BETTER ON A CAMEL
BOAC and BEA reminiscences, memorabilia and history
 
 
Dedication
About the charity 'Practical Action'
 
 
Foreword
Foreword by Sir Ross Stainton, former Chairman of BOAC
 
 
Introduction
Review of background to airline experiences and recollections
 
 
CHAPTER ONE - THE FAR EAST AND INDIAN OCEAN
airport and airline memoirs about the far east - from India and the Seychelles to Japan
 
 
Bangladesh - All Together Now! by John Anderson (1973)
john anderson
 
 
Bangladesh - Memories of Dhaka, by Simon Watts (1981-1985)
Life and Work in Bangladesh
 
 
Burma - Lighting Up Time, by Gerry Catling (1954)
an airport story - cigars as insect repellent
 
 
Burma - The Day of the Dear Departed (1954), by Gerry Catling
memories of a delicate diplomatic exercise with BOAC in Burma
 
 
Burma, etc. - Britannias, by Alan Douglas
recollections of the Bristol Britannia in service with BOAC
 
 
Burma -The Sound Barrier, by Tony Russell (1972)
Dealings with the civil aviation authorities in Rangoon
 
 
Burma - The Fertiliser Factory, by David McCormack (1972)
memoirs of an airline manager - going the extra mile in customer service...
 
 
Burma - Cigars, Religion and Superstition, by Peter Jones (1975)
Meeting the Burmese People
 
 
Burma - Special Adviser to the Manager, by Peter Jones (1975)
attending a funeral in Rangoon
 
 
Burma - Burmese Days, by Peter Jones (1975)
a visit to Mandalay and the temples of Pagan
 
 
China - Learning Chinese by Ralph Glazer (1983)
Meeting CAAC
 
 
China - Scotland the Brave by Ralph Glazer (1985)
burns night
 
 
India - Holy Cow, by Ralph Glazer (1964)
Obstruction on the runway...
 
 
India - Delhi (Not) Singing in the Rain, by Ralph Glazer (1964)
Monsoon (and its Cargo) Close airport
 
 
India - The Morning Commuter, by Peter Fieldhouse (1970)
Getting to the office in Calcutta
 
 
Japan - The Mount Fuji Disaster, by James Wilson (1966)
a retrospective view of the management of the aftermath of a major air crash
 
 
Pakistan - Yaqoob and Musaleem, by Peter Liver (1987)
fond memories of two aged retainers
 
 
Philippines - Cutting it Fine, by David Hogg (1970)
memoir of the chaos to civil aviation caused by a typhoon in Manila
 
 
Philippines - Being British, by David Hogg (1969)
reactions to an earthquake
 
 
Sri Lanka (Ceylon) - The Day my Number (almost) Came up, by Gerry Catling (1960)
memories of a BOAC Comet 4 landing on a wet runway..
 
 
Seychelles Days, by Mike McDonald (1974-1977)
An island idyll..civil aviation (and British Airways) arrive in the Seychelles
 
 
CHAPTER TWO - THE MIDDLE EAST
airport and airline reminiscences and memorabilia in the Middle East
 
 
Abu Dhabi - Ice Cold in Abu Dhabi, by Graham Moss (1970)
keeping VC-10 passengers cool on the ground
 
 
Abu Dhabi - Sand Trap, by David Hogg (1972)
hazards of driving in the desert
 
 
Dubai - a Training Posting, by Peter Liver (1970)
 
 
Bahrain - The Traffic Manual Expert, by David Meyrick (1962)
an air cargo problem - loading a BOAC DC7F
 
 
Bahrain - The Thunderstorm, by Ron Colnbrook (1968)
a scary flying story
 
 
Iran - The Nosewheel Incident, by Alan Hillman (1965)
a problem on the runway in Tehran
 
 
Iran - Hold Five, by Brian Cannadine (1972)
Teheran Airport - animal alert!
 
 
Israel - Cultural Differences, Mike McDonald (1972)
airline tales from Tel Aviv
 
 
Kuwait in the Fifties by Jamil Wafa (1955)
Kuwait
 
 
Kuwait - a 'Fifth Pod' Operation, by Jack Wesson (1965)
a BOAC flight planner's nightmare
 
 
Kuwait - the Oil Drillers, by John Cogger (1970)
a BOAC Sales Manager at work - life in the fast lane
 
 
Kuwait - Out of the Fog, by Peter Richards (1991)
Return to Kuwait after the Gulf War
 
 
Yemen - Sana'a Memories, by David Hogg (1973)
a testimony of everyday life in the Yemen
 
