The article led to some interesting correspondence with accounts of short-termism and mismanagement of GEC during the Arnold Weinstock era, and the later disastrous breaking up of GEC Marconi after he had gone. Mention was made of Plessey as another telecommunications company, but sadly no mention of STC and ITT.
In the late 1970s and into the 1980s I was at the National Economic Development Office with responsibility for the committees developing industrial strategy for the electronics and IT sectors. That was at a time when it was still possible to think that the UK could build world competitive strengths in these areas. Indeed there were some strengths to build on – GEC Semiconductors, Ferranti and Inmos as well as Plessey and ITT Semiconductors. Tragically, it came to nothing and of these once major companies, almost nothing remains. It is additionally sad that STC and ITT seem to be overlooked and have been written out of history too.
I add some additional comments to explain more about the work of the National Economic Development Office (NEDO) during this period. NEDO was set up by central government and operated through a hierarchy of industry committees (EDCs), each charged with developing strategy for success.
Membership of the senior EDC for the electronics and IT included all the big names such as Robert Telford (GEC Marconi), Michael Clark (Plessey) and of course, Ken Corfield (STC). A subsidiary committee for components included the lead voices from semiconductors and the emergent LSI/ microelectronics sectors – the lead players here included Derek Roberts (GEC), Robb Wilmot (TI), Danny McCaughan (later Nortel), and Iann Barron (Inmos). It was this committee that had the vision of impending convergence between computing and telecommunications and the implications for UK electronics companies – views that fed into the senior committee and no doubt influenced Ken Corfield and others.
These were heady days when it might still have been possible for the UK to exploit the potential for microelectronics and digital communications. We had lots of visions, but sadly as it proved not much born in reality.
NEDO was in effect closed down by Margaret Thatcher in 1987.