Video : BL – The Quality Connection

Keith Adams

The Quality Connection (1)

Back in the mid-1970s, British Leyland’s humiliating and very public fall from grace was all-but complete. The corporation may have been created on a tidal wave of optimism in 1968, but by 1974 that had been replaced by the reality of falling sales, a huge drop-off in exports, low workforce morale, high levels of industrial action, management arrogance and ultimately a government bail out in the early months of 1975. This had been played out in the most public of ways, and the eyes of the world’s media, sensing bloodlust at the impending implosion of the United Kingdom, were relishing BLMC’s almost-total fall from grace.

The company’s output was far from blame-free. An unappealing and confused model range sent many buyers into the arms of the importers – and for many that didn’t, the poor build quality of the cars that they did buy did the same job. BL’s plight was nothing short of an industrial tragedy.

But the fight-back began in 1975. Government money would only be spent if BL would pull up its corporate socks, and start trying to solve its problems at their very source. In May, there was a shake-up of the board of directors – and one key and very surprise appointment was that of Brigadier Charles Maple as quality director. He’d joined British Leyland at the end of 1974 as corporate standards manager, coming straight from 35 years’ army service and the top job in the quality assurance directorate for fighting vehicles. Once in a board position, he gained overall and absolute responsibility for all aspects of the company’s quality output. And although public perception of BL’s output was already at an all-time low, his appointment certainly had a far-reaching effect internally.

This Leyland Group Quality video, produced by the CTV Workshop in 1976, and intended for viewing by company employees only, starred a blue-chip line-up of actors, and was typical of the change in attitude the Brigadier wanted to bring to the company. Quality, the film reasons, is all about specification, and is everyone’s responsibility. Skimp on it, and there could be serious ramifications. The film was clearly designed to shock the workforce into re-evaluating their own working practices, is refreshingly frank, and shows that BL was all-too-aware of the deep and ingrained problems it was facing at the time.

We all know the eventual outcome of the sorry story, and in its own way, this video is a microcosm of that. Try not to shed too many tears as you watch it…


Keith Adams
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  1. I’m seriously upset now. How can I not shed a tear when I’m crying – it defies logic.
    We need Garry Sparrow – he could take us all back in time and we’ll do it all again – but better. Just think of it – we would all drive Austins and Morris’s and Wolseley’s if we’re posh. The sporting types would all be in MG”s (proper ones) and the fastidious types would drive Rileys. We would all have heard of BMW but would never have seen one and Nissan and Toyota would be unheard of. If a neighbour bought a VW we could ask him to do the decent thing and resign from the golf club. The M25 would be full of ERF’s, Fodens, Albions and Leylands with not a bloomin Volvo in sight.
    We used to have a sign on our office wall that said ‘how come there is always enough time to do it again but never enough time to do it right in the first place’. Get that right, get pig-headed management to listen more and pig-headed workers to stop complaining about a tea break being cut by a millisecond – and we could be that country!

  2. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot! That film really did it in spectacular style with a cast of great actors. Towards the end it became more of a comedy though, right down to the police inspector’s description of the Marina driver run over by the Allegro. A brilliant storyline though!

    Thanks for posting it up, Keith.

  3. No wonder BL got into so much trouble – employed a right load of comic actors moonlighting from BBC sitcoms. Now we know!

  4. How was that BL shooting itself in the foot? – I saw it as the organisation actually understanding some of the issues and public perceptions and trying to get the message across to its recalcitrant, strike prone, mid 70s Neanderthal workforce. This film was made for internal consumption only. I doubt they ever imagined that nearly 40 years later it would escape from the closed down company archive via Youtube!

  5. And yet the quality of the finished product was so poor for so many years afterwards. Grand intentions but little else. What a shams.

  6. Watch it right to the end for the shocking conclusion. Great piece of drama. At least their training videos were of the highest quality.

