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In Britain in the 1920s and 30s, a revolution took place
that would change forever our perspective on the world.
Driven by a spirit of Modernism and adventure, dashing pilots and daring
socialites took to the air, pushed back boundaries and forged new links across the globe.
Air travel was born.
It was clearly the mode of travel of the future.
It was bright, fast, sophisticated... It had all kinds
of allure attached to it that was extraneous to the idea of flight.
Caught in the grip of the Great Depression, life on the ground was bleak,
but in the air, the first passenger flights gave birth
to a decadent high-life that flew in the face of economic adversity.
For two glorious decades, Britain ruled the sky and ruled it in style.
When you look through diaries and autobiographies and photograph albums
of the most affluent people from the 1930s, travel is dominant.
It was all so new that people expected the kind of experience you'd get in the Ritz.
They expected it to be as they imagined a luxurious experience would be,
partly because they paid so much to do it,
but partly also because it was so new and exciting.
This was a time where flying was a passport to fantasy and adventure
for the wealthy passengers and pioneering pilots
who soared above the clouds, a world away from the low-budget, no-frills airlines of today.
This is the story of the golden age of British aviation, and of how
the original jet set shaped air travel for generations to come.
When the First World War began, planes had been in the sky for just 11 years.
Once scoffed at by generals, by the end of the war,
they were offering different and exciting opportunities.
Just before the end of the First World War,
there is a whole series of questions asked about what is British aviation
going to look like at the end of the First World War?
Can we use the surplus aircraft and the skills of aircrews
to create a Civil Aviation Organisation?
By February 1919, Britain's first Department of Civil Aviation was formed
to oversee a burgeoning new industry,
as the first independent airlines started to transport cargo across Europe.
But soon these flights were to carry passengers as well
and first on board in July 1919 was a Lancashire businessman, Colonel William Pilkington.
The very first commercial flight was a businessman,
a man from Pilkington Glass, no less, who had read in the newspapers
that it was going to be possible to fly to Paris.
So he phoned up Air Transport and Travel and said,
"Can I have an airplane to take me to Paris?"
And they said, "Well, I suppose so."
Anyway, Mr Pilkington turned up at Hounslow, had a wonderful trip to Paris.
The pilot stayed overnight with them, and he flew back the next day.
Six weeks later, in August 1919,
the world's first scheduled international service was launched,
between Hounslow Heath and Paris.
On board were several brace of grouse, some Devonshire clotted cream
and one paying passenger.
But in these so-called stick and string planes, built for fighting,
there was little in the way of creature comforts.
The earliest planes, despite at the time
seeming like something from the future, were actually very primitive.
I mean, they had three or four controls.
They had to fly blind a lot of the time.
Ventilation was through holes in the cabin, effectively.
And the seats were just the sort of seats you might have at home.
So they were very primitive.
Toilet facilities were really just a bucket with a curtain round it.
It wasn't terribly private, but it was at the back of the aircraft
and all the other people were looking forwards,
and there was so much engine noise and vibration that nobody would
hear anything unless you had a particularly upset stomach.
But by the mid-1920s, developments in aircraft design and technology,
much of it spearheaded by British companies such as Handley Page,
de Havilland and Armstrong Whitworth, were to produce
both beautiful and innovative aeroplanes.
In 1923, the Government decided to merge four
small struggling companies into one major subsidised airline.
Imperial Airways was to be Britain's official air link with the rest of the world.
Getting Britain into the air and showing that Britain was abreast
of modern technology was a statement about modernity. It was a statement about technological prowess.
And that was really important cos the Dutch were starting to do this,
the Americans were doing this, the Germans were getting in on the act.
So Britain really had to do it in a sense, in order to hold her head high.
Imperial Airways, really they were pioneers, like the pilots who worked for them.
And I think, to some extent, they really didn't know.
It was like space travel in the 1950s and 60s.
It was all so new, they had to work it out as they went along.
You can tell, too, from the name - Imperial Airways -
they felt that this was a way to make the Empire, which still existed, smaller.
Diplomats could travel around,
so it was part of that move
to ensure that the empire remained stable.
Most of the people who travelled were diplomats and government people. No-one else could afford it.
As Britain's ambassador in the air, Imperial Airways was set for its maiden flight to Paris
on the auspicious and the unfortunate date of April 1st, 1924.
