Documentary looking at the unique culture that grew up in the Clyde shipyards of Scotland, where the Queen Mary, the Queen Elizabeth and the QE2 were built.
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When I went in a shipyard, the scales fell off my eyes -
or my eyes popped open for the first time, so it seemed,
just to see the sheer majesty of the ships that were being built.
It was akin to sculpture.
These fabulous shapes, just the noise that the place made,
the scale of it, it was incredible,
just to experience something like that.
It's the cut edge of steel, it's fire, it's flame...
It's the enormous powers that are used to mould steel
and create beautiful things.
Building and fitting out a ship like the QE2 took more than 4,000 workers four years.
You see the fragments being pieced together.
It's like a great huge jigsaw.
And you never actually see the picture in the jigsaw until the last piece is clicked into place.
Because you're either in it, or outside it, or you're under it, and it's that close.
You've actually got to wait till it's launched before you can actually see it.
And in that instant, there's this massive affinity.
Everybody has done their wee bit to actually produce this magical moment.
A ship is the most wonderful product to produce.
I cannot think of anything better, because at the end of the day,
it's a live object - it goes away - it exists.
It's a wonderful thing to produce.
When things are going well.
As a shipbuilder, when things are going badly, it's hell..
The noise. The clanging.
Whatever else there was in the construction of a ship, there was also danger.
Some of the most beautiful ships - the Queens from Clydeside, magnificent -
people died building it. Dangerous.
Building great ships was an activity of extremes.
Out of some of the harshest working conditions in manufacturing history, crippling industrial relations
and economic upheaval, came some of the most magnificent artifacts Britain has ever created.
Just over a century ago, British shipyards built 60% of the world's merchant and naval fleets.
All over the country, from the Thames to Belfast,
from Tyneside to Merseyside, there are towns and cities with great traditions of constructing ships.
But the shipyards of the River Clyde eclipsed all in tonnage and fame.
The Clyde was responsible for probably more famous iconic ships
than any other place in the world.
You only have to read out the names -
liners, say, start with Lusitania, Aquitania, Empress Of Britain, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, QE2.
They're all famous and iconic ships.
But at the same time, the Clyde was also producing some
of the most famous warships that the Royal Navy ever commissioned.
These are the remains of John Brown's, the yard that built
the Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, the QE2 and many more.
Brown's was just one of 33 shipyards that once supplied
a quarter of the world's shipping, from the banks of the Clyde.
At the foot of John Brown's surviving Titan crane
lies a canvas collage celebrating those who worked in the yards in the early 20th century.
Many of the craft gangs seen here worked in family teams.
Their descendants followed them into the trades.
Your uncles work in the shipyard.
Your father works in the shipyard.
His pal works in the shipyard. The man next door works in the shipyard.
It weaves itself through the very fabric of the society that you're in.
It's an entire community
that's involved in the creation of this single thing - the ship.
This concentration of skills, together with the innovation
and entrepreneurial vision of the shipyard owners
once fuelled the expansion of Glasgow, which for a while became the fourth-largest city in Europe.
Whole boroughs were created around shipyards, that at times employed up to 100,000 people.
Shipbuilding companies put up their own tenements to house their workers' families.
Born in 1916, Alex Morrison grew up within sight and sound of the yards,
in a world where Clyde-built liners were paragons of global travel.
I was at school
at the time and in my last year,
and I went down
to the launch of the Empress Of Britain.
That was about 1929.
And from there, I watched them building,
and getting fitted out, and that,
and I went to see the day she was sailing and leaving Clydebank.
I always mind, it was a Sunday.
I was there with my brother,
and...what a sight!
I always mind the tugs that took the Empress Of Britain away.
The Paladin, the Flying Eagle, and the Flying Kite.
The Empress Of Britain was one in the famous sequence of liners made at the Brown's yard on Clydebank.
As the detail in original plans of the liner Lusitania show,
John Brown's craftsmen were expected to build vessels
with enough engine power to supply a small town,
as well as creating the fixtures and fittings to rival the Ritz.
Building a ship is a hugely complicated process.
You've got millions of bits that go into each individual ship,
and these start as small components, and then they are welded together
as they would be today,
in the old days, they'd be riveted together to make sub-assemblies, and then join them all together.
A ship the size of Queen Mary, which was pretty exceptional, admittedly,
had 10 million rivets in it.
Building ships like the Queen Mary involved thousands of men working in over 20 different crafts.
These involved the designers and draughtsmen, shipwrights and loftsmen.
Carpenters and joiners worked on the keel blocks as well as the interiors.
There were the engineers and electricians,
and specialist trades who added the final touches during fitting-out.
Each jealously guarded their specific craft and their wage differentials.
None more so than the men of the steel trades - the black squad.
All the people
who erected steel were known as the black squad. That included platers,
welders, riveters, caulkers. All the steelworking trades.
were in the Boilermakers' Union.
The compartmentalisation of different trades, each represented by a different union,
would one day blight the industry, but originally it had suited both workers and management.
To begin with, it was very necessary to split production down
into these various compartments, and to have these different trades.
