Oral history of British science

Charnley, John (Part 16 of 23)

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  • Subjects

    Aeronautical Engineering

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  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home, Camberley

  • Interviewees

    Charnley, John, 1922- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 16 [1:45:46][Interview Six: December 2 2010] Comments on move to London: JC expecting a change; conditions of Harold Wilson's White Heat of Technology; group in Tony Benn's [TB] Ministry of Technology [MINTECH] investigating civilian applications of defence technology; JC appointed Head of Research Planning under Sir George Macfarlane, with Sir Otto Clarke [OC] as permanent secretary. Story about OC telling off JC over his report writing, but apologising when he learned that JC was new; subsequent OC JC friendship; anecdote about TB's reaction. [06:18] Further comments on 18 months spent at MINTECH: JC growing awareness of civilian research, including the NPL and DSIR; outline of JC role taking defence technology developments, such as Carbon Fibre and Electronics, into civilian applications; JC support for Hovercraft, involving Fairey and Saunders-Roe and Magnetic Levitation Vehicles, involving Imperial College. [09:10] Further comments on hovercraft: work involving Maurice Brennan; civilian and military prospects for hovercraft; support of TB. Comments on fish freezing project involving an establishment at Aberdeen; JC spending a night on fishing vessel in the North Sea; scheme to process and freeze fish aboard fishing vessels.[15:10] Comments on oil platforms: hopes to interest shipbuilding industry in building offshore drilling platforms; JC visit to Newcastle; lack of interest by ship builders due to problems obtaining investment from city financiers preoccupied with short term profits; American companies building oil rigs instead; JC disappointment at attitudes of civilian industry toward government support. [20:57] Remarks on MINTECH experience: lack of certainty in market driven civilian developments, compared to military world; universities lack of interest in commercial world; JC glad to return to the better defined defence area as Deputy Controller Guided Missiles [DCGW]; differences between civilian and military worlds; [25:15] Comments on: colleagues at MINTECH, George Macfarlane, Peter Twinn, and another administrator; conditions of civilian industry not suiting JC. Comments on scientific and administrative branches of the civil service: permanent secretary Frank Cooper's opinion that more scientifically trained civil servants were needed in London; differences between administration and scientific civil service career paths; [34:26] JC, as CER, later requiring directors of establishments to have served in London so they understood how the system and resource allocation worked; opposition to scientific civil servants working at MoD in London; clarity of defence procurement process. [40:08] Comments: on scientific civil servants differences from administrators; membership of a later committee, with Frank Cooper, and few other scientists; Jim Hamilton, who began as an RAE scientist but later became permanent secretary at the Department of Education and Science. [45:55] Remarks on TB: spearhead of White Heat of Technology; successful conference on marine technology; listened to advice; did good job; department managerial arrangements; JC later closer to Michael Heseltine. [51:35] Comments on government involvement in research and development, relationship to private sector, magnetic levitation vehicles and hovercraft. [57:15] Remarks on: hovercraft, Christopher Cockerell, cushion material developed using defence technology; JC linking industry, such as Dunlop, with RAE carbon fibre experts, who had never considered sporting applications; introducing civilian and military research and development world, with reference to Robert Cockburn's instructions to JC; personally introducing industry and research establishment representatives. [1:05:51] Remarks on: Concorde work, involving Jim Hamilton, MM, and HD at different times, separate from JC's MINTECH activities; JC having no involvement with space activities at MINTECH. [1:09:42] Remarks on working at MINTECH: frustrating for JC; limited impact of new technology within MINTECH; conservative practices of Ted Lee and administrator; JC leaving to replace Basil Dickins as DCGW; JC previous chain of command from Basil Dickinson and H M Wilson, whilst JC was in charge of RAE weapons department. [1:15:30] Remarks on wife Mary's reservations over JC returning to work in defence technology, but knowing that JC enjoyed his work. [1:18:09] Comments on position as DCGW: reporting to Controller Guided Weapons and Electronics [CGWL] Cliff Cornford, who JC knew from playing cricket together and running RAE departments at the same time; organisation below JC of four directors, one from each service and one for trials, with responsibility for Woomera range; JC previous trips to Woomera; anecdote about unreliability of Monarch Britannia aircraft used for transport to Woomera; arrangements for running trials at Woomera range and industry teams involved. [1:25:37] Remarks on: JC becoming CGWL; Derek Rayner abolishing CGWL post in a reassessment of defence procurement in 1973. Remarks on JC involvement in missile procurement: naval Exocet, Sea Dart and Sea Wolf; army Shorts Blowpipe and Rapier, involving George Jefferson from BAC Stevenage; [1:30:26] RAF Sparrow, involving George Hough at De Havilland. Remarks on Exocet: possible British alternatives from De Havilland and BAC; JC ordered by Bill Cook to purchase French Exocet instead. [1:33:49] Discussion of the organisation of nuclear work: London responsibility of Bill Cook; JC later responsible for AWRE Aldermaston but not the work there; RAE involved in delivery systems but not weapons themselves; JC not involved in Chevaline; Hunting’s involvement with RAE projects. [1:38:40] Story about negotiations with the French for purchase of naval Exocet: difficult initial French negotiator, replaced by more helpful General Labrunie; impasse over electronic countermeasures [ECM] information; impasse broken after JC had coffee spilt over him at a meeting. [1:43:40] Remarks on: knowledge of Argentine Exocet capability in the Falklands war; cancellation of Hawker Siddeley air-surface weapon; considerations in designing a guided missile and consequent division of R&D activity; JC enjoying time as DCGW before promotion to CGWL. [1:46:40] Comments on Defence Procurement Board [DPB]: membership, including JC, Victor Macklen, Ewen Broadbent, Cliff Cornford. [1:50:40] Comments on: Derek Rayner's defence procurement reorganisation removing CGWL position; reassignment of CGWL work between service directors. [1:54:40] Comments on becoming Chief Scientist of the RAF: offered post by Chief of the Air Staff Spotswood, despite previous disagreements over procurement of American or British systems; responsibilities of position, research groups at High Wycombe and Singapore; anecdote about applied psychology group at headquarters; details of applied psychology tests. [2:01:56] Remarks on : civil service selection processes, JC not very career minded, but career opportunities coming along; George MacFarlane's return from MINITECH to become CER; reorganisation of chief scientist position due to pressures on manpower;

  • Description

    Interview with aeronautical engineer and government scientist, Sir John Charnley

  • Related transcripts

    Sir John Charnley interviewed by Thomas Lean: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

    Visit this interviewee's page on the 'Voices of Science' web resource

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