LETTER : Britain's road of missed chances

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The Independent Online
From Mr Correlli Barnett

Sir: Your reviewer Ross McKibbin (25 July) accuses me of failing in my book The Lost Victory: British Dreams. British Realities, 1945-1950 to mention the Land Rover, "a remarkable vehicle", introduced in 1948 . But in point of fact the Land Rover, remarkable indeed as a design and with vast export potential, proved an exemplar of the British failure to exploit commercially a good idea.

Instead of concentrating all production on this vehicle, which could have been the British "Volkswagen" of export markets, Rover (a medium- size manufacturer anyway) chose to go on also producing its "Auntie" saloons for the home market. Even by the end of the Fifties, only 250,000 Land Rovers had been sold, and it took till 1976 to pass the million mark. In the time-span of my own book, which ends in June 1950, the Land Rover was of little commercial significance when measured against American or even British mass production of motor vehicles.

Mr McKibbin also chides me for failing to mention the successful Vickers Viscount short-haul aircraft in my chapter on British long-haul "turkeys" in 1945-1950. However, within the period covered by my book, the Viscount was hardly a success story, since by summer 1950 it was still in the prototype stage. The first production aircraft were only delivered to BEA (British European Airways) in January 1953 - eight years after the requirement for such a type of aircraft had been agreed; seven years after the Ministry of Supply had awarded Vickers the development contract and issued the specification.

Yours faithfully,

Correlli Barnett

Churchill College


27 July