Sunday, 4 March 2012

A Longbridge Journey - part one

What ‘The Austin’ means to me...

Some Journey’s remain forever imprinted in our minds – this is a memory I have.... I am travelling in an Austin A35 from Cloverdale, Stoke Prior, Bromsgrove to Kingswood Road, West Heath, Birmingham to visit my Grandparents in was in 1967 The Summer of Love
The Austin A35- Motoring for the masses!
The A35 was a laugh, when my Dad wanted to turn a corner he pulled a stopper on the dashboard that was connected by wire to ‘indicators’ that popped up out their slots in the sides of the car like the ears of a curious rabbit. Going up the little hill out of Stoke Prior to Hanbury Turn was a bit of an effort for the A35 so my Dad encouraged me and my little sister in the back to rock forward like little chickens pecking at seeds – he convinced us this helped the A35 maintain the momentum to get up the hill.
We drove through Bromsgrove and Rubery and as we came down the Bristol Road South 'The Austin' began to fill the horizon. We turned left at Longbridge Island and I remember seeing the shiny steel body shells of Mini’s piled up on the back of Car Transporters lined up along the side of the West Works. As we turned right into Longbridge Lane I looked back through the tiny rear window of the A35 watching the sunlight bounce off the steel –

I was proud that my Dad, Barry France, was one of the people who helped transform these empty body shells into finished Mini’s – I also knew he worked hard and I missed him when he was working nights as I hardly saw him. The fortnightly change of shifts was the background rhythm of my childhood.
Once a Month my Dad went out on an evening – very unusual as he only ever went out to go to work the rest of the time he was always with his little nuclear family. It was only years later that I found out where he went.

Barry was the Branch Chair of the Longbridge National Union of Vehicle Builders and once a month travelled to Selly Oak for the meetings held in a small office above the Shops where the Number 11 Bus crossed the Bristol Road.
As we turned into Kingswood Road, West Heath I was looking forward to playing on the swing at the bottom of my Nan and Granddads garden and the cup of tea which they made with a frugal splash of sterilised milk – the tea always tasted creamier at Nan and granddads. Len and Kath’s House was spotless, perfectly decorated and the garden lawn a soft, short, bouncy brilliant green. At the end of the Garden was a shed containing wonders – old engineering tools, a lathe, heavy bench vices and an old motorbike painted Khaki Green, awaiting restoration. Just beyond the Khaki Green painted shed was a Khaki Green painted gate [I suspect Len managed to get hold of a job lot of Khaki Green paint at sometime] The gate opened onto a mysterious forbidden Jungle across the gap created by a brook.... Less than a mile from one of the Largest Industrial Plants in the World I stood on the bank of this brook as mottled sunlight penetrated the tree canopy.

Silence and Sunlight – Green Grass and Blue Skies, this was part of my life as the son and grandson of Longbridge workers in the Summer of Love 1967.

My Granddad, Len, got a mortgage on the 3 bed house in Kingswood Road in 1938 on the basis of his earnings as a worker at the Flight Shed in Longbridge assembling Fairy Battle single engine bomber aircraft and he went on to work on Hurricane Fighters.
A Hurricane taking of from Longbridge Airfeild 1942
4minutes 30seconds into this archive film Len France can be seen pushing the tail of the Plane out of the Flight Shed.

Len, like thousands of other workers, was proud of his contribution to the struggle against Fascism. As an active trade unionist and early member of the National Union of Vehicle Builders, Len, had high hopes for a fairer world and a bright future for his young family. Len joined the Labour Party and contributed to the landslide victory of Labour in the 1945 General Election.

In the aftermath of Fascism and War and with a ‘National Debt’ much higher than it is today, the process of reconstruction began. Yes, there was austerity, but the pain was shared far more equally and evenly than in 2012. The continuation of ‘the ration book’ helped ensure some fairness in the distribution of the most basic necessities in life.

