Ian Nicholls delves into the events that surrounded the immediate aftermath of the launch of the ‘Miracle Maestro’ in March 1983, and finds it was a turbulent time…
On 1 March 1983 Austin Rover, the volume car side of BL, and the rump of the former British Motor Corporation, announced the ‘Miracle Maestro’, its contender to take on the Ford Escort Mk3, Vauxhall Astra Mk1 and Volkswagen Golf Mk1. On the day it was launched, Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government decided to inject a further £100m of taxpayer’s money into BL. The government was known to be hostile to loss-making nationalised industries, so this apparent volte face came as a surprise.
Just four days later, it was revealed that the Metro took 10.3% of the UK car market in February 1983 to make it Britain’s best-selling car. This was the first time since 1978 that a BL car had topped the charts.
In hindsight we can see that the government was allowing itself to be influenced by the apparent success of the Metro, the car that allegedly saved BL. Of course the reality was that most Metros were probably bought by loyal BMC/BL customers that had previously owned the veteran Issigonis Mini. Back in 1977, Leyland Cars had considered producing the ADO88 design, the Metro’s immediate predecessor, at a rate of 350,000 per annum, by turning Longbridge into a one model plant.
In 1983 Longbridge produced 180,763 Metros, it best year – and long way from the Mini’s heyday of the 1960s and ’70s.
The same month Sir Michael Edwardes, the former BL chairman, was plugging his memoirs, ‘Back From The Brink’, detailing his time in charge of the state owned manufacturer, telling the world how he had stamped out the stoppages, improved the quality and got rid of the militants. He claimed that many of the BL workforce had welcomed his reforms. However, it was reported on 25 March that production of the new Maestro at Cowley was threatened by a strike over the proposed withdrawal by plant management of three minutes’ washing-up time.
Since it was launched, 6200 Maestros had been sold, giving it the best first month’s sales of any new car in Britain.
From January, new car registrations had increased by 22%. Some industry experts were already forecasting that 1983 would see record sales, and they were proven right. Faced with this level of buoyancy Austin Rover, Ford and Vauxhall were all attempting to step up production. This was being done mainly by introducing more efficient working practices and cutting out time-wasting such as the three-minute ‘washing up’ period.
By running production lines to the end of each shift, saving a total of 15 minutes on day and night shifts, Austin-Rover management hoped to increase weekly output at the Cowley plant by 100 cars to 4100. During the previous two years ‘washing up’ time had been successfully abolished at all Austin-Rover factories except Cowley. It was never part of any official agreement but had operated for so long that most Cowley workers believed it had become established by ‘custom and practice’.
Although washing-up time was a practice unique to Cowley it was still cherished by the workers. It represented a cut of over 20 hours in annual working time. BL knew from earlier experience that increases in working time were an explosive issue. In late 1981, Longbridge struck for four weeks over a planned cut in tea relief time by 11 minutes a day as part of a plan to finance the reduction of the working week from 40 hours to 39. Eventually BL had to make smaller cut. This was also pushed through at Cowley in 1982, without a dispute.
For more than a year, the Transport and General Workers Union Oxford district official David Buckle (above) had been warning BL management that its insistence on higher productivity at all costs would in the end be counter-productive. A whole series of incidents at the plant had left not only the shop stewards but also the ordinary track worker deeply frustrated.
Mr Buckle had made a series of complaints to Harold Musgrove, the Austin-Rover managing director. Over the previous two years all but the most senior full-time stewards had been sent back their tools. The number of stewards had declined and the TGWU were now unable to fill their quota.
Mr Buckle said: ‘It’s because the company have made their life a misery.’
As a result track workers access to stewards had been restricted and on occasion, it had been alleged that management have prevented stewards being called to incidents. Mr Buckle also said the company has been attacking free speech. Certainly senior stewards had been told stop criticising BL in public although many had ignored this warning.