It suited employers to have that because it would mean that when
the particular part of a ship contract was under way,
they could perhaps pay certain people off
to ensure the job was done on cost, and so on.
So having discrete groups of tradesmen was very helpful and useful for the trades themselves,
but also for the employers because it did give them flexibility in terms of hiring and firing.
This ease of hiring and firing was seen with the building of the Queen Mary.
Started at the onset of the Great Depression in 1930,
construction was halted 18 months later when her owners,
the shipping line Cunard, ran out of money.
When work on a vessel ceased, the workforce was laid off too.
They started on Queen Mary.
Well, the "534" - we didn't know the name then.
She was the 534.
18 months, she lay idle.
Not a thing done to her.
It was really sad at the time.
My brother was a carpenter in Clydebank at the time. He was laid off, you know.
On one day alone, 2,000 newly redundant John Brown workers applied for the dole.
Altogether, tens of thousands of workers were laid off on the Clyde during the Depression.
It was the same story across the country.
South of the border, in Jarrow, 75% of the workforce lost their jobs.
The shipyards where they worked never re-opened.
Shipbuilding's vulnerability to the swings of the economic cycle left a bitter legacy.
Insecurity in an industry
is not a stimulus to productivity.
are encouraged, "Come on, let's get this job done!"
ship away, launched, that's it gone,
the guys are looking over their shoulder, saying, "What's coming behind?"
If there's nothing coming behind,
they're not madly enthusiastic about finishing the work in hand.
As soon as they completed the job, they were unemployed.
What kind of incentive is that to production?
It's a disincentive to production.
In 1934, work recommenced at the John Brown shipyard
with the help of generous Government loans to the Cunard Line,
which had ordered the Queen Mary.
The return to work on hull 534, as she was known, was an international event.
For many, it symbolised the beginning of the end of the Great Depression.
REPORTER: 'Sirens blare out on the Clydebank, a message of good cheer
'to scores and hundreds who have been unemployed for many weary months.
'Work on the new Cunarder, number 534, is to be continued
'after she has been lying idle for nearly three years.
'Hope springs anew in the hearts of 600 men who have already
-'been taken on.'
-'The piper's band leads the men back to the yard.'
When Queen Mary came to name and launch her,
250,000 Glaswegians turned up in the driving rain
to watch their ship slide down the slipway into the Clyde.
By 1936, when the Queen Mary had been fitted out and set sail
from the Clyde, John Brown's workers were already building
a new Queen - the Elizabeth.
REPORTER: 'Here, week by week there is taking shape the 552,
'sister ship of the Queen Mary, the finest ship that has ever come out of a British yard.
'A vessel of which British seamen will be proud!'
Now all the nation's shipyards were working at full tilt, building warships,
as the Second World War loomed.
But with the war came the shipbuilders' Nemeses - the submarine and the torpedo.
Four years' work and hundreds of people could be destroyed within minutes.
The liner Athenia was sunk by a U-boat on the conflict's first day.
I remember when she was sunk.
My mother woke me up that morning
on 2 September and says, "Hey, Alex, one of your boats is sunk."
I said, "What one is it, Mother?"
She said, "The Athenia."
The attachment of shipyard workers to their vessels is a phenomenon that Jimmy Reid later observed
when the Queen Elizabeth caught fire and then sank in Hong Kong in 1972.
I went over to the pub and had a pint and a meeting.
Suddenly I looked across and there are some of the old guys...weeping.
I thought, "What's happened here?"
And I thought, somebody's died in the yard, which can happen.
So I went over. "What is it? What's up?"
One of the ships they'd built had sunk
in the Far East.
And these were old guys that worked on that ship.
And there were tears in their eyes.
They identified with their product.
These hardened men,
sometimes not pretty,
in the superficial sense of the word, you could see them... weeping.
During the war the Elizabeth and Mary
fulfilled another role for which they had been specially designed.
As converted troop ships, they helped convey 2 million GIs
across the Atlantic to fight in Europe.
Churchill once suggested they cut a year off the duration of the conflict.
The war kept the yards working at full capacity.
When hostilities ceased British shipbuilders anticipated a recesssion.
Instead, they experienced a prolonged boom
as the world's merchant fleet set about replacing lost vessels
and maritime trade recovered.
One shipbuilder that had survived the 1930s recession
and was now thriving, was Alexander Stephen & Sons.
Sandy Stephen belonged to the seventh generation of the family to join the company.
When I was 18 my father asked me what I wanted to do.
And I said I wanted to be a shipbuilder.
He advised me to go somewhere else if I wanted a decent, quiet life
and a prosperous one.
He said that if I were a shipbuilder
I'd have nothing but union worries and money worries.
I didn't believe him at the time but he was dead right.
The SS Canton, a passenger liner built for the Far East service to Hong Kong and Japan,
was one of nearly 1,000 vessels built by Alexander Stephen's
during the company's 200-year history.
'The launch of the ship Canton. The christening ceremony is performed by the Honourable Miss Thalia Shaw.