  7. Apart from some typically ’70s sexism (pert breasted woman walks by and all the blokes can’t take their eyes off her) it was a very good effort. Although it seemed to only implicate the workers and the engineers in the failure that lead to the fatal crash rather than management…

    Didn’t the Allegro have dual circuit brakes by then or was that a later thing?

  8. Quite moving.

    After watching the film to the end, i have been left feeling that in some ways the whole thing should have been put out of its misery by Mrs Thatcher.

  9. Possibly the most de-motivating staff training film ever made. It really does come across as “Our cars are crap, our quality control is lousy and as a result we kill our customers”. If that’s an inspirational sales pitch to the staff to up their game, what did they show to the staff who worked in the complaints department? Or did they supply them with suicide pills?

  10. “Our cars are crap etc” – was not a sales pitch it was an attempt by some enlightened BL management to shake up the ‘line management’ and the production guys to raise their game before we all started driving jap-crap (as it was in the 70’s).
    I think it was what we call honesty!
    (Not fashionable – not PC – not professional – not trendy and not seemly).
    Ah! That’s why it didn’t catch on.

  11. Hard to know what to think of it. On one hand a brave attempt to wake up dithering middle management and hardened ignorant workers who didn’t care, at the same time it comes across as an admission of defeat.

  12. Terrifying!
    Never mind BL cars from the 70’s. That film makes me never want to go near a car again! Just one sideways glance at a co-workers bottom at the factory and my car will career into a bus stop!
    People make cars. People are imperfect, your car is imperfect, its going to kill you!

  13. Yes, it’s a genuine “Film”, probably shot on 16mm. I used to work for an Industrial Film Producer in the 70s & 80s and this example is typical of the production style in those days. Including the girlie calendars on Office walls!!

    Nice to see it nonetheless.

  14. Madeline Smith was a stalwart of Hammer Horror movies and Frankie Howerd productions; I knew her (briefly and not well) in the late 70s, and met her again at a Christmas party a year or so ago. She still looks great, a lovely person.

  15. Fascinating, we need to remember what things were like back then. Fully integrated Quality Systems were alost unheard of or at least in their infancy. Most companies still thought Quality was something you could inspect into a product after it was made. Early 70s I was a bright eyed young Quality Engineer/Manager, fortunately I was quite enlightened and saw the big picture. To many in the company I was considered a complete lunatic and radical. Like many companies of the time we employed an army of final inspectors and actually bragged about it to our customers. When I started preaching its too late and they can’t find it all I was almost laughed at. I remember getting the MDs ear one day when in final inspection and pointed out to him we were paying all these trained girls just to sit there “looking” at stuff, all they could do was decide whether to bin it or risk it. Didnt matter how many times or how long we looked at it it didnt make it any better. Moving Final Inspectors further up the process to better control manufacturing qualiity was a tough sell as was actually trusting operators to measure the parts we trusted them to make. Back then it was more like a war between production and quality. I used to call it catch as catch can, eventually with support I was able to convince production I could reduce their costs and increase their outputs, provided we worked together openly. It sounds so basic these days but back then we were in the dark ages. Quality is everyones business was certainly one of the early mantras to be preached but at the time you could not find many production guys who really understood it.

  16. @20, As well as the focus on quality i dare say a lot could be said about attitudes as well!

  17. An excellent film that unfortunately had no impact (pardon the pun)…right up to MG Rovers demise.

  18. Funnily enough back in the early 70s I generally found production operators had good attitude and were interested. The big attitude problems tended to be with Prouduction Supervision & Managers, they seemed disenfranchised and to managements shame seemed measured only on output with no measure of quality. My successes came mostly when I could show them I could reduce rewoork and increase output.

    It was sometimes quite amazing the guys making parts had no idea what they were making, didnt know what was good or bad and rarley got any feedback about the parts they made.

    I recall that we would trust a guy to run a $30,000 machine, and produce $1500 of parts on a night shift, but didnt think he should be trusted with $200 measuring gauge to check his own quality………..that was inpsections job!!!!! Strange attitudes indeed.

