Aviva's rich 300 year history includes a number of famous employees; read about some of them below.
W C Bersey
The founder of the White Cross Insurance Association Ltd. (No. 1) is well known in the history of motoring in the United Kingdom. He took part in the famous emancipation run to Brighton in 1896. More than thirty motorists drove from London to Brighton to celebrate the passing of the Locomotives on the Highway Act, which raised the speed limit from 4 to 14 miles an hour.
Read more about the London To Brighton Veteran Car Run.
In 1897, Mr Bersey also founded, The London Electric Cab Company to run a fleet of electric cabs in London. Mr Bersey had designed the cabs himself. They were the first cabs on the streets of London not pulled by horses and an early example of electrically powered cars.
Poet and playwright John Drinkwater worked for the Northern Assurance Company at Nottingham and Birmingham between 1897 and 1909.
Born at Leytonstone, Essex, he was the son of a schoolmaster who turned to acting. He grew up in Oxfordshire and, on leaving school at 15, became an insurance clerk in Nottingham, moving with the company in 1901 to Birmingham. He found this work uninteresting and turned to literature, his first volume of poetry being published when he was 21. He wrote of one of his early insurance bosses "W H Knight liked insurance and he was patient with me because he knew I didn't".
A founder member of the Pilgrim Players he went on to become the first manager of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Drinkwater's first full-length play was Rebellion (1914) but his first real success writing for the theatre came in 1918 with Abraham Lincoln. He followed this with Mary Stuart (1921), Oliver Cromwell (1921) and Bird in hand (1927), a popular comedy. He also wrote stories for children and critical studies on William Morris, Algernon Swinburne and Samuel Pepys.
Broadcaster and comedian Cyril Fletcher, famous for his appearances on BBC TV's That's Life, joined the Scottish Union and National Insurance Company (taken over by Norwich Union in 1959) in 1930. He worked in the Foreign Department in Walbrook in London, opposite Mansion House.
Cyril organised the annual office dance and ran the unofficial office magazine for which he wrote "Odd Odes", which he was later to present on That's Life. Records show Cyril wrote stage show material in his lunch breaks while eating his sandwiches in "the back safe" - a strong room.
In March 1936 he was asked to be junior representative in Rangoon but he refused saying he was resigning to be a comedian.
Notorious as the acid bath murderer, John Haigh worked for Automotor Finance when J Nelmes Croker, later a general manager of General Accident, was a branch manager. Haigh was sacked for embezzlement. Nelmes Croker later joked that he was responsible for removing from the payroll the only man on the staff who qualified for the chamber of horrors at Madame Tussauds.
Read more about John Haigh.
Edgar Harrison spent 40 years working for the Road Transport and General Insurance Company Ltd. He retired as senior Inspector at Bristol in 1967 and was given the role of Dan Archer in the Archers in 1968.
Rowland Hill, inventor of the penny post, was one of the auditors for Protestant Dissenters’ and General Life and Fire Assurance Company from 1838 to 1840.
Read more about Rowland Hill.
L S Lowry
Artist L S Lowry worked in the Manchester Claims department of General Accident from 1907 until 1910 when he was made redundant.
Born in Stretford, Manchester, Lowry enjoyed drawing as a boy, but it was not until he started work as an insurance clerk that he was able to afford drawing lessons. He studied art in the evenings and earned £52 a year. He later worked as a rent collector, getting to know the poorer districts of Manchester. The mill, the terraced streets and their inhabitants provided the subject matter of some of his most famous works. "I'll always be grateful to rent collection, I've put many of the tenants in my pictures," he said.
It was not until the 1930s that Lowry achieved any kind of commercial success and he became one of the most popular British artists of the 20th century, best known for his atmospheric urban and industrial landscapes.
Elected to the Royal Academy in 1962, he died in 1976.
Dr Thomas Price
Dr Price the first manager and secretary of Protestant Dissenters’ and General Life and Fire Assurance Company was a founder member of the British & Foreign Anti Slavery Society which organised the first World Anti Slavery convention held in London in 1840. A painting of this convention, featuring Dr Price, is in the National Portrait Gallery.
Actors Leonard Rossiter and Michael Williams both worked for Commercial Union and at one stage shared an office.
Leonard Rossiter spent six years in Liverpool Claims before embarking on his acting career at 28. He went on to become a popular comic actor, in films, stage and television, perhaps best known for his performances in the movies Billy Liar, Oliver, 2001: A Space Odyssey and two of the Blake Edwards Pink Panther series.
His television successes included Rising Damp and The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.
He died in 1984.
Sir Walter Scott
In December 1824 Sir Walter Scott, one of the original shareholders of the Edinburgh Assurance Company Ltd, was voted in as an extraordinary director of the company. He also took out a life assurance policy which is still in the group archive. An extract from Scott’s diary reads:
1825 December 13 – Went to the yearly court of the Edinburgh Assurance Company, to which I am one of those graceful and useless appendages, called Directors Extraordinary – an extraordinary director I should prove if they elected me an ordinary one. There were there moneyers and great oneyers, men of metal – discounters and counters – sharp, grave, prudential faces, eyes weak with ciphering by lamplight… off I came, my ears still ringing with the sounds of thousands and tens of thousands, and my eyes dazzled with the golden gleam offered by so many capitalists. - Sir Walter Scott
Commercial Union worker and Olympic Gold medal winner, Don Thompson, set a new record in the marathon walk at the 1960 Rome Olympics. Mr Thompson, who was described as “a frail bespectacled insurance clerk”, was also dubbed El Topolino or Mighty Mouse, and apparently prepared for his Olympic exploits by walking up and down in his bathroom.
Jayne Torvill, is best known as half of ice dance champions Torvill and Dean. Born in Nottingham in 1957 she won her first major skating event, the British National Figure Skating Championship in pairs, in 1971 aged 14.
Together with Christopher Dean she won gold in the Sarajevo Winter Olympics of 1984 with a score which is still the highest ever scored by figure skaters for a single programme and included 12 sixes and the maximum possible nine sixes for artistic impression. The couple were also British Figure Skating Champions from 1978-1983 and again in 1994, European Champions in 1981, 1982,1984 and 1994 and World Champions from 1981-1984.
From the age of 16 Jayne worked for Norwich Union Fire Insurance Society's Nottingham branch in their accounts department later moving to the motor department where she wrote motor endorsements. In an interview with the staff magazine in 1980 she talked about working a full day in the office and then skating until two in the morning. In December 1980 she left the company to concentrate fully on her skating.
Actors Michael Williams and Leonard Rossiter both worked for Commercial Union and at one stage shared an office.
Michael Williams followed his two years in insurance with two years in the RAF. He then successfully auditioned for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada) and in 1963 he was invited to join the Royal Shakespeare Company.
He co-starred with his wife, Oscar-winning actress Dame Judi Dench, in the 1980s TV comedy series A Fine Romance, and also featured in the drama September Song. They also both appeared in the Franco Zeffirelli film Tea With Mussolini.
He died in 2001.