However, one BL worker at Cowley, Dinis Kilgariff, was sacked for distributing ‘inflammatory literature’. In February 1983 an Industrial Tribunal found that he had been unfairly dismissed. BL had to pay £8340 compensation but refused to reinstate. Doubtless many shop floor workers cared little about the fate of militant stewards. But they did object to being treated by management, as one of them put it, ‘adjuncts of their machinery’. There had been repeated accusations of swearing and harassment by supervisors.
On Monday 28 March 1983, 5000 car workers at the Cowley assembly plant voted to strike over the ‘washing-up’ time issue.
The men voted to walk out on after management tried to do away with ‘clocking off time’, whereby workers were allowed a total of six minutes on the day shift and nine minutes on the night shift to wash.
Support for the strike surprised the worker’s leaders as well as the management. Douglas Hobbs, convenor for the Amalgamated Engineering Workers Union, said: ‘In all my 23 years here I have never before seen such a decisive vote for a strike.’
Union leaders emphasized that the walkout was not only about the loss of washing-up time. Mr Robert Fryer, senior shop steward of the Transport and General Workers Union, said the high vote was a sign that workers were fed up with the way they had been treated in recent months. Union officials accuse BL of using ‘autocratic and heavy handed tactics’ in their efforts to boost production.
Brian Fox, managing director for Austin Rover, defended the company’s position: ‘All we ask is that our workers honour their contracts and stick to agreements. There is no agreement that they stop work early.’
An unnamed colleague of Harold Musgrove, the Austin Rover managing director said: ‘Those who suggest that the temptation to settle quickly will lead to a compromise forget that Harold was at the sharp end of the battle to restore discipline to the shopfloor. He knows perhaps better than anyone else what a terrible legacy he inherited from weak managements. What is more, he has demonstrated to the ordinary worker that by remaining at his bench instead of walking out on every two-bit issue he can double his pay over the year as a whole, taking into account bonus payments of up to £30 a week.’
Production of the new Maestro and other models was brought to a standstill.
On 29 March Austin Rover laid off 1700 workers in the adjacent Cowley body plant. A spokesman for BL said that other plants had accepted the new conditions and there was no room for compromise on the issue.
On 6 April, a mass meeting of 5,000 car workers at the Cowley assembly plant, voted overwhelmingly to continue the 10-day strike which had stopped production of the new Maestro car and had now made a further 3250 workers idle.
It was at this meeting that David Buckle, the TGWU’s Oxford district secretary, emerged as the unofficial strike leader. His emotional speech condemned ‘industrial slavery’ and ‘worker robots’.
David Buckle was an articulate former Royal Marine Sergeant. He had joined the Pressed Steel Company in 1950, where revulsion at the dirty and noisy working conditions had fuelled his trade unionism. Since 1964 he had been a full time union official. David Buckle reviled both Margaret Thatcher and Michael Edwardes and his remaining henchmen in Austin Rover, but had also faced his own internecine battles among the left inside the Cowley complex. Most notably with Alan Thornett, a hard left shop steward that BL management had refused to recognise. By April 1983 Thornett had been fired for having a four year out of date HGV licence.
David Buckle’s version of the dispute is as follows.
‘A senior director, visiting the plant one morning saw men leaving the production lines three minutes early at lunchtime. He gave an immediate order that the practice should be stopped at once. We tried through all the usual procedures to claim the right, as custom and practice’ but the management were adamant it must stop. We were also told that when workers reported for work on the following Monday (28 March) they would be ‘deemed to have accepted’ that the six minutes washing up time had ceased and it was no longer a right. Both unions officials (TGWU and AUEW) warned senior members of management that if they insisted there would be a mass walk out of the employees. Our warning came true when 5,000 workers left the plant within thirty minutes.’
David Buckle elaborated on his remarks at the mass meeting to the media. ‘If the price of economic success is a system of industrial slavery, that is too high a price for working people to pay.’ He later said: ‘I used the word ‘slavery’ because I knew the media would ridicule the strike over workers wanting to wash their hands. The use of the word ‘slavery’ struck the right chord with the press, TV and radio because it gave me an opportunity in interviews to spell out what a harsh management employees were being confronted by… The other issue members felt very strongly about was the company’s obvious contempt for a ‘custom and practice’, which had been in existence since the 1940s.’
