First Visit?

Posted in General with tags , , , , , , , on 20/11/2008 by Kenneth C. Ryeland
The Author

The Author

Welcome. Please have a look and find out more about my work. The fiction is primarily based on my own experiences whilst living and working in West Africa during the 1960s and 70s; whereas the memoirs are factual accounts of my apprenticeship, my adventures inside secessionist Biafra and my first job with British Leyland after my return to the UK. I will be posting news, extracts from each book and reviews to provide a flavour of the stories. If you like what you’ve read and wish to order any of them, they are available from a wide range of online bookshops in both paperback and e-book format – have a look at the “Ordering” section listed under “Information” at the top of the right hand column to see titles and availability. To return to this page simply click on the “African Tales” title situated at the top of every page.

Fascinating Insight into the “Dark Days” of British Car Exports

Posted in Birmingham, British Leyland, Far East, Jaguar, Rover, Triumph, Meteor Works, Reviews, Solihull on 25/08/2020 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

“Leyland Rover” If you are looking for a good read I would recommend this paperback by Kenneth C. Ryeland who in the 1970s was an Overseas Service Engineer for British Leyland, with responsibility for a vast area of the globe stretching from Afghanistan to Japan.

Initially a Rover employee, his role expanded through various reorganisations to cover all British Leyland car models as well as Land Rover.
Distributors in a host of countries had to be visited, the quality of service checked, warranty claims audited, and problems resolved.
It’s partly an autobiography and travel log, laced with many amusing anecdotes.
But unsurprisingly the book is peppered with fascinating insights into challenges faced by British Leyland in export territories in that period, not least the rise of the Japanese car industry.

With the company handicapped by quality and supply issues, a legacy of low investment and bad industrial relations, British Leyland’s customers defected to Japanese brands in droves in markets like Thailand. A story well illustrated by this book which at times reads rather like the ship’s log of Titanic.
There are some toe-curlingly terrible accounts of product deficiencies, from unreliable Marina diesels in Singapore to shoddy Jaguar paintwork prompting resprays in Hong Kong.

The one product which remained in high demand across the region was the Land Rover and it’s depressing to read they were practically unobtainable, with Solihull building them at a leisurely pace under “stint and finish” and with British Leyland failing to invest in raising output (until the late ’70s). Most were assembled from kits in the Far East, and those kits often arrived lacking key components.

So although there are quite a few flashes of humour in this account, it ends on a depressing note reflecting the losing battle the author was fighting in his job: “I’m not suggesting that all our vehicles were faulty, badly designed or poorly built, but far too many of them were, and that kills customer goodwill faster than anything”.

Things got better in time, but this is a good account of a period when Britain’s vehicle industry was in retreat worldwide.

**** (4 stars)


Review of Leyland Rover “A fascinating read about an era that is long gone”

Posted in Birmingham, British Leyland, Far East, Jaguar, Rover, Triumph, Meteor Works, Solihull on 16/06/2018 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

During the 1970s the author worked for British Leyland as an overseas service engineer covering South East Asia. In terms of geography, his South East Asian territory covered a wide area ranging from Afghanistan in the west to Japan in the East. In terms of products, these ranged from Austin, Morris and MG cars, through Triumph, Rover and Jaguar cars to Land-Rover and Range Rover.

British Leyland, in its various guises, incorporated much of the British-owned motor vehicle industry with about 40 per cent of the domestic car market. It was also Britain’s largest exporter. Its overseas operations were largely conducted through a network of distributors, each with their own branches across the country in question. Vehicles were either shipped completely built or partially built for local assembly. The company’s history of mergers and acquisitions meant that some markets had multiple distributors.

Throughout the 1970s, Britain was plagued by industrial turmoil, frequently bringing manufacturing capability to its knees. This is nowhere better demonstrated than in the British Leyland car plants in the UK. The British Leyland story is one of lack of investment, weak management, disastrous labour relations, mediocre product design, poor build quality, product shortages, erosion of market share and above all, missed opportunities.