In true British style,
the pilots all decided to go on strike,
so Imperial Airways didn't actually get itself into the air
for a little while after the date of its formation,
but if you're going to do something properly, start with a damn good strike, you know, it's very British.
On 24th April 1924, Imperial Airways finally took off
as it made its first flight to Paris.
Within a year, the airline was also operating services to Basil, Brussels and Cologne, from its new
base in Croydon, where a small grass airfield had been transformed
into Britain's major airport.
After the horrors of the First World War, life was moving to a different
beat for the bright young things of the roaring '20s.
And they were quick to see the attractions of air travel,
despite the limitations of the early passenger planes.
This was an airliner of the period, lumbering to our eyes, but astonishingly efficient.
Already we had airports.
This was Croydon, bright, gleaming new field for London.
The tower, the passenger reception, customs area, control,
weather section... Yes, the pattern was already there,
and it was all working as smoothly and safely as taking a bus.
# Happy feet I've got those happy feet... #
Not only did the high flyers wish to travel to exciting locations,
they wanted to do so at a pace that suited their modern lifestyle.
# When they hear a tune
# I can't control the dancing, dear, To save my soul... #
This quickening of the pace, which is metaphorical as well as
actual, is one of the interesting things about the inter-war era.
The kind of platinum shinyness of life, the rapidity,
the idea of going places very fast.
# Cos I've got those hap-hap-happy Ba-da-da-da! #
Speed was an essential part of it.
Chroniclers of the time make the point that the moneyed
young man or woman about town lived life in a kind of perpetual transit.
If you went out to dinner, you didn't just do it at one restaurant -
you trailed around the West End by taxi from one to another,
and then back to somewhere else to finish the evening off.
Air travel, newly arrived on the social scene, was an essential extension of this,
in that if you could get to Paris in a couple of hours
to sort of extend your social life over there,
this was immensely congenial to the young person with
too much money and not enough to do with their spare time.
But for the young and wealthy, speed was not the only requirement for modern travel.
If they were to go by plane, they had to do so in the comfort
and style to which they had become accustomed,
on five-star ocean liners.
Ocean travel was one of the most luxurious things
that man could be exposed to.
It set new standards for catering, accommodation and entertainment.
People were expecting to have this level of comfort and luxury,
and so, gradually, Imperial Airways
began to realise that they could court more custom
by offering the trappings of comfort.
These people are boarding an airliner, to be the first ever to view a motion picture in mid-air.
To compete with the luxury liners, Imperial Airways experimented
with ways of entertaining their passengers.
And in 1925, even introduced the world's first in-flight movie.
Two years later, the airline launched its Silver Wing service to Paris.
Expensive and exclusive, this was the original first class air travel.
Flying today is about moving maximum numbers of people for minimal cost.
During the 1920s, it was the exact opposite.
Travelling by air wasn't just about getting from A to B as fast
and as painlessly as possible -
the process was part of the pleasure because it was so luxurious.
# It don't mean a thing If it ain't got that swing... #
When you were planning to fly, you notified
the airline when you wanted to fly,
they sent you a ticket and they would usually send a limousine
to come and collect you from your home.
And then you would go into the departure shed,
and there, certainly to begin with, it was essential that
the aircraft wasn't too heavy,
so they weighed your baggage and they also weighed you.
Baggage allowance was 30lbs - less than most airlines permit today -
but additional luggage could be sent ahead on a separate flight.
Everything was geared towards giving passengers a first-class service, including a stress-free check-in.
From getting out of your car to getting on to the aircraft
was no more than eight or nine minutes.
For £11, an average monthly wage, the wealthy got to enjoy luxury travel to Paris
on a state-of-the-art, three-engined airliner,
whilst revelling in the new experience of taking to the sky.
And people would begin to look out and see the countryside going past.
And they'd say, "My God, I'm flying."
And there was the sense of being like a bird.
It was a wonderful, exciting, euphoric experience to go and fly.
And it was a euphoria in considerable style.
With its Silver Wing service, Imperial Airways offered all
the trappings of the luxury ocean liner,
including the first airline steward.
For the steward, it was gloves, a white jacket. They represented the airline,
and they represented this luxurious experience,
so they had to look the part. I mean, they had to be immaculate.
The steward on board would set up a table,
or part of the chair in front as the table, with a tablecloth,
a full complementary set of cutlery,
matching glasses and napkins, possibly even a rose in a vase.
