Newsletter 2012

The 75th Veterans Reunion

The 75th annual Veterans’ Reunion at the Marconi Athletic & Social Club in Beehive Lane took place last year on Saturday 16th April. Our President for the year was The Right Honourable The Lord Prior, ex Chairman of GEC, and the Guest of Honour Lord John Petre, Lord Lieutenant of Essex.

The toast to the President was proposed by Robbie Robertson. Responding to Peter Turrall when told he had three minutes to introduce Lord Prior, considering Lord Prior’s history, replied “how about half an hour Peter?” In the event, in well under 2½ minutes, he gave “a pretty quick picture of a pretty special guy”, a career of over 30 years as an MP, government minister and chairman of GEC, emphasising his value to the company through his interest in, care about and support for exports.

Lord Prior said he had enjoyed his time as chairman of GEC, and lamented how things had turned out for the company after his time. He remembered how Lord Weinstock was surprisingly indecisive over the matter of his succession, which caused Lord Prior a few difficulties. He expressed the gratitude of many for the work that Peter Turrall has done on behalf of the Veterans’ Association.

There were reflections on the qualities of speech makers from his parliamentary days. A minister who frequently criticised his departmental speech writers got his comeuppance when, speaking in the House of Commons, he turned to the second page of a rather dreary speech to find written in large letters “Now you’re on your own”, and Churchill, a maker of wonderful speeches – always written out and delivered line by line. There was an occasion at a Conservative Party conference during his second time as prime minister when, having been not at all well for a long time, some way through the speech he forgot to turn over a page. He got to the end of it and 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.”

He welcomed the fact that the country now appears to have got over the idea that everything can be done by banking and that we’re starting to think once again that manufacturing industry is important. He concluded with a word or two about the Marconi archives. He felt that the expected high cost of presenting and looking after them in Chelmsford was the factor that precipitated their move to the Bodleian Library at Oxford, but he believed they the Bodleian was doing a reasonable job for them.

Peter Turrall then introduced the Guest of Honour, Lord Petre, Lord Lieutenant of Essex, an extremely busy man who, in addition to his duties as the queen’s representative and patron and president of various organisations, takes a great interest in numerous charitable activities and organisations for people with either physical or learning disabilities, and in animal welfare.

Lord Petre was very appreciative of the invitation as our Guest of Honour and gave a very entertaining and amusing flavour of his experiences as the county’s Lord Lieutenant. He opened by saying that he was a little apprehensive as to what information about him Peter Turrall might impart in his introduction: calumnies abound in the ether. When he had tried Googling his name he got nearly 47,000 hits, including such as ‘Nina in Lord Petre’s bedroom! (It might have referred to one of your ancestors sir, they led a somewhat colourful life in the Regency period. Ed)

He spoke of the faux pas and misapprehensions made by people encountering him in his official capacity and particularly when in uniform – of the folk who speak to him warmly of his predecessor John Ruggles-Brise, maybe thinking “Ah, in those days we had a real Lord Lieutenant”, of the occasion he was mistaken for a senior member of the Salvation Army, and another when, arriving rather early to take the salute at some function managed to find the person who appeared to be in charge who said “Ah yes, you’ve come to do the first aid haven’t you.”

A wonderful job, participating in an astonishing diversity of engagements from the solemn and moving, through the jolly and convivial to, on very rare occasions, the rather embarrassing disasters. Organising Royal visits in the county can combine all three of these elements but mercifully seldom the last, all navigated smoothly thanks the help of his excellent team. There were occasional mishaps, such as narrowly avoiding assassinating the Earl of Wessex in Thurrock on a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award visit and learning the following day that the firm supplying the sandwiches for the lunch had to recall their entire product because of a listeria outbreak!

Then there was the time when the Prince of Wales, visiting the maltings at Mistley, recently converted into flats, was ‘kidnapped’ by a determined lady from one of the new flats. After the Prince had a cup of tea with another of the residents, and as the party was descending the stairs, the lady erupted from her front door, grabbed the Prince and took him aside in order to give him a lecture on her particular hobby horse, which happened to be mercury tooth fillings.

He concluded by reminding us that the name of Marconi is still a very tangible part of the heritage of Chelmsford and of the county as a whole. There are reminders: the town sign still bears the legend ‘home of radio’ celebrating the occasion when Dame Nellie Melba came to make that broadcast in 1920; the imposing mast at Baddow; the New Street works frontage; the (albeit rather camp) statue of Marconi near the Cramphorn Theatre; and what is now Selex continues to carry forward the tradition of technological excellence inherited from the original company. And now the wonderful news of the Waters Collection bequest to the town which could be considered to trump the artefacts lost to Oxford. So he was delighted to be present at the day’s celebration and closed with “May the tradition long continue.”