The Attlee Government Nationalised the, Coal, Iron/Steel and Inland Transport Industries. The NHS was created, 100,000’s of new homes constructed and the framework of a welfare state established that promised to care for each citizen equally ‘from the cradle to the grave’.
Now to Win the Peace!
The Austin turned from War Production to civilian work – manufacturing 3,000 Austin ‘Welfarer Ambulances’ for the new NHS.  The K9 Truck previously used for military purposes was to become the backbone of the newly nationalised road haulage industry. The Austin workforce which was reduced from its wartime peak of 37,000 as thousands of women in south Birmingham and North Worcestershire stopped making Bren Gun Magazines, aircraft fuel tanks and other war materials, many started families. A new generation born in peacetime into a new era of a Welfare State emerged from the long shadows cast by War.
The predominantly male workforce that remained at the Longbridge plant was soon pressed into work to assist in reducing the National Debt. The USA, as soon as the War ended began demanding repayment of War time loans from the new Labour Government. Under this duress the newly Nationalised Steel Industry only allocated materials to those companies manufacturing for export so Longbridge designers and workers produced the Austin Atlantic aimed at the American market. All this effort proved in vain as the ‘Atlantic’ ended up selling better across other oceans most notably in Australia. The ever inventive and innovative management, designers and workforce at Longbridge took this setback in their stride and investigated new opportunities as the period of post war austerity gradually came to an end. When my Dad, Barry France, started work at The Austin in 1954 the focus was still on production for export. The first car Barry worked on was the Nash Metropolitan exclusively aimed at the American Market. His home in Kingswood Road, West Heath was only about 15minutes walk from his spot on the track assembling the Nash.
The Nash - the first car Barry worked on
In the Mid 1950’s most Longbridge workers used public transport, works buses and trains, bicycles or ‘shank’s pony’ [Walking] to get to the plant. Although relatively well paid, car ownership was still far too expensive for most workers. The newly established British Motor Corporation centred on the two huge plants at Longbridge [Austin] Birmingham and Cowley [Morris] Oxford, was by far the largest car manufacturer in Europe and the 4th Largest in the World.

A combination of factors including the increasing capacity of US manufacturers to meet domestic demand and a weakened car market in the UK and Europe meant that BMC management were faced with a crisis of overproduction.  The efficiency and productivity of the workforce led to thousands of vehicles being stockpiled and these were not selling in Britain, not because of any problems with the quality of the cars, but because the British working class were still too poorly paid to buy the products of their labour. There was emerging crisis and in the summer of 1956 BMC management acted to implement their preferred solution. Without consultation BMC announced the sacking of 6,000 workers including 3,000 at Longbridge. Management had clearly not understood the mood of ordinary workers and their unilateral act triggered the ‘Big Strike’ which was the first major test for the NUVB and other unions at Longbridge in the post war period.
The Big Strike 1956
The newly established ATV in this archive clip covered the strike:
In the first days of the strike the Police turned up with Horses and threatened to break up the picket line outside the West Works. As the tension between strikers and police rose the NUVB Convenor, Dick Etheridge, asked my dad if he used to collect marbles as a kid, my dad bemused by the question said ‘yes – and I still have a big bag of them at home’.  Dick said ‘well leg it back home and bring all the marbles you can find’. Within half an hour Barry was back with his marbles ready for whatever they were needed for. The ‘plan’ of Dick Etheridge was to roll the marbles under the hooves of the Police Horses if they charged, but the picket line held firm and Barry never ‘lost his marbles’.

Faced with such spirited resistance the police withdrew the Horses and over the next few days the Strike became an expression of a new found confidence as ordinary workers joined picket lines and participated in spontaneous marches up and down the Bristol Road South.
Often at the forefront of the Big Strike were women workers from the ‘Trim Shop’ who would wait at the various gates to ‘slow hand clap’ those ‘blacklegs’ at the end of their shift. These shaming tactics worked and the numbers on strike grew. The highly charged atmosphere during the last week of July came to a head after a failed attempt by Sir Oswald Moseley to hijack the anger of Longbridge workers to support his campaign targeting Jamaican immigrants. Longbridge workers wanted nothing to do with the Fascists and drove them away from the picket lines. My dad Barry was there at one confrontation and remembers a bloke he knew getting his hands badly broken and bloodied by a Fascist wielding a hammer. It was the ‘Longbridge Fortnight’ annual summer plant closure that took the heat out of the dispute. BMC management shocked by the resistance had to negotiate a return to work after the holidays lifting the threat of compulsory redundancy for thousands of workers.