  19. what the f*ck is that all about at the end ban this website for allowing this to be shown no warning a child is portraid to lose its life. so f*kin angry

  20. Russ,

    Sorry about that. I can post a warning, but TBH, it never even occured to me me. Again apologies if you’ve been distressed.


  21. Lets ban the BBC while we are at it showing dead kids in Syria.Can we have some proportion please,and perhaps a pair of stones?

  22. @Russ; they were obviously trying hard to get the message across to a sceptical workforce. Maybe the film actually saved a childs life by having an impact on a BL worker to raise their game? I’d much prefer a graphic enactment of a ‘what if’ scenario…

    Here in Aus, there is a big thing in the media with sudden power loss in VW’s. A 32 year old woman lost her life 2 years ago when her Golf lost power on the freeway & was hit by a truck. I’d like to think that if other companies showed this sort of film, instead of fluffy corporate toss, that young woman may still be alive.

  23. The van driver with the moustache near the end of the film is Joe Wadham, famous for being Jack Regan’s driver in the opening titles of The Sweeney. The driver who runs George A. Cooper over is another stunt driver who came from the same stable as Wadham called Alan Stewart, he appears as a dangerous driver in a few tv shows I’ve seen.

  24. An interesting watch!

    To me it shows an appreciation of the issues and a real effort by BL to tackle them.

    The bad publicity of the seventies gave the impression of chaos. However, I suspect things were not quite as bad as the public’s impression. Not a world away from rivals , certainly not of rivals in the seventies anyway. The film describes ultimately small errors in a long chain having big implications. The problems described are more understandable and relatively typical of the time. BL was not so unusual, not quite the disaster many believed it to be.

    • Seen that before DD. Agreed and clearly remember the 70s. Yes, you are correct. Lots of “Industrial Action” ( media speak for STRIKES ) on European mainland back then too. Additionally, Auto Union ( AUDI ), BMW, VW et al were all in deep financial doohdah around that time. However, their Government and more importantly their People supported those ailing manufacturing companies in more ways than one and all recovered and went on to become the success stories we know today. I do not have in mind more recent “stories” about how clean their VAG emissions are.

      Contrast that by a once proud Nation with a successful now extinct Indigenous Motor Industry who now form long queues to pay over the odds for foreign product and still do. No names no pack drill. Thus creating much needed jobs and quality careers by such purchases… sadly, not many for us here in the UK.

      Come 23rd June, I’m confident we will run true to form and get that decision wrong too. No way do I want to pay more for my next new BMW or Mercedes or roaming mobile charges…. It’s what we do. It did not used to be like that.

  25. Reminds of the throttle sticking open on my 2 month old MG Midget Easter 1976 along the A59 dual carriageway towards Clitheroe. Fortunately a dry road little traffic and slowing on gears/handbrake saved the day. BL dealer in Clitheroe fixed it while I waited. Dealer in every town in those days.
    In this film the old bill seem to have a cavalier attitude to fatal RTA’s. I am sure today the accident investigating officer would establish brake fail on the Allegro

  26. “On June the 16th on the corner of…” (23’32”)

    That’s a rather cold grey morning with no leaves on the trees – Britain was certainly bleak in the 70s, even in mid June!

    Or perhaps another minor quality control mistake…

  27. Interesting, and should have been an effective wake up call to all involved.

    But, I fear the slack workers would not have paid attention if asked to watch it!

  28. BMC/BL/etc etc… A paradigm of total all out distinction.

    I’m so glad cars are no longer built in thus way anymore and that EVERY thing is traceable. Taken years but we’ve got there now.

  29. I remember the “ok” stickers in Datsuns of the 70’s and cant help thinking they was quite rightly having a dig at Leyland products. I mean who in their right mind sell brand new cars and have drip trays under the sump of minis, Maxi’s and the Princess in the showroom. Some advertisement for quality.

