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Interview of Irene Jenkins, 12th September 2014

Interviewed by Peter Stoddart

Irene Jenkins
I was born in London, I was sent off to South Wales in the war.
Interviewer
That was evacuation was it?
Irene Jenkins
Yes, as a very small child. Lived there very happily for five years, became Welsh, of course, first school Welsh.
Interviewer
Welsh speaking were you at all or not?
Irene Jenkins
No just learnt Welsh, I had to learn Welsh, I've forgotten most of it now. I did not know why parents came to Leicester, finally found out they were bombed out and came to Leicester because my father was actually born in Leicester. I only found this out much later when he died and I found his birth certificate. He lived in Earsdon Road, born in Earsdon Road, the house is still there - I've been and looked. I came to Leicester from beautiful Wales, awful, awful. Anyway, settled down, went to Earsdon School, passed my exams etc, etc, etc, had to leave school because we were poor, went to what was the School of Commerce, part of De Montford University it is now. I did shorthand, typewriting, economics, advanced French, English etc; a full course. I learned book keeping. My exam I passed with flying colours, 100% but my tutor said no one gets 100% in exam, 98%. Anyway, top of the class in book keeping, second in shorthand. I think we achieved about 140 words a minute that year. I carried on, got a job after some time, in shoes, stayed there a year, went on then to Health Guard - very interesting, hosiery, nylon stockings etc - stayed there, helped to build up a new firm, in the end didn't get paid enough so looked round for another job.
Interviewer
When you were in these firms were you doing financial work or just secretarial?
Irene Jenkins
Secretarial. Mostly secretarial, some financial but mostly secretarial.
Interviewer
But was your training of use?
Irene Jenkins
Not really, no. I mean it was secretarial, yeah. And organisational as well thrust on by lack of people to work there you see. "You take charge of this", "Fine, okay". But anyway in the end, fed up with it, nowhere to go sort of thing, I wasn't going to get anywhere. I went to an employment agency, they arranged me three jobs, one in the morning and two in the afternoon. The first one was in the morning with Austers because I lived Humerstone Lane way I could walk down the lane, catch the bus on Mountain Road, be at Austers at 9 o'clock. That was it, appointment at 9 o'clock with Dorothy Slingo and Mr Kettle who were then the personnel people. They took down all the details, went to meet Ambrose in his office, he gave me dictation, one letter and a memo, typed it back, he said "It's fine when can you start?" ((laughs)) So I said "Well probably next week", "Okay", I said "Right, I know nothing about engineering", "Oh", he said "That doesn't matter" and that was it.
Interviewer
And what date would this be?
Irene Jenkins
Ooh G*d, 1960 I think or '61. It was when there was just the sort of change over, Beagle were coming into it.
Interviewer
Well that's '60, yeah.
Irene Jenkins
And the next week I started.
Interviewer
So you were working for Ambrose right from the start.
Irene Jenkins
Ambrose, yes. Oh yes. I wasn't going to work for any ((laughingly)) underling no. Not after I trained at night school for G*d knows how many years and I achieved ((laughingly)) 200 words a minute in shorthand, no way was I going to be working for an underling. So that was it, so there we are. Started and left in March 1967. Very happy years.
Interviewer
Was that when Ambrose moved onto Hanson Sussex then?
Irene Jenkins
Yes. I left in 1967 because we got married and I had a house in Groby, well it was rather a long way to travel. John used to come early in the morning you see and I would then have to come on the bus - it was just too much - so that's when I left. Also, of course, on the airwaves you knew that things weren't right. We weren't going to get the money etc and it was all going downhill so I said to him, "Sorry but there would be two of us out of a job". He said "Oh it won't happen to that", of course he knew it was going that way so that was it. In that time we went from a sort of Auster Aircraft, Beagle Auster and Beagle and we had all the high ups used to come down, there was Peter Masefield and all his cohorts and his girlfriend Margaret Lawrence, his personal assistant and all that sort of thing, they used to come. They got me ((laughingly)) in to the meetings to take all the minutes. I don't really know about aeroplanes that much, I mean in five years you do accumulate a lot of knowledge but I didn't know all but anyway they got me in, "You'll do it, come on Irene, you can do it" and they used to sit there for hours and they'd go over this, that and the other. Mr Picket would say "We can't do this" and Peter Masefield said "Oh we've got to do this". Of course that was our downfall, we spent far too much time and money trying to get this Beagle Airedale into operation and it was just a waste of time and money. In the meantime (what had happened?), oh we got a motor club going and, of course, I was then appointed secretary so we had some good meetings there. We used to organise the dances, had some really nice dances which Ambrose used to organise and life went on. And that was it, that was Austers.