The confidence of Longbridge workers and the faith they placed in their unions has often been distorted as some sort of disease or problem that needed to be tackled. However, in 1956 the ‘Big Strike’ was not about ‘greedy wage demands’ or ‘bloody minded troublemaking shop stewards’ – it was a simple demand that jobs and skills be preserved and not sacrificed because management bets on global market opportunities proved incorrect. In fact the growing strength of Longbridge Unions led in time to their members becoming the best paid industrial workers in the country and the creation of a new market for BMC products. The revolutionary Austin Seven 850 [later rechristened the Mini] was launched in 1959 a vehicle which was the culmination of everything great about Longbridge.
The brilliance of the design testing and production process that produced the Mini is show in this three part Pathe Documentary:

My Dads older sister June had Married Ronnie Steadman who also worked on the track at Longbridge while June worked half a mile down the road at Kalamazoo. June and Ron were the perfect example of the young families whose lives revolved around ‘the Austin’. By 1958 June and Ron, still only in their mid 20’s were able to get a mortgage on a brand new 3 bedroom detached house on the Callowbrook ‘Mucklow’ Estate in Rubery. This well designed community of semi detached, and detached 3 bed family homes had the backdrop of the Waseley Hills, was within walking distance of Rubery village, but close enough to open countryside that the sounds and smells of nearby dairy herds were a feature of daily life. For many Longbridge workers moving to Rubery with recent memories of Wartime Horror and Post War squalor, this transformation in the quality of their life was exactly what they had been fighting for.
When my mom and Dad were saving for a deposit to get their own home June and Ron put them up for a while in Rubery – and this sort of mutual self help was part of the spirit, not just of my own family,  but motivated many Longbridge workers in this era. A form of social solidarity based on a shared identity and common goals shaped daily life. It wasn’t a ‘political’ philosophy and it was not articulated or discussed – it was something straightforward that was implemented quietly and unobtrusively.

By the early 1960’s couples like June and Ron Steadman were the first generation of manual industrial workers to own their own home and purchase their own car to transport their kids to holiday and leisure activities and to get to and from work. June and Ron bought an early example of innovative design by ‘the Austin’, the A40 Farina the first ever ‘compact, economical hatchback’.
The A40 - Auntie June and Uncle Ron had one
By the time I had my 1st Birthday in July 1963 my mom and Dad had moved to 99 Cloverdale, Stoke Prior – from my bedroom I looked out over open fields that as a toddler I was able to explore in complete safety. One night I was awestruck as a huge Harvest Moon filled the sky while fireflies played in the eaves of the house – I was happy to be so close to nature and slept like a log. We even used to get casual work from the farmer at harvest time and me and mom would pick the farmers spuds for a bit of extra cash, but Barry got really annoyed when we said how little we were paid.
The boundary between the Farmers Field and the small back gardens of the Cloverdale Estate was a patch of rough uncultivated ground about 12 feet wide. Early one Sunday morning when I was still a toddler I was woken by lots of activity at the back of the house. All the adults in the road, most of them Longbridge workers, were ‘extending’ the back gardens by simply moving their fences about 6ft further into the uncultivated border of the Farmers Field. If the Farmer noticed his missing acre – he never complained – and the great Cloverdale Land Grab was successful.

