
    I was once a bnp member, and without doubt met only a few bigots in the 18 months as a member.
    as with most things, media bull wins the day, as no longer a member I can see both sides, unlike most who watch the bbc propaganda against the bbc pc b-s.
    I grew up in the 70’s, where I get my love of BLMC, a time of racist crap on the telly, but whilst growing up I realised the few blacks I grew up with (from commonwealth) were no different to me and are still friends to this day.
    if I can say one thing, the world is one hell of a small place for 7 billion people, ffs lets all just get on !

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