Interviewer
Ambrose was commercial director wasn't he.
Irene Jenkins
He was the commercial director, yes.
Interviewer
And was that his post under the Beagle banner as well?
Irene Jenkins
Yes.
Interviewer
How much was he able to direct the way things went himself or was it always the whim of the Masefield crowd?
Irene Jenkins
No, he just had to do as he was told. No way. Peter Masefield had got such a strong pull on everything, he was the head office in London and he'd got all the different factories and places around and they all had to do it as he said. He and his friends said.
Interviewer
Was Ambrose straightforward in his attitude to this?
Irene Jenkins
I think Ambrose was a bit frightened of Peter Masefield and his followers. I mean he put forward what he thought, how commercially it was not viable what we were doing but they would just brush it aside. I mean the number of changes in the Airedale is unbelievable and of course the costs just kept mounting up and mounting up and mounting up. I don't think we ever made much of a profit. I think the profit came from the other side, from the automotive works, I'm sure that was it, I don't think we did. But life at Austers, in spite of all this, it was very interesting because you had people coming in from all over the place. They'd fly in, come to pick up their aeroplane, you know.
Interviewer
There was still a good trade in repair and so on.
Irene Jenkins
Yes repairs, terrific.
Interviewer
And that would be the traditional high wing aeroplanes, yeah.
Irene Jenkins
That was it. I mean the big contract was with OGMA, the Portuguese army and of course I mean ((laughinly)) Ambrose used to say, "Well we're doing this for them and we're doing that for them and of course it's really to go and bomb ((laughingly)) the natives in…" Angola was it or Mozambique?
Interviewer
Mozambique yeah.
Irene Jenkins
Something like that, yes. But that's where I think we made our money. I think we supplied aeroplanes and then we supplied all these kits of parts and they made them up over there and I think that's where our money came from. I think all the others, I mean I remember being there when the Mark 11 had it's first flight but we never made any money on it, no one ever had it.
Interviewer
Well the trouble was by then the army were all for helicopters and that was it.
Irene Jenkins
Yes. We used to have the army come in every so often, one of the army would fly in.
Interviewer
Did you ever have to deal with people from the RAF when they were re-doing bits on the Beagle 206's?
Irene Jenkins
No. That was after I left because they sold it all didn't they to Scottish Aviation. No we had the flights in the Airedale and we had the flights in the big aeroplanes, what was the B206 and the other one. We were all given flights in them but as far as I was concerned we'd never gone into production.
Interviewer
Ambrose was always a very correct sort of gentleman…
Irene Jenkins
He was, he was.
Interviewer
…so I mean did he reveal his feelings about the way things were going to you?
Irene Jenkins
No.
Interviewer
He'd keep them to himself.
Irene Jenkins
Yeah. But we knew. I mean he'd make the odd comment you know about things but he always tried to say that the firm was going on, tried to instil it in us that the firm was going to carry on but you could see that it wouldn't. The last year was actually quite sad but as I was getting ((laughingly)) married that year so my mind was more on getting married and making a home that I thought well this is sort of going to be the end of things.
Interviewer
What did you go onto afterwards then, you were going to become the breadwinner?
Irene Jenkins
I went to - ((laughs)) Oh after a while. I went to work at Markfield Hospital, the secretary to the hospital secretary; that was another tale, I won't tell you about things that went on in Markfield Hospital. There you are. But then I said to John, I said "You'll ((laughingly)) have to get out of Austers" so he did eventually. He left before the actual finish of Austers and he worked on contract for people and then he went back, would you believe - he's probably told you this - on contract to Austers and earned more on contract than the people ((laughingly)) who were working there in the same department.
Interviewer
It's often the case, yeah. What were the working conditions like? I mean do we imagine Ambrose in just an office, was there anything special?