The food was predominantly kept warm.
It had been pre-cooked, either at the airport or had come from some rather stylish restaurants,
but it still had to be served in a manner. So meat would be plattered.
Vegetables would go into tureens, and it would be spoon and fork service the whole way through.
You would expect the same service on Silver Wing as you would perhaps get at Claridges.
Most of the stewards had all served apprenticeships as waiters.
And waiters then knew everything about food.
They could describe a dish.
And if they were wine waiters, they could describe the wine.
And it was a profession.
And everything in those days was all silver and all bone china.
It was really something.
The main course sometimes consisted of a rib of beef.
And it used to go on to the trolley, and you used to carve it.
Put it onto the plate, with the vegetables.
That was it. Sweet was exactly the same.
It was served sweet with whatever you wanted, champagne and everything else.
And cheese and biscuits. And eventually coffee and liqueurs.
That was a first-class meal service.
Although the dining service was first class, in other respects, the flights were still basic.
The planes could only fly during the day, and still didn't have any seat belts.
And one particularly important in-flight facility was in desperate need of an upgrade.
Toilets started out being rather primitive,
but they did become an essential feature
of the airliner quite early on.
And they were made rather primitive right up until 1930,
with the introduction of the big H.P.42 biplanes.
They did have proper washrooms with water and a basin
where you could wash your hands.
The Handley Page 42 represented a huge step forward in civil aviation.
Not only did it provide a proper washroom - it had the interior of a first class rail carriage.
The H.P.42 also became renowned for its remarkable safety record.
In doing so, it helped restore the faith in commercial aviation after an Imperial Airways plane
had ditched into the English Channel in 1929, claiming the lives of seven passengers
and prompting calls in the press for flying to be restricted to adventurers and fighter pilots.
I mean, these planes had to be wrestled through the air.
None of the controls... were power controls.
It was all manual,
so it was difficult, it was hard work.
And it was dangerous. The planes weren't as good as they are now,
but the pilots were amazing. There should've been far more crashes than there were.
The first men to fly commercial airplanes were fighter pilots from World War 1.
But over time, many of them were replaced by a new generation of flyers - men whose style and grace
created the iconic image of the dashing airline captain.
One such pilot was Ron Valentine, from Plymouth.
In an illustrious career,
he was to break several aviation speed records,
and fly VIPs, from the Queen to Charles de Gaulle, around the world.
My husband was taken up as a small boy by his father.
And he said that from that minute onward,
he was absolutely sold on the idea of flying.
The first flying he did was the Silver Wing service
to Paris, and...
they had some very interesting passengers,
because it was very much a luxury flight then.
Oh, people like the Aga Khan, and minor royalty and so on.
And he said the stewards all loved the Aga Khan
cos he used to give them racing tips!
I think as a young man it was very exciting to meet all these people.
And they also, they made a big fuss of the captains, you see,
cos they were rather thin on the ground in those days.
So they were very chuffed when the VIPs...
And they always used to go back and socialise and talk to the passengers.
They weren't just the driver, you know.
They were in command, they had to look after the passengers in every sense.
# Every time
# We say goodbye, I die... #
In these early ones, he doesn't have a moustache.
And then he grew a moustache,
cos he said he thought it made him look older.
Because I think he was only 22 or something when he got his command.
# I wonder why a little... #
He was always impeccably dressed except, as my family said,
when he was gardening, when he was incredibly scruffy.
He wore all his old clothes.
And very fussy, always fastidious about his clothes, his appearance.
Pilots like Ron enjoyed a glamorous lifestyle to rival that of their passengers.
They too were part of the early jet set.
He would have three days in a Rome,
three days in Beirut, three days or four or five days in Hong Kong.
And so he had friends all over the world.
So they became my friends too.
# There's no love song finer... #
When Cherie met Ron at the age of 22, she was swept off her feet by the handsome young pilot.
But standing in the way of true love
was one particular clause in Ron's contract with Imperial Airways.
# We say goodbye... #
"Clause 19 lays down special regulations concerning the marriage of a captain.
"This is necessary because the operations of the company
"necessitate a considerable proportion of its flying personnel
"remaining unmarried."
What it meant for me was that when we wanted to get married,
we had to go to the station manager, who was Robert,
later Sir Robert Maxwell, who very kindly took us out
to lunch and inspected me, and gave us permission.