'15,000 tons of steel to be slipped safely into the Clyde within the space of a few seconds.'
With hindsight the post-war boom years were the period
when British shipbuilders should have been modernising
and developing new markets for when demand subsided.
After the war life was too easy.
The British ship-owners held the roost.
The colonies were still going, ships ran backwards and forwards to the colonies.
And there were plenty of orders coming in.
When things turned, we were ill-prepared for it,
I have to confess.
Some long-standing critics of the shipyard owners condemn above all
their failure to invest.
After the war
a lot of the shipbuilding industries had been destroyed.
It was a bonanza for British shipbuilding just immediately after the war.
Ours was intact, but it was intact with the technology and machinery of the 1920s,
but nonetheless the argument was there was no time to stop production -
here, we've got a market, get the ships out with the old technology.
Another area which also remained inadequate was the working conditions.
Health and safety regulations were not a management priority.
There had only been piecemeal improvements since the First World War.
it was amongst the worst possible circumstances in which to work, at least in Scotland.
Working in a yard is a very, very unpleasant place to work.
You literally are working outside and you're working on steel and you're working in all kinds of weathers.
And during the winter is is absolutely, utterly unbelievable.
Outside it was a hard life. It was all right inside the sheds and that,
in the shelter, but outside working,
it was a cruel job in the winter time.
The words health and safety had never been introduced to each other. There wasn't any health and safety.
I worked with guys that had fingers missing.
And one guy would put the stump of his finger up his nose as if he was picking his nose.
And he'd laugh at you and tell you, "You won't be a journeyman till you've got a few fingers missing."
You talk about the cost of a ship,
and everybody talks about it in terms of pounds, shillings and pence.
We used to measure the cost of a ship sometimes
by...the maiming and crippling
of our mates.
It's always been an issue, I mean, right from Victorian times,
when they used to occasionally rivet spaces up and leave a chap inside,
and find the skeleton when the ship was scrapped 50 years later.
This was a world before the introduction of the hard hat.
If workers wore headwear at all, it was the cloth cap - known in Glasgow as the bunnet.
The idea of maybe wearing a hard hat, for instance, was frowned upon.
I mean, basically, you wore bunnets - that was fundamentally it.
And if you were young, you wore nothing. So you'd constantly get your head split and folk would say,
"It's time you put a bunnet on." "No, I'm not wearing a bunnet."
The managerial headgear of choice was the bowler.
Managers and foremen were often referred to as hatters, or hat men.
The bowler hats, actually, were really rather better. If you banged your head on a steel plate,
it was a very, very good hard hat.
And just as I was leaving the industry,
the safety helmets came in, everybody wore safety helmets.
Which were much colder if you had a bald head, so I'm told.
Another aspect of working life that had not changed
since the early 20th century was the toilets.
As these designs show, the so-called industrial conveniences
were overseen by a timekeeper
to ensure there was no slacking on the job.
When I started Brown's, you were allowed seven minutes to go to the toilet.
The attendant would mark that in the book, your number, look at the time, that's it.
Give you two pieces of newspaper. No toilet rolls! And...
and if you spent over the time, or any great length of time, you used to get fined.
I remember I went in one time by mistake. I was down the yard,
and I went and opened this door and I went, "Oh!" Back out again!
It wasn't till I worked in offices, I realised you could actually get soft toilet paper.
It was quite nice to use.
There weren't individual toilets. It was a trough.
That only flushed every so often.
And the stories were true.
We had a newspaper, the newspaper was in the trough.
When it was ready to flush, some of the apprentices or young people
would set the newspapers on fire and it would sail down!
Camaraderie and humour seem to have risen out of adversity.
They were a feature of the yards.
It was a funny...
parallel of a nasty, horrible, dreadful place to work,
but sometimes it was really funny.
It's a bit of a trench-mind attitude towards that - you know, the humour.
A good joke would start at the west end of the yard
and would have travelled two miles in 10 minutes if it was a really good joke.
All the comedians in Glasgow were ex-shipyard workers, right up to Billy Connolly.
Yeah? I don't know if we...
We produced a lot of ships, but we produced more comedians.
There was also - it sounds terribly noisy and uncomfortable -
but there was also humour in here.
As far as you can see at that end, the frame-benders used to work.
A very, very dangerous occupation for the hands!
And legend had it in here that you can spot a frame-bender in a pub
because he says, "Five pints, please!"
And there's some kind of logic in that, because to work in the shipyards,
particularly in November and December and January,
going in there at 7.30 in the morning, bitterly cold, and you're working outside,
you had to be a bit daft!
One great shipyard icon, butt of jokes and a perennial source of pranks, was the tin can.
They used to bring a little box in
with tea leaves and sugar mixed.
And you poured it into the tin, filled it with water and put it on one of the rivet fires.
And that was how you made your tea.
Everybody drank out of tin cans because there was no way you could drink out of a cup.
It wouldn't survive for 10 minutes in a shipyard.
But there was all sorts of things people used to do just for badness and just for a joke.
Somebody would get a new can and the first thing you would do
is throw it in the fire and get it black and dirty.