Back to the Journey in the Austin A35:  When we finally arrived at 53 Kingswood Road, West Heath I asked my Granddad, who worked at Kalamazoo with Auntie June, ‘what do you do at ‘the Zoo’?’ Len said ‘Oh! My Job is to ‘Muck out the Elephants’. For another 5 years I was increasingly frustrated that even though my own Granddad was a Zoo Keeper we never ever got to visit ‘the Zoo’. Then one day we travelled a million miles to Dudley Zoo. It was on a damp drizzly day in Dudley that I learnt the painful truth about my own gullibility and the tremendous capacity of adults to ‘lie’. My Granddad wasn’t like Jonny Morris in Animal Magic, complete with a Zoo Keeper peaked cap, but an industrial worker like all the other adults I knew.
Not a photo of my Granddad Len at Work!
By the time of the Dudley Zoo trip we had moved to Stirchley, Dad still worked at Longbridge and my mom was working at Wilmott Breedon, a component company that supplied ‘the Austin’. Mom used to assemble car door locks that were a couple of weeks later fitted by my Dad on the track in CAB 2 to the cars. Much to my mom and Dad’s disgust Harold Wilson was no longer running the country and a grinning Ted Heath was trying to ‘take on’ the Unions. By this time Longbridge employed 28,000 workers and the sense of collective strength that most of these workers felt was a major influence on local politics. Even Bromsgrove felt this power when a By Election in 1971 led to the return of a Leyland Employee, Terry Davis as the Town’s first ever Labour MP.
Being a son of Car Industry workers in the early 70’s meant growing up with a sense of optimism and a feeling that things were changing for the better. Each year our standard of living improved, we lived in a clean modern home with good furniture. We ate good food, we went on 2 camping holiday’s a year. My Dad’s main hobby was buying a different car every 6months or so and at weekends we’d go for trips to the Lickey Hills for long walks. In the summer we’d drive to the Vale of Evesham to ‘Pick Your Own’ wandering around strawberry fields stuffing our faces all day until Barry would buy a single punnet of strawberry’s on our way out. In the autumn we’d walk the country lanes surrounding Bromsgrove collecting thousands of blackberries. Looking back I realise that Mom and Dad who were stuck inside noisy, dirty alienating factory environments all week found a way to get back to nature at the weekend.
When Holidays came we spent them on the nearly empty and unspoilt beaches of Pembrokeshire that my Dad first discovered while doing his National Service at Castlemartin Tank Range. Even in Wales – Longbridge was still with us, I remember that one summer at Kiln Park Campsite near Tenby, virtually the entire Longbridge Joint Shop Stewards Committee were able to meet to discuss tactics to use against management the following week.

At Christmas we got all we could dream of.  Me and my sister Shellie were the first kids in our street to get electronic calculators! When the Rayleigh Chopper bike came out I got a Bright Yellow one!
A Raleight Chopper in Yellow - Just Like Mine!
In the early ‘70’s the changes came thick and fast - we got a Colour TV, Split Level Cooker, fitted carpets, a washing machine and a vacuum cleaner. The vacuum cleaner was a godsend – until it arrived me and my mom used to clean the carpets once a week by tearing foot long strips of Austin Grey Tape off the big roll Dad had nicked off the track. We’d press the strong duct tape down on the carpet and yank it back up – picking up all the grit and dirt out the carpet pile.But the washing machine was not as welcome; I missed the regular Sunday morning trip to the Laundrette on Pershore Road. Chatting with Mom as the Big Tumble Driers did their work. The Laundrette was my Church and my Mom was my Vicar.
By the time we moved into a brand new 3 storey town house with an integral double garage in Hazelwell Fordrough in Stirchley – Dad was driving a massive Austin 3Litre and bought mom a little green Mini [but she never got round to learning to drive]. Dad had bought the big second hand Austin after a bad experience with the first ‘brand new’ car he bought. On one of our regular trips to Soho Road, Handsworth to buy a pair of Stiletto shoes [My mom liked wearing Stilettos – but by 1971 they were out of fashion and only shoe shops catering for the tastes of the West Indian Ladies still sold them] Dad spotted a garage while we were in Handsworth selling cars made in the Soviet Union dirt cheap. For some strange reason he bought Mustard coloured Moscovich Van and for a few weeks me and my sister had to bounce around in the back of the van with only pillows for seating. Dad used to park up at Longbridge next to the Apprentices Hut off Longbridge Lane. After completing one shift he got back to the Mustard Moscovich to discover the paintwork had been keyed... he concluded that some fellow worker must have taken exception to him driving a ‘foreign’ car. Or perhaps it was a heroic act of resistance against ‘communism’? Dad learnt his lesson and bought an old Austin 3Litre to be on the safe side.

