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Francis Tombs interviewed by Steven Guilbert and Thomas Lean

Tombs, Francis Leonard, 1924- (speaker, male; interviewee)
2012-08-14, 2012-11-16, 2013-02-26, 2013-03-26, 2013-08-07


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  • Title:
    Francis Tombs interviewed by Steven Guilbert and Thomas Lean
  • Contributor: Tombs, Francis Leonard, 1924-; Guilbert, Steven; Lean, Thomas
  • Other Titles:
    Collection title: An Oral History of the Electricity Supply Industry in the UK

  • Place Name: Interviewee's home, Warwickshire
  • Description:
    Track 1 [50:09] [Session one: 14 August 2012] Francis Leonard Joseph Tombs [FT], mentions the origins of the name Tombs. Born Walsall. Remarks on Walsall, mentions Rushall Park. Description of neighbourhood, and neighbours, home in Walsall above a grocers shop. Recalls installing electricity himself in 1942, mentions the great excitement of having electricity. [11:35] Description of father Joseph Tombs, a gardener. Description of mother, Jane Tombs. Remarks on the family grocery shop. Comments on FT’s relationship with his parents. Remarks on only knowing a single grandparent. Description of siblings, two older brothers: Denis Tombs [DT], metal pattern maker, and Joe Tombs a salesman. Comments on FT’s relationship with his siblings, [section closed 00:20.07- 21:40] Description of mealtimes, recalls neck of lamb being a particular favourite. Remarks on not really eating any better for running a grocer’s shop. Description of being a boy bishop, and reading a sermon. Remarks on receiving a wrist watch coming back from midnight Mass. Comments on religion playing an important part in family life. Short description of St Mary’s on the Mount Catholic church in Walsall, [section closed 27.43 – 28.05] Comments on parent’s politics, mentions them regarding Labour as the sponging party. Remarks on FT contributing to the Liberal Party shortly after getting married. [31:03] Description of FT’s interest in music, mentions a number of concerts attended at Birmingham Symphony Hall. Description of work as a St John Ambulance first aider during the war, mentions filling in time waiting to be called out listening to music, Scottish dancing, and playing bridge. Story of incident in later life when FT had occasion to use his first aid skills. Recalls reading a lot as a child, particularly adventure stories. Mentions mother being a prolific reader, remarks on her pro-feminist views. Mentions father enjoying reading the racing form and putting on the occasional bet. Comments on visiting the pictures and once a year the pantomime. Recounts a number of radio programmes listened to with the family, mentions remembering clearly the announcement of the outbreak of World War Two. Remarks on wartime stoicism, mentions elder brother being called up. Further comments on the impact of the war on Walsall, and on society.

    Track 2 [10:41] Discusses experiences at St Mary’s Primary School and secondary school. Comments on primary school head teacher and enjoyment of learning. Remarks on method of teaching and corporal punishment. Mentions the transition to secondary school.

    Track 3 [26:25] Comments on decision to not go to grammar school; choosing Elmore Green Central School, Birmingham. Anecdote of being in the same form as the later Chairman of Standard Telephones and Cables. Remarks on Head Teacher Mr. Woodhead and Eric Mendelson-Boot different approaches to teaching maths. [04:50] Comments on applying for work at General Electricity Company [GEC] and taking evening classes. Remarks on apprenticeship and release for crash Higher National Certificate. Remarks the graduate trainee intake included Geoff Shepard, later Chairman of Midlands Electricity Board and, Ray Rockliffe, later Chairman of Northern Ireland Electricity Outfit. [07:46] Mentions termination of apprenticeship and transfer to Amsel Power Station; move to GEC Birmingham from Fraser and Chalmers at Erith. Remarks on rivalry between the electricals and the mechanicals. [09:00] Discussion of parent’s ambition for FT. [10:26] Comments on teachers at secondary school and subjects. [11:46] Comments on musical interests; being Chairman of Association of British Orchestras, taking piano lessons. [15:45] Description of secondary school building. [17:02] Comments on standard of education; missing the 11+ exam; entrance to secondary school. Remarks on cycling to school. [21:20] Comments on classmate John Perry and his toys. Remarks classmate Keith Whitehouse followed FT’s career. [23:29] Mentions positive school reports. [24:14] Comments on changes due to war, FT’s options.

    Track 4 [44:41] Mentions working in the Contracts department at GEC. Remarks on taking the Higher National Certificate, staying at GEC Birmingham. Mentions friends joined the forces. [02:10] Comments on preference for business career. Comments on why FT chose GEC. Mentions first day at GEC; organisation and the internal war between the technical side run by the firm Garrard, and the professional management side of JJ Gracie. [05:20] Description of GEC’s location; travel to work. Mentions meeting future wife who also worked at GEC in the chemistry laboratories. [06:09] Remarks about buying first car and touring the Midlands with Geoff Shepard. Comments on never doing a driving test for a car. Description of car and mechanics of it. [08:21] Comments on GEC site at Witton. Comments on first day at GEC. Parents opinion of FT working at GEC. Remarks on hours of work. [12:43] Description of training scheme. Comments on other trainees and later careers. Comments on work and bosses. [15:59] Remarks on aim of graduate trainee scheme. [17:14] Comments on taking the Ordinary National diploma in Electrical Engineering at Walsall Technical College, opportunity to go to university. [19:32] Comments on career choice of electrical engineering. [21:58] Mention of first job in Transmission with Central Electricity Board [CEB] in Birmingham. Discussion of typical day at work; evening classes, and first aid post. Remarks on lack of social life. Mention of students and teachers at evening classes. [27:00] Comments on the state of universities; failure to be recommend for university. [28:17] Comments on crash course in Walsall, and friendship and character of Geoff Shepard. [30:34] Remarks on difference between Higher National Certificate and Ordinary Certificate; elements and relevance of the course. [32:27] Remarks on career progression post-course. [33:31] Remarks on graduate training scheme at GEC and reason for termination. [35:03] Mentions being accelerated to Junior Engineer; working at power stations at night. [35:56] Bosses at GEC; FT’s attitude. [37:01] Moving from GEC with Geoff Shepard; applying to the CEB. [39:59] Remarks on career ladder at GEC. [39:00] Comments on childhood and early career plans. [40:10] Remarks on considering himself an engineer; decision to follow career path. [41:19] Remarks on parents characters and morals. [41:59] Remarks on uncertainty of future, lucky to get experience.