Kenneth Ryeland paints a vivid picture of the work of an overseas service engineer and in doing so reveals the complex operations of a British export manufacturer in a wide variety of countries and cultures. His role was essentially that of international troubleshooter, more often than not acting as the sole representative of the manufacturer. As well as auditing and reporting upon the performance of the distributor, he sought to establish good relations with key distributor management, to praise high performing distributors, help and cajole others to improve in various ways and provide reassurance and advice to customers.

A natural storyteller, Kenneth C. Ryeland’s latest book is a fascinating read and contains many anecdotes from his extensive travels. It should have a broad range of appeal. The book is essentially chronological and most of the countries are given their own chapter. It is an excellent contribution to the history of the British automotive industry of the era – an era that is now long gone.

***** (five stars)

Dr Peter McCree

Review of Leyland Rover “A fine book”

Posted in Birmingham, British Leyland, Far East, Jaguar, Rover, Triumph, Meteor Works, Reviews, Solihull on 10/06/2018 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

COVERV1Leyland Rover is a fine book describing the trials and tribulations interspersed with descriptions of friendship and success of a now largely forgotten time when this country was a major manufacturer with many overseas markets for its goods.

Kenneth C Ryeland was a product of the days when young men with a talent for engineering could progress from school to an apprenticeship; attend Technical College, get that hard to obtain ONC and HNC in Electrical or Mechanical Engineering and then step out into the world of work.

Ken worked for Rover and subsequently Leyland and in this book, he describes his experiences as a young married man, leaving a wife and three children at home whilst he visited Rover’s Far East markets, countries such as India, Thailand, Malaysia etc.

His job? To ensure that the Dealers and Distributors of Leyland cars and Land Rovers provided top class after sales service to their customers.

Along the way, Ken had to contend with not only the language difficulties but also the huge cultural and work ethic disparities compared to the UK. Ken was obviously a dedicated and committed employee and throughout his career he gave of his very best to the company and ensured that Leyland managed to hold on to markets where the lack of availability of its products, extended production times and the lack of build quality against a background of industrial strife, made his job all but impossible.

A lovely easy to read book of a time when despite our decreasing influence in the world, we still made vehicles which engendered a loyalty, which the management and decision makers at home sadly ignored.

***** (Five Stars)

Gordon Stringer.

Leyland Rover Now published as a paperback and e-book

Posted in British Leyland, Far East, Jaguar, Rover, Triumph, Meteor Works, Solihull on 22/03/2018 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

Check out my latest book now available as an e-book on Smashwords and an e-book and  paperback on all Amazon and other bookshop sites. See the description below.

My Latest Book Out Now!

Posted in British Leyland, Far East, Jaguar, Rover, Triumph, Meteor Works, Solihull on 07/02/2018 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

COVERV1Leyland Rover is an account of Ken Ryeland’s several tours of the Far East as a service engineer for British Leyland during the early 1970s. After serving an engineering apprenticeship and several years working in Nigeria, Ryeland and his family returned to the UK, where he joined the Rover Company at Solihull. His task was to audit the company’s UK distributor network, checking the quality of service offered to car and Land-Rover customers. Twelve months later he joined Rover/Triumph’s overseas service department and further reorganisations under the British Leyland International banner added Jaguar and Austin/Morris vehicles to his responsibilities. Ryeland’s apprenticeship, previous overseas experience and thorough knowledge of the products paid dividends, enabling him to ensure that Leyland’s Far East distributors conformed to all operational and engineering standards. Not easy when strikes, poor build quality, indiscriminate sales policies and sheer bloody-mindedness conspired to frustrate his efforts; and that was just the UK side of the business. The culture and different working practices in the various countries presented even greater challenges for Ryeland. Held hostage by the military in Malaysia; interrogated by police in Afghanistan; hospitalised in Thailand and summoned by the king in Nepal; just a few of the trials and tribulations faced by Ryeland when attending his ‘patch’.

It’s a sequel to The Up-Country Man, and is available as an e-book on Smashwords and an e-book and paperback on all Amazon and other bookshop sites now.

My book is now available on Amazon and Smashwords!