 
Saudi Arabia - Abdul and the Bacon, by David Hogg (1973)
a treat goes missing
 
 
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia - Rats! An Unwelcome Customer, by John Anderson (1978)
An Unwelcome Passenger
 
 
CHAPTER THREE - AFRICA
recollections and tales of life with BOAC and British Airways in Africa
 
 
Ghana - the Watchman, by Anthony Farnfield (1966)
a letter in the files
 
 
Kano, Nigeria - Willie on the Rampage, by Pat Noujaim (1959)
The randiest dachshund in Northern Nigeria nearly causes a delay
 
 
Nigeria - Bush Telegraph, by David Hogg (1965)
bad news travels fast in West Africa
 
 
Nigeria - Things Other than the World Cup, by Don Ford (1966)
BOAC involved in events in Lagos before the Biafran War
 
 
Nigeria - Boom Times, by Peter Jones (1975-1979)
the oil boom in Nigeria in the seventies
 
 
Nigeria - an Attempted Coup, by Peter Jones (1976)
violent regime change in Nigeria
 
 
Nigeria - Living and Working in Lagos, by Peter Jones (1975-1979)
stories of expatriate life in Nigeria
 
 
Nigeria and Concorde, by Peter Jones (1976-1979)
How Nigerians took to Concorde
 
 
Nigeria - Never Knowingly Undersold, by Peter Jones (1979)
Travails with the Lagos Telephone Company
 
 
Nigeria - Student Travel, by Peter Jones (1981)
a student goes to the wrong destination
 
 
Nigeria - Lagos Airport Again! by Nick Robertson (1989-90)
Wild West (Africa)
 
 
Ethiopia - Petrol Rationing, by Doug Tester (1975)
Michael to the rescue
 
 
Uganda - The Road to Kampala, by Peter Liver (1972)
a moment in history - BOAC in Uganda in the days of Idi Amin
 
 
Uganda - Exodus of the Ugandan Asians, by Mike Wickings (1972)
Organising the departure of Asians from Uganda
 
 
Uganda - Kenneth's Mortars, by John Anderson (1972)
Diplomatic Incident in East Africa
 
 
Zambia - Jottings from the Copperbelt, by Peter Jones (1969-1972)
Ndola
 
 
Malawi - The President's Plane, by Peter Woodrow (1977)
VIP Travel to the Commonwealth Conference...
 
 
Kenya - Nairobi 1956 etc., By Maurice Flanagan
early memories of BOAC in Nairobi
 
 
Kenya - The Frustrations of the Comet 4, by Don Ford (circa 1962)
recollections of ingenious improvisation to make best use of space in the BOAC Comet 4
 
 
Kenya - Customer Recovery, Kenya Style, By Simon Watts (1988)
Going the extra mile...
 
 
Kenya - Concorde and other big beasts, by Simon Watts (1986-90)
Concorde and other big beasts
 
 
Kenya - Nanyuki Wedding, by Steve Sturton-Davies (1992)
a wedding in the bush
 
 
Egypt - The Six Day War, By Ron Colnbrook (1967)
memories of a war zone
 
 
Libya, Sudan and Iraq - The Personal and Confidential File, by Roddy Wilson (1955-1960)
more camel stories...
 
 
Libya - Monkeys in a Hangar, by Ralph Glazer (1954)
Wildlife in Tripoli
 
 
Libya - The spirit of Christmas Past, by Gerry Catling (1958)
hijinks in the Tripoli transit lounge
 
 
Libya (and Ceylon) Unaccompanied Minors by Gerry Catling (1959)
The difficulties that younger passengers sometime cause...
 
 
CHAPTER FOUR - THE CARIBBEAN, AMERICAS AND ATLANTIC OCEAN
WESTERN HEMISPHERE
 
 
Jamaica - Dr No by Mike McDonald (1964/1974)
a James Bond memory
 
 
St. Lucia - Hurricane Allen, by Peter Jones (1980)
surviving a major hurricane
 
 
St.Lucia - The Wrong Taxiway, by Peter Jones (1983)
consequences of miscommunication
 
 
St. Lucia - The Red Lady, by Peter Jones (1983)
voodoo and the Boeing 747 - an unsolved mystery
 
 
St. Lucia - The Collector, by Peter Jones (1983)
An Illegal 'Collector' of Rare Species is seen off
 
 
St. Lucia - There's a Hole in the Runway, by Peter Jones (1984)
suspension of operations in St Lucia
 
 
Trinidad - Management Skills, by Bill Smith (1965)
learning the ropes, the hard way
 
 
Bahamas - Cabin bags and Elephants, by Tony Russell (1966)
squashed baggage
 
 
Canada - Gander, Crossroads of the World, by Gerry Catling (1956)
Transatlantic travel as it used to be
 
 
Mexico - A Day in Mexico City, by Ralph Glazer (1975)
Concorde, a Road Accident and the Mexican Police
 
 
Panama - Don't Stop! by David Hogg (1975-1980)
what about the snakes?
 
