Our President for 2011 is The Right Honourable The Lord Prior, ex Chairman of GEC. The toast to our President was propsed by our Patron Robbie Robertson.
Robbie’s toast can be heard by clicking on the link below
The response by Lord Prior can be heard by clicking on the link below.
For those who do not have audio facilities on your computer, transcripts of the speeches are included:
Thank you. Yes, I need to say my Lords and fellow Veterans.
When Peter gave me this job he said “you’ve got three minutes” and then I started to look at Lord Prior’s history and I thought “how about half an hour Peter”.
Just to pick up the past that really is of interest to us. Everybody will know of Lord Prior as a member of parliament for nearly 30 years in many ministries culminating as Minister of State for Northern Ireland until he was made “Lord” in 1984, an important year because that was the year he became Chairman of GEC and I was privileged very early on in his reign to be the guy who showed him round New Street. And I was really proud to do that in 1984, but as I came in on the train this morning and came past New Street I felt quite sad about what it is today. It was a great site in 1984. The other interesting part about that visit was that Lord Prior had only just ceased to be Minister of State for Northern Ireland and we had a minor invasion of Special Branch to make sure that we were safe for him to visit and escorts everywhere as I recall in those days.
Lord Prior’s arrival on the board of GEC turned out to be special for all of us who were dedicated to exports. Suddenly we had somebody at Stanhope Gate who had some interest in exports, actually cared about it and was also prepared to help us; and we had much help from Lord Prior over the 14 years that he was in that seat. I can certainly recall visits to China with him. I’d better not recall a visit to Moscow because I was the one in trouble, I was the only one who checked in baggage and in Moscow in 1990 I think it was that wasn’t funny – but I recovered.
So, that’s a pretty quick picture of a pretty special guy, your President for this year, and I’m going to ask you to stand and drink a toast to: “Your President Lord Prior”.
Lord Lieutenant, Chairman, Robbie, Ladies and Gentlemen. First of all thank you very much indeed for inviting me to be your president and to be here today for the 75th anniversary lunch. I’d like also to congratulate everyone here on being able to stay the course, I was told that the average age was well over 75 and I thought there would be a steady stream going through that door almost before lunch had started. So you’re all very fit and Marconi must have had something to do with that or Lord Weinstock might have had something to do with that.
Yes, I enjoyed my time as chairman of GEC and was only so sad that things went so wrong as they did afterwards. I don’t think we handled the succession very wisely and I have to say now and can tell you this without fear of contradiction that Lord Weinstock could never make up his mind on this subject what he wanted to do, he wanted to stay but he wanted to go and when he wanted to go he then wanted to stay and it was very hard ever to get a decision out of him but when we did get a decision out of him he chose George Robertson and then soon after he had chosen him decided he didn’t want him anymore, which you can see probably created a few difficulties for me.
Peter, we owe you a debt of gratitude. You really do work hard and what’s more you work well in advance of the time required. So much so that I was told 18 months ago to be ready to be here on April 16th when we would have a 2011 – I put it down in my diary for 2010 actually and then I read the letter again and I noticed that there was to be a new building by that time and therefore I realised that it couldn’t be 2010 but I knew it would be 2011. I gather the building has yet to ….. I’ll say no more. It’s not the only one that has been promised and not fulfilled.
When you get to my age you don’t make many speeches, you try not to make any, and this is really rather a special occasion for me. There was a minister who always criticised the speeches which were written for him by his department. So much so that on one occasion he got up to speak in the House of Commons and he started on a rather dreary speech and he then turned over the page and written in big letters was “now you’re on your own”. I’ve been on my own for a good many years and it probably shows.
Churchill used to make great speeches, wonderful speeches which are as good today as they were when he made them 60 odd years ago, but he always wrote out his speeches or got them written out for him and he always delivered them as read, word by word and after he’d been ill, and this is a true story, after he’d been ill for some while when he became prime minister for the second time, this must have been about 1953, might have been a bit earlier, the Conservative Party held its annual conference at Margate and there was great consternation as to whether or not Churchill would be able to attend as Prime Minister, he’d been so ill, but anyhow, the great man went to the conference and he had his speech in front of him and he read it out word by word, line by line, page by page, but at one stage he forgot to turn over the page and so he read it out a second time, but before he got to the end of it he realised that he had read it out a second time so he said to the audience “you must wonder why I have repeated myself, it was because I thought it was so important”.
Now I hope I’m not going to repeat myself, but what a wonderful name Marconi is and what it still stands for. And when you think that the Italians wouldn’t provide Marconi with enough money for his research and the British Government wouldn’t either and it took the Irish whiskey company Jameson to provide the money for his research. I don’t think they would get it quite as easily from Jameson’s today given the present state of the Irish economy; but you never know with the Irish.
I once asked an Irishman to write down a few Irish stories for me and one of the ones he wrote me down was that an Irishman died and put in his Will that he wished to buried at sea and five men were drowned digging the grave.
Now Marconi was responsible for the wonderful development of communications that we’ve had in the last sixty, seventy, eighty years and I’m glad that perhaps now we’ve got over the idea that everything can be done by banking and that none of us need to work anymore and we’re beginning to think once again that manufacturing industry is important, and not only do we think it’s important but all of you know it’s important. You can’t run a country properly or at all without having a strong basic manufacturing industry and research and development must play a major part in that. We’re rather better at research and development than we are at marketing but all the same we’re not too bad at research either and that’s what we need to continue to do.
Now just to end on another note. A few years before I left GEC there was talk about selling off the archives and the artefacts and in fact a valuation was made and the sum of £8M was possible. £8M wasn’t a great deal to GEC but as you know they didn’t let many pennies slip between their fingers if they could avoid it; but anyhow we beat off that attack and it was thought at one time that Chelmsford might be the recipient, but then it became fairly clear that it was going to cost Chelmsford an awful lot of money to present them properly and to look after them properly and in the end they went to Oxford to the Bodleian Library where I haven’t yet seen them myself but I believe they have been doing a reasonable job for them. And the sad part was that Gordon Bussey who did so much work to stop GEC from selling the archives died about two or three months ago and perhaps never saw the true results of what he had done. And you see I still believe that keeping the name Marconi, having a Veterans Association, having the archives and the artefacts is part of life, maybe part of history, we may all be getting a bit older but we need something to hang on to something to brighten the dark days and to give us hope for the future. And as you did your part in your days and developed a great company so I think it can be done again and I hope that what Marconi has produced over the years and the work that you have done for it will be carried on and perhaps revitalised by a new generation of British people who care about manufacturing industry and want to see our company and our country progress.
I think that’s all I need to say except thank you very much for inviting me and to say how pleased I am the Lord Lieutenant is here and I think that marks out the importance of Marconi to the county of Essex and also to thank all of you who play a part in keeping this great institution going. It has “welcome” over the doormat or whatever it is and many other things that make it very welcome that we shall all meet here on a Saturday afternoon, much better than watching Manchester United play Manchester City anyhow. I just hope Manchester City don’t win – I don’t really mind who wins, all I want to do is thank you very much for inviting me.