The Story Behind the Book

Back in the early 1990s, I was privileged to research, write and compile three UK airline histories: During that time I met, interviewed and more importantly gained the trust of many of the major key players in the industry. People like Fred Newman, the chairman of Dan-Air for thirty-seven of the airline’s forty-year history, William ‘Bill’ Armstrong, the founder and chairman of Autair – and so many other airlines he could not remember them all! Ed Posey, the managing director of Court Line Aviation, who took the eventual collapse very personally, Errol Cossey, one of the three founders of Air Europe, who sold out at just the right time before moving on to found Air 2000, selling that and founding Flying Colours, selling that and…  David James, then the darling ‘Company Doctor’ of the City of London who was supposed to look after the banks interests, but fell in love with the smell of the kerosene and roar of the jets. They all saw dealing with me as being fraught with commercial danger – after all, most were still actively involved in the holiday business in one shape or form – but this understandable caution was balanced by their egos that wanted to be of assistance to ensure their story was told! Even so, they all tended to play things very close to their chests.

Since 1970, when I became involved with the creation of the aeronautical collection at Duxford, I had been fascinated by the charter airline industry that went under many names: ‘package tours’, ‘Inclusive Tours’, even ‘cheapies’. Whatever the name, it all fell under the dismissive concept of ‘Buckets and Spades to Benidorm’ by those who thought themselves as ‘travellers’, not tourists.  With the brash confidence of youth, I made contact with many of the people and companies – contact that was maintained over many years.

Since then, I have written other airline stories, but I seem to be continually drawn back to gathering material on ‘The Independents’. These research notes, first-hand interviews and audio recordings I had made lay filed away in my loft, gradually being added to as more and more information surfaced. Each book was as accurate as I could make it, but I always had the nagging doubt in the back of my mind that although they were helpful, I was also being humoured and the full story was not being revealed. There were things hinted at, and some said in confidence that I was asked not to print. Sure, everything day-to-day was told, but the background activities, the business concepts and models I sensed were being held back – like good poker players they revealed little beyond the immediate play!

Quickly I realised that many of the owners and operators were what could only be called ‘characters’.  People like the high-flying Freddie Laker – a supreme publicist with a puckish sense of humour that concealed one of civil aviation’s sharpest technical brains and a will of iron.  The cocaine snorting Harry Goodman, a cross between an East End barrow-boy and a cavalier salesman who could – and did – sell anything to anyone. Harold Bamberg, the suave, sharp-suited owner of Eagle Airways, who once the airline collapsed and was taken over, virtually disappeared. Tom Gullick, the ‘stack-em-high, sell-em-cheap’ hard-drinking managing director of Clarksons Holidays, who claimed to be the inventor of ‘vertical integration’ and the infamous ‘seat-back catering’. Vladimir Raitz, the man who many credit with starting it all with his Horizon Holidays. The wonderful Monique Agazarian, who in the 1950s owned Island Air Services and who used to run scheduled services flights across the channel and pleasure flights from London Heathrow – and who later owned and operated a flight simulator complex in the basement of the Piccadilly Hotel just off Piccadilly Circus under the advertising slogan of ‘Fly Down Piccadilly’! The dour, secretive and monosyllabic ‘Captain’ T E D Langton, the tour operator who wanted his own airline, J E D  Williams who created the airline that had the old lady in a wheelchair on the tails of their aircraft… They are just a few of the many that had a tale to tell, but for whatever reason were reticent.

One who was not was television personality Hughie Green, who many do not know was a commercial pilot, and who worked for Langdon in the early days. Hughie Green was surprised and very providing of information when I called him out of the blue.

The package holiday has undoubtedly changed the way we live. It has influenced what we eat and what we drink. Its brochures changed our dreams and aspirations; indeed, the evolution of the holiday brochure is nothing less than a template for the graphic designers’ art!