 
Panama - Flying Positive, by David Hogg (1975-1980)
BAC-111 pilots in Central America
 
 
Chile - Chile-Chile-Bang-Bang, by Howell Green (1994)
Frustrations in the queue for take-off
 
 
Uruguay - Jet Flight Arrives in South America, by Alan Douglas (1959)
introducing the Comet 4 in South America
 
 
USA - I Was There That Day, by Jonathan Martin (1963)
Dallas 1963, the day of President Kennedy's assassination
 
 
USA - The Cricket Team, by Peter Jones (1964)
cricket in New York with BOAC?
 
 
USA - The New World, by Don Ford (1967-1969)
An expatriate airport manager comes to Chicago
 
 
Ascension and Falkland Islands - Encounters of the Third Kind, by Bruce Fry (1985-1987)
a BOAC station engineer goes on secondment to the RAF in the Falklands
 
 
CHAPTER FIVE - EUROPE
EUROPE
 
 
UK - A Shetland Story, by Anthony McLauchlan (1972)
 
 
Bulgaria - Fog in London, by Mike Lewin (1976)
BEA schedules affected by fog in London
 
 
Cyprus - Suez and the Rocky path of True Love, by Gerry Catling (1956-57)
effect of Suez on BA schedules and social life..
 
 
Cyprus - the Hijack, by Bruce Fry (1970)
when a hijacked BOAC VC-10 diverted all flights to Nicosia
 
 
Cyprus - The Turkish Invasion, by Taff Lark (1974)
Evacuation of tourists when Cyprus invaded by Turkish forces
 
 
Germany - from BSAA to the Berlin Airlift, by Charlie Item Smith (1948-49)
Following the BSAA disasters, the Avro Tudor fleet is assigned to the Berlin Airlift as fuel tankers
 
 
Germany - Learning German, by Larry Gorton (1966)
recollections of a BEA manager having problems learning German
 
 
Italy - The Secret of Fiumicino, by Bill Smith (1967)
airport customer service staff get a morale boost and valuable lessons for motivation are learned
 
 
Romania - Heidi's Haggis, by Mike Lewin (1971)
a bit of BEA memorabilia - ingenuity in the kitchen saves Burns Night in Bucharest
 
 
Poland - The Stand-off, by Roy Burnham (1978)
an encounter with American presidential security guards
 
 
Russia (USSR) Trans Siberian Start-up, by Brian Burgess (1969-1972)
planning for an historic moment - BOAC's trans Siberian route to Japan
 
 
Russia(USSR) - The Omelette Factory, by Peter Richards (1970s)
Navigating over Siberia
 
 
Russia (USSR) - Red Faces in Red Square, By Bernard Garvie (1970)
Diplomatic Incident with Chandelier
 
 
Russia (USSR) The Security Guard, by Peter Richards (1976)
How to scare a Russian Security Officer
 
 
Russia(USSR) the Golf Lesson, by Peter Richards (1976)
In a Moscow Hotel Room..
 
 
Russia (USSR) -The Stewardess, by Taff Lark (1980)
shades of 007
 
 
Russia (USSR) - Domodedovo Airport, 'the House of my Grandfather' by Mike McDonald (1989)
a memoir of early days at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport
 
 
Spain - Dictatorship and Honour, by Gerry Catling (1960)
a recollection of Franco's Spain - negotiating the 'personal honour' code at Madrid Airport
 
 
Spain - A Soft Touch, by Ralph Glazer (1971)
A Meeting with Franco
 
 
Switzerland - The Precision of the Swiss, by Gerry Catling (1968)
recollections of how we proved to the airport authority that the Super VC-10 was not a noisy aircraft
 
 
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Further reading and watching for addicts....
 
 
PICTORIAL APPENDIX
Some miscellaneous photos that don't have a story to go with them
 
 

Malawi - The President's Plane, by Peter Woodrow (1977)

 

Late on a Tuesday evening in June 1977, standing in the foyer of Limbe Club wearing a sort of skirt and plastered in the heavy makeup demanded by ‘Orpheus in the Underworld,’ I took the call from Air Malawi’s General Manager. He needed to discuss “a problem”- not tomorrow, right now. Once quickly converted back into non arrestable male human form, I drove across town to his Robbins Road office, assuming that either he or I were about to be P.I.’d (deported) as that was very much the fashion of the time.