The management was equally adamant that it would not back down in the dispute over its plan to end the three-minute ‘washing up’ period for workers.
Hard liners were also using the emotion aroused by the dispute to attack the radical work procedures introduced in 1980, which were at the heart of BL’s much improved productivity. Set out in a document known internally as the ‘Blue Newspaper’, they ended restrictive practices and removed the shop stewards’ power base: the right to negotiate manning levels and track speeds.
BL said its tough line had been necessary. It said the real task was to get rid of the stewards veto over job mobility and flexibility. Once that was accepted it became possible to increase productivity massively. The number of hours lost due to strikes had also fallen to a tiny percentage.
Stewards and local union officials said they expected BL to offer a lump sum to workers to buy out the long established practices of leaving three minutes early at the end of each shift. But a senior Austin Rover group executive said: ‘If we gave way on that it would drive a coach and horses through the Blue Newspaper.’
The management said 6 April’s decision changed nothing and prolonged a pointless dispute which was costing the strikers £25 a day. The unions wanted the collective agreements on working practices contained in the Blue Newspaper to be re-negotiated: That would not happen it said.
By 7 April the two main unions involved in the strike were under pressure from local union officers and shop stewards to declare the dispute over the company’s plan to end the ‘washing-up time’ at the end of each shift official before the loss of pay forced the 5000 strikers to give in.
It was revealed that there had already been a secret meeting at BL’s London headquarters between Geoffrey Armstrong, Austin Rover industrial relations chief and four union leaders. They were Terry Duffy, president of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers (AUEW), Ken Cure, his executive council member representing the Midland region, Moss Evans, General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU), and Grenville Hawley, also of the TGWU who was chairman of the Austin Rover joint trade union negotiating committee.
It was understood that all four were assured in the strongest terms that management would not concede an inch on the withdrawal of the so-called five minute washing up time which had long been used as an excuse for quitting work early. Mr Armstrong, who had been at the heart of the company’s tough stand on shop floor discipline, said management regarded the strike as an attempt to breach the 1980 agreement on working practices and procedures, to which all unions had been party. To give way now would be the signal to militants to push even harder.
An Austin Rover official said: ‘We cannot bargain on something that is already part of the contract of employment. They are paid to work from bell to bell.’
On 14 April, the Cowley strikers held another mass meeting. More than 5000 workers voted overwhelmingly to stay on strike amid warnings from management that prolonged action would jeopardize investment. Harold Musgrove (above), the Austin Rover managing director, had warned that a project to build a new executive car, codenamed XX (Rover 800), scheduled to be built by BL and Honda, was under threat because of the stoppage.
The media had begun to realise that there was more to the strike than BL’s decision to withdraw washing up time during shifts. The dispute was merely one symptom of a breakdown in the relationship between the company and its Cowley employees and a sign of increasing militancy.
Workers at the plant were angry at what they regarded as the autocratic attitude adopted by a management attempting to raise productivity. David Buckle, rejecting the company’s overtures, told the strikers: ‘Some people believe this is an olive branch from the company. It is a stinging nettle and if you grasp it you will be stung.’
The same day the strike was made official. The very next day the Austin Rover management accepted the challenge thrown down by the unions and threatened to dismiss all 5000 employees at its Cowley assembly plant unless they ended their three-week ‘washing-up’ strike almost immediately. This information was conveyed to its employees in the form of a letter.
The letter, signed by Douglas Dickson, the Cowley plant director, said that the factory would be open for production on Tuesday April 19th, and work would be available for those reporting.
David Buckle described the management move as intimidation and said: ‘I would remind all our members that they are on official strike and should remain resolute and not report for work on Tuesday.’
