WILLIAM Johnson Prior, a former chairman of the Yorkshire Electricity Board who in his early career was one of an elite group of engineers trained to operate the United Kingdom’s first nuclear power stations, has died aged 86.
He spent much of his career moving round the country running the nation’s power stations and is remembered for his meticulous, efficient manner coupled with a strong sense of humour and an ability to put others before himself.
Mr Prior, who was known as Bill, was born in Goole, the only boy in a family of five children. When he was 13, the family moved to Barnsley where he attended Barnsley Holgate Grammar School.
In December 1939, he followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Yorkshire Electric Power Company as an apprentice electrical engineer at Barugh Power Station. He also enrolled at technical college by night to achieve his HNC in June 1943.
This was during the Second World War and it was noted at the time that he had sounded the air raid siren on more occasions than any other operator.
While at college he befriended a fellow student, Vivian Irving, and it was while visiting his house helping with homework that he met Mary and they married in September 1945.
At work, he advanced from switchboard attendant to shift charge engineer, moving to larger power stations, and then to Stockport Power Station as operations supervisor.
In 1952, he moved to Keadby, in North Lincolnshire, to work on the newly built power station. It was four years later, after two successful years fully running Keadby that he was chosen for training to operate nuclear stations spending time at Harwell in Berkshire and Calder Hall in Cumbria.
At that time, there was no motorway network so his journey home on alternate Fridays involved four separate trains from Cumbria or three from Harwell, making the return journey on Sunday afternoons. He was later appointed station manager for Berkeley Power Station, in Gloucestershire, taking charge a year later of what was then the UK’s biggest nuclear station being built at Hinkley Point.
After nearly three years commuting, he and the family settled in Somerset until, with Hinkley fully operational, he sought new challenges and became assistant regional director, generation, north west region, based in Manchester from 1967 to 1970, director of generation, south west region, based in Bristol for the next two years and director general south east region, based in London from 1972 to 1976.
In 1976, he was appointed to the Electricity Council where he was responsible for industrial relations, probably his least enjoyable time in the industry as it brought him into contact with Ministers and Whitehall whose short term thinking did not match his long term vision of the industry.
In the Queen’s Birthday Honours of 1979, he was awarded the CBE for services to the electricity industry.
In November that year, he became chairman of Yorkshire Electricity Board, an appointment which allowed he and his wife to return to Yorkshire, living at Kirk Deighton for 29 years and latterly in Wetherby.
A year later he became a part-time member of the National Coal Board and when he retired in 1984, became part-time chairman of the Isle of Man Electrical Authority.
He was a Chartered Engineer and a Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology.
Away from work he had a passion for trains and enjoyed Dixieland – or trad – jazz.
Mr Prior is survived by his wife of 65 years, three children, seven grandchildren and three great grandchildren.