    Track 5 [37:31][Interview Two: 16 November 2013] Remarks on religion: Catholic family upbringing; [pause] value of Catholicism as a source of personal support, such as whilst travelling alone for GEC on lengthy business trips; Christianity and science, Richard Dawkins; important values, charity, modesty; family background of Catholicism; anecdote about letters from genealogists. [05:05] Remarks on mother: hard-working and generous personality; aid in FT recovery from pleurisy and scarlet fever at home; death aged 86; leather-worker, who turned her skill to crochet; believer in education, comparisons of FT's education and his brothers. [07:30] Remarks on education: wartime half time schooling, FT decision to leave school; completion of school certificate at evening classes; [pause, arrival of tea 08:48-09:20]; matriculation from school certificate; FT early ambition to become a journalist, before discovering electrical engineering through GEC; enjoyment of mathematics, later experience teaching mathematics at evening classes; artistic bent of FT children; FT grandson, a professor of Geography at Leicester; Fourier harmonic analysis. [13:55] Further remarks on education: studying Ordinary National Certificate, then Higher National Diploma [HND] in intensive 6 months; status of HND in engineering field; electrical engineering subjects; subject of distribution; London Corporation deputy chief engineer Donald Sayers offer of a graduate trainee-ship to FT, in a small class that included two future Area Electricity Board heads. [17:00] Remarks on post as junior engineer in Hams Hall power station c.1948: anecdote about vibration problems always being more marked at 3am; shift patterns; power station hierarchy, FT promotion to Operations Superintendent; FT leaving to start a new troubleshooting department at GEC, later sold to Parsons; anecdote about later meeting with Arnold Weinstock. [20:20] Remarks about the duties of a junior power station engineer: safety and monitoring of plant; control engineer; [22:00] examples of problems, such as problems with coal pulverising mills; working with maintenance and operations staff; ash plant, to collect dust; friendly nature of work at power stations; comparative sizes of first and last power stations FT worked in. [24:35] Discussion about control engineer duties: communication with National Grid; importance of maintaining frequency, relationship between frequency and load; anecdote about problems with automatic power station control; ability of system to compensate in event of problems; varied working atmosphere, stressful at times of insufficient supply; concern factors over cutting off people's electricity; members of public calling control centre over supply problems; description of working area, walls of instruments; FT posts as power station and grid control engineer; [30:55] feedback from control engineer's instruments frequency of contact with national grid. [32:00] Anecdote about an occasion working 12 hour shifts 7 days a week due to staff shortages. Remarks on: interaction with other staff, mentoring junior staff; staffing levels of power stations; constant operation of power station, phased maintenance; occupations of other power station staff; duties of junior engineer on routine jobs; social life; reasonable salary, allowing him to buy a house; postwar housing shortages. [36:45] Remarks on long happy marriage to wife.