The move was anticipated by local union officials early in the dispute. Harold Musgrove then accused the Cowley shop stewards of using the dispute to try to restore the power base they lost two years earlier when national union leaders accepted a radical programme of new working practices. He said in a statement, ‘Many of the people behind these wild claims about ‘brutality’, and ‘slavery’ want a return to the days of the early 1970s when every decision could effectively be vetoed by a shop steward so inclined, when dogmatic insistence on the right to veto even the most minor shop floor change throttled our ability to compete with the rapidly improving industries of Japan, and western Europe. Unfortunately, there are some people who once wielded the power of veto, who resent the changes which have taken place despite the fact that employees have benefited. Some of these people are now cynically portraying their loss of influence as some sort of general movement by management to oppress the entire workforce.’
Moss Evans of the TGWU said: ‘There is no question of us conceding to the company under threat.’
Harold Musgrove was now taking on the hard man role previously played by Sir Michael Edwardes. He said on 17 April: ‘If employees do not come back to work, they will have repudiated their contract of employment and their employment will therefore be terminated. The letter is no idle threat. Neither is it a bluff.’
He said the strike had nothing to do with the issue of leaving early. It was a blatant attempt by some local union spokesman to, ‘turn the clock back to the days of the early 1970s, when their influence and dogmatic resistence to change brought this company and the British motor industry to its knees. That is something we, in Austin Rover, cannot allow to happen. When these spokesmen talk about the need for a return to consensus that is not what they mean at all. They mean a return to them of the power of veto.’
He dismissed the notion that Cowley was some kind of slave camp.
‘This is absolute nonsense, and the people mouthing these wild fantasies know, it is nonsense. It is this type of nonsense projected in the highly charged emotional atmosphere of mass meetings through the use of lurid and misleading rhetoric which has prolonged this futile and pointless dispute.’
Musgrove said early leaving at Cowley was costing £1m a week in lost production or £50m a year. Cowley was the only BL plant where workers, and not management, switched off the track at the end of the shift.
Austin Rover’s threat to dismiss the strikers was subsequently suspended while new peace talks went on. On 19 April the Cowley shop stewards rejected Austin Rovers latest offer to end the strike. After the 86 stewards had met for three hours, TGWU national automotive officer Grenville Hawley said: ‘There will need to be a good deal of hard bargaining before the dispute is resolved.’
David Buckle was again to the fore. He urged the strikers to ‘stand firm”. He said: ‘We are once again in the situation where the company has refused to compromise in negotiations, has refused to be reasonable and has clearly worked on a policy where they want to get this dispute to national officers as soon as possible.’
Harold Musgrove, on 21 April, reiterated the warning to the strikers that they could be dismissed if they did not return to work. ‘They are in breach of their contracts and I believe that if we do not get a speedy return to work we will have no alternative but to take the sort of action we have said we would. We are not bluffing.’
Sir Terence Beckett, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, and the architect of Ford’s sales supremacy, accused the Cowley workers of committing “industrial suicide”. He told businessmen in Cambridge: ‘We still have lemmings on the shop floor in the motor industry who are prepared to follow their union leadership over the nearest cliff in their persistence that having a job is a birthright whatever it costs the rest of us.’
Motorists had started to cancel orders for the Maestro because the dealers had run out of stocks or could not supply their choice of model and colour. At the same time there was mounting criticism, by dealers of the BL management’s timing for such an obviously controversial issue as the abolition of ‘washing up’ time at Cowley.
There was another mass meeting of the Cowley strikers on 22 April. About 3000 workers attended and voted to continue the strike. Fresh talks between union leaders and BL management were hastily arranged as the crisis at the strike-bound Cowley plant deepened.
There was a smaller majority to continue the strike at today’s mass meeting at Cowley than at previous meetings. The meeting agreed that a mass picket should be mounted at the factory gate on Monday 25 April to prepare for that contingency that some strikers might drift back to work. Managers were planning to open the plant on that Monday in the hope of encouraging strikers to return and weaken the union’s bargaining position.
At last on Tuesday 26 April, the washing up strike ended. There was a five to one vote, at a mass meeting of the strikers, for a return to work. About 3000 of the 5000 strikers met in a works sports ground and took only 35 minutes to decide to end the washing time dispute which had cost about 19,000 cars in lost production, many of them new Maestros, worth more than £100m at showroom prices.
