Interview with Mike Hellen, 23 June 2021
Level: Category
Sound Archive
Level: Fonds
Level: Series
Communicating Connections
Scope and Content:
Mike Hellen [MH] interviewed by Stevie Mackenzie-Smith [SMS] about working at the Marconi Company between 1972 and 1996. Recorded remotely via Squadcast.

Part 1
[00:00:00] MH talks about growing up in London, being evacuated to Wiltshire during the Second World War, getting married to his wife in 1964 and moving to Chelmsford, the relative affordability of housing in Chelmsford, working for Plessey until 1971, the commute from Chelmsford to Ilford, and joining Marconi in 1972.

[00:05:40] Comments on working briefly for Philips Data Systems in Colchester in 1979. Comments on his first impressions of Marconi; old-fashioned manufacturing methods. Tells anecdotes about characters who worked at Marconi. Discusses poor management towards the end of his career with the company.

Part 2

[00:00:00] MH comments on starting his Marconi career in accounts and then being moving to finance after a year. Describes his role overseeing the finance side of site services, development costing, and manufacturing.

[00:05:57] Lists the various buildings he was based in over his career. Comments that the shares he had in Marconi became worthless after the business failed.

[00:10:52] Describes working in the sales office for Plessey in 1962. Tells anecdote about meeting his wife, Sheila. Talks about taking a six-week course in finance and getting a job working in manufacturing costing for Plessey.

[00:15:25] Mentions what he liked about working in finance. Recalls his passion for engineering at school and receiving a good, ‘well-rounded’ education at Plaistow Grammar School. Lists various jobs between leaving school and working at Marconi.

[00:22:51] Discusses why so many companies he worked for failed: didn’t respond to changes in the market quickly enough or invest in the future workforce.

Part 3

[00:00:00] MH discusses the bullying behaviour of managing directors and how badly the workforce were treated in the months before the company folded. Describes a poor decision made by a manager that lost their department money. Comments on lack of expertise among management.

[00:07:41] Talks about directors hiring ‘useless’ managers, Lord Weinstock losing interest in the company, losing credibility, their inability to match other companies on the cost of products, competing with Sony in the television camera market in the 1970s, and their inability to increase the scale of production.

[00:17:01] Talks about his parents: his father being killed in the war; his mother’s work as a shirt machinist; and his happy childhood memories. Comments on his positive experience of being evacuated to Wiltshire with his older sister, the families they stayed with, and returning to London in June 1945.

[00:22:15] Describes his memories of the Blitz and the disappearance of his father in Singapore at the end of the war. Discusses the pressures of working in finance; given insufficient time to complete tasks, long hours.

[00:32:20] Contrasts his positive experience of working at Plessey to the pressure at Marconi. Comments on his relief at being made redundant in 1996.

[00:41:32] Describes the working atmosphere during the ‘golden era’ of Marconi from 1972 to 1987. Briefly mentions the social club. Tells anecdote about raising his two daughters.

[00:46:10] Talks about how management styles differed during his career at Marconi, friendships made with colleagues, the team spirit and supportive environment during the early days, working lunches, and the canteen food.

[00:52:39] Tells anecdotes about various characters who worked at Marconi, including a copy typist, a cleaner from Waterhouse Lane, an engineer, and a finance colleague’s bright yellow jumper.

[00:58:35] Describes the unwritten dress code and the varied team sizes in his department.

[01:03:27] Comments on his affinity with people who worked in development, the camaraderie across all different departments, and most of the workforce being local.

[01:09:44] Mentions innovative projects, including entering the car phone business. Describes his control over how much of the budget went towards development. Discusses workers being underpaid and trade union activity.

[01:17:14] Lists activities run by the Marconi Social Club, including Christmas parties and sports teams. Talks about the reduction in the workforce from 1972 to 2001, from 4,000 to 400. Emphasises the impact Marconi had on modern technology.

[01:23:53] Comments on his pride in the company in the early days and the change in ethos from collaboration to self-reliance under new management. Describes the office layout in his department and his initial thoughts on email.

[01:28:58] Reflects on what his colleagues thought of him and his career at Marconi as a whole. Comments that colleagues made it tolerable despite bullying managers. Describes what he does in retirement.

Recording note: [00:00:28] to [00:02:18] of Part 3 redacted.
Dates of Creation:
23 June 2021
2 hours 13 minutes 48 seconds
Creator Name:
Stevie Mackenzie-Smith, interviewer
Archivist Note:
Custodial History:
Recorded for the Communicating Connections project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF).
Copyright transferred to ESVA
Physical Characteristics:
3 MP3 files
Related Unit of Description:
For a transcript of this recording, see SA 13/8/24/3
Dates of Description:
6 June 2022
Not Available:
Essex Sound and Video Archive: use digital copy available on Soundcloud