    Track 6 [55:56] Remarks on: nationalisation of electricity supply industry [ESI] making little difference to daily operations from FT point of view; FT steady promotion through several posts in industry. [01:45] Remarks on work at GEC: Arnold Weinstock selling GEC turbine business to Parsons; FT disliking idea of working for Parsons; short period working in North America; decision to apply for job as director of engineering in South of Scotland Electricity Board [SSEB]; clarification of FT career moves from ESI to GEC; post as General Manager of Erith Turbine Works; reasons for career move back into ESI. [04:55] Remarks on: 1957 reorganisation of ESI after Herbert Act and separation of Scottish ESI from rest of UK; greater freedom allowed to Scottish electricity boards, construction of largest power station in Western Europe by SSEB; FT promotion to SSEB Deputy chairman then Chairman. [06:10] Remarks on 1970s proposals for reorganised ESI in the rest of the UK: FT asked to move to head industry; political considerations leading to abortion of scheme; anecdote about visit to lawyers Slaughter and May to investigate prospects of legal action; FT resignation in 1980 following energy minister David Howell's decision not to reorganise industry. [08:25] Comments on SSEB: happy and busy board; high proportion of nuclear power; wide duties of Director of Engineering; differences with set-up of English area boards; FT visiting power stations personally; anecdote about FT strategy for visiting power stations, asking questions until he found one that couldn't be answered, earlier use of strategy whilst at GEC; SSEB Chairman Lewis Allen and Deputy chairman Alan Christiansen; circumstances leading FT to become Chairman; anecdote about being offered SSEB Deputy chairman and Chairman posts at the same time, whilst on holiday in Majorca; [14:00] independent nature of SSEB compared to CEGB; FT doing much travel to London, anecdote about asking nuclear reactor committee to consider meetings in Scotland; many committee meetings in London. [15:40] Comments on debate over nuclear reactor choice: early problems with Advanced Gas Cooled Reactors [AGR]; supporters of American Pressurised Water Reactor [PWR]; committee membership, GEC, CEGB, FT for SSEB; GEC reputation and Arnold Weinstock, for hard negotiations, anecdote about negotiations between GEC, FT, and CEGB's Leslie Miller; FT favouring Steam Generating Heavy Water [SGHW] reactor, prototyped by Atomic Energy Authority [UKAEA] at Winfrith heath; Canadian CANDU reactor; proposal for enriched uranium version of CANDU; CEGB's Arthur Hawkins and Arnold Weinstock opposition to CANDU; drawbacks of PWR design and cooling arrangements; lengthy computer time required in 1960s to compute reactor safety analysis; [22:00] Three Mile Island nuclear accident in America, showing limitations of computer modelling system; improvements in new PWR designs; FT lengthy discussions with SSEB nuclear engineers; importance of nuclear power to Scotland, anecdote about reducing tariff to customers; FT opinions on nuclear power, need for energy security in the long term; 1970s emergence of environmental movement; effects of Carbon Dioxide in atmosphere; importance of energy security in the 1970s, criticism of CEGB and SSEB for maintaining a large spare capacity of generating plant. [27:20] Remarks on: 1970s miners' strikes, export of electricity from Scotland to England; distant relations with CCEGB; advantages of small size of SSEB in quickly dealing with challenges of 1970s energy supply; examples of SSEB response to miners' picketing, use of chartered shopping to move supplies, helicoptering of hydrogen supplies, staff demonstration at Longannet Power station against miners. [29:20] Remarks on construction of Longannet Power station: anecdote about meeting Wilson Campbell, of consulting engineers Merz and MacLellan, earlier in South Africa; problems with organisation of construction; SSEB construction manager Curry [??]; frequent meetings between FT and Merz and MacLellan, often on Sundays; large size of Longannet Power station, cross compound design cutting costs. [33:00] Remarks on: limited amount of hydroelectric power in SSEB; relationship between SSEB and North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board [NSHEB], anecdote about difficult meetings over joint generating account; FT appointment of NSHEB Chief Engineer as SSEB Director of Engineering. [35:00] Remarks on: links between CEGB and SSEB, links at research and development levels; effective first CEGB Chairman Stanley Brown; [closed 35.30 – 37.20] FT self view of himself as an engineer, a key reason in his later heading of Rolls-Royce; anecdote about FT later intervention in a technical problem with an engine design problem at Rolls-Royce; FT intervention in technical decisions over a transmission line to North of England; advantages of uniting generation and transmission systems, as in Scotland. [41:30] Remarks on structure and management of SSEB: interaction of FT with chief engineers responsible for generation and and transmission; disagreements and differences between transmission and generation; anecdote about a serious power outage soon into FT's tenure as Director of Engineering. [45:10] Remarks on: SSEB supporting scientific research staff, risks of enthusiasms for science; need to occasionally take risks, example of power station boiler problems; size of SSEB; later parliamentary question to FT over excess generating capacity; problems with use of wind power for electricity generation, need for large subsidies; political considerations of renewable and nuclear power; 1970s emergence of Friends of the Earth. [49:50] Remarks on public nuclear power debates, c.1976: organised with UKAEA's John Hill and Sir George Porter of Royal Institution; [closed 50.50 – 51.15], nuclear power victory in debate; limitations of Green's arguments. [51:30] Remarks on: media attention on FT in 1970s; FT membership of Nature Reserve Council with David Attenborough; changing nature of environment; anecdote about objections to wires between transmission towers at the Secretary of State for Scotland's yearly environmental committee meeting; busy but satisfying life running the SSEB; [closed 54:33 - 54:54]FT enjoyments in managing SSEB, importance of managing people well.

    Track 7 [44:49] Further remarks on SSEB: comparisons between SSEB and Area Electricity Boards; interactions with all-purpose electricity boards abroad, such as EDF in France; relations between SSEB and CEGB; SSEB willingness to experiment, example of Longannet power station; story about SSEB use of longer turbine blades on Peterhead power station than GEC standard blades, at suggestion of GEC's David Kalderon; value of SSEB innovation to CEGB, such as CEGB adoption of SSEB AGR reactor insulation solution; description of SSEB solution to AGR insulation problem; [05:30] FT management style at SSEB, close communication with staff, concerned more with solution than credit; FT reporting to Secretary of State for Scotland Gordon Campbell; anecdote about seven year expenditure plans produced for treasury; [09:20] advantages of political structure in Scotland; limited instruction from Secretary of State, due to need to discuss issues in Parliament; degree of freedom for FT to run SSEB; management structure of SSEB; [12:10] SSEB's status as an all-purpose board, advantages of integration of supply and distribution. [13:00] Remarks on electricity pricing and industry structure: later introduction of Economy 7 tariff whilst FT was chair of Electricity Council, only tariff that linked supply and demand costs; CEGB bulk supply tariff practices; 1957 Herbert Committee decision to split manufacture of electricity from its market; Walter Citrine's powerful position as head of BEA; close links of SSEB with community; contact with customers at SSEB, anecdote about receiving a complaint call at home. [17:10] Remarks about 1970s miner's strikes: Anecdote about journalists monitoring number of lights on in FT's house during electricity; counter demonstrations at Longannet Power Stations; anecdote about meeting Scottish National Union of Miners leader Mick McGahey during a television interview; anecdote about Mick McGahey greeting FT warmly at later meeting with Tony Benn. [19:45] Remarks on trade unions: good relations between FT and unions; SSEB shop stewards giving FT a set of gold clubs when he left; responsible nature of electricity trade unions; anecdote about a strike over green, presumably Catholic, safety helmets at an SSEB power station; ESI union leader Frank Chapple; Chapple and Les Cannon's stand against communist vote rigging in unions; Frank Chapple membership of Plowden Commitee. [22:50] Discussion about 1976 Plowden Committee investigation into structure of ESI in England and Wales and its consequences: background of Labour party desire to reorganise industry; Plowden committee recommendation of integration accepted by minister Eric Varley; move of Tony Benn from Minister for Industry to Minister for Energy; Benn's opposition to reorganisation and desire to insert a clause into Bill guaranteeing electricity supply in spite of ability to pay for it; FT evidence to Plowden committee, recommendation to create an all-purpose organisation; limitations of nationalised industries' desires to have expensive, tailor-made UK designs for equipment and power plants; FT limited faith in politicians to change ESI; [28:20] ESI status as a political football; positions of ministers Eric Varley, Tony Benn and David Howell; offer of post at head of restructured, integrated industry to FT; FT feelings about leaving SSEB to head new industry, anecdote about supportive reaction from SSEB Deputy chairman Roy Berridge; FT desire to reorganise industry. [32:10] Discussion about FT plans for a reorganised English and Welsh ESI: link between electricity production and market; prospects for privatisation of industry; structure of five all-purpose boards and national grid advantages of FT proposed ESI structure, comparisons with role of electricity commissioners as an centralised independent body between 1926-1947; five electricity board structure allowing scope for competition; reactions of others in industry, CEGB opposition, varied Area Electricity Board Reactions. [37:00] Remarks on: Tony Benn's opposition to plan; FT meeting with Liberal party leader David Steel and energy spokesman David Penhaligon's over their opposition to reorganising ESI; FT decision to resign and not to return later when asked by Nigel Lawson. [40:30] Remarks on: FT role as Chairman of Electricity Council; history and purpose of Electricity Council as supervisory body within ESI, whose power was limited by Minister of Power Aubrey Jones in 1950s; creative nature of ESI in 1970s, allowing Economy 7, before political changes made ESI change difficult; FT decision to leave Electricity Council; interference from politicians in ESI.

