Industry: water, steel & energy

Vey, Peter (6 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 6: Remarks on joining Rootes: PV tiring of settled nature of oil industry, PV wanting more of a challenge, little opportunity for promotion; Rootes job advertised without identifying company; PV knowing little of motor industry before, but impressed by its growth; PV first car an Austin, mentions appropriately staid Morris Oxford company car at National Benzol. [03:10] Remarks on Rootes-Chrysler: Rootes originally a family owned company, weakest company who had invested little in new models; backing of Chrysler making Rootes attractive to work for; excitement of motor industry, but many challenges with industrial relations; troubled Linwood car plant, built due to government initiatives; problems with new Hillman Imp car; militant workforce at Linwood plant, used to freedom of piecework in shipbuilding rather than rigours of production line work; anecdote about PV introductory dinner with chairman Lord Rootes in his private dining room at Devonshire house headquarters; description of pleasant and lively Lord Rootes; Chrysler taking much of initiative at company, Americans prominent in company, such as Don Lander; modernising chairman Gilbert Hunt. [08:50] Remarks on PV job at Rootes: mostly concerned with corporate image of company rather than individual products, the responsibility of John Rowe; outline of PV position in Rootes, bureaucratic nature of American companies, PV reporting to public relations director John Bullock; PV having subordinate staff at plants; mentions being impressed by launch of improved model at Devonshire House early in PV work for Rootes, glamorous nature of car launch party; PV based in Devonshire House, other Rootes offices at Bowater House, later amalgamated; PV deciding to leave air conditioned office to be closer to staff in open office; informal environment. [14:00] Examples of PV work at Rootes: PV early job dealing with coverage of industrial relations dispute at Ryton plant in Coventry; arranging press visits to refurbished Ryton plant; tours of production line for new model cars; industrial relations best handled in private, but PV needing to abreast of situation in case of problems and need to brief press with company's side of story; car models giving company it's image, Rootes much involved in car rallying; public relations often defensive; [18:10] success of Hillman Hunter in rallying; promotions around the modernisation of plants; Hillman Imp well loved but unreliable car, anecdote about PV selling his unreliable Imp to a cousin; well regarded Sunbeam Alpine, PV having rally version of Alpine; negative effects of 1970s three-day week on Rootes. [22:40] Remarks on strikes in car industry: Shoddy work dispute at Ryton; constant problems over different pay rates between Coventry and Linwood, Linwood supposedly offering cheaper staff but staff demanding same rates as Coventry; electrician's dispute at Coventry over unions rejecting government mandated pay increase; Rootes deciding to publicise a rejected pay rise at Linwood, causing another strike, husbands not sharing details of pay packets with wives at time. [26:30] [cont' from 26:30] Remarks on: PV responsibility for press briefings and statements; most papers inclined to be more sympathetic to workers than management; anti-American feeling at time, despite Chrysler rescuing Rootes; promotion of company around plants through sponsoring local events; anecdote about entertainment at Rootes box at Coventry football club being mostly supplied by watching football hooligans; [31:10] PV direct contact with shop stewards and staff, often reasonable people; American managers good at mixing with different levels in company; anecdote about down to earth but bad tempered Chrysler CEO John 'The Flamethrower' Riccardo appearance before a Parliamentary select committee; PV responsibility for hospitality for American visitors, anecdote about PV drawing ire of John Riccardo during a dinner, Americans not understanding irony; [35:30] American managers seeming more direct in style than British; Don Lander in regular contact with Chrysler in Detroit, Chrysler keeping close eye on Rootes but not micromanaging; hard-working and respected Don Lander; feeling of being in company that was failing at Rootes, anecdote about cost cutting to leading to end of first class travel; Rootes lack of investment in new models of car; few cars imported into Britain when PV joined Rootes, but competition from quality Japanese and German imports growing. [41:10] Story about seedy side of car industry being evident at Motor Show, where Lamborghini used a topless model to advertise their car. [43:10] Remarks on: cars largely sold to men at time; London and Geneva Motor Shows major events of industry calender; PV overseas trips to Geneva and Milan Motor Shows; strikes and 3 day week key events of PV time in car industry. [45:35] Remarks on strikes: PV coming to loath trade unions for their role in ruining Rootes through strikes; PV previously a member of NUJ, moderate stance at time, PV delegate to annual NUJ conference; labour relations director Peter Griffiths professional view on trade unions; trade unions damaging industry through interruptions in production, missing of targets; anecdote about tough American manager of Linwood sacking an employee, which caused a strike; Labour government intervention to rescue Rootes for political reasons, Linwood staff responding by striking over pay and staking claim to be in charge, issue going to ACAS; mentions subsequent interview with UKEAE. [51:10] Remarks on life in 1970s: PV moving from London to Leamington Spa, anecdote about recently seeing former 1970s home in Leamington and finding it horrible; description of 1970s home; description of run down 1970s Coventry, problems with violence; PV enjoying life in the Midlands more generally, good social life with Americans around Leamington, mentions long lasting friendships with Americans, Warwick university and IBM adding to social mix. [56:05] Remarks on leaving car industry to join UKAEA in 1976: PV concerned about future of Chrysler-Rootes; wife suggesting he apply to a job advertisement in 'Sunday Times', which turned out to be for UKAEA; PV offered job subject to strenuous security clearance, PV awarded SECRET-ATOMIC security clearance; PV only discovering job advertised was for UKAEA when application forms arrived; outline of interview panel membership, anecdote about PV response to question; UKAEA seeming to want a mature publicity director; mentions boss Frank Chadwick; [1:01:00] [cont' from 1:01:00] PV knowing little about nuclear power before job, but making great efforts to learn before interview; PV seeing nuclear power as the future and a useful source of energy. [1:02:31] Remarks on: PV impressions of UKAEA:,impressed at straightness of organisation; PV grateful to have ended working life in interesting energy industry, with high quality people; PV feeling fortunate to have worked with Sir John Hill, Walter Marshall and John Baker and others; mentions death of Hill from dementia; anecdote about Frank Chadwick management strategy; PV not having entertainment expenses he had enjoyed in car industry; PV regarded with suspicion across UKAEA at first; [1:06:00] outline of PV first day, newly decorated office, secretary, lunch with Chadwick; PV realising he had to try to develop scientific understanding; reliable press officer Graham Starr; PV initially commuting to London; seeing he could make a difference; Royal Commission On Environmental Pollution [Flowers Committee] producing devastating report against nuclear expansion until nuclear waste solution found; anecdote about PV calling a press conference immediately after Flower's press conference, to get across UKAEA response. [1:09:30] Remarks on early issues effecting PV at UKAEA: nuclear waste issue identified by Flowers Report appearing a key issue; UKAEA dumping of low level waste in ocean opposed by Green Peace; UKAEA Harwell beginning to drill for possible nuclear waste storage sites; PV taking job because he wanted to leave car industry and because UKAEA seemed interesting, prestigious and stable; PV move to London, able to afford better house in Coventry than London at time, needing to leave son at Boarding school in Warwick, wife returning to work; PV excited and absorbed by new job; PV putting work before life due to its interest, tolerant wife, reasonable work life balance; support role of wife in PV career.

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