Cos if they knew it was a new can, they'd either weld it to the deck,
so you went to lift it and you'd break your arm, or even better, they'd nail it to a bench!
A man's can was open for attack at any point in their life.
By the 1960s, British shipyards faced competition from two sources.
Passenger jets had begun to take business away from the liners, reducing demand.
More devastating for British shipbuilding as a whole
was the re-emergence of other shipbuilding nations,
with brand-new yards, modern machinery and constructive management relations.
I saw it about 1960.
The Japanese were building ships.
And we thought that they were just poor quality and we didn't have to worry too much.
However, it very soon became apparent that they were providing ships,
building ships at about three-quarters of the cost of ours.
Their labour costs were a lot lower initially.
And they devised an entirely new labour structure,
completely free of all the trade unionism which we had.
And they could build them very much more efficiently.
It was a very depressing period
when one had the feeling that we were doomed.
But you had to go on managing and encouraging and trying to run a company.
While the Japanese, Germans, Swedes and Koreans surged ahead, British shipbuilding was still bedevilled
by the internecine struggle between management and workers.
By now, the system of highly specialised craftsmen,
each represented by a different union, had come to be more of a bane than a boon.
Demarcation was a system that grew up whereby each trade would stick
to its own area of activity,
and would not, as a point of principle,
cross over into a fellow-worker's area of activity.
Of course, each one was represented by a union.
We had 27 unions in the yard.
Most of them were insignificant.
I had one man all to myself who belonged to the Scottish Horse And Motormen's Union
who was a converted driver of a horse and cart.
He didn't cause any trouble at all.
But there were about five or six main unions, the two principal ones being the boilermakers and the shipwrights.
Nobody particularly liked the boilermakers.
One of the reasons was that they'd be one of the first to hit the street, go on strike.
Plus, they were a trade that sometimes got paid
a wee bit more money because the job was very, very dirty.
The unions were actually very, very interesting.
Industrial relations were draconian, and the managerial system was horrific.
Sackings were constant and a constant threat.
So the unions had enormous strength.
And there was this odd situation, when the management
left the unions alone, the unions fought amongst themselves,
because there was always pay differentials.
The welders, traditionally, always got six pence an hour more than the platers.
But when the big threats came... It was a bit like a family, they could squabble amongst themselves
but the minute something exterior happens,
they club together, they become very, very quickly unified.
The thing about Clydeside, it's about the greatest concentration of proletarians anywhere in Britain.
And large numbers of workers, once they get unionised,
have got a kind of self-assurance and confidence in their own...power.
The most amazing things you would see in your life would be the mass meetings.
They were usually held in a local football park.
The guy would arrive in a van with a megaphone.
"Our meeting was convened last night
"in the Boilermakers' Club.
"And the Amalgamated Union of the Association of Ironworkers met..."
This would go on for 10 minutes.
"And at a quorum meeting, during the meeting an amendment was called..."
You'd have 20 minutes of this.
And people would be thinking, "What the hell's going on here?
"What's he talking about?"
One source of rancour for the union leaders was the failure of shipyard owners to invest in new technology.
Everybody's wanting ships with all the ships that have been lost.
We can't afford to stop now and modernise, so we'll use just use the old equipment since 1905.
And you go on and on...
And if you use the equipment of 1905, you then have the craft divisions of 1905, you then have
the employer's mentality of 1905 - that's what happened to British shipbuilding.
But management saw obdurate unions as the barrier to modernisation.
If you bought
a new machine which would reduce, say, the labour from, say, 15 people
to two people, it was a very good investment even though it cost a lot of money.
But the unions were not prepared to allow two men to work it.
So if we did well, we might be able to work it with six people.
Now, working with six people is not such a good investment.
These opposing perspectives still endure today.
And then they started blaming the workers.
They did, you know. Aye, it was because of the Boilermakers' Society.
I mean, I'm not a member of the Boilermakers' Society, but that's absolute.. nonsense.
As state-of-the-art foreign yards captured the lion's share of the business,
British yards remained crippled by appalling industrial relations.
There was definitely a realisation that things had to change.
The trouble was that we were locked into a system of confrontation.
And it was very, very difficult to get out of.
During the 1960s, lack of investment, union disputes and late delivery times
all contributed to mounting losses among the majority of British yards,
John Brown's among them.
The ocean-going liner business also suffered from the expanding airliner market.
Yet in 1964, Cunard, the owners of the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth,
decided to invest in one more great transatlantic passenger ship.
It was to be an up-to-the-minute liner that could also
perform as a cruise vessel, and, like her predecessors, be converted into a troop ship in times of war.
John Brown's outbid four other yards and won the contract to build what would eventually become the QE II.
Hull 736, as she was first known, was laid down on the same plot as the Lusitania, the Hood,
the Empress of Britain, the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth.
I went down and had a look at the...
736, but I got taken into the yard and shown all through.
And when they laid the keel...
I went down and I touched it.
They were a lovely ship getting built at that time.
The construction of the QE2 was to be yet another Clyde built story of achievement out of adversity.
