Industry: water, steel & energy

Vey, Peter (5 of 10). An Oral History of the Electricity Supply in the UK

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  • Recording date

    2016-01-28, 2016-02-19, 2016-04-04, 2016-04-18, 2016-05-10, 2016-05-20

  • Interviewees

    Vey, Peter, 1928- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 5: Remarks on move from journalism to work as press officer at Shell-Mex and BP: not finding working week of a Sunday paper compatible with wife working a standard week; job application process; Shell-Mex and BP a formal company and safe to work for, BP Stuffy, Shell more adventurous; PV eventually finding working at Shell-Mex BP boring and stuffy, different grades of toilet for manager; working at Shell-Mex House, on the Strand in London, mentions decorated with original art; PV interview with public relations [PR] manager Jimmy Lillie-Costello. [3:10] Remarks on Jimmy Lillie-Costello: decorated army service, recruited to Shell after Colonial Service; precise military manner; strong viewed, anecdote about opinions on fish colouring; mentions house in Chelsea, French wife. [05:30] Remarks introducing PV career at Rootes-Chrysler: reasonable salary at Shell-Mex and BP, but PV wanting a change; PV applying for job at Rootes Motors, recently taken over by Chrysler Corporation; interview with Rootes PR manager John Bullock, concluding in the bar of the Ritz; car industry seeming lively, glamorous and seedy; PV responsible for corporate PR rather than individual products; PV responsibility for PR of industrial relations, anecdote about a plane hijack en route to troubled Linwood plant in Scotland seeming appealing; PR starting work in London before move to Coventry; making many friends among Americans imported from Chrysler; good working relations with Americans; PV reporting directly to boss Don Lander; excitement of working for a company on the edge of failure, terrible industrial disputes ruining company. [09:30] Further remarks on work at Shell-Mex and BP: PV one of three press officers' outline of work, answering questions, issuing press releases, writing speeches for managers, writing for staff magazine; work rarely pressured; Shell-Mex and BP dominating British market; PV later taking job at press officer for subsidiary National Benzole; outline of interactive process for writing a speech for managers, care needed in speeches for National Benzole manager; PV straightforward strategy for writing a speech; Shell-Mex and BP presented as a caring and environmentally conscious company, Shell advertising stressing countryside; BP envious of Shell high pubic status; [15:10] BP pitched as socially responsible and British; mentions split between Shell and BP after PV left; formality of work at Shell-Mex House, PV rebelling against expectation that managers should use different restaurants; PV involvement with garage owners, who were more interested in price than publicity; description of prestigious Shell-Mex House, impression of stability, high quality furnishings, prestige location; [19:30] anecdote about PV sharing and office with former RAF pilot Geoffrey Mayhew; PV job after promotion including organising receptions; Mayhew becoming PR officer for BP when retail streams split; company spending lavishly on entertainment, own suite of banquet rooms for prestigious visitors, PV not enjoying looking after important guests, outline of typical arrangements for a formal lunch; [23:30] PV subsequent promotion to public relations officer of Shell-Mex BP London division; anecdote about PV accidentally taking a delegation to the wrong reception. [24:55] [cont' from 24:55] Remarks on colleagues: Stanley Webb, who eventually became freelance public relations expert, keen organ player, also a copy taster at Sunday Express, who suggested a job at Shell-Mex BP to PV; Lewis Boxhall, also a freelance writer, married editor of 'Woman'; Harry Hossent, also an author of cowboy stories. [27:00] Remarks on working as Public Relations Officer: more emphasis on protecting company than promoting it; huge negative press reactions over petrol price increases; Suez crisis dealt with by parent companies rather than Shell-Mex BP; Shell-Mex BP support for social issues, example of support for Coventry Cathedral restoration; PV wanting a more challenging job; PV enjoying the people, very social company that involved wives, secure employment, collegiate organisation; [30:50] separation of Shell-Mex BP leading to more innovative BP marketing; PV helping to produce series of films about Britain’s coastline, 'The Vanishing Coast' in collaboration with The National Trust and directed by John Taylor; promotional campaigns supporting countryside projects seeking to mitigate impact of motoring on countryside; [35:20] oil industry road safety initiative, annual completion for driving safety; anecdote about minister Barbara Castle criticising oil industry speech while handing out an award on its behalf; little environmental protest against oil industry at time; importance of dressing formally for work. [38:20] Remarks on National Benzole: successful established brand bought by Shell Mex and BP, who previously supplied petrol to National Benzole; PV becoming public relations officer; modern promotional campaigns, such as sponsoring ten pin bowling championship; different images to Shell-Mex BP; splendid offices in Knightsbridge, eventual absorption into parent company, PV not keen to return to bureaucratic Shell Mex and BP; PV enjoying independence of working at National Benzole, reporting to managing director Alan Robertson, later a successful BP executive; PV budget for promotion; [42:35] promotional ideas mostly self generated by PV, trying to create independent and younger identity from parent company; product identity split between different companies, but product largely the same; mentions Unilever's creation of different images for its different companies; different company identities helping to mitigate any impression of Shell-Mex BP being a monopoly. [45:15] Remarks on: Shell and BP having own separate advertising agencies; few perks to job other than entertainment functions, limited expenses, no overseas travel, contrast with lavish travel allowed to British Airways PR staff; mentions later involvement with NATPRO [nationalised industries press officers] organisation when PV worked at UKAEA. [48:15] Remarks on living in London in 1950s and 60s in Great Arthur House: City of London initiative to create a mixed community, lists varied occupations of residents; utopian vision not lasting as people moved out to their existing networks; Almoner of City of London notifying PV of development; PV first chairman of community group, Lord Mayor of London attending first function; PV and wife enjoying life in community, PV son born there; architects Chamberlain, Bon and Powell; residents asked to ensure their curtains coordinated with yellow tinted glass; [52:30] anecdote about poor furnishings in communal areas ruining impression of building; community working well for a time before people became more cliquey; mentions socialising with neighbours; quietness of living in city at weekends; mentions suicide from top floor; anecdote about firework display on roof garden; PV living in Finchley and Blackheath at different times; mentions enjoying theatre.

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