Industry: water, steel & energy

Fowkes, Arthur (11 of 19). An Oral History of the Electricity Supply in the UK

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  • Recording date

    2014-04-28, 2014-07-10, 2014-08-06, 2014-09-06, 2014-09-22, 2014-11-10, 2014-11-24

  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home, Warwickshire

  • Interviewees

    Fowkes, Arthur, 1933- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 11: Comments on senior managers: senior managers' leadership styles felt much lower down in organisations; story about publicity conscious Director General Arthur Hawkins being especially demanding about standards during the lavish opening ceremony of West Burton power station; [03:50] gossip spreading quickly throughout organisation, grid controllers the centre of circulating rumours; middle management responsibility for staff discipline and stopping rumours, in spite of unease; [05:20] AF unease over senior managers exploiting their positions, anecdote about CEGB chairman installing toilet facilities at home to allow him to host garden parties; some senior managers becoming self important, others more down to earth; AF impressions of CEGB chairman Christopher Hinton early in his career; Director Generals sometimes having ideas above their stations; ease for senior managers to slip into feelings of over self importance due to staff deference to them; AF sense of proper behaviour standards; Jim Porteous making strong personal impact on performance of Midlands region between 78-85; Porteous high standards and drive; Gil Blackman making similar impact in North East region. [13:10] Remarks on background to closure of Farham house control centre and history of grid control: growing size and complexity of system in Midlands leading to control overload and commissioning of Farham House to share control centre load; rationalisation of control centres with control room for 275 and 400kV voltage control systems and satellite 132kV control rooms; 500MW unit power stations coming online; closure of older power stations and consequent change in purpose of 132kV network from active to passive use as generation was no longer using it directly; transfer of 132kV network to area boards; closure of Farham house and CEGB district control rooms; AF large job in early 1980s to move whole 132kV network to area board control, including active networks. [18:55] Remarks on transfer of 132 kV system to Area Boards: limited implications for control due to passive nature of network; Area Boards subcontracting CEGB to do maintenance on system at first; transfer of CEGB staff to Area Boards to control system whilst Area Boards built up control organisation, including staff from Warwick and Farham Houses. [21:40] Description of changes to Warwick house grid control systems as a result of consolidation. [23:10] Remarks on control system technology: late 1970s installation of Warwick house systems, pre major computerisation; National Control installed c1966 based on Ferranti Argus computers, normally used for production control in industry; difference between typical use of Argus in factory control systems, compared to needs of power networks; Argus computers lasting until 1980s despite being overtaken by computing development, leaving CEGB providing support for systems; description of non-computerised 1970s regional control rooms; Argus computers used to assist in calculations, in spite of low power. [28:45] Remarks on development of new grid control computer systems from late 1970s: desire to computerise grid control; groups formed to produce a specification for new computer control systems under director of computing Frank Ledger; Frank Ledger and Roy Matthews suggestion that CEGB write software for new system approved by board; Transmission Design and Construction group at Guildford having responsibility for telecommunications and design of control room equipment; regional control centres developing civil works for their control centres but relying on Guildford for systems coordination; development of control centre specifications regionally and nationally but coordinated into one system; plans to consolidate control centres, leading to closure of Manchester and East Grindstead control centres; [33:25] writing of specifications for regional and national control centres in early 1980s; Guildford work on designing National Control centre, use of rented aircraft hanger at Chiddingfold to hold control centre mock-ups; novel nature of visual display units in control centres in 1980s; purchase of computer equipment starting c1986; expensive failure of attempt to develop new grid control centre computer systems; [36:40] AF input in user specifications of system prior to 1986, meetings between system operations engineers and designer; manual nature of 1970s grid control systems and mimic boards. [37:55] Remarks on use of computers in 1970s to help manage regional grid control: software used to allocate generation to match system load; description of detailed power station operation specifications entered into computer programs; use of computers to work out loading profiles for power stations; high level of detail allowed by computer systems; [43:15] continuous running and updating of computer systems; computer terminals at regional control centres connecting to national database held at National Control, instructions from system allowing regional controller to order power stations; growing sophistication of systems; inability to input into system in real time; impact of computing on plant programming, example of plant having different characteristics whilst hot or cold. [47:10] Remarks on: AF consideration of costs to consumer, the Area Boards, who bought electricity priced according to bulk supply tariff. [47:10] Comments on AF typical day working at Birmingham: AF morning update meeting with Jim Porteous; subsequent meetings with Director of Generation, then AF immediate boss Frank Ledger or Brian Ellings, then director of transmission; AF checking on programming and meeting groups connected with various issues of day, such as economics group, trade unions, system planners, computer experts, depending on major issues of day; various management meetings; example of AF duties in event of technical problem; [56:30] many informal meetings; 15% technical content of AF work, mostly managerial issues; hierarchical nature of organisation leading to constant questions over who to inform, Jim Porteous expecting all staff to be fully informed; information largely travelling verbally by telephone through organisation; CEGB early use of pagers; constant updating of all staff with information unnecessary, but knowledge equalling power in Porteous style of management; contrast between Porteous and Gil Blackman style for managing information; mentions Frank Ledger's frustration with Porteous management style. [1:02:00] Remarks on colleagues at Birmingham: AF working with others at his level, such as transmission and operations maintenance engineer Alastair Hanlon, transmission construction engineer, generation development engineer; system technical manager Jim Stevens. [1:05:05] Description of CEGB Midlands regional headquarters at Shirley: nicknamed Shirley Temple; modernist building erected by Arthur Hawkins; AF not liking architectural style of building; poor office environment, bad heating and ventilation, disastrous conversion to open plan; good working atmosphere thanks to good staff; Jim Porteous management uniting staff; outline of AF office; CEGB civil service mentality about rank and office quality; anecdote about carpet in AF later office in London; [1:10:00] mentions excellent canteen, sports and social clubs; AF lack of time to join clubs, lengthy period dealing with a problem and assignment to national Committee for CEGB safety rules. [1:11:50] Story about AF uncovering fraudulent expenses claims amongst staff sent overseas: British Electricity International [BEI] supplying staff to overseas projects; [1:13:00] sending of 2 staff members from Midlands and North East to Saudi Arabia; process for issuing staff with travellers cheques and accounting for expenditure on return; discovery that staff had shared hotel room but claimed for separate rooms; AF encouraging staff member involved to resubmit corrected expenses; [1:17:00] AF ordered to sack employee, despite his concerns that there was insufficient information, similar events happening in North East region with other staff member; AF concerns over lack of proof, but check on travellers cheques revealing that staff members had spent luxury weekend in London hotel; other staff members from North East complaining to AF; AF off record meetings with trade unions; sacking going to appeal, AF honest appearance at tribunal; [1:24:20] reinstatement of staff member, presumably due to him providing evidence against others who had committed similar offences; AF disgust over issues, abruptly leaving meeting with Porteous and Ledger; AF and staff disgust at reinstated staff member bragging about the issue; AF admonishing reinstated staff member on return; series of events going against AF principles; trade union officer buying AF lunch over issue, and advising AF staff member, also a trade unionist, had been disciplined; [1:29:45] trade unions' defensive attitude when staff caught committing misdemeanours; AF hard line dealing with trade unions over issue; AF sense of right and wrong; large size of CEGB making some corruption unavoidable; AF amazement over small sums involved in corruption for the risks involved, such as in theft of paint from power station or home improvements as bribes from contractors; unpleasant episode for AF.

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