    Track 8 [49:18][Interview Three: 26 February 2013] Story about how FT came to join GEC at Erith: FT role as Operations Superintendent during commissioning of Ince power station bringing him into contact with GEC managers Douglas Smith and Walter Reed who subsequently recruited FT to join GEC. [01:34] Story about FT involvement with fixing problems with a Johannesburg power station: description of power station failure; anecdote about dealings with consulting engineer Stephenson; anecdote about winning a bet with station manager Lockhart. [04:43] Remarks on working at GEC: Cambridge engineering degree almost mandatory to work on nuclear power; anecdote about FT's promotion to sales manager, subsequently replacing Douglas Smith as general manager at Erith; size of GEC Erith; scope of GEC duties as General manager; anecdote about FT management style of visiting power stations and always finding a question that couldn't be answered; FT enjoyments working at Erith; [08:35] small size of GEC compared to rivals AEI and English Electric; Pochobrodski [ph] design of an innovative turbine exhaust blade; anecdote about FT being ordered to stop tendering to CEGB but winning orders from them anyway; [11:27] CEGB status around the world but desire for advanced but expensive machines; example of CEGB desire for automatic control at Tilbury power station in spite of technical problems and expense. [13:07 pause] Further remarks on: the CEGB good Chairman Stanley Brown and good engineering member Booth; potential for arrogance; anecdote about SSEB building larger power stations than CEGB in 1970s; effects of power station size increasing in postwar years, larger sites needed, need for cooling water; GEC Erith building turnkey power stations for industry, such as Colville's Ravenscraig steelworks, Esso Fawley and Mount Isa, Australia; change in scale of power station equipment as power station size increased; [17:33] technical problems in scaling power stations up; risk of 'type faults' - common problems in several plants; great rate of growth in ESI; approximate costs of power stations; duties of estimating and selling departments; importance of people in selling power stations, and stressing of reliability and efficiency in sales; CEGB practice of sharing purchases around between different suppliers; comparison between GEC and competitors; key innovation of large exhaust blade, CEGB interest in 'leaving losses' as steam left turbine; [22:25] limited research at GEC, apart from turbine blades, material research done by steel industry; anecdote about pointing out a problems when visiting CEGB's Marchwood research facility; lack of links to university research at GEC; GEC building blowers for Hunterston AGR nuclear power station; [24:50 pause] FT feelings that nuclear power was unproven technology in 1950s, with example of carbon dioxide erosion of mild steel and graphite core building up molecular stresses with risk of Wigner energy release; importance of diversity of energy supply, and its loss during privatisation; FT warnings over security of energy supply, concerns over gas supply as Japan purchases more; renewable energy not being considered at GEC; FT extensive travel whilst at GEC, example of trip to Australia and India turning into an extensive world trip; links with Commonwealth countries through 5% Commonwealth preference on purchases, and education links, such as Metropolitan-Vickers scheme with Singapore; [29:44]

    Track 8 [cont' from 29:44] on the job training at GEC; qualities of GEC's Douglas Smith and influence on FT, art of dealing with people; GEC's traditional management style; rivalry between GEC mechanical work at Erith and electrical works at Witton; wide variety of engineering knowledge required in power station construction, such as need to understand chemical engineering; [34:00] FT interest in classical music outside work, purchase of organ when he retired; lack of social life attached to GEC. [34:47] Anecdote about FT chairmanship of Engineering Council and opposition to Monty Finniston's suggestion that engineering insinuations be amalgamated into one. Remarks on: exciting state of postwar British engineering; differences between people in nationalised and private industries, anecdote about later work at Rolls Royce; FT attending early management courses and introduction of contract reviews to GEC Erith, particularly important on combined contracts with civil engineering sub contractors; anecdote about FT surprising Kenneth Bond with GEC's profitability when it was sold to Parsons; FT management strategy; [41:25] negative impact of Arnold Weinstock on working at GEC; FT later meetings with Weinstock when FT was head of SSEB; FT decision to leave GEC rather than work for Parsons in the USA; [closed 43:30 – 44:28] Remarks on: FT spending a year working for Howden, Parsons - Howden Canadian collaboration; FT leaving Howden to join SSEB after friendly meeting with Jimmy Howden; benefits to FT of period between 1957-1968 learning about engineering and about dealing with unions and people, examples of FT contact with shop floor staff; anecdote about spotting over-large committee meeting whilst visiting Rolls Royce Derby and deciding to limit number of chairs to limit size of meetings.