And remained a friend for life.
# Every time
# We say goodbye... #
For millions of ordinary British people,
life was extraordinarily grim at the beginning of the 1930s.
As the Great Depression overwhelmed the country, industries collapsed
and unemployment soared, leaving over two and a half million people jobless.
In sharp contrast, those who were immune to such economic hardships
continued to gather at Croydon Airport,
their glamorous gateway to the high life.
- TV BROADCAST: - 'The huge Imperial Airways plane Syrinx descends at Croydon coming to rest
'like some giant liner pulling into dock, Lady Willingdon on board.'
It very much was the haves and have-nots.
Margaret Fontaine, Lord Astor, these sorts of people were travelling.
The super-rich - the Vanderbilts from America. Not Joe Bloggs.
Croydon was a little spectacle, a little theatre of Imperial endeavour.
The cameras were here. I've got a feeling that Imperial, if not Imperial possibly Croydon itself,
had the equivalent of the Heathrow photographer, who was a celebrity spotter.
And the Imperial News Magazine is filled with photographs of eminent
people arriving and departing from this airport over a ten-year period.
While Croydon was the way out of Britain, for the fashionable high-flyers in pursuit of style,
glamour and perhaps a little romance, one destination above all was to be an irresistible magnet.
During the 1920s and '30s, Paris was absolutely indisputably the cultural centre of the world.
It was a centre of design, of painting and also the centre
of the most luxurious haute couture fashion.
Wealthy women had travelled to Paris to buy clothes during the 1910s and 1920s,
but what was so significant about the 1930s is that, rather than it taking days,
they could fly to Paris in just over three hours to buy clothes and come home again.
There are two words that come to mind when we think about flying.
One is glamour and one is luxury.
And we see those come together in the most exclusive fashion magazines
such as Vogue, which features airplanes in 1937 on its cover.
Air travel at that time really was an elitist thing.
You needed money and you needed lots of it.
Not only for the flying, but for every inch of gorgeous fabric she is wearing.
This is a gorgeous English dress...
..most definitely cut off the bias,
care of our designer V&A in Paris.
It has got a great fluidity in its movement,
as you can see when Jane swings a bit, the movement of the dress.
Large over-sized pearls,
red lips. That was the look. That was it - fast, racy and fun.
This epitomises that time completely.
It encompasses the body consciousness of the time,
and the freedom and sauciness that the ladies were feeling at the time.
And this bias cut around the bottom
just compels you to twizzle and become a flapper.
Just imagine how exciting it was to go on a plane for the first time.
The whole world was open to you and it was just a whole feeling of freedom, I think,
and I think this dress just epitomises that.
While some women were in search of style and glamour, others saw
aviation as a way to make their mark on history,
despite condescending labels such as "petticoat pilots".
I think it's not surprising that women are involved in aviation,
just as they were involved in motor racing and that kind of thing.
Although, in one sense, the world was opening up and horizons were becoming
greater, in another sense what they were allowed to was fairly limiting.
So when something new came along where there weren't any really any parameters,
where nobody had laid down the law about what you did or didn't do, and no particular
educational qualifications needed, then I think this was something that a number of them grasped at.
It was there and it could be done, and it was somewhere where you could compete with men
and perhaps even be superior to them, and nobody was going to get in your way.
Some women did take to the air to compete with men.
However, they were not entitled to call themselves pilots.
"Aviatrix" is the term that was used to describe women pilots in the 1930s.
In recent years, especially women's historians
have said, "Why weren't they simply called pilots?"
Because until that time, people really didn't believe that women could
undertake work that was dangerous, risky, competitive, and also was technologically challenging.
And women pilots proved them wrong. They won the races on equal terms and they were excellent pilots.
# Anything goes... #
Britain's most celebrated female pilot was Amy Johnson from Hull.
Consumed by a passion for flying, she had qualified as a pilot
in the late 1920s, but could only find work as a ground engineer.
However, fixing planes for men to fly was never going to satisfy Amy Johnson.
She was young, she was attractive.
- She was vibrant. - Yes.
She was doing the most amazing things in an impossible world really.
She was passionate, passionate about flying. Passionate.
She wanted to be a pilot.
And she felt she had to prove herself basically, I suppose because she was female.
To prove herself, Amy took on the ultimate aviation challenge, to break the record
of 16 days for a solo flight of 11,000 miles to Australia.