The mass meeting heard that the Transport and General Workers Union had taken the unprecedented step of giving its local officers plenary powers to declare any future strike official immediately. A month of negotiations now lay ahead as unions and management tried to mend industrial relations at the plant and sought agreement on the introduction of productivity measures, including an end to the six minutes a day washing time, which sparked the strike.
Shop stewards decided not to break the fragile agreement reached at weekend talks between union officials and senior BL managers, and pulled back from recommending the mass meeting to reject the peace formula.
But Robert Fryer, the senior TGWU steward, told the meeting that the unanimous view of the stewards was that the formula should be rejected. ‘The management, even at the talks on Saturday, were still trying to bully us into submission and surrender’, he said.
David Buckle said after the meeting: ‘I have absolutely no doubt that the strike has been worthwhile because this company is now under the public microscope… First, it is indeed possible that the days of imposition at the plant are now over. Secondly, the company, so far as human and industrial relations are concerned, is now very much under the public microscope, thanks to the solidarity of our members. The company will now have to be very careful how they treat their employees in the future.’
Mr Buckle then went on to describe Austin Rover chairman Harold Musgrove as: ‘one of the greatest dangers to industrial relations and the security of the company. He does not seem to have the slightest idea what motivates human beings on the production line.’
BL said that the company was pleased by its employees’ overwhelming decision to return to work. ‘It will not be forgotten that it has been a long and damaging dispute and now we need to work together to re-establish Cowley’s image and reputation’, Harold Musgrove said.
After the strike the Montreal Gazette newspaper interviewed some of the Cowley strikers. No one was willing to be quoted by name. ‘There are repercussions for speaking out. The foremen treat us like dirt. They curse at us. The washing up time was the last straw. Enough was enough,’ said one man who had worked at Cowley for 15 years.
Another man, said, as did virtually all the others, that in the end, they were certain to lose their protest. ‘I need a job. I’ve got a family. BL threatened to fire us. The tactics of the management were terrible. Look, we’re all human beings together.’
‘I was unemployed 18 months before this job’, said a 29 year old.
The next day, 27 April, Cowley resumed production. The same day Ray Horrocks, BL Cars chief executive and Harold Musgrove’s immediate boss, appeared before the Commons Select Committee for Trade and Industry. Horrocks said that BL management was ‘surprised at the solidness’ of the strike over the ending of washing-up time at the Cowley plant. He added that management did not expect a strike when they tried to introduce an end to washing-up time at the end of a shift. He said they had not introduced the new system to trigger a strike. He said there had been discussions about the introduction of the new system, aimed at increasing productivity, from November 1982 to March 1983, when the Maestro model was introduced.
‘We were talking to the Stewards, and we thought we had made them understand. Manning levels were on the line, the men were learning the product, and were not working at peak. We didn’t want to make people we might need later redundant, so we had to up productivity in this way,’ said Horrocks.
BL appointed two of its most senior managers to represent the company at a four man inquiry into industrial relations at Cowley. They were Norman Haslan, employee relations director for Austin Rover and Jim Donaghy, director of the body and assembly plant at Longbridge.
Then on 17 May, it was revealed that Tom Gray, who had been appointed 16 months earlier to improve productivity at Cowley, had left Austin Rover for personal reasons. Mr Gray had avoided the public eye as Cowley’s director in charge of the body and assembly plants, but was quickly identified by the workers as the man behind the new style of management.
The joint report of a management and union inquiry into industrial relations at the Austin Rover assembly plant at Cowley upheld many of the complaints made by workers against the management during the washing-up time strike.
Senior shop stewards gave their own three-hour presentation on 27 May at the end of the five-day inquiry at Cowley. There were 147 complaints, mostly by workers against the management. The report upheld the allegations of swearing and abuse of workers by managers.