    Track 9 [1:07:13] Comments on the Electricity Council: potential for allowing political inference in the electricity industry; anecdote about a meeting with chancellor Geoffrey Howe over electricity pricing; relationship between government and Electricity Council, more contact at times of crisis such as power interruptions; FT views on big issues in ESI in late 1970s, viewing miners strikes as short term problem, compared to distant time scale; anecdote about SSEB exporting power to England and Wales during 1970s miners' strikes; planning for a future miners strike, during Walter Marshall's time as head of CEGB. [03:20] Further remarks on reactor choice debate in 1970s: pro PWR lobby including Walter Marshall, Arnold Weinstock, Babock's Lord King, John Hill, elements of UKAEA and CEGB; Walter Marshall's attacks on AGR; description of Walter Marshall, anecdote about his physicist's viewpoint, relationship with Margaret Thatcher; safety concerns over PWR in 1970s, lengthy Westinghouse comprehensive development process to improve safety, compared to French practice of incremental updating earlier design; [08:00] FT pushing for additional reactors whilst Chairman of Electricity Council, partly to support industry; later collapse of power station industrial suppliers due to dearth of new orders after privatisation; delay in building Sizewell B reactor; lost opportunity when BNFL purchased Westinghouse, only to be sold to Toshiba by Gordon Brown; current reactor choice of Japanese or French PWR or General Electric's boiling water reactor [also Advanced CANDU reactor] [10:50] Further remarks on Electricity Council: FT keen on privatisation of ESI from 1970s; difficulties managing nationalised industries; difficult relationship between CEGB and Area Electricity Boards; Electricity Council decision making by finding things no one disagreed on; CEGB protective of its interests; difficulties splitting electricity supply and sale; guarded atmosphere in Electricity Council meetings, briefly overcome during period when reorganisation was likely; later dismantling of the CEGB; [15:20] FT relationship with CEGB and Area Electricity Boards; relationship between CEGB and Area Boards, bulk supply tariff; [16:28 pause] complicated relationship between Chairmen of the Electricity Council and CEGB, FT greater experience of generation than Arthur Hawkins and Glyn England due to their transmission background; anecdote about technical debate with Arthur Hawkins over nuclear reactors; comparisons between Arthur Hawkins and Glyn England management styles whilst head of CEGB; plan for England to act as FT deputy in reorganised ESI; limited usefulness of Electricity Council meetings given limited power of organisation; marketing, research and industrial relations functions of CEGB; [21:40] electricity council research and development, example of batteries for electric transport and energy saving; meetings over load estimates; Electricity Council experts such as Roger Farrance occasionally contesting CEGB estimates. [23:07] Remarks on Economy 7 off peak electricity tariff: origin of idea for Economy 7 in Electricity Council marketing people, FT, and others; formulation of pricing from CEGB estimates, usefulness of keeping nuclear stations running at steady level over night; CEGB reactions to idea; potential for similar schemes due to tariffs being based entirely on long run marginal costs rather than looking for short term savings; FT negative opinions of effectiveness of Electricity Council, FT only becoming Chairman as an interim measure pending expected industry reorganisation; [27:50]

    Track 9 [cont' from 27:50] changing political situation, Prime Minister Harold Wilson's replacement of energy minister Eric Varley with Tony Benn, causing abandonment of industry reorganisation; FT resigning after remaining a year into Conservative administration at request of David Howell; FT feelings of disappointment on leaving the electricity industry; Plowden Committee’s decision that reorganisation should happen; Liberal opposition to reorganisation. [30:05 pause] Remarks on: missed opportunity of 1970s reorganisation, lack of interest by politicians in topics; inefficiencies of political decision making process as regards t4echnical matters; lack of practical experience in industrial life by politicians and civil servants, compared to foreign competitors; missed opportunity for British industry; FT suggestion that MPs should be at least 35, to allow them to gain experience of industrial life; need for more technical experts in civil service; advantages of abolishing whipping system in House of Commons. [35:00] Comments on FT involvement with government advisory bodies such as the Advisory Council for Applied Research and Development [ACARD] and Advisory Committee on Science and Technology [ACOST]: Margaret Thatcher's interest in ACOST compared to successors prime minister; change in ACOST functions in recent years; ACOST involvement in criticising government policies on science and technology, such as decommissioning of UKAEA's Dounreay fast reactor; anecdote about Uranium shortage basis for fast reactor being proved false; opposition to closure of fast reactor; FT advice that Britain's plutonium stockpile should be reduced; reasons for build up of UK plutonium stockpile. [41:10] Remarks on UKAEA: enthusiastic people; development of reactor technology, such as Windscale, Chapel Cross and Dragon reactors; risks of enthusiasm over prudence. [42:10] Further remarks on ACOST: other committee members, such as doctor Keith Peters, industry representative, academics; good relations between members; anecdotes about regular meetings with Margaret Thatcher; [44:00 pause] Margaret Thatcher's scientific mindset, lively personality at meetings; anecdote about Margaret thatcher attending an ACOST meeting; 1980s discussion topics; ICI research director Charles Rees work on industry-university collaborations and Ministry of Defence research budget. [47:45]

    Track 9 [cont' from 47:45] Comments on ACARD: FT predecessor Viscount Caldecote; more industrially based than ACOST, duty to alert industry to new technology; example of work in materials behaviour in collaboration with SRC and ACOST; industry lack of knowledge about academic research; ACARD's moderate effectiveness; effectiveness of ACOST. [52:00] Comments on energy policy since FT left ESI: lack of political foresight in future of industry; [53:00 pause] anecdote about refusing Nigel Lawson offer to become involved with privatisation of ESI; FT suggestion of Stephen Littlechild as first electricity regulator; evolutionary process of privatisation; FT feelings about privatisation, lack of strategic centre to investigate long term problems; [55:50] FT Wilson Campbell memorial lecture on future of ESI; issues in future of ESI in UK, fuel diversity, European directives on pollution, wind power; risks to UK future energy policy of lack of power and high prices; volatility of gas prices; post privatisation tariff cuts to detriment of diversity of supply; [59:35] bleak outlook for UK future energy supply, respite of recession limiting energy demand; likelihood of more gas power stations; problems with renewable energy, such as such as wind power, from its diffuse nature; problems with break in continuity of supply; neglect of ESI policy as a result of short term political perspective; Postwar nationalised industry's ability to make big decisions; need for greater national strategy. [1:04:05] Remarks on FT activities in House of Lords on Political matters: annual debate covering similar topics, FT decision to end series due to limited impact on governments; anecdote about FT and John Pattern proposal for an Electricity Commission opposed by David Sainsbury in a debate.

