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The Collapse of British Leyland

Kirsty Wark brings together management, workers and union leaders from the strife-torn car giant British Leyland.

Kirsty Wark gathers management, workers and union leaders from the giant car-maker British Leyland.

In 1968, the Labour Government instigated the merger of two leading motoring manufacturers to form the British Leyland Motor Company. The ambition was to create an industrial powerhouse, capable of building more than a million cars a year and challenging the global dominance of America's Ford and Vauxhall.

At its peak, British Leyland employed 250,000 workers in scores of plants, but throughout the 1970s the model range was incoherent, bitter internal rivalries dogged production and industrial relations were atrocious. Successive governments poured in millions of pounds to stop the company from going bankrupt and forcing a spike in the dole queue.

In the 1980s, state support faded. Margaret Thatcher's government clamped down on the unions and privatised nationalised businesses. British Leyland was broken up and sold off, bringing an end to British-owned motor manufacturing.

Joining Kirsty to discuss those turbulent times are five people who were in the thick of it:

Harold Musgrove started in 1945 and rose through the ranks to become chairman and chief executive of what became the Austin Rover Group.

John Power started at Cowley in the 60s on the brand new Mini and became a shop steward on his first day.

Chris Green was 16 when he started as a commercial apprentice at British Leyland’s vast Longbridge plant.

Alison Harper was the company’s first female design sculptor.

The motoring journalist and former Top Gear presenter Chris Goffey test drove the cars and watched as the company fell by the wayside.

Presenter: Kirsty Wark
Producer: Karen Pirie
Series Producer: David Prest

A Whistledown production for BBC Radio 4

Available now

42 minutes

Last on

Fri 28 Aug 2020 09:00

Broadcasts

  • Sun 23 Aug 2020 11:00
  • Fri 28 Aug 2020 09:00