Irene Jenkins
No. Nothing special. The main offices for, it was Mr Bates at the time, they were nice, all nicely wooden panelled and all this, that and the other but no, no we just got an office. Glass petitions, Eric Hall used to be next door, he was the sales manager. He was next door, so everybody could see everybody else and there was just a corridor down the main building and more offices on the other side. As I say you could always see in and see what everybody else was doing.
Interviewer
Which building was that in?
Irene Jenkins
That was the main building.
Interviewer
On the airfield side yeah.
Irene Jenkins
Yes, yeah we were in there.
Interviewer
Is that the building where the drawing office was as well?
Irene Jenkins
The drawing office was up above.
Interviewer
Up on the top, so you were down on the ground floor.
Irene Jenkins
We were underneath yes. Fred Watkin was the drawing office manager when I went there and I'd actually known his daughter at school and at the tech. No, it was a reasonable size office, there was Ambrose there in front of me, I was at the end and Pat Wright, who was his assistant and dealt with the overseas side of stuff he was there and there was just the three of us. They were very happy days.
Interviewer
It always seems to me that the social side of the firm was always good.
Irene Jenkins
Yes.
Interviewer
I mean and that seems to have given it a sort of family spirit…
Irene Jenkins
That's it.
Interviewer
…although it wasn't necessarily the highest waged place…
Irene Jenkins
Oh no, no way.
Interviewer
…in the county.
Irene Jenkins
I mean I got a reasonable wage because I came sort of later really and I said "I don't want to work at so-and-so", I wanted some more money but no you didn't get many pay rises there ((laughs)), they couldn't afford them.
Interviewer
Did each of the directors have a secretary?
Irene Jenkins
Yes.
Interviewer
So you didn't work for anybody else, just for Ambrose.
Irene Jenkins
No. When I went there I stipulated that, I said "No, I just want to work for one director" and that was it. Pat had a shorthand typist who did his work, in fact it was Betty Harvey at the time and that was it.
Interviewer
Ambrose was involved with setting up the OGMA thing I think before Beagle soaked the firm up.
Irene Jenkins
Yes that had started-
Interviewer
I mean it was an Auster design and a modification to use the engine.
Irene Jenkins
There was the D4 and the D5.
Interviewer
And a D6 and using the metal spars. Did he have to go out to Portugal a lot?
Irene Jenkins
He didn't go a lot but he did go occasionally and he also went on holiday there.
Interviewer
Really?
Irene Jenkins
Yes he liked Portugal.
Interviewer
Because that was really the last flowering of the high wing aeroplane because I can't remember the exact numbers but we're talking about 150 aeroplanes.
Irene Jenkins
Hundreds, oh yeah, hundreds went out there, I don't know where they all are now, what's happened to them all. No doubt lost in the jungle somewhere.
Interviewer
Well yes there's one that's been brought back from South Africa by a commercial pilot in Portugal and I've had some dealings with him for drawing information but unfortunately it was partially restored in South Africa and then it was damaged in transit so that's a problem for him. When Ambrose moved on with the traditional Auster to Hanson Sussex…
Irene Jenkins
He got the sack.
Interviewer
…it was all very swift wasn't it.
Irene Jenkins
Yeah he got the sack. I mean I'd left by then but he did. I mean we met up with him afterwards and we used to keep in touch with him and no he just got the sack, he had to go, that was it, we no longer want you sir and off he went.
Interviewer
Did he or was it Beagle who organised the support to go to Hanson Sussex then?
Irene Jenkins
I don't know, I don't know about that. I would think probably a bit of each because after all he'd worked there since 1940-something and he went there about 1940 I think to work there so he'd given a lot of his sort of time and energy to the firm and I think he did his job as well as he possibly could but there was no loyalty, they just got rid of people and that was it.
Interviewer
Were you all in the factory building when Tony Benn gave his little speeches?
Irene Jenkins
I don't know because I'd left by then.
Interviewer
That was for the second lot of money wasn't it-
Irene Jenkins
They got a lot of money from Press Steel you know. Press Steel took us over at one stage and we got quite a lot of money from them. I mean they were obviously interested in the automotive side.
Interviewer
I mean I've always had the impression that there was probably too much money, which allowed it to be misspent.