    Track 10 [1:00:25][Interview Four: 26 March 2013] Remarks on leaving the Electricity Council: not wanting to unnerve staff with announcement; no plans for afterwards; anecdote about Victor and Evelyn Rothschild offering him a position on the Rothschild. Remarks on Rothschild: FT feelings about joining an investment bank, becoming Chairman of audit committee, attended by Evelyn Rothschild; distrust of derivative products; description of bank; FT reservations about the changes brought about by the 'Big Bang'; Rothschild profit from sale of stockbroker; respected name of Rothschild; varied amount of work required by FT; joining Shell board, but deciding against joining ESSO American board. [06:00] Comments on FT restructuring of Weir Group: Bank of England asking FT to intervene; [06:30 pause] FT familiarity with William Weir from experience at GEC and favouring his remaining on board; [07:12 pause] Weir's business in making water distillation equipment; problems with steel foundries abroad; William Weir spending much time out of company leading to him taking a non-executive Chairman role in favour of MD Ronald Garrick; success of FT measures; FT solution of a simple summary form to encourage concise information and decentralised management, later applied to Turner and Newell; empowerment of local managers; sale of steel foundries, management restructuring; success of later Chairman Ronald Garrick. [13:20] Remarks on FT leaving Weirs: anecdote about bank's reactions to turn around in Weir’s fortunes; previous rights issue to American investor who became a useful board member; FT reasons for leaving Weirs. [15:16] Remarks on electricity industry reform: Nigel Lawson asking FT opinions on privatisation; FT feeling disappointed on leaving electricity industry; advantages of SSEB style organisations; FT declining offer to become a company doctor; reflections on long career in electricity industry; difficulties with schemes for restructuring of ESI in 1970s, leading to FT resignation; joining Rothschilds. [19:27] Remarks on FT restructuring of Turner and Newell: anecdote about Henry Benson's offer to FT and assurance that the company was in the South, despite it being in Manchester; business in asbestos industry; FT differences of opinion from consultant's Deloitte plan for company restructuring; sale of American chemical subsidiary and Stories Decorative; British Industrial Plastics; T&W's innovative polices, but problems due to remoteness of board; FT devolving management, simplifying reporting, reducing staff; anecdote about FT trading Weir’s Chairman's chauffeured Rolls Royce for a self driven Ford Fiesta. [25:30] Comments on FT management philosophy: difficulties with running a large business centrally; SSEB approach of devolving power to local levels; FT plans for devolved power board structure in a nationalised ESI. [28:25] Remarks on T&N's legal troubles: problems with Asbestos litigation in USA; litigation risks of foreign ownership of American companies; [pause 29:34] American litigation concerning market in UK; success of FT's refusal to settle out of court in face of spurious legal action from Prudential and Chase Manhattan in USA over asbestos in buildings; American legal system not awarding costs; known risks of asbestos; successful outcome of T&N bid for Associated Engineering, in spite of collusion by investment banks; [36:17] anecdote about Midland Bank's dishonest attitudes; anecdote about FT investigation of possibilities of damages, leading to out of court settlement; FT views on legal practices; FT knowledge of company law and accountancy from economics degree. [41:35]

    Track 10 [cont' from 41:35] Further remarks on T&N: increasing research budget and diversifying away from asbestos; anecdote about discovering that motorcar gaskets sold to Ford were under priced; lack of attention to costing; reasons for increasing research budget; successful turnaround of T&N; worldwide nature of T&N, decision to withdraw from India and South Africa; concerns over risks of asbestos; epidemiologist Richard Doll's research into chances asbestos cancer; FT wishing to avoid risks of asbestos litigation in USA. [47:30] Remarks on FT joining Rolls Royce [RR]: FT kept busy by Chairmanship of Engineering Council and IEE [Institution of Electrical Engineers] and ACARD and ACOST, Science and Engineering Research Council [SERC], foundation of Royal Academy of Engineering; appointment and death of Sir William Duncan, Chairman of RR; Lord McFadden recommending FT for RR chairmanship; FT not applying for post as he considered himself retired, until approach from Department of Trade and Industry via head hunters; FT meeting with Norman Tebbit over conditions of employment, speedy privatisation and FT allowed to keep his own opinion of nuclear reactor choice; [52:05] FT previous experiences suiting him for chairmanship of RR. [52:45] Remarks on RR agreement with General Electric [GE]: plan for RR becoming GE subcontractor; concerns over legal position of agreement in USA; FT decision that agreement had to be cancelled; Ministry of Defence concerns over termination; DTI minister Paul Shannon's acquiescence to situation. [54:50] Remarks on FT feelings about becoming Chairman of RR: story about previous experience of RR non-commercial approach from FT SSEB AGR experience; FT discovering RR engineering view that Chairman's role was to borrow money from banks; FT view of role of Chairman to steer company to financial stability; saving money to fund new engine development; RR modular approach to engine development allowing easy path to development; growth of RR share of engine market; state of RR when FT took over; loyalty of airline customers; success of RR535 engine for Boeing 757; anecdote about ease of maintenance; RR lead designer Stewart Miller.