This vessel was to break new bounds in design,
from hull to funnel, from disco dance floors to Formica table tops.
Yet this great late-twentieth- century artefact would be fabricated with machinery from the nineteenth.
Shell rolling for instance - if you imagine an old fashioned mangle,
except about maybe 200 times the size.
They rolled shell plates in very, very complex curves, maybe in the bow of a ship or something.
The QE2 had a big, bulbous bow, which was like the nose of a dolphin.
All that was made on these shell rolling machines.
Some of the people working on these machines had been working on them since they were 15.
There was one in the west yard that I actually worked on, and it had "Beardmore 1889" on it.
It was worked by a huge electric motor with a cage and two belts.
The way they changed the speed of the machine was a guy would
come up with a stick, and just stick it in the belts and heave it, and the belt would jump to another thing.
Hull 736 was eventually launched on September 20th 1967.
May God bless her, and all who sail in her.
It's this extraordinary thing that when that bottle strikes the front of that ship, and the champagne trickles
down and the thing's been named, for 10 seconds, nothing happens.
It just sits there.
And every single eye is focused on some part of that ship.
To see this move, it starts from zero.
There, she's moving! And this is the moment when we all hold our breath, underneath and around the ship.
You can see it moving an inch....
three inches, four inches...
There's a great friction as she goes down into the water, a cloud of dust.
And then it really starts to pick up momentum, and you hear the logs breaking
underneath it, because it's taking the strain of this great, massive
weight and there's cracks and heaves, and chains, and a hell of a noise.
And this thing literally just goes for it.
But when you see that moving, it's like watching a mountain on the move.
And a great wave spreading out towards the opposite bank there.
My great mentor, Alan Lang, who was a lovely man who travelled the world God knows how many times,
with tears in his eyes, he put his hand on your shoulder, because that was his apprentices,
and as we watched it leaving the dock he says, "Ships like that, it's not for the likes of me and you."
And I just knew what he meant, you know. You had your place.
I was at the launch of the 736, and I got a wee bit of wood, I got a block of wood
off the launch,
and I made that wee box off the wood I got from the launch of the QE2.
It's since been suggested that it wasn't just small wooden keepsakes
from the launching blocks that were taken from the QE2.
After the launch, while the QE2 was being fitted out, the work force was accused of plundering
building materials, flooring and even carpets from the vessel.
Many workers at John Brown's refute these stories but do acknowledge
the time-honoured tradition
of making household products for friends and family, locally known as homers.
You had the homers. The idea of the homer was that if you
were looking for something, like a new poker for the fire,
that would be easily done. If you were looking for a garden shed,
that went up the scale a bit.
That required almost a kind of shipyard Mafia organisation.
Especially on the QE2, there were hundreds of strips of Formica about this width left in the yards.
And of course, laminate.
Everybody wanted a laminated kitchen.
That was your woman's ideal dream, of a laminated kitchen.
Rather than sell it to the workers, they would burn it.
So, people started to find ways of stealing bits of it.
So they would shove it down their jackets and their trouser legs,
and they would be marching out of the yard like robots
with this strapped down their back.
For Christmas time, if you'd a family you
would maybe make a school desk or a blackboard, or a wee ironing table.
-Doll's cot. >
-Dolls cot, dolls house, you know.
The hierarchy in the yard used to make furniture.
I remember once I got an insulated rabbit hutch made, in the joiner's shop.
I'd special insulated material cut to size.
I had the only rabbit that had an insulated abode of residence.
Despite rumours of pilfering on an industrial scale, and initial problems
with the design of the turbines, the QE2 has gone down in history as Britain's last great liner.
We should be proud of the QE2, not because she was the last ship that we
produced in Britain at that time, but because she's one of the best.
Because she was absolutely the best, she was a beautifully designed ship.
She'd all the best architects and interior designers involved in her.
And of course, she came from a very famous shipyard as well.
That's why she's so special.
She's totally emblematic of what we were once good at in this country.
Even though the last of the Clyde- built Queens is remembered as a shipbuilding triumph,
John Brown's made a loss on the venture.
The industry failed to take advantage of its reputation.
It's one of the great mysteries that you produce this wonderful ship, the QE2, and you'd expect
a stack of orders for other ships like that. Didn't happen.
The marketing opportunity that ship presented wasn't realised.
Across the country, most shipyards were losing money.
Some were closing down altogether.
Britain's share of the market was less than 7%, down from 50% just after the war.
The industry's decline had become a national issue.
Some shipbuilders were only being kept in business with generous government loans and subsidies.
The powerless situation of Clydeside, which was already developing the aspect of a
shipbuilder's graveyard, spurred one well-known Scotsman to direct and present a film on the issue.
Harland and Wolff, one of the proud names in Clyde shipbuilding, is a graveyard.
There are others - Henderson, Simon Lobnitz,
Blythswood, Hamilton, Inglis, Denny's of Dumbarton.
These shipyards have gone under with millions of pounds' worth of orders,
and with some of the best workers in the world.