Irene Jenkins
Well that's right, on these retched new designs which nobody else wanted. I mean the Miles people didn't want to go ahead as we had done and they were very good designers but all their designs were wasted as well. The Airedale was just Peter Masefield's idea and it was wrong but he wouldn't listen. I mean we'd go to these meetings and he'd say "Oh we want this" and Mr Picket who was in charge of production I think, I think that was his job, he'd say, "Oh you can't do this", "Oh yes we can, we can try this".
Interviewer
I mean it sounds like this was like a whim to produce this aeroplane.
Irene Jenkins
I think so.
Interviewer
If Ambrose was in the commercial sector was there any out and out market research being done?
Irene Jenkins
No, not on our side.
Interviewer
Or was it assumed that there'd be people who want to buy these aeroplanes?
Irene Jenkins
I think that was it. I think Peter Masefield had his own ideas and that was it. I mean I don't think he'd ever designed properly an aeroplane so he said he wanted this. He wanted a luxury four seater, presumably to compete with the Americans. I don't know, I don't know if that was his idea and he wanted this, that and the other. In the end you'd got a far too expensive aeroplane that was too heavy. Yeah it looked good but it would never have been a commercial success. In fact I don't think we made a lot ((laughingly)) of money. The times I was there, out of any of the aeroplanes, I think the only time we made the money was with the OGMA contracts.
Interviewer
And the car parts.
Irene Jenkins
Oh car parts, fine, yes.
Interviewer
Do you remember any aeronautical work for other manufacturers while you were there?
Irene Jenkins
For us quoting, no I don't think we did that. I don't think I dealt with that side of it at all.
Interviewer
No, I don't know whether Ambrose would be involved.
Irene Jenkins
I don't think so.
Interviewer
I mean there was definitely-. I was quite surprise how much work was being done. There was stuff done for Percival, a Hunting, but that may well have been before you started. Who was secretary for Ambrose before?
Irene Jenkins
Dorothy Slingo.
Interviewer
And she retired did she?
Irene Jenkins
No, she became personnel assistant, that's where she went. But I think she's long since gone.
Interviewer
And that would be quite a big section under the Beagle banner was it, personnel? I can imagine things arrived that had never been in place in Auster days.
Irene Jenkins
I think so.
Interviewer
I mean you cited two people I think when you went for you test.
Irene Jenkins
Yes when I went there, there was Mr Kettle and Dorothy. But I do think they had an assistant after that. People stayed there a long time, there wasn't a lot of leaving because there was no work in East Leicestershire at all you see. I mean they used to bus people in from all the villages around, even as far as Oakham people use to come and once they got the job they stayed because it was a nice place to work. It was pleasant.
Interviewer
Did they have pension provision for everybody?
Irene Jenkins
No.
Interviewer
I mean not even yourself.
Irene Jenkins
((laughingly)) No, nothing.
Interviewer
It wasn't a company option, were you encouraged to privately have a pension?
Irene Jenkins
((laughingly)) No, nothing.
Interviewer
Right.
Irene Jenkins
People didn't ((laughingly)) in those days. Oh no. No. Nothing at all like that, if you wanted to save for the future you had to do it yourself.
Interviewer
Did you get involved at all in the flying club? The company flying club.
Irene Jenkins
No. Ambrose used to look after it and that was the only sort of thing I was involved in.
Interviewer
You didn't get drafted in as secretary for that as well?
Irene Jenkins
No. There wasn't any secretarial work at all. It had obviously been started a long time ago and they'd made the aeroplane, the club aeroplane out of bits and parts and that was that. From my memory Roy Goodwin did a lot to it and I met him one day and I said about going for a flight in the club aeroplane and he says "Right" so off we went one evening, took off, a nice summer's evening. Off we went, the first time I'd ever been in a light aeroplane and it was quite an experience, sort of just up there, a few ((laughingly)) hundred feet up there and there were all the feeds, plonk-plonk-plonking over the countryside and landed at Sywell, very enjoyable. But that was as far as I was concerned with the club. I remember Bernard somebody or other came and he did something to do with looking after the club but he also disappeared with - John can tell you name of it - one of the trophies, really nice trophies. I mean we'd got quite a few really nice, it may have been the Ragazine one and he just disappeared with it so we never did find that.
Interviewer
I don't know whether the Auster Flying Club organised the Ragazine trophy, the competitions, or whether it was the company themselves because the Ragazine trophy was going quite early on after the war.