    Track 11 [1:18:25] Comments on Rolls Royce collaboration with General Electric [GE]: differing GE and RR interpretations of agreement regarding RR independent development of new large engines; risk of RR being reduced to a GE subcontractor; FT view that GE interpretation of agreement created difficulties for privatisation of RR; varying points of view within RR. [03:58] Remarks on development of new RR engine family: RB211 three-shaft design providing sound and convenient basis for developing a new engine; component improvements to RB211 to create Trent family of engines; FT role in decision making and resource allocation; development of Trent continuing after FT left RR; better financial controls and increased efficiency to provide extra working capital; enthusiastic response to developments by RR workforce; development of management approach from FT's time at T&W; [10:00] RR cultural difficulties accepting firmer financial controls; description of good design department manager Stewart Miller. [12:20] Remarks on end of GE RR collaboration: RR continuing to produce GE parts; GE dismissal of RR prospects; RR successes; concerns within RR over change; suspicions over big changes. [14:10] Remarks on FT approach to managing RR: FT imparting tighter financial controls and management discipline; FT daily activities; philosophy of visiting different parts of organisation personally and informally; anecdote about limiting number of chairs in conference rooms to promote more effective meetings; not intervening directly in technical matters; FT base in RR London offices; limited contact with Government departments at FT level; FT contact with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher through chairing of advisory councils; qualities of Thatcher; Thatcher's support for privatisation of RR. [21:20] Remarks on privatisation and organisational culture: damage caused by postwar nationalisation process; lack of attention to financial concerns in nationalised industries; lack of accountability in civil service compared to private industry; advantages of privatised industries over nationalised ones; culture of service in nationalised ESI, with example of repairs to network in awful Scottish winter, lacking in privatised ESI. [25:48] Remarks on: purpose of RR to provide a lucrative business and satisfactory products; importance of workplace culture and organisational pride, with reference to ESI and RR; difficulties with unions for British industries; ESI unions supporting ESI aims of maintaining supply; reductions in ESI staff over time with technical developments; [30:00] RR attitudes to labour relations, importance of engaging with trade unionists to support company and respecting their sense of fairness, a common theme at T&N and RR; FT satisfaction with RR long term technical and financial performance; importance to RR success of winning loyalty from airline customers with quality products supported by well integrated team; disjunctions in British industry between design and production staff; [34:30] intimate relationship between RR and airline customers, with reference to anecdote about FT's time at GEC; FT contact with airline heads; trust relationship between RR and airline engineering departments; RR acquisition of Northern Engineering Industries [NEI]; RR work in nuclear technology; [39:00] depressed state of NEI due to few power station orders; benefits of influence of NEI practical management practices on RR; equal need for NEI and RR rejuvenation at the time; prospects of NEI compared to RR; cyclical nature of business; advanced nature of NEI equipment. [43:10]

    Track 11 [cont' from 43:10] Comments on RR university links: 29 various research contract with universities; FT experience setting up university Interdisciplinary Research Centres [IRC]; FT support for establishing university technology centres [UTC]; UTC benefits in industry-academia information transfer; benefits of involving universities in industrial research; benefits of turning universities toward problem solving; successes of UTC's in manufacturing technique, acoustics, materials science, single crystal blades, Sheffield work on blade cast models, Southampton work on material life, three dimensional flow; suspicion within RR about UTCs at first. [50:27] Remarks on FT colleagues at RR: description of FT successor Ralph Robins; Trevor Salt; Stewart Miller. [51:55] Description of privatisation process of RR: research of information for prospectus; advisory merchant bank; benefits of FT previous experiences at Rothschild and dealing with press in cautious build up to privatisation; lack of experience within RR of dealing with the press discreetly; anecdote about FT reading about a leak of profits information to Financial Times; [57:20] anecdote about FT encouraging industrial and financial privacy. [58:18] Remarks on FT feelings about time at RR: enjoyment of challenge and prospective rewards; later innovation at RR of 'power by the hour' financing arrangements; RR expertise in manoeuvrable chip thrusters, obtained from NEI's Clarke Chapman. [1:00:20] Remarks on: importance of keeping financial industry informed in run up to privatisation; financial analysts regularly questioning RR's spending on research and development; time scales of research and development; importance of focussing creative energies on affordable outcomes; anecdote about trying to introducing desk signs of 'we can't afford it' to encourage cost consciousness; anecdote about FT restricting engineering department to concentrate on a single affordable design; [1:05:35] privatisation of RR in 1987; FT feelings about privatisation; prejudice against RR from financial world after losses of 1971; FT satisfaction in preserving RR. [1:08:10] Remarks on reasons for RR success: value of RB211 and vision of transforming it into a new range of engines suitable for a wide market; rapid case of Trent development; change in culture at RR; FT concerns in running RR; FT asking Ralph Robins to bring Bristol and Derby teams together to fix a problem with a compressor, anecdote about veteran RR employees diagnosing design problem. [1:13:08] Remarks on: FT feelings on leaving RR in 1992, need for a growth focussed new perspective; FT enjoyment in building companies to last, rather than the short term fix and sell approach of company doctors; FT feeling exhausted when he left RR; difficulties drawing wider lessons for industry from RR success; FT experience of boards being out of touch with company's core activities