There are some things you can't cure with deflation.
When it's your job to sack 1,000 men at the stroke of a pen, you can't be sentimental about the men.
When it's your job to take the sack at the drop of a hat, you can't be sentimental about the boss.
To the worker's bitter eye, the situation looks clear.
The boss takes the gravy when the going is good,
but when things look bad, he sells out and takes his money and vanishes.
And that's the crux.
The gulf is complete, the gulf between the bowler and the bunnet.
In 1968, the Labour government decided to back the merger
of five of the largest slip builders into one giant company, Upper Clyde Shipbuilders.
It was hoped that as one large concern, they would achieve
the economies of scale necessary to compete with foreign yards.
Among the five companies were John Brown's, and Alexander Stephen and Sons.
By the time the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders were mooted, we were running out of orders.
When it was finally negotiated, we felt we were better to go
into this merger, even though we didn't like the look of it, because it would protect our employees.
The employees would be better to go in there.
If we'd gone on our own, we might have lasted a year or two, but ultimately, we'd have been dead.
Primed with government subsidies, the new shipbuilding conglomerate
won fresh domestic and international orders.
In between strikes, advances were made in working practices and new machinery was introduced.
Rationalisation meant the closure of the Stephen's yard.
The family business had been building ships for 220 years.
To begin with, I felt very guilty that I'd let down my ancestors.
I was the 7th generation of shipbuilders in our company.
I felt very guilty that I'd let the family down, and all the portraits
on the walls would come out of their frames, like in Ruddigore, and curse me.
But I realise now, there's nothing I could have done.
If I'd been a really good shipbuilder, I might have been able to keep the company going for another
two or three years, but the end was inevitable, I'm afraid.
Although most of the Stephen's workers were absorbed into other yards,
Upper Clyde Shipbuilders was struggling, despite the new orders.
The new investments added to the company's debts.
Wages rates increased when the different yards amalgamated.
Even the sympathetic Labour Government, which
had a 48% stake in the company, began to lose patience before it lost the 1970 general election.
The money goes into Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, but you've got
five separate shipyards being brought together.
They have all got different ways of doing things, they've got different cultures. There are difficulties.
It's going to take a bit of time for this to happen.
Meanwhile, contracts are being taken on at a loss.
Upper Clyde Shipbuilders ran for just three years before the receiver was called in.
Within a year of coming to power, Edward Heath's Tory administration
could stomach the financial haemorrhage on the Clyde no longer.
Debts had risen to over £20 million.
Although the yards had a full order book, in July 1971, the government called in the liquidator.
It meant the possibility of thousands of men out of work, in an unhopeful year, in an unhopeful place.
There was a feeling that clenched like a fist.
Hundreds of workers marched on Whitehall,
brandishing the demand that there must be no more shipyard closures on the Clyde.
One of their leaders, communist shop steward Jimmy Reid.
It can't be justified economically, but even more disastrously,
it could never be justified with the social consequences of the action.
I'm telling you, we put it to Heath - how can a government in the 1970s
try and take economic decisions in the abstract? It's pre-Keynes.
As I said to your colleagues there, it's prehistoric, and it belongs to the nineteenth century.
And I think, despite their suavity, how suave and well mannered,
and how well modulated their voice, I think we're dealing with a bunch of political cavemen.
When I was told about it,
the last thing in my mind at that time was that we'd any difficulties.
We had twelve ships on order we hadn't even started on.
You understand, a ship? It's not like a car.
It's a gigantic...
project in its own right.
Years of work.
Suddenly, we were in difficulties, yards were to close, what's it all about?
And it was the governmental decree.
Ian Johnston was studying art at the time.
The son and grandson of Glasgow shipbuilders, he'd grown up close by the yards.
When I was an art student in 1971, and the headlines hit the television and newspaper saying
Upper Clyde Shipbuilders was bust, and that was the end of it, the shock was palpable.
You couldn't believe that this was going to happen.
This was what we did here.
It was on about shipbuilding.
My grandmother would tell me all about the wonderful ships that John Brown's had built, and so on.
It was just there.
We all got together, and we had a meeting of shop stewards.
We more or less had run up some idea that we'd fight it, but how we would resist it, we didn't know.
There was talks about a sit-in.
I wasn't happy about that. It was rather negative.
And various other things.
It was in here.
The first meeting was in here, of the shop stewards.
Jimmy Reid, Airlie, Sammy Barr, a couple of others.
We decided then to have a meeting of all the shop stewards on the Saturday morning
in Glasgow. There was some discussion that we should go on strike.
We felt that if we went on strike, we would be outside the gates.
We'd give them the opportunity to shut the gates and lock the gates.
So, the right to work was born.
Both Jimmy Reid and Bob Dickie, seen here on the right, were part
of the committee that resolved not to strike, but to occupy the yard,
and carry on in defiance of the government.
It wasn't a sit-in, it was a work-in.
We'd a full order book, we'd all the equipment and materials.
Why don't we continue working and producing ships?
You're going to tell us "you're cracked."