But as Amy took off in her Gypsy Moth called Jason
in May 1930, only a handful of people turned out to see her.
She started off from Croydon.
Nobody knew who she was, and I think there was one reporter there.
# Forget your troubles and just be happy
# Forget your troubles and just be gay... #
Jason was an open cockpit plane.
It had about four instruments.
A modern car has got more instruments than Jason actually had.
She had very little maps.
She took a school atlas with her.
# Forget your troubles and just be happy
# Forget your troubles and just be gay... #
Despite her basic navigational tools, Amy set off on her arduous
flight to Australia, stopping in 11 countries along the way.
# Hallelujah... #
19 days later, three days outside the record, she arrived in Darwin.
But despite her failure to break the record,
and her inauspicious landing...
..Amy had captured the hearts of the public across the world.
- It was a bit of a romantic thing to do, wasn't it? - Mmm.
And it captured people's imaginations.
She was in the thick of it.
Her departure had gone almost unnoticed,
but an estimated one million people lined the streets
to greet her on her return.
We started off and nobody was really in the least bit bothered.
They thought you were crazy.
And suddenly the whole world was at your feet.
And this of course led to an enormous amount of fan mail
that just poured into the family home back in Yorkshire.
And a lot of them were, of course, addressed to Miss Amy Johnson.
Or some went care of her mother, this sort of thing.
But this is one of the most amazing ones. Just her Christian name - Amy.
No address except the country she came from - England.
And it got there!
Amy Johnson had become a public figure in high demand.
And she used her newly found fame to champion a new and exciting future
for a country in the clutch of Depression.
If we are going to accomplish the ideal of making England
the tip-top country in the world,
we've got to get England in the air.
And just remember, take to the air,
and take to it actively and seriously.
While Amy Johnson had connected with the public,
flying was still the preserve of the wealthy,
and of adventurers like herself.
But for ordinary people, the dream of flight came a little closer
with the arrival of a new British phenomenon, the flying circus.
The most celebrated of these was the brainchild of a First World War
fighter pilot, Sir Alan Cobham.
By 1932, he had put together Cobham's Flying Circus,
which cashed in on the public's growing fascination with flight,
and gave the masses their first opportunity to take to the air.
Parents took their children for this incredible experience.
You paid and got 10 minutes of flying.
Actually, I think lots of people didn't think it was possible
until they turned up at the field where Sir Alan Cobham was saying,
"Just get in and you can see it's going to happen."
He would go round the various towns of England,
like any circus would, really.
And he would get crowds and crowds of people to these air shows.
Once they had experienced that, they couldn't let it go.
I mean, so many boys who had that experience wanted to become pilots.
And those who didn't become pilots wanted to work in any capacity
for this new, exciting way of travelling.
And, so many people,
even to this day, say,
"Oh, my father, my grandfather had the very first flight
"with Alan Cobham."
So many people say that.
So I think...
thousands and thousands of people must have had
their first flight in that way.
While the flying circus gave ordinary people
the chance to share in the adventure of flying,
the introduction of tea flights in 1933 gave the middle classes
an opportunity to sample the luxury of flying.
The only catch was that these flights didn't actually go anywhere.
These flights have been innovated by Imperial Airways
to show what London looks like from the air.
Imperial Airways introduced its superb tea flights,
where you could go for a flight over London if you wanted to, while drinking
and enjoying tea and cakes from a table,
with a tablecloth, silver service and a vase of flowers.
Is that the Crystal Palace?
Yes, oh, yes, doesn't it look lovely?
Lovely and clear.
A tea flight sounds an incredibly camp thing,
especially if it's a silver service, white-gloved thing,
and I'm going to get my selection of sandwiches, cream cakes, fruit cake, possibly even a high tea.
I would do it at the drop of a hat. And I am sure my friends would love it.
I'd have a decadent day out methinks.
For their decadent day out and a bird's-eye view of London,
passengers paid £2, an average week's wages at the time.
But while it was cake in the sky for the lucky few,
it was soup kitchens on the ground for many others.
Although the Depression continued to ravage life in 1930s Britain,
it appeared that the aviation industry would continue to fly high.
Air travel was always going to be recession-proof, I think,
because it was so obviously, not only of its age,
but it was of the age that was coming as well.
All the projections of the bright technological future had a place for air travel in them.
