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Tuesday, 14 April, 1998, 03:00 GMT 04:00 UK
Sir Ian: loved and hated
Sir Ian MacGregor
Sir Ian MacGregor suffered a heart attack while staying with friends
The Chairman of the National Coal Board during its bitter fight with striking miners, Sir Ian MacGregor, has died after suffering a heart attack. He was 85.

Sir Ian MacGregor became ill while staying with friends in Somerset. Tributes to the Scottish-born industrialist were led by the former Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher.

The confrontation with the miners was one of the defining periods of Baroness Thatcher's government. Sir Ian led the NCB throughout the miners' strike, which began in 1984 and finished the following year. But he claimed he was a "plastic surgeon" not a butcher as his critics decried him.

The former Scottish miners' leader, Mick McGahey, said: "It's no loss to people of my ilk. MacGregor was a vicious, anti-trades unionist, anti-working class person, recruited by the Tory government quite deliberately for the purpose of destroying trade unionism in the mining industry.

"I will not suffer any grief, not will I in any way cry over the loss of Ian MacGregor."

His appointment as the head of the coal board at the age of 70 followed his success in turning around the loss-making National Steel Corporation, in part by slashing its workforce by more than half.

For many of those who lost their jobs, Sir Ian became a hate-figure. The Conservative government, however, hailed him as the saviour of Britain's traditional industries.

Lady Thatcher said: "He brought a breath of fresh air to British industry and he had such a genial personality.

"He had a tremendous way of putting things. He made a real difference and I was very grateful when he came back to this country."

Man of steel

Sir Ian was born on September 21, 1912. He received his education in both Edinburgh and Glasgow and graduated from Glasgow University with a first-class honours degree in metallurgy.

After working first for his father's British Aluminium Company and other firms, he went to the United States with the British Tank Mission to buy tanks during World War II and stayed.

He rose through the ranks of US industry to become President of American Metal Climax Incorporated in 1966.

A decade later he returned across the Atlantic to take up the post of non-executive Deputy Chairman of British Leyland.

His first brush with the adverse publicity that would for a time to be a feature of his life was when the House of Commons got official confirmation he was the man favoured for the top job at British Steel.

In May 1980, one year into Thatcher's leadership, Parliament heard the government proposed to pay a transfer fee of up to 1.8m to the US merchant bank Lazard Freres as compensation because it would lose a senior partner.

But while revolt threatened on the Tory back-benches, he described the job as "a short-term assignment".

He said: "I expect to outlive that. I expect to be gainfully employed after that."

He transferred again, to National Coal in 1983 at the request of the prime minister, resulting in a further 1.5m bonanza for Lazard Freres.

Miners' hate figure

mine
Under Sir Ian, the sun set on thousands of miners' jobs
From the start the move was deeply resented and opposed by the miners and their leaders. The head of the National Union of Mineworkers, Arthur Scargill, promptly dubbed him "the American butcher of British industry".

By the next year, the miners had gone on a national strike and Mr MacGregor risked abuse and being spat at whenever he went outside.

His commitment was honoured again by the government a year after the strike collapsed when he received his knighthood.

Esteemed and loathed perhaps in equal measure, Sir Ian will be remembered by millions, as will the era he in part came to symbolise.

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 ON THIS STORY
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Sir Ian MacGregor, speaking in 1986: "People come up to me and thank me"
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Mick McGahey: "I will not suffer any grief"
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