We'd come in again and work, and demonstrate to the world that this closure
was based on political dogma, not economic reasoning.
Sir John Eden, Edward Heath's Minister for Industry,
argued there was a clear economic justification, bankruptcy.
It's absolutely wrong for this government, for any government of this country,
to go on pouring public money
to back up proposals which are basically unsound.
The last thing we wanted to have happen was that UCS collapsed,
that it went into liquidation, that it became bankrupt.
This isn't something that had been part of government policy.
This isn't an objective.
We came into this government not to...
wreck people's employment prospects, but to secure viable projects for them,
to give them long-term employment prospects in the future.
Along the banks of the River Clyde, the situation was seen from a different perspective.
An entire community felt threatened, and rallied behind their shop stewards.
Bob Dickie is seen here preparing the way for the man who would seize the moment.
They hit back next day with their work-in, initially at John Brown's, Clydebank.
They were launching something new, something distant to make big waves.
The joint shop stewards are utterly unanimous - we're going to fight this.
And we're going to fight it with a determination that
Britain hasn't seen from any section of the working class this century,
let alone since 1945, and we'll do it.
The pressure here,
we want to tell them
that we were serious, we weren't bluffing and we are taking the first step today.
The shop stewards representing the workers are in control of this yard.
Nobody and nothing will come in and nothing will go out without our permission.
The security officers have been told that and they accept it. The gate man is there.
We'll take the decisions, with your endorsement, that determines what comes in or out this yard.
And we are not strikers.
We are responsible people and we will conduct ourselves with the dignity and
discipline that we have all the time expressed over the last few weeks.
There will be no hooliganism.
There will be no vandalism.
There will be no bevvying.
-Because the world is watching us and it's our responsibility
to conduct ourselves responsibly and with dignity and with maturity.
Jimmy Reid, tremendous speaker, an ability to capture that mass audience.
Very astute and he understood the politics of it all but he understood the passion as well.
There is this funny thing, you come in as an outsider, you see
the cranes, you see the steel, but there's this funny kind of romantic air,
they build ships, that's wonderful.
But it's not, it's in the blood.
Jimmy knew how to tap into that because he had the wonderful
knowledge of the history of the struggles.
In particular, the work of the trade union movement in Clydeside.
The practical business of running the yards would be made possible by an almost unholy alliance.
The shop stewards' committee worked hand-in-hand with Robert Courtney Smith,
the liquidator who had been brought in to dispose of the company's assets.
As Smith laid people off, the shop stewards' committee took
them back on, paying them from the campaign fund.
The liquidator says, "Bill, how is this going to work?"
"If you sack somebody we will bring them in on the Monday and pay them." "You'll pay them?"
"Yes, we'll pay them." "I can't see anything wrong with that," He was a good guy.
But we embroiled the management in it because the management's jobs were at stake.
Not at the very top of the house, but all the guys that were doing the effective work in the yard,
their jobs were at stake.
There was no division between managers, foremen, workers.
As a matter of fact, the shop stewards became essentially virtually the board of directors.
We all worked together. We ran that yard.
We produced the ships, we launched the ships.
The liquidator says, "I see no reason why I should intervene."
There was a sense of romance.
Everything was to close.
The community was to be devastated because it depended on it.
The workers said no.
We had to raise money for the people who
were made unemployed.
We had to pay them.
It was quite substantial sums but the money flowed in.
We said, "Can you help us?"
The money flowed in.
This is one from the Home Counties Dairies.
Dear brothers, we'd like you to accept his contribution of £7.
Hundreds from trade union branches, £1,000 from a woman doctor in Yorkshire.
The letters that we got and the money... It was...
A taxi driver...
he sent his tips from London every week.
We had that old lady in Brighton, she sent part of her pension every week.
Suddenly it was August for the people.
There were pledges of co-operation from many trade unions.
Lorry drivers said they would continue to bring in supplies, even if the liquidator tried to stop them.
Tug boat crews said they would refuse to tow away completed ships if the shop stewards in the yard said no.
On August 18th they were out on the streets,
50,000 or more, marching to Glasgow Green in the biggest demonstration the city had seen since the war,
watched and applauded by thousands more.
And it went on,
the peculiar euphoria of protest.
Oh, aye. There was a press conference.
At Clydebank at the time. I'm taking the press conference.
One of the boys - we had lads manning the gates.
A guy came on, "Jimmy, there's a big bunch of flowers for you here.
"A big wheel of flowers."
I said, "For me?" It's not a tradition in Clydeside for men to get flowers.
"You are kidding!" "No."
"Who's it from?"
"It's from some bloke called Lennon."
There's an old bloody Bolshevik in the corner, Gerry.
He said, "It cannae be Lenin, he's deid!"
He thought he was talking about Vladimir Lenin.
He said, "It's John Lennon and somebody Yoko."
There was a big cheque in it.
It was very nice.
I think the work-in hit the right note from the very beginning because it was cleverly conducted.
It did have integrity about it.
It was so well presented that you couldn't help but go for it.