By June a secret ballot of the Cowley workforce had accepted the end of washing up time. On the vote to end washing up time at Cowley, David Buckle, area secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, said that he was ‘not surprised, but disappointed’ with his members’ decision to ignore a shop stewards’ recommendation to strike. Mr Buckle said that they had succumbed to ‘blackmail and intimidation’.
An Austin Rover spokesman replied: ‘Events at Cowley have totally discredited Mr Buckle.’
The same month a special edition of Motor magazine devoted to Austin Rover had Harold Musgrove emphasising his humble origins as an Austin apprentice and how he could relate to the ordinary car worker. Motor also interviewed Austin Rover’s Director of Quality, David Caswell, and described how the firm’s in-depth quality control worked.
So that was the ‘washing up’ dispute that marred the launch of the ‘Miracle Maestro’.
Who were the heroes and villains?
At the time as the Thatcher era reached its zenith, her greatest election triumph was only weeks away, it seemed that Harold Musgrove was the hero of the piece in standing up to the unions and bludgeoning through the reforms to working practices so necessary to supply the required volume of sought after Maestro’s to feed the rapidly expanding car market. Musgrove would brook no opposition in his zeal to re-establish BMC/Austin Rover as a major player in the volume car market, and the only way to achieve this and take on its American owned rivals was through more production.
David Buckle of the TGWU was seen as a relic of the past, when everything had to be agreed with the shop stewards, what were known as mutuality agreements.
Sir Michael Edwardes was perceived to have gone to war on the shop stewards movement, although the man himself denied that he was anti-trade union.
The shop steward movement had provided the formative background for many a Labour politician. Edwardes had gone over the heads of the British Leyland shop stewards with mail shots to employees, sacked Derek Robinson, the head of the BL shop stewards committee and sent the stewards back to full time work.
Back in 1975 the Ryder Report had envisaged the British Leyland shop stewards as having an important input into the future of the company, now they had been marginalized. This was seen by many as an attack on ordinary working people.
How has the passing 30 years altered our perception of this dispute and what do we know now that we didn’t know then?
Some time in 1982, possibly the summer, Harold Musgrove showed his new design director, Roy Axe, who he had recruited from Chrysler, the new Austin Maestro.
Roy Axe was appalled with both the Maestro design and its bigger brother, the Montego, due to be launched in 1984. Axe considered both designs to be 20 years out of date, but it was too late to change much before they went into production.
Despite these warnings about the car, Austin Rover went ahead with the Maestro, going hell for leather for maximum production from Cowley.
When the ‘washing up’ strike occurred it seemed that Roy Axe’s prophesies of doom were wrong and that demand for the Maestro would comfortably exceed that of the ill fated Austin Allegro, and at last Austin Rover would have a car that would be as appealing as the much missed ADO16 1100/1300 series.
But by the time the Montego was finally launched in April 1984 enthusiasm for the Austin Rover twins was waning and there was no rush to the showrooms for the bigger car. The Mk2 version of the rival Vauxhall Astra was launched in October 1984 and this was a bang up to date design compared to the Maestro whose design had been frozen in 1978. At the same time a bitter price war between Ford and Vauxhall squeezed the Cowley twins market share.
However in the dash for volume at Cowley, quality was sacrificed, whatever Austin Rovers PR machine might have said on the matter. As the AROnline Maestro and Montego development story says: ‘The Maestro, unfortunately, was also saddled with the image of unreliability that had come part and parcel of being a car built by BL. The early Maestros lived up to this reputation magnificently, suffering from slack build quality, which led to repeated carburettor maladies, build niggles and high-profile electronic problems. The net result of this was that these teething problems managed to alienate fleet buyers, who had been stung in the past buying products of BL. If the fleet managers were jumpy, they would not buy the product and that would be a disastrous result in a market that two thirds of the cars sold were company cars.’
And: ‘Both the Montego and Maestro suffered from the familiar story of build quality niggles that one would have assumed by this point in time, Austin Rover would have succeeded in beating. Unfortunately, the first few long-term tests published by the UK car magazines reported tales of woe and the Montego, especially suffered from electronic maladies. No big deal in the grand scheme of things, but when you are trying to rebuild an image, the last thing that you want to hear.’