The world was getting more dangerous and polarised and the local paper the Evening Mail was deepening its anti-trade union stance and painting a picture of car industry shop stewards as the bad guys. I used to watch the TV News with my Dad and the continuing images of death and destruction from far away Vietnam were joined by similar scenes much closer to home.
Derry Civil Rights Banner Soaked in Blood
As a 9 year old kid I was horrified by the events of Bloody Sunday in Derry and it seems that warlike confrontation was getting closer to home. Less than a fortnight after Bloody Sunday the Battle of Saltley Gate took place. 30,000 Brummie workers many from the car industry had struck in solidarity with Striking Miners and descended on Saltley Coke Depot. As my mom had been born in the Rhondda and my Uncle Idris was an active NUM member our family had natural sympathy for the Miners. The Battle of Saltley Gate was won by the strikers and the Police ‘Closed the Gates’. The Miners won their immediate demands for a substantial pay rise thanks in part to the solidarity shown by workers from Longbridge.
Less than five years on from the start of my Journey in the little Austin A35 from Stoke Prior to West Heath during the Summer of Love the world seemed to be falling into hostile camps – I began to realise that the journey to a fairer world was not going to be easy and may even become a matter of life and death.
By 1973, after nearly 20 years at ‘the Austin’ my Dad was beginning to get a real insight into the huge problems affecting British Leyland. Barry had always been contemptuous of the intellectual capacity of many of the middle managers at Longbridge. His unfavourable assessment grew from many face to face negotiations with managers in his capacity as a shop steward representing workers on the track. By 1973 Barry was in lower management himself, a shift Foreman, and he gained further insight into the problems, especially in the run up to the launch of the Austin Allegro.
Barry remembers that most track workers were surprised that instead of incorporating a hatchback, that proved so popular with the Maxi, the new model was going to have a traditional boot. Apparently, management on the Maxi side lobbied for the Hatchback to become a unique feature of ‘their’ car. It was this separate ‘silo mentality’ that not only meant different parts of British Leyland were in ‘competition’ with each other but different sections of the Longbridge plant management were fighting each other for dominance. On top of that Senior Management were drafting in teams of outside consultants to carry out extensive time and motion studies in preparation for a move away from the popular piecework incentivised pay system to something called ‘Measured Day Work’. This hugely expensive and unpopular process proved another disaster for industrial relations at Longbridge. Caught in the middle between an increasingly angry shop floor and a completely incompetent, out of touch management Barry decided to Unionise the Foremen and other lower management grades into ASTMS so their voices would be heard and not ignored by senior management.