It was clearly the mode of travel of the future. It was bright, it was fast, it was sophisticated.
It had all kinds of allure attached to it that was extraneous
to the idea of flight, you know,
the way it was sold to the public in those days.
It was the kind of thing that would always prosper, however badly the stocks and shares were doing.
In fact, the period of the Great Depression
was also the time of greatest expansion for Imperial Airways.
Subsidised by the Government to carry British diplomats
and royal mail throughout the Empire,
it was able to spread its wings
and fly free of the economic hardships on the ground.
But while the aviation industry appeared financially immune to the ravages of the Depression,
maintaining a regular service to the farthest corners of the Empire
was still a daunting prospect.
If we can think about the sky as being a literal frontier.
Places like the Sahara
in central Africa, in the Middle East, in India, the element,
the sky was a completely unknown phenomenon.
It was a major challenge.
To help them meet that challenge, the airline had turned to former fighter pilot
and flying circus entrepreneur, the irrepressible Sir Alan Cobham.
He blazed a trail across the sky as a pathfinder for Imperial Airways
as it sought new routes around the globe.
He surveyed the routes,
found out places where airfields could be built.
And, of course, a landing strip was needed.
Not just personnel there, but he had to have fuel supplies,
engineers, this, that and the other.
So setting up the infrastructure for an airline was quite a big job.
A passionate aviator, Cobham worked tirelessly to make flying popular.
And was driven by his own personal dream that one day,
there would be a landing ground in every major town.
He was a celebrated figure, who really did chart the new British earth,
which Imperial Airways was to follow on its commercial flights in the 1930s.
Well, I suppose that captures the adventure in the man.
He does look like an adventurer there, doesn't he?
Yes, he'd be doing meticulous planning.
He was...he was an avid map reader,
so I am not surprised that every trip was successful.
He understood his aeroplane. He knew exactly what he could do.
When I think back on him doing those...those long flights
and the confinement of those primitive aircraft in those days,
it is inconceivable that anybody could want to do it,
let alone enjoy it.
Somebody had to go ahead and pioneer the air routes of the world.
We just didn't get there without these amazing people showing us the way.
A central hub in Imperial Airways' navigation of the Empire was Egypt.
By the 1930s, Cairo had become the gateway to British territories,
linking regular flights between London and such destinations as
Nairobi, Johannesburg, Delhi and Singapore.
One young man who, in the 1930s,
was attracted to working in such exotic locations was Ross Stainton
from Whitstable in Kent.
I joined as a trainee at the age of 19 with Imperial Airways.
I was posted overseas
for a number of years running the little stations that we had.
The company...
was given the duty, as a private company,
to develop the Imperial air routes,
especially those to the East
and to South Africa.
It was one of the most delightful places to be stationed,
because there were people of all nations,
and there were a lot of other Brits as well as us.
And the social life was splendid.
I look back on those days with great envy now.
For passengers luxuriating in this world of original first class flying,
overnight stops meant staying in some of world's most exclusive hotels
and partying in the most fashionable nightspots.
For the high flyers,
this was a world where glamour and adventure met.
Some of them, when they got as far as Alexandria
where I was stationed for quite a while,
they were very impressed with the nightclubs in Alexandria.
And it was a matter of considerable practice and speed
to get them ready for departure, which was at 4am
from a place about 15 miles outside Alexandria.
I used to have to go round the nightclubs and say,
"Oi, come on, time!" And get them on board some old bus.
The passengers' fares on these flights covered all major costs,
such as their stopovers at luxury hotels.
And for some gentlemen,
an all-inclusive flight meant just that.
In order to overcome the difficulty
of currency exchanges, they gave people coupons.
So you exchanged your coupon for coffee or for a meal,
or for the bus ride, whatever the case may be.
And there is a story of the Imperial Airways bus,
I think it was in Cairo,
travelling on a slightly different schedule in the mornings,
going round to not just hotels
to pick up gentlemen for the early flight, early morning departure,
but also to sundry premises of Madam,
where she would present the coupons for encashment...
in the morning!
# It's too darn hot
# It's too darn hot
# I'd like to sup with my baby tonight... #
Although international flights gave passengers the opportunity
to travel the world much quicker than ever before,
several refuelling stops and overnight breaks were needed.
But the airline was not about to expose its wealthy clientele
to the hardships of life in remote locations in central Africa or Asia.