Posted in Apprenticeship, Birmingham, British Railways, Training with tags , , , , , , on 25/03/2016 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

apprenticecover4amTime Well Spent is the prequel to The Up-Country Man and a personal account of Ken Ryeland’s training as a motor fitter in Birmingham, where he served his apprenticeship with British Railways (London Midland Region) from 1957 to 1963. (Presented in both e-book format and paperback)

Birmingham, the veritable “Workshop of the World”, could offer a limitless variety of industrial and clerical jobs during the 1950s. Work was so plentiful in those days that it was possible to resign from one company in the morning and start work at another by lunch time on the same day. Many skilled men took advantage of this happy situation by changing jobs if they could secure an extra few pennies an hour over their current rate. Any young man wanting a job could find one easily, so when Ken Ryeland was about to leave school at the age of fifteen to venture into the world of work for the first time, he had plenty of scope. However, rather than allow his son to settle for any old job, Ken’s father was determined to guide him into something worthwhile. Young Ryeland was told by his father that he could aim for any job he liked, provided he agreed to serve a proper apprenticeship. Little did Ken realise at the time how much of an influence this wise fatherly advice would have on his future life.
Cover Photo: Bill Aldridge Collection. A fitter and his apprentice (identities unknown) removing the engine from a British Railways'(London Midland Region)Scammell Scarab, circa 1957.

Review of The Up-Country Man “An Absolutely Riveting Book”

Posted in africa, Biafra, Civil War, nigeria, Reviews, Tribalism, West Africa on 27/06/2013 by Kenneth C. Ryeland


An absolutely riveting book! The events in Biafra in the sixties seem like an age away, so this is real, living history. It all happened less than 50 years ago and is reliably and entertainingly recounted by the author who lived through it all. An excellent book if you were alive at the time and want an inside view of what was happening, or for younger people, who are bored by the safe, gap years of today’s litigious culture and yearn for the days of real life and death adventure.

***** (five stars)

Are You a Fellow MV Isonzo Refugee?

Posted in africa, Biafra, Civil War, nigeria, West Africa with tags , , , , , , on 10/04/2013 by Kenneth C. Ryeland
The evacuation ship: MV ISONZO

The evacuation ship: MV ISONZO

On a hot, sultry afternoon in July 1967, a small Italian freighter eased itself away from the quay at Port Harcourt in Eastern Nigeria, or Biafra as it had become by then. On board were 800 or so expatriates who were being evacuated from Biafra to the comparative safety of Lagos in Federal Nigeria. The ship, the MV Isonzo, was the only way out of the rebel enclave as Federal Nigerian troops closed in on the township for the final assault. There were many nationalities on board including British, American, Dutch, Israeli, Japanese and Italian, all of whom had previously worked in Enugu, the regional capital, or Port Harcourt the region’s major sea port. An account of my adventures in Biafra is detailed in my memoir entitled The Up-Country Man, which is featured on this page. It’s the story of a young British engineer, (me), straight out from England, who was posted to Enugu just as the Nigerian civil war began and the book relates some of the problems and difficulties encountered by a white man living in an enclave of determined indigenous people. Roadblocks, marauding Biafran soldiers, food shortages and the secret police caused many problems for the small contingent of Europeans remaining in Enugu, not to mention the trauma of the final evacuation itself. Since the evacuation, I have only managed to make contact with one or two people who were aboard the Isonzo, or resident in Port Harcourt at the time and I would like to make contact with others if possible. Were you on that small Italian freighter? Do you know anyone who was on that ship? If so, perhaps you would be kind enough to make contact using the comments facility or by means of my e-mail address (top right hand column).

Review of The Mine “A Real Page-Turner”

Posted in africa, Civil War, General, nepotism, Reviews, Tribalism, West Africa with tags , , , , on 05/04/2013 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

themineThe author has a real problem at the beginning of this book and that is getting the reader to appreciate the complicated historical, social and political background that is vital to the story he is about to tell. However, once this phase of the novel is over, the story grips the reader and Ryeland’s real skills come to the fore.

The strengths of the book come from the author’s effortless command of the complex series of plots and sub-plots underpinning and driving the story. It is admirable how Ryeland balances so many balls in the air at the same time, keeping the reader keen to find out how the trick will work out in the end as the juggler finishes his final act with a flourish.