    Track 12 [59:22][Interview Five: 7 August 2013] Remarks on process for choosing area electricity board chairmen and deputy chairmen: salary level; existing chairmen making suggestions to civil servants; short-list presented to EC chairmen and minister; FT time as Chairman of EC ending in resignation. [02:45] Remarks on life after Rolls-Royce: chairmanship of Old Mutual Investments, Lord Frame also on board, value of FT experience of dealing with South Africa. [04:00] Story about FT appointment to House of Lords: FT's visit to South Africa for Rolls-Royce making it difficult for Downing Street to get in contact with FT; FT checking with wife; FT feelings about becoming a peer, expecting to enjoy select committees. [06:00] Remarks on chairing Select Committee on long term storage of nuclear waste: recommending deep storage; lengthy process after committee report; [pause 07:46 phone] reasons for recommendation of deep storage for nuclear waste possible alternatives; recommending reprocessing of Plutonium stockpile; difficulties with Fast Breeder Reactor. [10:33] Remarks on Select Committees: outline of how Select Committees are set up, difficulties of few scientists in House of Lords; civil servants; selection of eminent people for chairmanship of committees. [13:00] Remarks on chairing Select Committee on sustainable development: established by Conservative Government; anecdote about FT selection as Chairman; geography educated assistants; large size of subject and report; scepticism over wind power and climate change; FT views on carbon dioxide's role in the complex systems of climate; select committee witnesses; 2 year period of committee; broad selection of topics in report, such as waste disposal. [19:10] [closed 00:19.38 – 00:20.38] Remarks on: early days in House of Lords, debates filled with specialists; anecdote about teasing Frank Chapple when he become a peer; status as member of establishment; letters from public about various issues, such as same-sex marriage; [closed 00:23.45 – 00:27.50] Remarks on: FT reasons for becoming a cross-bench peer rather than joining a political party; lack of uniform robes except on special occasions; FT private interests, maintaining home, playing chess with grandchildren, lunch meetings with former colleagues; FT family reactions to his work, writing letters to children; FT wife's involvement with his work as Chairman and peer; FT decision over whether to become a peer or not, [closed 00:32:21 – 00:33:00] Remarks on role of House of Lords: previous role as a check on Commons; independent view on Lords' cross bench; value of detailed Lords debates and select committee reports to Commons; value of Lords providing expert advice; Lords allowing time for lengthier debates than in Commons; drive for Lords reform from frustrated party leaders and left wing of Labour Party; compatibility of democratic system with provision of views from unelected body; power of Commons over Lords; appeal letters from MP's to Lords over same sex marriage bill, MP's responsibility to constituents rather than party; limited contact with Commons in course of Lords business, social relations with MP's; [39:45] busy period when FT was active in Lords and still working; FT current Lords activity, preferring not to sit through night debates; anecdote about television cameras focussing on Lords listening to speakers and accusing them of being asleep; FT membership of committee on joint bills, previous membership of delegated powers committee; repetition of debates in Lords; FT preferring to speak for short period on topics in area of knowledge. [44:05] Remarks on debates over euthanasia: risks of medical uncertainties and abuse; Lord Faulkner bill on assisted suicide; report on mental capacity and euthanasia; risks over certification of patients by doctors who have never seen them in person; changes in abortion bill to cover psychological issues; House of Lords ability to bring various expert viewpoints to bear on problem; FT moral outlook on euthanasia, importance of family in issue. [51:00] Remarks on inquiry into crash of Chinook ZA708 in Mull of Kintyre: difficulty determining cause of crash due to lack of evidence due to extensive in crash; possibilities of electronic equipment problems; uncertainties about control systems at time; damage to flap actuators; background to crash, transit of senior personnel, skilled pilots; [55:50] initial blaming of pilots; inquiry finding it was not possible to blame pilots due to lack of evidence and inability to absolutely prove their responsibility; limited impact of report, political background; reasons for FT appointment to inquiry.

    Track 13 [29:12] Remarks on Athenaeum Club: anecdote about recent visit; anecdote about debate over making Margaret Thatcher a member; poor quality of food in past; FT use of Athenaeum, convenient accommodation for House of Lords; [pause 02:55] social events of little appeal to FT; hearing aids; anecdote about FT meeting a former colleague from SSEB. [04:40] Remarks on current House of Lords issues: same-sex marriage bill; problems with energy bill, lack of strategy centre for ESI; FT previous membership of Science and Technology Committee; nuclear waste management sub-committee, FT support to Chairman Lord David Phillips [mic problem] during Phillips illness, FT subsequently becoming Chairman; interests of Science and Technology Committee varying with Chairman, example of Lord Krebs interest in health and environment; FT chairmanship of sub-committees; FT membership of committee on research and development in the National Health Service [NHS] report on post mortems; [12:45] recent parliamentarian expenses scandal, many people in Lords claiming little, left wing more heavily implicated than right wing; likelihood of future decline of House of Lords; appointments of peers; differences between professional politicians and outsiders as peers. [15:55] Remarks on: FT concerns over recent transport issues; irritation with politicians claiming expertise in areas they do not have; FT recent ill heath; FT little time for hobbies; FT luck in working in happy companies; value of engineering mindset, risks over overspecialisation; changes in engineering profession, greater acceptance of women and ethnic minority engineers; [20:30] risks of focus groups disproportionate weight in democracy; FT enjoying career and solving problems, sticking to principles; value of Christianity in FT moral outlook. [22:35] Closing remarks on: interview process, pleasure at project being conducted; wide variety of FT experience, largely unplanned and aided by fortune; importance of promoting happiness in organisation to achieving aims; FT reasons for not staying on boards after leaving companies; anecdote about FT differences in outlook from Dennis Rooke about confrontation with government; [26:45] historical outlooks on issues of ESI, changing fashions of management; FT earlier study of economics; anecdote about Bernard Shaw opinion of economists.

  • Notes:
    Recording: 2012-08-14, 2012-11-16, 2013-02-26, 2013-03-26, 2013-08-07;
    - Tombs, Francis Leonard, 1924- (speaker, male; interviewee);
    - Guilbert, Steven (speaker, male; interviewer);
    - Lean, Thomas (speaker, male; interviewer)
    Recording Notes: audio file 13 WAV 24 bit 48 kHz 2-channel
    Access restrictions: The following sections are closed for 30 years until 2044: Track 1 [00:20:07-00:21:28], [00:27:43-00:28:05], Track 6 [00:35:30-00:37:20], [00:50:50-00:51:15], [00:54:33-00:54:54], Track 8 [00:43:30-00:44:28] and Track 12 [00:19:38-00:20:38], [00:23:45-00:27:50], [00:32:31-00:33:00]. The remainder of the interview has no restrictions.

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