And these were the cars that got through the dealers pre-delivery inspection! It was quite clear that Austin Rover, just as Leyland Cars had done with the Rover SD1, had placed the emphasis on quantity over quality.
By December 1984 BL was asking the government for more money to fight off the threat from Vauxhall. Then, in August 1985, came the bombshell – Austin Rover announced that 200 assembly workers were to lose their jobs, and a further 740 transferred to enable production at the company’s Cowley and Longbridge factories to be reduced by 10%. At Cowley, weekly output of Maestro and Montego models was reduced from 2200 to 2025 and from 2500 to 2200 respectively.
Overall this was a reduction of 475 cars a week and the ‘washing up’ strike had been about increasing production by 100 cars a week!
The government finally lost patience with BL in 1986 and after an abortive attempt to sell off both Land Rover and Austin Rover, they brought in Graham Day as chairman. It was claimed that Day clashed with senior BL executives because their ‘pseudo-macho culture’ inhibited discussion on the future direction of the company.
Graham Day’s own patience with Austin Rover finally snapped when early production Rover 800’s also showed signs of less than sparkling build quality. By the autumn of 1986 Harold Musgrove and many of his colleagues found themselves looking for new employment. Graham Day, like Lord Stokes in 1968, took personal control of the volume car division and set about tightening up the build quality.
The Cowley South Works and its workforce paid the price for the failure of the Maestro and Montego in 1992 when it was closed down and production moved to the smaller Pressed Steel facility next door.
David Buckle retired from the TGWU in 1989 and wrote his memoirs, ‘Turbulent Times in the Car Industry’, in 2011. The book received a negative review on the Amazon website from his old adversary Alan Thornett.
Although David Buckle was hostile towards BL management, he is full of praise for BMW, the present owners of the Pressed Steel site that he began working at in 1950.
‘BMW is the present owner of the old Pressed Steel Factory where they have substantially increased investment to make it the plant we should all have had from the 1950s to the 1980s. Employees now enjoy much safer working conditions in a factory, which is far cleaner, safer and much quieter than in the old days. No longer is there lead in the atmosphere causing lead poisoning, nor extremely high levels of noise causing many employees to suffer from tinnitus. Power assisted tools are banned and the factory is very clean, quiet, and much brighter compared to the appalling conditions of the past.’
Harold Musgrove would later go on to join the National Health Service in 1991 as chairman of West Midlands Ambulance Service, before moving to Heartlands Hospital in Birmingham to manage the controversial merger with Solihull Hospital.
He was linked with the new hospital in Worcester and the controversial semi-closure of Kidderminster General Hospital. This led to the formation of the ‘Save Kidderminster Hospital’ campaign – and the election of many members of that committee being elected as Wyre Forest Councillors – and Dr Richard Taylor, a leading member of that campaign. He was previously a consultant at Kidderminster General, being elected to Parliament with the intention to fight the Musgrove plan, the semi closure of Kidderminster General and the building of the PFI Hospital at Worcester.
He became chairman of the Hospital in 1998. The running of that hospital under his chairmanship was heavily criticised by the new Worcester MP Michael Foster and Musgrove left shortly afterwards.
His decision was greeted with joy from his most prominent political opponent, Dr. Richard Taylor, Independent MP, who attacked the down-grading of services at Kidderminster Hospital. Mr Musgrove dismissed Dr Taylor, saying, ‘Richard Taylor is a nice old chap but a minor irritant. Kidderminster is only a small part of services in Worcestershire.’
Dr Taylor welcomed the news; ‘I have not made any secret of the fact that I have found it difficult, if not impossible, to work with Mr Musgrove and I am pleased that he has decided to leave. He was brought in to force through changes and the fact that he is going shows that the plan was flawed and unenforceable from the start. I can only hope against hope that the sort of personality who takes over will be someone we can work with, who has a different leadership style, not just for Kidderminster but for the whole of Worcestershire.’