The Full Monty: The Story of Sir Montague Burton

Sir Montagu Maurice Burton was born Meshe David Osinsky in Lithuania in 1885. He travelled alone to England in 1900 to escape the Russian pogroms. Although he was a well educated young man, he arrived in the country unable to speak English.

Burton promoted himself as The Tailor of Taste

In 1901, he began peddling goods around the Cheetham Hill area of Manchester, before setting up as a gentleman's outfitter in Chesterfield in 1903. Ten years later he had five men's tailors shops, with headquarters in Sheffield and manufacturing premises in Leeds. By 1929, he had four hundred stores, and the Leeds factory, at its peak, employed 10,500 people, making it the World's largest manufacturing facility.

Burton employees at the Leeds factory

During the Second World War, Burton produced a quarter of the British Military uniforms, and at the end of the war made a third of the demobilisation clothing (which included the "demob suit"). 

Field Marshal "Monty" Montgomery inspecting his uniformed troops

Beginning on 18th June 1945, millions of men started to be demobilised from the British armed services, and in order to prepare them for integration back into civilian life, a set of clothing was provided to replace their military uniforms. It included a felt hat or cloth cap, a three-piece suit of jacket and trousers, two shirts with collars and studs, a necktie, a raincoat, and a pair of shoes. Given that the largest manufacturer of these complete outfits was Montague Burton, they were often referred to as The Full Monty... although some argue that the expression is derived from Field Marshall "Monty" Montgomery's appetite for a Full English Breakfast - no matter where he was doing battle.

Preparing for demobilisation with The Full Monty

Due to the random fit of so many articles of clothing, the demob suit became the subject of a number of post-war comedy sketches, and was often worn over-sized or under-sized by performers to entertain their audiences (to whom many could personally relate). 

 

British comedy actor Norman Wisdom (c.1950)

The wartime rationing of clothes in Britain finally came to an end in March 1949, and the following decade offered gentleman the opportunity to give their wardrobes a little more consideration. By the 1960s, fashion, branding and marketing began to influence the way men dressed, and in 1965 Burton signed a licensing deal to produce a range of 007 clothing, employing Bond tailor Anthony Sinclair to design the collection.

James Bond's original tailor, Anthony Sinclair (1965)

A Tailor & Cutter editorial piece in April 1965 remarks that Anthony Sinclair would 'bring the scent of gun-smoke and Savile Row (via his James Bond range) to Burton's'. Sinclair himself is quoted in an interview with the Sunday Citizen as saying:

"They are trying to smarten up the average man, and he could certainly do with it.... Bond has taste. He is a dream character for most men. Wouldn't everyone like to have the birds fighting over them, and be able to tell a bartender how to make cocktails?" 

A number of television commercials were produced to promote the range, but the 007 connection was short-lived. Sinclair, however, continued to work as a consultant for Burton's after the 007 line was dropped. 

Burton 007 TV commercial (1965)

In 1966, Burton's had moved on from Bond and aligned themselves with another type of hero. The company became the official supplier of suits to the England Football World Cup team that won the tournament that year. It was a glorious moment for the country, and a pinnacle event for the Burton brand. 

England's World Cup team sporting Burton suits (1966)

Burton's continued to expand its business - mainly through acquisition. In 1946, the company had bought the ladies fashion chain Peter Robinson, which was rebranded as Top Shop in 1964, and began to target a younger, fashion-conscious audience. The Burton Group plc went on to acquire several other companies, including Dorothy Perkins and Harry Fenton, and in 1985 acquired Debenhams - then the largest department store chain in the UK.

Bond Girl to be, Halle Berry, representing USA in the Top Shop Miss World contest (1986)

In 1997, the group de-merged from Debenhams and became Arcadia Group plc. Further acquisitions were made, and in 2002, almost 100 years after Montague Burton opened his first shop, Arcadia was sold to Taveta Investments, a company controlled by controversial British businessman, Philip Green. In 2020, Arcadia went into administration and the Burton brand was bought the following year by online retailer Boohoo.com (along with the Wallis and Dorothy Perkins brands) for £25.2 million, with the loss of around 2,450 jobs. 

Raymond Montague Burton, founder of Top Shop and deputy chairman of the Burton Group. 

The demise of the group has been well documented by the British fashion and business press. The circumstances surrounding its death, and the loss of so many jobs, are in stark contrast to the way in which Sir Montague Burton, and his sons, brought the company to life and nurtured its growth. Montague Burton was famously concerned for the welfare of his workers and had established a welfare office at the Leeds factory. He provided his workforce with free meals and free dental and eye treatment (for the strain brought on by close needlework) and was knighted in 1931 for services to industrial relations. Raymond Burton acquired his father’s social conscience, as well as his business acumen, and was appointed CBE for services to charity in 1995.

Footnote:

Inspired by the philanthropy of the Burton family, Mason & Sons are running a clothing drive to help deliver The Full Monty to ex-servicemen, students and other unemployed individuals who may need help to enter the civilian workplace. 

Working with the charities Career Gear in the US and Suited & Booted in the UK, we are looking for donations of unwanted clothing that is in tip-top condition.

During the month of August, Mason & Sons are offering a 20% discount on tailoring purchases in return for suitable donations.

Contact us for more details.