Despite the occasional outbreak of loutish behaviour by Brits abroad – usually blown up to the extreme by the British media – it is likely that the annual holiday has produced an overall gain in international understanding and a reduction in blinkered nationalism.

From rickety Rapides to draughty Dakotas, through turbo-props to Tangier and turbines to Thessaloniki these travel and aviation entrepreneurs opened up the Mediterranean – and then set their sights on further afield, changing the landscape wherever they landed.

Without a doubt, the convenience and perceived security of the inclusive tour holiday – carried to the extreme with the all-inclusive deal – will ensure the survival of those prepared to adapt indeed survive.

The ‘package deal’ broke the protectionist policies of the state airlines and, through the introduction of seat-only deals, spawned the low-cost airlines offering rock-bottom deals to European destinations.

One airline that always stood out for me was Britannia Airways – even in the early days the company had a certain mystique about it. There was always an air of ‘class’ there; something that suggested a certain prepossessing ‘Britishness’ that seemed to click with the aspiring middle classes. It was an airline that I always planned on telling its story – and now seems a good a time as any since it has disappeared into the corporate conglomerate that is TUI. Those three letters apparently pronounced ‘too-ee’ – is short for Touristik Union International – an Anglo-German travel and tourism conglomerate headquartered in Hannover, Germany. It is currently the largest leisure, travel and tourism company in the world,  and owns travel agencies, hotels, airlines, cruise ships and retail stores. The group owns a number of European airlines that currently make up the largest holiday fleet in Europe – and several European tour operators.

To tell the story of Britannia Airways – and its predecessor Euravia – is impossible without telling the story of Universal Sky Tours and Thomson Travel, for theirs was a truly symbiotic relationship. They each needed the other to exist and thrive, despite the cut-throat competition with margins cut to the bone.

Much of the airline’s identity came from the Lady Britannia emblem painted large on the tails of their airliner fleet. Britannia was the female personification of the British Isles, who has been a popular figure since the first century when she was first depicted as a warrior goddess. It was seen as a symbol of British unity, liberty and strength, that meant she often resurfaced during particularly challenging times. Like Columbia in the US and Marianne in France, Britannia became more prominent in times of war or when national pride was booming.

Her appearance in the 17th century came not long after James I brought together England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland under one rule, and more recently the Cool Britannia movement heralded a time of renewed optimism.

In the eyes of many, Britannia screamed all that they saw as being good about Great Britain. Here, therefore, was a heritage, image and ideal that the airline could use to its own best advantage – even if many of the staff somewhat disparagingly nicknamed the logo ‘the old lady in a wheelchair’. Through the use of the logo, to the red, white and blue colour schemes and the traditional Shepherds – or was it Cottage? –  Pie inflight meal that seemed to be served on every return journey that offered an onboard ‘welcome home to Blighty’, Britannia Airways personified an upbeat, up-market image, that made use of the latest equipment, flying to destinations that were always stretching the realms of the new British Empire of the UK travelling public.

On a practical level, throughout this book are scattered numerous covers of assorted Inflight magazines and some advertising material. Most are not captioned, for they are usually self-explanatory – they are intended to jog the reader’s memory into thinking ‘…oh! I remember seeing that!’

Of the many hundreds of images I have used in this book, I make no apologies for the lack of quality in some. Today, in 2020, we have all been spoiled by the ability to take hundreds of pin-sharp digital images whenever and wherever we want. Some readers, I am sure, are not even old enough to remember the days of ‘Instamatic’ camera with twelve shot cartridge films that were in use when I first saw Britannia’s Brits. These images were often printed up on horrible ‘orange-peel’ textured paper, that when scanned, often appear out of focus! Even with a thirty-five-millimetre camera, the cost of film, processing and printing meant that images had to be rationed. Many of the pictures used are from personal collections; some are repairs of company promotional material, a few are from newspaper cuttings pasted in albums without credit.  All, however, are historic in the sense that they show aspects of the company and its forerunners story.

I combined all in this book!

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