Irene Jenkins
By the time I got there it had stopped, they didn't have anything like that going then.
Interviewer
It didn't carry on into Beagle days then?
Irene Jenkins
No.
Interviewer
Then of course there was a gliding club, I don't know when they started.
Irene Jenkins
When I went there it was in full operation and Ambrose did organise us to have a flight in one, which was another nice experience, and he did sort of look after/negotiate between the gliding club and us because they always used to be invited to the dinners and so on. One person did die in there. Did John tell you about that?
Interviewer
Mm.
Irene Jenkins
He did tell you? Oh right, okay. Apart from that we didn't sort of have much to do with them apart from him organising the one flight for us.
Interviewer
I mean they were looking for an airfield basically.
Irene Jenkins
Yes.
Interviewer
I mean they're the crowd up at Husbands Bosworth now.
Irene Jenkins
East Midlands Gliding Club I think it was called.
Interviewer
Coventry and East Midlands it may have been, yeah. I don't know whether there's any more I can ask you really. When it comes to the aeroplanes and their designs and so on you're on the periphery really, only learning about whatever came out from Ambrose.
Irene Jenkins
Yes and you see Eric Hall did the sales side of it, we did the commercial side.
Interviewer
I don't think the people are Rearsby can ever have felt integrated into Beagle really.
Irene Jenkins
No they weren't.
Interviewer
I presume the Miles people, I mean Miles was the place they used as the main base and Rearsby was really a factory where they could do production.
Irene Jenkins
Yes that's it.
Interviewer
And then there was all this toing and froing of various levels when they got to fit the aircraft out and so on, which all seemed to be a bit uneconomic.
Irene Jenkins
It was. I'm sure we didn't make much profit on anything, all the years I was there. Not on the aircraft side. I'm sure they made a big profit on the automotive side.
Interviewer
Ambrose wasn't involved with the commercial side of the automotive was he, there'd be somebody else looked after that was there?
Irene Jenkins
Well it was Jerry Inwood who was director for that side, of the automotive side, but we did do some work to do with automotives I remember but the more interesting side of course was the aeroplanes.
Interviewer
Well Ambrose presumably was involved when they got the original car components after the war when it suddenly went very sticky on aeroplanes.
Irene Jenkins
That was it and they had to go and look all over the place for work, yeah. So remembering his first book, yes he had to go and look. It was very sad. A lot of people liked working at Auster's, enjoyed it and the end was horrible for them. In fact I think one person committed suicide.
Interviewer
Oh heavens!
Irene Jenkins
I remember hearing.
Interviewer
Before the Heritage Group started the get-togethers were you involved in any early get-togethers after Beagle closed down?
Irene Jenkins
No.
Interviewer
There wasn't a ground swell to sort of set that type of thing up?
Irene Jenkins
No.
Interviewer
I suppose it's natural from the way it went really, there wouldn't be people who wanted to carry on with the memory of it.
Irene Jenkins
A lot of them didn't no, no. They said oh well this is it, you know, and off they had to go and find other jobs somewhere which, you know, out in the countryside there weren't a lot of jobs.
Interviewer
Before you were married you were still travelling from the Thurmaston area and did you use the service bus or did you get involved with this company bus, because they did have a company bus?
Irene Jenkins
I was in the company bus. It was very old ((laughs)), I don't know where they got it from.
Interviewer
And did they run that twice, for the manual workers earlier and the office staff later?
Irene Jenkins
No. That one ran from Leicester, I think it left about 8.30 in the morning, for us who started at 9. The other buses came from all round the countryside and I think that used to start about 7 o'clock in the morning to get them there for 8 o'clock. That was it. Nesbits of Somerby or somewhere like that had the contract and I think they had about half a dozen buses picking up people all round the country. I think they employed actually about a thousand people when I first went there because they had the factory parts all round Leicester and Leicestershire.
Interviewer
There were still the factories in Brook Street were there when you were there?
Irene Jenkins
Was that number seven? There was number seven which I never went to. I never went to the outlying ones.
Interviewer
I can't remember which were which now but that seems to have gone on quite a long time. Well there were two factories in Brook Street, I don't know when the one at ((Orn-too-car?)) was given up.
