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 The corporation may have been created on a tidal wave of optimism in 1968, but by 1974 that had been replaced by the reality of falling sales, a huge drop-off in exports, low workforce morale, high levels of industrial action, management arrogance and ultimately a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…