Wednesday January 9, 2019
Back in the days when everyone apparently lived in black and white, a Morris J-Type would have been as much an aspect of daily life as queueing at the local Co-Op or grumbling about the wild music of Lonnie Donegan & His Skiffle Group. They delivered milk, newspapers and groceries, served as ice cream vans, and transported RAC patrols while the GPO ran a vast fleet in both their Royal Mail and Telephone divisions.
Your new radio or television set might arrive by J-Type, a gang of Teddy Boys might take a ride in a Morris Black Maria. It was sold around the world, as illustrated by this splendid 1960-vintage commercial from Australia - and, they even once defeated a crowd of irate Daleks.
The Morris-Commercial J-Type debuted at the 1948 Commercial Vehicle Show at Earls Court, although production would not commence until the following year. The equipment included one windscreen wiper, a locker underneath the driver’s seat and a parcel shelf while Commercial Motor praised how ‘With the doors closed and sliding windows open, a clear driving signal can be given without difficulty and without moving from the comfortable driving position’. The forward-control layout was quite a talking point, and the motor was offset to the passenger side – one notable detail was the radiator filler cap was located inside the cabin!
The top speed from the 1,476cc side-valve engine was limited – 0-30 in 18.5 seconds – but no operator bought the J with expectations of performance. This was the ideal urban delivery vehicle with a remarkable load capacity of 150 cubic feet in a van with an overall length of under 14 ½ feet. Should you require specialist coachwork, Morris would sell you the chassis/cab or merely the chassis.
The creation of the British Motor Corporation in 1952 meant the dropping of the “Morris-Commercial” logo, and in 1956, the J was supplanted by the more contemporary looking J2. However, the older model was still selling well -
and in the following year the J gained the OHV 1.5-litre B-Series engine and four-speed transmission and was renamed the JB.
Commercial Motor founds that ‘the design is still remarkably up to date in many respects’ while the sales copy proudly noted that ‘Smart Vans by Morris are your best advertisements’. There was also now an Austin-badged 101 van as recognisable via its more elaborate radiator grille.
The price was now £532, with “Standard Colours” an additional £21. According to the brochure, the sliding doors would ‘permit speedier handling of goods in busy streets’, and the compact dimensions meant ‘the driver gets away quicker, returns sooner’.
One JB owner is Chris Barnes who owns ‘a small fleet of vehicles - my hobby’. After 62 years the Morris is still ready for work and ‘the longest single trip was either filming in Cardiff for Doctor Who (3 days work) about 135 miles there or Telford for a Polish spy film, night filming at a working village museum about 145 each way’.
The Who episode that guest-stars the JB was the brilliant Quatermass Experiment tribute The Idiot’s Lantern broadcast in 2006 – the Morris appears as a delivery van for “Magpie Electricals”. However, the shoot was not without its challenges as a heater was not included in the specification.
Chris remarks ‘Doctor Who was filmed in February. I set off at 3.30pm; I had frost both on the inside and the outside. I was shaking with cold once I got to the location at 6.45am, finished filming at 8.10pm and then I drove home’.
The introduction of the BMC J4 van in 1960 marked the end of J-Type and production ceased in 1961. As for its associations with the greatest enemy of Doctor Who, look no further than the 1966 spin-off film Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.
In fact, as Chris points out ‘Two vans were wrecked in that film - the one that was set on fire was an ex evening standard newspaper van with a rare wooden roller shutter at the rear’. But on screen, forget sonic screwdrivers – all you really need is a 191-year-old Morris JB…
WITH THANKS TO – CHRIS BARNES