Kingston Aviation
Name: Gordon Jefferson
Transcript: 12 – The Hawker Directorate and the Ministry

For a period in his career, Gordon was in charge of liaison between the Design Department and the Government, between whom relations were generally good. This was not always the case however between the Ministry and the Hawker Directorate where relations could be abrasive.

Gordon here relates how a cheque for £2 million was at one point withheld during the early development of the Harrier (early 1960s) seemingly as a result of such poor relations at the top table. He also relates how Ministry attitudes to the company changed after it won the contract for the Hawk (early 1970s).

Because some of the directors were really terrible. I mean one director-I can’t remember his name- threw the inkwell off his desk at his secretary! Well you wouldn’t dream of doing a thing like that today.

I mean they really were very, very opinionated and arrogant and all the rest of it. And of course that wouldn’t be in a position today – I don’t think a boss-but that, it almost wouldn’t be tolerated as almost a way of conducting your business.

People would see it I suppose as workplace bullying or something.

Yes they would. And one interesting thing which happened was that the Ministry came to see the Company. And I got on very well with the Ministry, particularly the chap who was the Production Director. And he was there, and people wouldn’t believe this, but they had a cheque in their pocket , apparently for two million quid so he told me afterwards. And the attitude when they spoke to the members of the Ministry – talking to the directors – was so cold and so difficult, they decided they wouldn’t give it to them.  This was in the early days of the 1052, sorry the Jump jet.

The Jump jet.

The Kestrel [The Kestrel was an earlier version of what became the Harrier]. And what had – one thing they had done- they obviously didn’t want these chaps from the Ministry to talk to Sir Sydney. So Sir Sydney said to Frank Cross, ‘Get that bugger Jefferson ‘.

So I was taken into Sir Sydney’s office and told that I was going to go to this meeting in his stead, would you believe? And he said, ‘I just want you tell them one thing, that the way forward is to build prototypes, not try and do production designs off the drawing board. Because a mistake can be made, or it might not be quite right and then you’ve got a production run all tied in with it. Two prototypes like we had been making for years is what-‘ just get that across’.

So I went into this room and you couldn’t see across it for cigar smoke. And it was quite unbelievable, Lidbury was sitting at the end of the table, Rubython and other directors were all around. And they were treating these Ministry people, I thought, extremely badly. Anyway, I sat down and I think Lidbury said to me, ‘Is there anything the Design Department wants to say then to the Ministry?’ And I just reiterated what Sir Sidney had told me, which I agreed with anyway. And he said, ‘Right you can go’, more or less. So the amount of input the Design Office had to the Ministry was absolutely minimal. And I know it sounds quite beyond the bounds of reason to believe that story but it is absolutely true.

And then the Production Director feller said to me, some days later, we had this cheque for two million and we didn’t pass it over. And the same production man rang me up one day and told me that we’d got the contract for the Hawk. And my directors didn’t know. So I went down to Ralph Hooper and said I knew by my Ministry contacts we got the contract. And he didn’t know because they hadn’t told us. And these fellers said I know you’ve got the contract because the documents are going all round the Ministry saying that you’ve got the contract. And giving details of what had to be done.

And rather unfortunately the attitude of the Ministry to the Company changed when we got that contract and it became very much us and them. Whereas before, the Ministry and the Design Department at least, got on extremely well together and we used to talk to the Ministry about our problems. And they used to be very generous about the way in which they would help us financially sort some of them out. And we were in the middle of that, that was one of the things they used to do.

Years before a feller called Hollyhock who was the production draughtsman -Chief- he’d been responsible for this interface with the Ministry. And I got the job , I don’t know how, after he eventually retired – got on with them extremely well. But then this change took place and I got a different job so I lost contact with them.

Let me just come back to that because the – sometimes there was the relations between the Company and the Ministry were at a good ebb. I mean certainly , I mean I know it’s before your time, there seems to be quite a lot of joint working with the development of the Hurricane for example.

Oh yes I think there was.

And then at other times it was extremely bad. I mean are there any, sort of, general conclusions  you can draw about how the Company and Government worked together. Because it  was always difficult wasn’t it? I mean it was, you know, a private company, it was there to make money. And Government has a different set of priorities obviously, but being defence I mean obviously you have to work with each other.

That’s absolutely true. But of course you’ve got to remember that my exposure to it was purely the design side. Now what was going on, on the contractual side or higher levels I wouldn’t have a clue. But working at the working level in the Ministry -which will be Director level, specifically the Director for Harrier or Hawk as opposed to the next levels up – until we get to …

The Cabinet.

The Cabinet yes. So at that level we wouldn’t have a clue what was going on. But people at Cabinet level or the ones immediately below would be dealing, I assume, with the Directors at Hawkers. And we were way below that level. But we used to get on, as I explained to start with, until we came to the Hawk and then they wanted to change all – the feller that took over wanted to change the attitude.

And, what we used to do, the R.T.O. [the Resident Technical Officer, an official from the Ministry who was based with the company] would write the minutes of the meeting at the meeting. So he would say – the subject perhaps would say the introduction of a new gyroscope- just to make something up – and all the reasons for it and he would just dictate those to his secretary. And that was agreed by the design guys in the Company that what was said was fine.

Now when we started on the Hawk and he did exactly the same thing, the Ministry chap – whose name I can’t remember – he said, ‘We’re not having this, the minutes are not being written at the time you write the minutes -‘ and that upset the R.T.O. because it always worked fine for years before. So you see the whole attitude was changing and what it was like in the last twenty odd years I haven’t the faintest idea.