Scope and Content

Unpublished memoire entitled 'My turbulent Years in Industry' by Sir Alan Wilson coveringSir Alan Wilson's career at Courtaulds, ICT and Glaxo, covering the internal politics andpersonalities as well as detailing the take-over battle between Courtaulds and ICI:

Index and foreword

  • Chapter 1: Courtaulds: a baptism of fire
  • Chapter 2: The next five years
  • Chapter 3: Overseas ventures
  • Chapter 4: Other activities
  • Chapter 5: Viscose in retreat
  • Chapter 6: Our positive achievements
  • Chapter 7: Towards the abyss
  • Chapter 8: The succession
  • Chapter 9: The Courtaulds/ICI battle
  • Chapter 10: The aftermath
  • Chapter 11: Computers and pharmaceuticals
  • Chapter 12: My last battles

Administrative / Biographical History

Alan Wilson was born in 1906 and graduated from Cambridge in 1926 and spentfrom 1926 - 1940 undertaking research in quantum theory at Cambridge. InSeptember 1941 he was recruited into the radio communications laboratory ofSOE where he began to re-organise and streamline its work. Towards the end ofWorld War II Wilson hoped to obtain the Plummer Chair of Mathematical Physicsat Cambridge but when this fell through the way was open for his move intoindustry.

Courtaulds approached Wilson in 1944 for advice on the establishment of afull scale research department following which Wilson was offered a seat onthe Board as Director in Charge of Research and Development. Wilson finallyaccepted, under pressure from the head of the Department of Scientific andIndustrial Research, intending to return to academic life after five years.However after formally joining Courtaulds in September 1945 he remained withCourtaulds for 17 years. The end of his involvement was marked by a takeoverbattle between ICI and Courtaulds. The chairman of ICI wished to amalgamatethe two companies and make Courtaulds a subsidiary of ICI. After protractednegotiations ICI lost the stock market battle but still owned 38% ofCourtauld's share capital.

Wilson was elected Chairman Designate of Courtaulds in July 1961, butfollowing the stock market battle there was support for bringing in anexternal candidate. Finally Wilson stood down from his position and in March1962 he resigned from the Board of Courtaulds.

In July 1962 he became a director of ICT (International Computers andTabulators) and played a major role in the development of the Britishcomputer industry.

Wilson joined the Board of Glaxo Group in January 1963 and became Chairman in1963. Glaxo had entered the pharmaceutical market fully after World War IIand had taken over a number of other companies. Wilson headed thereorganisation of the Group into a new holding company, pushed Glaxo towardsEuropean markets and overhauled the its research policy. Wilson retired fromGlaxo in 1973.

Throughout his career Wilson's had a wide record of public service -particularly in the area of encouraging scientific teaching and research. Hedied in 1995.

His publications include:

  • The theory of metals (1936)
  • Semi-conductors&metals: an introduction to the electron theory of metals(1939)
  • Thermodynamics and statistical mechanics (1957)
  • Report of the Committee on Coal Derivatives (1960)


The memoir is arranged in chronological chapters.

Access Information


Acquisition Information

Dr. Ernst Sondheimer, via TerryGourvish, Business History Unit

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