At the same time as the author is entertaining us with a multi-faceted thriller, we are being shown insights into the world of post-colonial Africa. If some of the scenes of utter corruption seem far-fetched to readers who have never experienced it, I can assure them that from my own experience of living in West Africa at the time, the picture Ryeland draws up of betrayal, sleaze, bribery and the general cheapness of human life is an accurate portrait of the times and is probably still reliable today, if news reports from the area are anything to go by. Ryeland’s Nibana may be imaginary, but the Nigeria on which it is based (and whose history it shadows so closely) really was the fraud-ridden, chaotic, divided nation of this book.

The book can be depressing at times, since with the exception of the three main heroes, everyone else in the novel is on the make or else pursuing their own political ambitions. Honest, decent men in Africa of the calibre of Bello do appear to be sadly thin on the ground. However, this trio of good men certainly arouse our approval and by this means the author ensures that the reader cares what happens to them as well as focusing our sympathies on their plight as the novel develops.

I would guess that some people might find some of the minor characters in the book to be rather two-dimensional. However, I would come to the author’s defence by noting that the kind of pompous and insensitive “cartoon” attitudes shown by the High Commissioner (for example) are in fact accurate portrayals of the public personas that those characters exhibited to the world at the time. The bar at the Ikoyi Club, in Lagos, where expatriates met to socialise, was full of such apparent “caricatures” when I frequented it as a child.

Having said all that, “The Mine” is a real page-turner. The reader will surely be anxious to find out how the various plot strands come together and who will survive the violent times in which the characters find themselves: times in which power seeking military bullies and corrupt officials covering their asses are only too willing to utilize people and then cast them aside.

Like Ryeland’s other books set in West Africa, “The Mine” is also a valuable document that records (from a largely European perspective) the reality of Africa at a vital time in its development. Historical records of the time might give readers a dry account of the facts and figures of the conflict that resulted from the first serious attempt to redraw the map of post-colonial Africa, but Ryeland’s novel gives us an insight into what it was actually like to be there among all the turmoil and chaos.

**** (4 stars)

Berni Armstrong

The Story Behind the Story of The Last Bature

Posted in General, Tribalism, West Africa with tags , , , , on 19/02/2013 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

LastBatureReaders will have gathered that I spent some time in West Africa, particularly Nigeria, during the sixties, where I worked, initially as a service manager and later a branch manager, for a British company (BEWAC) dealing in Land-Rovers, Leyland trucks and buses and Massey Ferguson agricultural products. My position gave me access to all sorts of people and not least the senior officers of the police, who used Land-Rovers extensively throughout the region. The Last Bature is a policeman’s tale, but let me first explain the word “Bature” (pronounced Batuuree). It is a Hausa word and Hausa is the Lingua Franca of the northern sector of many of the countries along the West African coast and is therefore spoken widely in Northern Nigeria. It means white man, European or senior government officer. All three terms being mutually interchangeable and thus any Caucasian male official in the north of Nigeria was addressed and referred to as “Bature”. I was known as Moto Bature (Moto meaning of course Motor) and my bank manager friend was called Kudi Bature (Kudi meaning Money). Therefore, the title of the book indicates that the holder was the last white policeman in the territory. The main protagonist in my book is Senior District Police Officer, Mike Stevens who tries to avert a major catastrophe while the country, Nibana, a fictitious ex-British colony, lurches into yet another coup, which eventually leads to civil war. The character of Mike Stevens is based on a police officer that I actually knew well, and our hero in the book exhibits exactly the same attributes as the real officer. He is honest, treats everyone equally and trucks no nonsense from anyone, African or European. Indeed the first chapter of the book details a scene at the Club (A virtual oasis for Europeans in a country with a climate and culture so very different from our own) which I actually witnessed and clearly illustrates the integrity of the senior police officer I was pleased to call my friend. Like my character in the book, he was the last bature in the force and when he finally retired, it was a very sad day for the territory and for the police force too. When he left the country to return to England, the small airport building was packed with expatriates of all nationalities, together with many senior African police officers, to see him off in the traditional manner. Though he has now sadly passed away, I will never forgot my old police pal and so I used him as my hero in The Last Bature as a sign of respect and gratitude for him having been such a loyal friend.