Back to the Future: The Aircraft and IT Industries in Britain since 1945

Richard Coopey and Peter Lyth

in Business in Britain in the Twentieth Century

Published in print August 2009 | ISBN: 9780199226009
Published online September 2009 | e-ISBN: 9780191710315 | DOI:
Back to the Future: The Aircraft and IT Industries in Britain since 1945

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This chapter explores the development of two ‘high technology’ sectors of the British economy in the post-war period. The chapter is set against the context of the general debate over the relative decline of the British economy and the specific notion that Britain lagged behind in developing modern science- and technology-based industries. The findings reinforce certain aspects highlighted by critics of Britain's technological effort, for example the stultifying role played by the state, particularly the military, in the progress of the IT and aircraft manufacturing sectors. The state did play a positive role in boosting effort and increasing budgets, but probably directed both industries onto paths where global commercial success was going to be more difficult. Generally, though the chapter highlights the specificity of each case, and each sectors' internal complexities. In jet engine development, for example, it is important to highlight the successful — Rolls-Royce is a good example here — as well as the unsuccessful. Overall, the chapter reflects the book's themes in rejecting simplistic, uni-causal accounts of decline, favouring instead a more nuanced understanding of the role of technology-based industry in Britain's economy in the later 20th century.

Keywords: IT; IT policy; procurement; jet engines; computer manufacturing industry; software; ICL; IBM; Rolls-Royce; civil-military

Chapter.  13547 words. 

Subjects: Business History

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