Instead, it created what become known as Little Englands,
small corners of western world,
where passengers could expect nothing but the very best of British.
# But sister, you fight my baby tonight
# Cos it's too darn hot
# It's too darn hot... #
They didn't eat local food. I suppose,
like the British throughout the Empire,
they tried to keep up the traditions of being British.
# Cos it's too, too, too darn hot... #
Wherever the crew and the passengers stayed,
the idea, to some extent, was to protect them from local food
which might kill them, local water which might poison them, and local influences.
It was as if there had to be this is little protected pocket
that was jumping across these dangerous places.
Flying down Africa over a period of eight days or so,
as it was in the mid-1930s, would mean an opportunity
to encounter wilderness, to encounter strange people.
Landing in the bush and seeing eyes appearing,
and men rushing out with assegais held high.
And being scared.
And some of the passengers had those kind of experiences.
The first commercial flight from London to South Africa
had taken place in April 1932.
But the logistics of these 8,000-mile flights,
with 11 different stopovers for re-fuelling, presented a particular problem.
If you are going down through Africa in stages,
it is very expensive to build runways every few hundred miles.
But there were lakes they could use.
Taking advantage of these lakes,
the airline introduced the Empire Flying-Boat to its South African service.
Now it could bring passengers to stopovers with proper facilities,
rather than remote landing strips in the bush.
And while Croydon Airport continued to service European routes,
the arrival of the flying-boat would make Southampton the gateway to Africa
and the furthest corners of the Empire.
This is the flight deck of the aircraft.
A pilot would sit here, with the co-pilot there.
Standard array of instruments
that you find on any aircraft of the period.
These pilots are largely regarded as pioneers of long-haul flight.
They had to develop skills to fly all the way across continents, they are flying very hands-on.
There's no automatic pilot.
They have to keep control of the controls all the time.
These are big, big levers here.
Four big throttles,
and they are directly linked to the engines.
You need about a mile of water for the aircraft to accelerate.
So you need a lot of space and a lot of power
to pull this big bird off the water.
There was something beautiful
about a flying-boat.
Not only because of its size, it was because of its hull.
It had this great big bow, and then it came down the hull,
and the step there, and the tail going up.
It was just a beautiful-looking thing. And it was big.
And all you saw was this massive spray,
then suddenly, out of this massive spray came this flying-boat.
And it would gradually get higher and higher in the water,
so in the end, it just lifted off the water.
I used to think this was absolutely marvellous.
You could almost feel yourself...
you wanted to cheer it had taken off.
Once again, the airline took inspiration
from the luxurious ocean liners
to create a first-class service on the new flying-boats.
Large and spacious,
but carrying no more than 40 passengers,
these half-planes-half-boats
provided the ultimate experience in comfort and elegance
during long-distance flights.
Once the flying-boats came along, everything changed.
There were libraries, there was an upstairs, a downstairs.
There was a prom deck where you could walk up and down.
There are wonderful stories of people flying down across Africa.
They would stand, they would promenade on the prom deck,
and watch below the enormous herds of antelope
moving away from the shadow of the plane.
You could never do that now.
# When I go a-dreaming
# I go with you... #
Flying-boats now carried a new breed of passenger on these flights to South Africa.
Tycoons in search of fresh opportunities,
and big game hunters in pursuit of adventure.
But passengers still insisted on travelling in style.
# You are delightful
# To me... #
Luxury, that's the only way you could describe it.
They took off in the morning,
had lunch on the boat, morning coffee, lunch,
sometimes afternoon tea. If not, they were landing in the afternoon.
Went to the lovely hotels,
stayed the night, had dinner and everything.
Next morning, took off again.
# When I go a-dreaming with you. #
This is one of the passenger cabins.
When you look at it, it's more like a railway carriage than an airline.
You've got plenty of leg room.
Huge great windows for this wonderful view, you can look out there.
I have heard one account of people travelling down through Egypt,
flying over the pyramids,
and the pilot actually turning the aircraft around
and flying over the pyramids in a different direction,
just to make sure all the passengers could see and get a good view of the pyramids, which was wonderful.
Not the kind of thing you'd get from a modern airliner at all.
While flying-boats were now able to take passengers as far as South Africa,
Australia was still considered beyond the reach of commercial airlines.
In 1933, Imperial Airways set out to change all that
when it despatched a small crew on a survey flight,
from Croydon to Melbourne,
to chart the route for a new passenger service.
