She’s a Lady

Leyland Lady, 1945
Leyland Lady, 1945
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The beautiful women who graced Leyland Motors’ calendars for decades are to find fame in the town again.

Leyland Ladies, who worked at the manufacturing firm, were chosen as the faces of the company on the popular calendars, from the early 1930s.

A selection of portraits is on display at the British Commercial Vehicle Museum, and volunteers are putting together a new calendar for next year.

Between 1930 and the late 1960s, one woman was given the honour each year to pose for the calendar, but for 2013, the museum trustees are including 12 ladies from the wall exhibition.

Trustee Stephen Bullock said: “We had a group of ladies visit the museum recently who asked where they could get prints of the portraits from, and we came up with the idea of making a new calendar for next year.

“Leyland Ladies were very famous during Leyland Motors’ heyday. The company started doing them because they wanted to get the Leyland name known worldwide, so they started making calendars for offices and workshops.

“It was a good way of getting the attention of the male workers, by putting a pretty face to the Leyland Motors name, but the portraits were also very tasteful.”

The calendars were called Leyland – She’s a Lady, because drivers referred to their vehicles as being females, and as time passed, they became known as the Leyland Ladies.

The original painter, Walter Lambert, also captured the fashions of the eras each year, and on more than one occasion, used the same model as previous years.

“You have to look very hard to tell which ones are repeated,” Stephen said. “Walter did well to disguise them with the fashions.

“He continued the paintings until the late 1960s, I think it was 1969, and after that, a different artist was commissioned each year.

“We presume he died in the late 1960s, because we think he was born in the 1880s or 1890s, and you can really see a difference in the style used for the paintings after he stopped doing them.”

The last portrait the museum has is from 1968, but the volunteers are missing seven from between 1930 and 1968.

“We would love to hear from anyone who knows where we can find the missing pictures,” Stephen said. “And from anyone who knows about the ladies themselves, or artist Walter Lambert.”

British Leyland dropped the calendars after rival firm Pirelli’s more ‘racy’ calendars became popular, which started making in the 1960s.

But Stephen said the Leyland Ladies are still very much appreciated in their hometown.

He added: “People have been enjoying the exhibition, and I don’t think visitors expect to see so much artwork on the walls of the museum.

“It stops women in their tracks, because the display is very near the entrance, and the men just tend to look at the vehicles nearby.”

Next year’s calendar, which will feature at least one woman from each decade, will be available from the museum in the next couple of months, and money raised from sales will go to the museum charity.

Volunteers hope to continue making calendars for the next few years, in an effort to use all the ladies. The missing portraits are from 1931, 1933, 1937, 1949, 1957, 1958 and 1963.

If you have any information about the missing portraits or about the ladies featured, please contact the museum on 01772 451011, or call Kay Taylor at the Guardian on 01257 264911.