When the Allegro was launched I went with my Dad to a showroom to sit in a Mustard Coloured 1300 with its quirky Quadratic Steering Wheel and bouncy HydroGas Suspension. I loved it! During it’s 10 year long production run nearly 650,000 were sold and 40 years on there are still 1,000 kept running by enthusiasts. Perhaps the Austin Allegro doesn’t deserve the awful reputation it has in popular culture? Maybe, if the design had incorporated at hatchback the Allegro would have competed with the early Ford Fiesta and VW Golf?
A Mustard Austin Allegro - BOSTIN!
The winter of 1973/74 is one that my generation will never forget. It was fantastic! Christmas got off to a great start me and my sister attended the best Xmas Party Ever at the Gay Tower Ballroom, Rotten Park Reservoir in Edgbaston. We joined over 2,000 other sons and daughters of Longbridge Workers at the free party organised by the Joint Shop Stewards Committee. By January it seemed Christmas just carried on with romantic candle lit dinners, card games and woolly jumpers. The New Year 1974 was memorable for the 3 Day Working Week, fuel shortages and Power Cuts as the confrontation between the Miners and Ted Heaths Tory Government reached its climax. It was a great time for kids and we loved every minute of it – Adults seemed more serious and an unusually glum looking Ted Heath appeared on Telly and asked the nation ‘Who Governs Britain?’ I remember thinking ‘NOT you mate!’
Mom and Dad got involved in the local Labour Party in Hall Green Constituency and before long I was enthusiastically helping to deliver leaflets and doing ‘poll station’ duty in both February and October General Elections. Labour just about formed a government in Feb and gained a stronger parliamentary majority in October, but it seemed like everything was coming to a head – all the underlying contradictions within the framework of the British State were beginning to show. Even as a 12 year old kid I sensed this. Maybe I was just growing up but the feelings of progress improvement and security started to fade and within a few weeks I witnessed and felt the uglier side of life.
On a cold November morning in 1974 my Dad came home from Night Shift as I was getting up for school. The normally calm, relaxed, smiling Dad I knew, who would be looking forward to his bed was agitated, nervous and visibly troubled. Dad told us how the news of the Bombings of the two City Centre Pubs came through to the night shift in CAB 2. He explained that an angry mob of workers left their work stations on the track seeking out Irish workers at the plant who were suspected of being sympathetic to the IRA. [The Provisional IRA were immediately assumed to have planted the bombs that killed 21 people earlier that night] At one point Dad and other Shop Stewards had to physically intervene to prevent a ‘Lynch Mob’ who were intent on dragging one already battered and bruised bloke into Cofton Park to ‘hang from the nearest tree’.
After hearing this harrowing tale my Mom left for work and Dad went to bed. I left the house walked to the Pershore Road to catch the bus to school. The top deck of the bus that morning had a very different atmosphere – normal routine had been shattered by the Bombs. School kids and Adults were in animated conversation that grew increasing loud as we travelled through Cotteridge. Then one middle aged woman with a fag held high shouted out ‘The RAF should Bomb Belfast to Hell’- most of the passengers responded with cheers. As the bus started trundling down the hill to Kings Norton and the commotion was dying down - I stood up from my seat at the back of the bus and asked a loud question “If we didn’t have troops in Ireland and if we hadn’t killed all those people on Bloody Sunday then would there be Bombs in Brum?”  You could hear a pin drop as I walked down the aisle and down the stairwell. I got off the Bus at my normal stop on the Redditch Road to go to Kings Norton Mixed Secondary Modern but the group of schoolmates who I normally walked into school with hung back – so I walked alone through the gates.  Word of my ‘question’ must have got round the school fairly rapidly – at first break I was surrounded by a group of older 4th and 5th year School kids most of them girls. I was mercilessly beaten and called a ‘fucking bog wog’ and ‘murdering Irish bastard’.... from my position on the floor as the mob continued to kick me - I looked up and saw the Head Teacher Mrs Patterson a few yards away. Unlike my Dad a few hours earlier, who faced down grown men at the Longbridge plant to prevent an injustice, Mrs Patterson did not have the courage to take on a group of angry young women beating an innocent 12 year old boy, she didn’t intervene. Mrs Patterson was fairly typical of the degree educated, well paid professionals in Birmingham who were contemptuous of Longbridge Trade Unionists like my Dad. I was proud of my Dad for standing up to a wave of reactionary anti-Irish sentiment at Longbridge and horrified at how fast that wave had spread through the City. If I was getting beaten up and blamed for the pub bombings as a 12 year old English boy – what on earth must it be like if you were a middle aged Irish/Brummie with Republican sympathies?
The Innocent Men Frame By West Midlands Police
As the winter of 1974/75 deepened, I became more conscious of the darker side of life but I took my lead from my Dad who never really dwelt on negatives. He was always light hearted, and as a family we shared the good humour of ‘The Morecombe and Wise Show’"The Morecambe and Wise Show" and me and my sister were allowed to stay up a bit later to watch "The Dave Allen Show". I don’t think Barry ever forgot how people he had like and trusted had turned into a Lynch Mob on that Night Shift at Longbridge – some of the faith he had in humanity and in his ‘brother’ trade unionists had died.

At the start of 1975 Longbridge and British Leyland were constantly in the news. European and Japanese Car Industries with much higher levels of capital investment, new plant and equipment and rationalised management structures were producing more reliable cars that were selling well in the UK. The situation at British Leyland and at Longbridge was reaching crisis point. Sir Don Ryder was called in by the Government to carry out an in depth investigation and The Ryder Report recommended the effective nationalisation of the company as the only way to prevent complete collapse with the potential loss of nearly a million jobs.
Tony Benn as Secretary of State for Industry confirmed a massive package of capital investment in British Leyland. A total reorganisation of BL was to be negotiated in partnership with the Trade Unions; the investment meant securing the future of Longbridge with the development of a completely new range of Models including a replacement for the MINI. We could all breathe a sigh of relief.
The Very Nice Mr Benn
For me 1975 will always bring back memories of a convoy of ‘Flame’ coloured Morris Marina’s travelling through Devon. Len and Kath, June and Ron, Ken and Mo, Barry and Jem and seven kids, three generations of France’s driving 4 bright orange brand spanking new motors. A holiday that represented the pinnacle of one family’s shared experience of working class affluence and confidence via working lives that revolved around ‘the Austin’.
A 1.3 'Flame' Marina Coupe