Among them was Cecil Griffiths from London
who took photographs along the way.
One of these fellows was the ground engineer, and one was a wireless operator.
There was my father in middle, he was a flight engineer.
It starts off here. "To Australia Per Astra."
He has taken a photo everywhere where he landed, basically.
Bathurst Island,
Rangoon. Bangkok.
Basra. Another one of Bangkok.
And as he has gone down the route,
Mount Isa, Gaza, Jodhpur, Gwadar. Bathurst.
All corners of the Empire had to be surveyed from an aerial point of view
to make sure that, in the future,
aircraft could go and land there and operate a passenger service.
Laurie Griffith's father arrived in Australia
after plotting an epic 13,000-mile flight
that took 12 days - 30 days less than the alternative journey by boat.
In those days, there was no electric starter motors on the aircraft.
And he called it the "If It" starting system.
I remember him talking about this.
The reason they called it the "If It" starting system is,
you used to pull the propeller down with a pole,
and if it goes, it goes, and if it doesn't, it doesn't!
That was the reason for that, you see.
This is a photo of the cockpit facing forward.
And he has written underneath, "The office,"
because that's where he worked.
People that fly down there now
owe a certain amount of debt to this particular flight, really.
Two years after Cecil Griffiths and his colleagues tested the route,
Imperial Airways introduced passenger flights to Australia.
The airline had achieved its ambition
of taking passengers to the furthest corner of the Empire.
But there remained just one more significant challenge -
to conquer the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean
and introduce a passenger service to the most glamorous destination of all,
New York.
However, within days of achieving this, in August 1939,
world events brought developments in commercial flight to an abrupt end.
At the end of August 1939, all civil flying ceased.
Three days later, war broke out.
The Second World War really did close down a chapter -
the first chapter -
of organised civil aviation,
which, many people look back nostalgically
and say was by far the best and the most interesting.
And it's the golden age of aviation which was very summarily closed by war.
Just as the availability of surplus planes and pilots
after the First World War had fuelled early developments in civil aviation,
now the process went into reverse.
Passenger planes were quickly taken into military service to support the war effort.
As was Britain's most celebrated female pilot, Amy Johnson.
But in 1941, as she flew through heavy fog
to deliver a plane to an RAF base,
Amy crashed into the Thames Estuary.
Her body was never found,
and to this day,
uncertainty surrounds the circumstances of her death.
In a way,
I think that Amy is a bit of a mystery.
She was quite young when she died,
and it was quite tragic.
- But she was flying. - Yes.
She was flying and she was serving her country in the war.
Plus, if she had to go, maybe that was the way...
- she would choose. - Yes. Yes.
Amy Johnson's death symbolised the end of an era.
The golden age of flight with all its glamour, style and adventure
had gone forever.
But those bright young things who took to the sky between the wars
defined an industry that has spanned the generations
and changed how we live and travel today.
After the war, commercial air travel was to change forever.
Planes would no longer be the preserve of the rich and famous.
That era was to give way to the modern age of air travel,
when flight would become available to the masses,
but lose some of the romance and allure treasured by people
like Cherie Ballantine and her husband Ron.
# Every time
# We say goodbye
# I'd die a little... #
- TAPE RECORDING: - 'All flights then were timed for day flying.
'So there were many occasions when we were scheduled
'to spend a night in Paris
'or some of the other European resorts.
'For me, Paris was fun...'
Ron Ballantine died in 2003,
after more than 60 years of marriage to Cherie,
and a life as one of Britain's most celebrated pilots.
He was best known for flying the new Queen Elizabeth
back from Africa to London in 1952,
following the death of her father, King George VI.
We played it all once quite soon after he'd died.
This is the first time I have played it again.
It's rather heartbreaking.
When he was still flying, and after he retired,
if he saw somebody flying up in a small... He would say,
"Oh, lucky chap to be up there."
Not everybody had a job as a steward
on an aircraft flying on to different parts of the world.
It was a glamorous life.
It was a very glamorous life.
# There's
# No love song finer
# But how strange
# The change
# From major to minor
# Every time
# We say goodbye
# Every time... #
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail subtitling@bbc.co.uk


BBC 高空上的飛行員--帶領英國人飛上天 (BBC High Flyers How Britain Took to the Air)

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發佈於 2016 年 1 月 30 日
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