Comment – Happy 70th birthday to JCB

As JCB celebrates its 70th birthday, we look back at our own memories of a Great British company.

I first visited the JCB World Headquarters in April 1989, and to say it was a flying visit is the understatement of the Century. I was part of the two-man route-finding and navigation team that successfully steered HE Services’ Hugh Edeleanu and his modified 3CX “Landshuttle” to a John O’Groats to Lands End speed record.

As part of that record attempt, our convoy swung through the JCB headquarters where the manufacturer had laid on a backhoe loader guard of honour. (If you look really closely, you might spot me – long hair, innocent eyes – in this sepia-tinted video from a pre-video age.) Little did we all realise that while we were meandering through Staffordshire, high on life and diesel fumes, 96 football fans were losing their lives in the Hillsborough disaster.

Almost exactly a year later, the company sent – by helicopter if my former colleagues are to be believed – a china teapot in the shape of a backhoe loader to mark my wedding day. Appropriate as, thanks to those same colleagues, my wife and I arrived at our wedding reception in a 3CX having been unceremoniously hijacked en route. Although it has never brewed a cuppa in anger, that teapot still has pride of place in my kitchen today.

I have been back pretty much once a year ever since. And while journalistic integrity and impartiality normally forbids such revelations, it is a trip that I always look forward to. I am in no position to judge their machines from anything but an aesthetic standpoint as – thankfully for the world at large – I do not earn my living sat behind the levers of one. But you can take it from me that no-one in the construction equipment world is quite so welcoming and quite so accommodating as JCB.

Twenty-six years and 30+ visits to the Rocester HQ has thrown up far too many memories to recount here. So I will just offer this one in particular.

On one occasion, the massed ranks of the construction trade press were gathered to see the launch of a new generation backhoe loader. We were assembled in a glass-fronted viewing area overlooking a demonstration area. At the appointed time (and trust me, JCB does not DO late) a single spotlight picked out the figure of a ballerina on a podium doing something from Swan Lake (I am no expert in these matters) when suddenly a battered old rival brand backhoe burst onto the scene and – using its four in one bucket – began snapping at the ballerina. Out of the midst of the press, a guy who – with the benefit of hindsight – looked a bit like Clark Kent, leapt to his feet and disappeared up through the roof only to re-emerge “flying” Superman-like down a zip wire. He ripped a JCB logo off the wall and bounced a laser beam at the crusty old backhoe causing it to explode before whisking the distressed damsel to safety.

You really had to be there.

Despite the fact that I have been there so many times that my car now knows the way, I always relish the next return visit. Part of that is due to the fact that the company and its staff are so welcoming; part of it is probably because – as a Brit – it’s great to see a British company thriving; and part of it is for the chance to share the heritage of a company that started life in a shed but which has gone on to become a globally-recognised brand.

They have been a constant presence in my business (and, occasionally, personal) life for almost 30 years so I shall be raising a glass in their honour tomorrow as the company celebrates its 70th birthday.

We have grown older (and, perhaps, wiser) together and I shall dread the day that my invitations to the JCB World Headquarters stop dropping through the (electronic) letterbox.

To view an exclusive video of 70 years of JCB in 70 photos/70 seconds, please click here.