Immediately after the flame coloured Devon adventure we moved again - from a gloomy monochrome Stirchley to the bright colourful Callowbrook Estate in Rubery. Our new home at 42 Rea Avenue was a ‘Mucklow’ 3 bed semi with a long back Garden. Me and my sister could not believe our luck when my Mom and Dad announced they were moving into the 8ft by 6ft box room meaning that we each got a big double room. Soon the plan of the Parents became clear as Dad started drawing out plans for an Extension to the House. Rubery was closer to Longbridge and was right on the edge of the countryside. It felt like you were in a protected crater bounded by the Lickey’s and Beacon Hill - to the south, the Waseley Hills to the west and Frankley beaches to the north.... and the Giant Longbridge Plant to the East. We even had our own micro climate! We’d have snow in Rubery, but if you got on the number 63 bus into Brum by the time you got to Longbridge Island no snow!
Life in Rubery in 1975 was like a new Dawn. Maybe it was because the nice Harold Wilson was running the country and Mille Ripperton was in the Charts

Just like Tony Benn, Barry was also ‘investing’ in the future and with a little bit of help from me completed the extension to our new Home...Mom and Dad now had a Double Bedroom ‘en suite’ and a DIY hot air central heating system held together by thousands of feet of ‘Austin Grey Tape’. Clearly, all difficult problems could be solved by the practical application of Tony Benn and ‘Austin Grey Tape’.

For years my dad had talked about a beautiful concept car he had seen at the Longbridge design centre – the full size clay mock up he had viewed was called ‘Diablo’  I knew my Dad, wanted to get one.
El Diablo - A car with an Identity Crisis
The “Diablo” the concept became the 18/22 Series, or the Princess, or the Ambassador It was available as an Austin, a Morris, a Wolseley or a Vanden Plas. This car like the whole of British Leyland suffered from an identity crisis. Dad came home one day with a Lime Green 1800 Wedge but within a few weeks I remembering him saying ‘why on earth didn’t they put a hatchback on this?’ So the Princess was replaced by a huge Ford Zephyr ‘Farnham’ Estate which gave him the Hatchback space he needed for his DIY projects. As a complete surprise one Friday we got home from school and were bundled into the Zephyr and drove all the way to Loch Ness and back in one weekend for a Scottish Adventure sleeping two nights in the back of the giant Estate.
Moving to Rubery meant I’d escaped from the horrors of Kings Norton Mixed Secondary Modern and was now attending Waseley Hills High School where my Dad, Uncles and Aunties had studied in the 1950’s. Waseley Hills High School was heaven. It even had a ‘Quadrangle’ and some of the senior staff wore ‘Academic Gowns’ around the school. Most of my fellow students had parents working at Longbridge I made new friends easily; there was no culture of bullying either by or between pupils and staff.
After the Glorious Long Hot Summer of 1976 – I returned for my 2nd year at Waseley Hills High School and I first fell in love with Dawn Graves. Dawn lived in Grange Crescent just behind my Auntie June’s House. Dawn’s Dad, Terry Graves was a Fireman at Longbridge [the plant had its own Fire and Rescue Service]

Michael Edwardes - CEO of British Leyland 1977-1982
Just as things looked like they were getting better, Longbridge workers and their family’s discovered they had a new Boss: the face of international capitalism reared its ugly head in 1977
 A Longbridge Journey... what ‘The Austin’ means to be continued...


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  4. the way you describe the Austin I think you had either An A35 van or an A30 saloon. You said it had semaphores - no A35 saloons ever had them - only the vans and countryman until 62. Then you said out of the tiny rear window - that says A30. A35s had the large wrap around rear window.