John Polwhele Blatchley – Obituary

1st July 1913 – 16th February 2008

John P. Blatchley, who passed away on 16th February, was head of the talented team at Crewe responsible for the styling of such cars as the Silver Cloud in the early 1950s. In his youth he had shown an intense interest in motor car coachwork design, and after a period of ill-health that disrupted his education he was able to attend the Regent Street Polytechnic in London.

One of the original drawings for the Bentley 6

John Blatchley was the last of the great designers from the pre-War ‘golden age’ of coachbuilding. Blessed with superb artistic talent, his remarkable abilities first found an outlet at the London coachworks of J. Gurney Nutting Ltd. Soon after his arrival there his chief and mentor, A.F. McNeil, left to take up the Chief Designer position with James Young, leaving the youthful John Blatchley in charge. Gurney Nutting’s pre-War work is renowned for its elegance and perfect balance, and some of their finest designs came from the fertile mind of John Blatchley.

During World War II John Blatchley was employed by Rolls-Royce Ltd at Hucknall, then at Clan Foundry, turning his design talents to such wartime applications as aero engine cowls. After the War he arrived in the Car Division’s fledgling styling department just in time to save the Bentley Mk VI standard steel saloon from the rather dull design originally envisaged, introducing a certain Gurney Nutting panache into the styling. Later he revised the design with a longer tail for the R-type standard saloon. His truly great legacy though, came after he was appointed Chief Styling Engineer at Crewe in his superlative styling of the Silver Cloud/S-type standard saloon and, in his final years as a stylist, in the equally elegant two-door Silver Shadow (renamed Corniche in 1971). Although the styling of the original Bentley Continental is often attributed to him, he declaimed any credit for the iconic H.J. Mulliner design, though he was responsible for the Park Ward designs for the R-type and S1 Continentals. The styling of the standard four-door Silver Shadow, which revolutionised the Crewe-built motor car, was also his work. JPB had no truck with the new business environment ushered in by Geoffrey Fawn, and he chose early retirement in 1969, though two of his designs survived in production into the 1990s.

John Blatchley was a perfect gentleman all his life, with a modest, self-effacing nature. He was also a man of elegant tastes, and although he did not claim complete originality, being much influenced by French designs, all of his work embodied that indefinable Englishness with high style that nonetheless never ran into brashness or excess.

In the 1990s John Blatchley was “rediscovered” by enthusiasts and enjoyed his old age recalling his life and times to his many visitors. I feel very privileged to have known him. He leaves two sons, Simon and Philip. His wife Willow, who predeceased him by some years, was an expert on Gypsy culture. He spent his long retirement in Hastings, Sussex.

Martin Bennett