  30. @40… yes Francis, i owned a few Datsuns with those ‘OK’ stickers on (Toyota & Honda had similar). Actually, i think it would be a good idea for Manufacturers to bring them back.

    Quite right – having drip trays in showrooms under new cars didn’t bode well!

  31. @32; Was the woman killed because of the fact that her car lost power, or was is because of the fact she came to a full stop on the middle of the motorway and decided to stay in her car, with her phone in her hand, waiting for the inevitable?
    That’s not VW’s fault, but personal responsibility…
    Tragic but not very smart.

    I don’t even change a tire on the hard shoulder. That £150 worth of wheel is way less worth than my life.

  32. @35: what about put the gears in neutral, turn the engine of and coast or brake to the side of the road?
    Yes, the vacuum disappears from the brake-booster, but that means you just have to push harder.
    Just don’t take the key out of the ignition…

  33. Who remembers BL’s ‘Action on Quality’ campaign about the same time as this film ?

    Every new car had an additional check by the dealer at the same time as the PDI. The check was supposed to catch the current crop of known manufacturing faults and provide a positive record thay had been fixed before the car was let loose on it’s new owner. The dealer claimed 1 hour labour from BL for doing the check and usually a lot more for fixing the faults.

    I remember cars with two or three job cards full of rectification work. At one stage the Rover SDI even had it’s own extra-extra set of checks – I think this was worth two hours and thirty minutes labour, plus the inevitable rectification work after the checks had been completed.

    The BL dealer’s best customer in those days was British Leyland. Warranty claims accounted for 50% or more of the typical workshop’s turnover. And that’s in the days when 3000 service intervals were still common so they weren’t short of retail business either.

  34. The dealer’s biggest customer may have been BL, but they certainly weren’t our best customer. Warranty work was a real headache for us in those days, because it was paid at a rate which gave little room for recovery of workshop overheads let alone profit . This led to bad work ( warranty work ) driving out the good retail work because there was insufficient time/room to do both ,and thus the retail customer went elsewhere !

  35. @45 It may have depended on the size of dealer. I worked for two of the main Distributors in the south Midlands so labour rates were pretty high and the Warranty rate was around ( I think ) 70% of the average retail recovery rate. I good service manager made sure his recovery rate was as high as possible on the sample jobs checked by the BL auditor.

    Then add in the fact there were around 20 mechanics to keep busy we didn’t need to turn much away. The usual lead-time was around a week which might creep up to two weeks in the busier periods.

    Also add in the bonus systems – mechanics were paid according to the book times so they had every incentive to finish jobs quickly and start the next one. This bonus payment was duly recovered from BL as warranty claims were paid the same way.

    It was almost an impossible to lose situation. If a job was completed in less than book time you’d legitimately claim the book time from BL. If it went over book time, you just had to convince your BL technical rep that it was a particularly difficult job and get an additional payment.

    Our warranty claims were around £250k pa which was a pretty good workshop turnover in the mid 70s.

  36. I last saw this film in 1980. It was looking a little dated by then and definitely for internal use only. How on earth did it end up on YouTube?

  37. I saw this months ago , the ending shocked me a bit , not what you expect a company to do in an internal film!

  38. Didn’t Madeline Smith have her dress unzipped in “Live and Let Die” by Roger Moore’s supposedly magnetic watch?

  39. What are the names of the actors in the video? Although the video is based on real life events, the people in this video are actors and actresses recreating the roles. What are their names. Some of them may have been well-known actors in Britain, some world famous. But I’m sure they have names. Who’s the actor, for example, who played the customer who buys an Austin throughout the video?

  40. It does have credits at the end.The hapless customer appears to be George A Cooper, according to Wikipedia was in grange hill and heartbeat among others

  41. I bet that wasn’t a cheap film to make. There are quite a few reasonably famous actors in it.
    It makes me laugh that the commentator says things like “there nust be hundreds of them in British leyland” which implies that even BL management don’t know how big the company is!

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