British Leyland has long been a metaphor for all that went wrong with British manufacturing industry in the 1970s, with tales of strikes, under-investment, mismanagement, government intervention, and falling market share. But at its conception, British Leyland was intended to be a conglomerate to rival General Motors in the worldwide market, and was viewed as the only way the British motor industry could remain competitive.
Despite the high hopes, things did not improve, and British Leyland were lampooned at home and abroad: in the popular comedy series Yes Minister, Sir Humphrey (played by Sir Nigel Hawthorne) says "British Leyland measure success by the size of their profits, or to be more accurate, they measure their failure by the size of their losses."
During the 1950s the British car industry underwent a number of changes; old rivals Austin and the Nuffield Group merged in 1952 to create the British Motor Corporation (BMC). The Nuffield Group, headed by William Morris who was made Lord Nuffield in 1930, comprised Morris, MG, Wolseley, and Riley. All brands were kept going by Leonard Lord, owner of Austin, as he felt that having a diverse range of brands would help to keep market share up.
While BMC seemingly went from strength to strength following the launch of the iconic Mini in 1959, other brands in the industry were also moving into alliances. Jaguar, then autonomous, bought Daimler in 1960. Leyland Motors, known for their commercial vehicles, purchased Standard-Triumph in 1961. Increasingly, working together was seen as being the key to remaining competitive and retaining a slice of the market.
The mergers and buy-outs continued; in 1965 Rover purchased Alvis, then a minority luxury car maker, and in 1966, BMC bought out Jaguar to create British Motor Holdings. In 1967, Leyland Motors bought Rover, which by then had completely shut down Alvis, and in 1968 Leyland Motors merged with British Motor Holdings to create The British Leyland Motor Company.
British Leyland comprised some 10 brands and the vast majority of the well-known British automotive names, some dating from the very start of car-manufacturing. These brands were: Austin, Morris, Riley, Wolseley, MG, Standard, Triumph, Jaguar, Daimler, and Rover. Immediately following these mergers, the management picture was crowded and full of internal rivalries.
Donald Stokes, Chairman of Leyland Motors, became overall Chairman of British Leyland. Sir William Lyons retained some control and became the Deputy Chairman. Joe Edwards, zzz of arghwhichbrand, resigned, leaving the board of directors dominated by Leyland executives. John Barber was appointed Director of Finance, and George Turnbull, head of Austin-Morris, became Stokes' right hand men. Alec Issigonis went off in a strop and was replaced as Technical Director by Harry Webster. Stokes, the driving force behind these mergers, approachec the Industrial Reorganisation Committee - a government sponsored organisation which existed to help finance similar mergers and acquisitions - for a £25million loan to help make British Leyland work.