There were any number of meetings in Glasgow, and
I used to go along to these meetings and hear people like Jimmy Reid and Jimmy Airlie talking about it.
You couldn't help but be persuaded by the passion that these people
were expressing that this was the right thing to happen.
We were sitting in the centre seeing this public reaction
that wasn't self-seeking, it wasn't this, it wasn't that.
That says you people are right, we've got to stop these bloody people from on high declaring
communities to be dead, because if you destroy
the industry of a community, you destroy the bloody community.
That's what it's all about.
It took off from there.
With the active collaboration of the liquidator, the work-in lasted for eight months until February 1972.
Ship construction continued, vessels were launched and orders fulfilled.
Seeing the extent of public support for the work-in,
the Government eventually backed down, providing another £35 million to keep the company going.
It was a partial victory.
The work-in resulted in the retention of shipbuilding, there's no question of that.
But it shrunk.
In the process of being saved, they lost quite a bit of it.
The John Brown yard did continue, which was a great thing, but not as a shipyard.
The Stephen's yard at Linthouse was phased out.
It did effectively come down to just two.
Where there been five yards, now it was down to two yards.
While it was a great triumph, and it was
and one shouldn't in any way suggest it was anything other than that, contraction was part of the process.
John Brown's was sold to a Texan oil rig manufacturer.
Although thousands of jobs were saved, many of the shipbuilding skills became superfluous.
Many left in search of work elsewhere.
You suddenly realised that what was going to happen was
the shipyard wasn't gonna shut, the town was going to shut.
The dominions of the world that have filled
with ex-Clydeside workers because there was always the move away
to Australia, move away to Canada, the move away to New Zealand.
People just moved away because they had families, they had to fight and struggle for their survival.
For the next few decades, the surviving rump of the industry limped on
through a period of nationalisation and a return to private ownership.
Vast tracts of once-world-famous shipyards were demolished to make way for car parks and superstores.
Here's an industry which has been famous for so long and now it's effectively over, so we are told.
What can you do about it?
The only thing I could do was get my camera and start to take some photographs of it
and start to record it, because I believed what they were saying that it was going to disappear completely.
It would be redeveloped into something else.
So I got my camera out and I started to go up and down the river and take
photographs periodically to record the reality of it.
That was just my...
little futile attempt to try and retain something of it.
I'm here with these beautifully built red-brick buildings, built to last.
60-70 years later were being demolished - it seems such a waste of human endeavour.
I even went in with a tape-recorder to tape-record the machine shops running, just to get the ambient
sound of it because I thought it was so exciting and about to disappear.
Today, ships are still being built out of two yards on a river that once boasted 33.
Nearly 4,000 people are still employed building naval vessels.
There are two unions where they used to be more than two score.
State-of-the-art machinery, hard hats and health and safety are a management priority.
It's a far cry from the brutal conditions that gave birth to the great ships of the past.
Tom McKendrick left John Brown's shortly after completion of the QE2.
Now a successful artist, he is building a six-metre
replica of one of the most renowned Clyde built warships, the Ramillies.
It will be placed 20 ft high at a Clydebank crossroads as a reminder of the town's origins.
The idea behind the rebuilding of the Ramillies is to take this and
put it on a stand and put it up high and say - this is the reason for your existence,
whether you like it or not.
Because this town was built to supply that ship, or ships like this, to the service of the empire.
And without ships like that, this place would be a green field.
Commemoration is being planned on an even larger scale.
A new Transport Museum is under construction, that will celebrate the river's maritime history.
Its vaulted metal skeleton recalls the iron and steel leviathans of the past.
It will house models of the great Clyde-built vessels - the Lusitania,
the Empress of Britain, the Hood and the three Queens.
The shipyard where they were built lies in rubble, awaiting the developers.
At the moment, all that's left of the John Brown shipyard site
is the fitting out base and the solitary Titan crane, which has been there since 1907.
Everything else has gone, most of the ships have gone.
So the crane has this responsibility to the collective memory of what happened there at that site.
It's a very depressing sight.
There were 27 shipyards when I was young and gradually they
were whittled down and there's practically nothing left.
The majority of it is just waste ground.
I'm very sad that there's nothing come in to replace it.
The best thing to commemorate it
is to build shipyards that are capable of producing the ships of the 21st and 22nd century.
I think we've got to say - listen, we are
grabbing our piece of the action and we can build new ships for the future which will become historic.
That should be a governmental aim.
There was something interesting in the river, it was really interesting.
It was nice to see the yards, all the different ships.
There's nothing like that now.
But anyway, you've just got to move with the times.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Many of the most famous passenger liners in history were built in the British Isles, several in the shipyards along the banks of the Clyde. Timeshift combines personal accounts and archive footage to evoke a vivid picture of the unique culture that grew up in the Clyde shipyards. Despite some of the harshest working conditions in industrial history and dire industrial relations, it was here that the Queen Mary, the Queen Elizabeth and the QE2 were built. Such was the Clyde shipbuilders' pride in their work, and the strength of public support, that in 1971 they were able to defy a government attempt to close them down and win the right to carry on shipbuilding.