Irene Jenkins
I think I'd left by then.
Interviewer
You were a fixture in the office at Rearsby really.
Irene Jenkins
Yes.
Interviewer
Did you go off to meetings with Ambrose? Did he go to meetings down at Shoreham or anywhere?
Irene Jenkins
He did. No I never went anywhere.
Interviewer
If we went off-
Irene Jenkins
No he didn't.
Interviewer
Oh he didn't?
Irene Jenkins
Very rarely.
Interviewer
So his trips to Portugal were the few escapes then really.
Irene Jenkins
That's it. Yeah, poor old Ambrose. He sort of felt he was pushed out, well I thought so anyway. I think he was too plain speaking for them.
Interviewer
It's problematic really. There were a lot of factors involved in the way light aeroplane making went after the war and the restrictions we had originally favoured the British companies but they didn't have availability a wide range of engines so the Auster stuck with the British engines and then of course the floodgates were opened and aeroplanes and engines could come in. They did start using the Lycoming engine in the D range but the Americans had this mass manufacture already set up. The measure of his conscientiousness Ambrose, I've said it several times - it's been published in the magazine - he always felt terrible about the time that guy came from Cessna looking for somewhere to manufacture in Europe and he got the cold shoulder from Bates, this would have been mid-50s, and Ambrose just couldn't make enough apologies when he took the guy back to the station and of course they went to Max Holst in France at Reims.
Irene Jenkins
It's just how short sighted we were.
Interviewer
Yeah.
Irene Jenkins
But to me that seems it all along the way, looking back, we all were very short sighted. I mean you've got a factory there, you've got all the people who were skilled, you're making aeroplanes and it was all left to go into nothing. Very, very sad and so short sighted. Americans have got mass production haven't they, they'd got that sorted we hadn't at the time. I don't think we had anywhere had we, cars or anywhere.
Interviewer
My own view as well is that their aeroplanes were of a simpler design, they didn't have the complications in that the Beagle twin certainly had and did prove problematic. Their aeroplanes were very much simpler in design.
Irene Jenkins
Well that's right, keep it simple and they worked.
Interviewer
But it still did the job you see.
Irene Jenkins
That's it, it worked.
Interviewer
It might not have been a Rolls Royce but not everybody has Rolls Royce money do they?
Irene Jenkins
Well that's it, not many people have Rolls Royce cars or anything have they?
Interviewer
I mean the old Auster certainly wasn't ((laughingly)) Rolls Royce.
Irene Jenkins
((laughingly)) No but I did its job and that's what people wanted but no Mr Masefield thought we should be in luxury market and he was wrong. It didn't matter to him because he went onto other things but all the employees who'd worked there for years and years and years who were skilled in their job were just got rid of. That's typical.
Interviewer
Well you remember the good times.
Irene Jenkins
We remember the good times and they were very nice times and I got married along the way.
Interviewer
How long was your romance with John then there?
Irene Jenkins
((laughs))
Interviewer
From the day you'd arrived?
Irene Jenkins
No, no, no, no.
Interviewer
Were there other people in the field originally?
Irene Jenkins
There was other people along the way yes. As someone said to me, we had a very good collection and we bought this, that and the other and he said "And then we got the house you see at Queniborough, one of the firms houses at all of 45 shillings a week rent, not only that we got the presents, we got the house and you got a husband along the way as well".
Interviewer
How many houses did they have to let out then the company?
Irene Jenkins
Oh about eight.
Interviewer
And were these mainly for people who'd had to move to the factory?
Irene Jenkins
Yes that's right.
Interviewer
But they presumably would have been taken up by then so the local people could get them. That give you a good start then.
Irene Jenkins
That's it, yep, a nice start, yep, a nice little cottage for 45 shillings a week plus a garage.
Interviewer
How long were you in there then?
Irene Jenkins
We had it for six months and then John saw this house at Groby and he thought mm I quite like this so then we bought the house at Groby and moved and that was when I left and happy times came to an end. I went to work ((laughingly)) at Markfield Hospital which was a horrible place to work.
Interviewer
A totally different field.
Irene Jenkins
Oh an awful place.
Interviewer
Well look, thanks very much for talking to us.
Irene Jenkins
Okidoke.
Interviewer
I think we've got the story.

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