Leaving a sinking ship...
...The education system, alongside taxation and a general feeling that there was a lack of opportunity in Britain, was one of the key reasons cited by those who were emigrating from the country. And there were plenty who did so. The peak year was 1974, when it seemed as though the trade unions had acquired the power to make or break governments, and when 269,000 left the country (compared to 184,000 coming in), but it was hardly a new phenomenon, with the expression ‘the brain drain’ having been coined in the 1960s.
Nor was it short-lived. In 1970 Boyson had warned that state interference in everyday life had reached intolerable proportions: ‘Little wonder that tens of thousands of our most enterprising vigorous people now emigrate every year to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and Rhodesia where they have more chance of fulfilling themselves and shaping their lives to their own choice.’
By the mid-‘70s South Africa had overtaken even Australia as the destination of choice, with the press reporting that 29,000 men from the managerial class had chosen to relocate there in 1975, with numbers rising still further in 1976, the year of the Soweto uprising.
Most newsworthy of the émigrés were the rock musicians, including the Rolling Stones, who fled to the south of France and whose 1972 album Exile on Main Street had a title indicating their status as refugees from taxation. ‘I owed the Inland Revenue a fortune,’ admitted Bill Wyman, before dismissing his homeland: ‘All the ambitious people leave.’
Under Callaghan – the man who, as chancellor of the exchequer, had inspired George Harrison’s song ‘Taxman’ for the Beatles – the situation grew worse, in quantity if not quality. Amongst those who left later, less celebrated than the Stones, was the Australian-born producer Mike Chapman, who had given us acts such as the Sweet, Mud and Suzi Quatro, and who departed Britain for LA: ‘Los Angeles is a more receptive city for music than London is,’ he explained. ‘And the tax system in Britain is pretty bad.’ He went on to produce a series of #1 hits in America for the likes of Blondie, Exile and the Knack.
Even record-producer Biddu, who had hitchhiked from India in order to move to Britain and who had gone on to help invent disco with #1 hits for Carl Douglas ('Kung Fu Fighting' in 1974) and Tina Charles ('I Love to Love' in 1976), was losing faith in his adopted country. 'I was getting very disillusioned with the scene over here, because punk had come in and I can't stand people swearing and cussing,' he remembered. 'My wife and I even thought about emigrating, we just thought the country was gong downhill, morally and in everything else. I was very disillusioned at that time.'
And then, in 1977, came the most spectacular departure of all when the England football manager, Don Revie, flew out of the country, leaving behind a letter of resignation addressed to the FA. He had secretly accepted a post as coach to the United Arab Emirates, a job whose remuneration – allowing for the absence of tax – equated to a salary of two million pounds a year in Britain, compared to the £25,000 he was actually getting as England manager.
Given those figures, it might be thought that few could blame him, but pretty much everybody did, for rats who choose to leave sinking ships are seldom honoured by the passengers obliged to remain, and Revie had precious little in the way of reputation to win over his detractors. He had already ensured England’s failure to qualify for the 1978 World Cup, and had seen the nation’s team comprehensively destroyed at Wembley by Johann Cruyff’s Holland. ‘There is no point in kidding ourselves,’ Revie admitted after that defeat, as though commenting on Britain’s economic position relative to its rivals. ‘We just couldn’t cope...’
published by Aurum Press
© Alwyn W Turner 2008