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Making motors

Presented here are extracts from interviews with trade unionists and management in the midlands automotive industry conducted by Mr Paul Worm in 1982-1983 as part of a research project he undertook with Professor Steven Tolliday under the auspices of the King's College Research Centre, Cambridge. The interviews relate to the interviewees’ previous experiences and to the contemporary situation in the industry. They can be heard in their entirety from the relevant descriptions in our on-line catalogue. Mr Worm deposited the original recordings in the Centre in 1995, together with transcripts, minutes, correspondence, diaries and other records, as the Paul Worm Automotive Industrial Relations Collection.

Tom Brindley, interviewed in 1982

Tom Brindley was born in 1908 in Birmingham. He worked for Rover from 1925 to 1973, becoming manager of the firm’s Tyseley plant in 1959.

“One day they brought one of these horrible little monsters”: the birth of the Land Rover (2:06)

The ad hoc origins in the late 1940s of the legendary marque, which Brindley and his colleagues at first assumed was no more than a run-around for their bosses’ farms. Like Steven Spielberg’s ‘E.T.’ (which was all over the media at the time of the interview), it came to be loved despite its unprepossessing looks.

Listen to the whole interview: MSS.356/7/2/28/ii side 1 (62:49), side 2 (62:45); MSS.356/7/2/28/iii side 1 (22:49).

Alan Morris, interviewed in 1983

Alan Morris was born in 1931 in Birmingham. After a spell with Jaguar in Coventry, he began work at the Rover Solihull plant in 1955.

“Everything inside - the seats, the carpets - were all Orchid Blue” (2:19)

Finishing posh Jaguars in the early 1950s for the Queen of the Netherlands, Clarke Gable, Sonja Henie the ice skater and a Texas oil millionaire who preferred gold to chrome.

“They virtually worked like robots” (1:18)

The “disgusting” working conditions in the “madhouse” of the Land Rover production line.

Listen to the whole interview: MSS.356/7/2/55 side 1 (63:27), side 2 (58:31).

Joe Harris, interviewed in 1983

Joe Harris was born in 1925 in Sparkbrook in Birmingham. He began working at the Rover Solihull plant in 1942 and in 1969 became the full-time convenor there of the National Union of Vehicle Builders (which merged with the Transport and General Workers’ Union in 1972).

“Many of the skills disappeared” (1:18)

The influx of a new type of car worker with a different attitude to their jobs and to trade unionism from that of the older craftsmen.

Listen to the whole interview: MSS.356/7/2/41 side 1 (62:46), side 2 (62:48).

Dave Colling, interviewed in 1983

Dave Colling was born in 1943 in Sparkbrook in Birmingham. He began work at the Rover Solihull plant in 1965.

“They said “we’re not going to stand it anymore”” (2:22)

Frustration with seemingly unjustified industrial stoppages and fear of street violence and of Big Brother-like control pushing working people to the political right.

“I do not want to see some smart-arse private enterprise pick up Land Rover at a cheap rate” (1:50)

Colling’s opposition to the seemingly inevitable privatisation of a company that had been supported by public money.

Listen to the whole interview: MSS.356/7/2/50 side 1 (62:28), side 2 (41:22).

Steve Gallant, interviewed in 1983

Steve Gallant was born in 1948 near Solihull and began working at the Rover Solihull plant in 1970. He later became a shop steward there.

“One day the company could liquidate you” (1:46)

The vunerable position of shop stewards prepared to oppose the current assertive British Leyland management, a reverse of the situation before the introduction of chairman Michael Edwardes’s tougher regime from 1977 onwards (“they’re just as bad now as probably we were to them years ago”).

Listen to the whole interview: MSS.356/7/2/46/ii side 1 (62:40), side 2 (49:20).

Derek Bowen, interviewed in 1983

Derek Bowen was born in 1931 in London but grew up in Ipswich. He joined Rover in 1959 and became the superintendent of the body shop at Solihull around 1973 and production manager at Garrison Street, Birmingham in 1978.

“Suddenly there was a realisation throughout the car industry: here’s a bloke who means what he says” (2:33)

Bowen's colourful description of how Michael Edwardes, chairman of British Leyland from 1977, ensured that the “92-page document” on the conduct of industrial relations in the company was actually enforced, unlike what had happened before.

Listen to the whole interview: MSS.356/7/2/57 side 1 (62:44), side 2 (62:39); MSS.356/7/2/58 side 1 (20:47).