The problem was something entirely new. His Excellency the Life President, Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda, (always to be spelled out in full, of course) was due to fly to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference the following Saturday morning. To do that he had taken over Air Malawi’s London VC10 flight in its entirety. So far so good, and nothing to do with us. However, the aircraft had been at Gatwick for some days and thanks to the discovery of what seemed to be a major fuel leak in its centre tank, probably caused by an unrecorded heavy landing at some time in its life, it would not be ready to fly south to honour its Presidential commitment. The government view was that the solution was easy. They would just take over our fully booked British Airways Friday afternoon flight instead and its other intended passengers would just have to find something else.

I doubted if BA were going to be helpful about that. They had never done it for anyone, anywhere, before and had a rather unsmiling attitude to being hijacked by a President or anyone, even for money. On the other hand the Malawi government had a rather unsmiling attitude to anyone who did not come up with whatever the President or his inner circle wanted. I could see our time in the country drawing to a close.

I rang the route General Manager in London, something one only did in those days in event of dire emergencies. Deaths maybe. Certainly not births.  There was absolutely no question of the BA flight being emptied for anyone, not even the small First Class cabin. What about the RAF? They had VC10s. The military quickly replied that there was no way they could send a plane for one President and not trigger requests from others, so no question of them helping either. The always helpful GM, renowned for his expression “Tell him from me...” said he’d see what he could do, but not to hold out much hope. BA was never flush with aircraft and didn’t like to have any just sitting around waiting to be hailed by last minute customers.

Wednesday came - and went. As did the calming tablets between my desk and Jenny, my colleague in Blantyre; moments of stress were a familiar feature of doing business in a country whose national airline wasn’t doing too well in competition with us. There were times when I’d even kept a small case of warm clothes in the car boot in case of being accommodated somewhere cold and uncomfortable by the ever present Special Branch, whose remit seemed to extend to protecting the national airline from anything but the most passive competition.

Thursday arrived, and with it bald and desperate statements from the Air Malawi office “You’ve got to do something”. Eventually we did. The VC10 operating the Friday London/Cairo/London trip would shed its return load in Cairo, something the airline had never done before in circumstances like these, and come on down to Blantyre instead, arriving about 2 hours before His Excellency’s scheduled Saturday morning departure. That would just about do it. We, unlike the passengers in Cairo, were overjoyed.

Attention now turned to the large folder of instructions about how the Presidential flight was to be conducted. First it wanted the front row of First Class seats to be removed. This was so that those who were summoned to speak to the President during the journey could approach and remain on their knees. Our Cairo engineers agreed to do that and stow them in the hold, quite an easy task but not one we wanted to be doing at the last minute at Chileka Airport. Then the rub. The cabin crew are also expected come out of the front galley and approach, serve on their knees and retire the same way. The expressions on their faces if thus instructed didn’t bear thinking about. I said “That is just not going to happen. We won’t even talk about it. He’ll just have to find out on the plane”. In the event not an eyebrow was raised.

Friday - and our scheduled VC 10 came and went. All day we crossed our fingers for Saturday, dreading any mishaps in Cairo meaning a late operation - or even none at all. Aeroplanes can be fickle things and come up with all sorts of surprises when started. Fortunately all went well and the aircraft landed around 9a.m. and taxied in. Some of our landings on Chileka’s very narrow, often draughty and always tricky runway verged on the spectacular and were the highlight of Air Malawi airport staff’s weekly entertainment. Jenny wouldn’t even watch, and always stood with her back to the approaching aircraft. This landing was, though, achieved with appropriate decorum. Unfortunately at the time many of BA’s aircraft exteriors were in a pretty dire state.  We relied almost entirely on flying through rain to keep them clean. It didn’t work .They became filthy and then paint started to flake off. Bad luck would have it that the one presented to us that day must have been the scruffiest of the lot. It looked dreadful. Good luck though meant that the assembled press were told - on pain of the unpleasant usual - to minimise and crop shots of the aircraft so that it wasn’t obvious that its operator was BA, not Air Malawi.  There could be no further dents in national pride that day.

As departure time neared the ululating by the mbumba (ladies), all dressed in their Banda finery, his face on it either smiling or scowling depending where upon their anatomy it came to rest with each movement, grew more and more intense until His Excellency eventually emerged from the VIP chalet, fly whisk aloft, and slowly made his way to the aircraft. The mbumba were now on a different planet. Then, just as we were thinking it was all over, the head of the airport security, a little man about five foot square missing many teeth, possibly as result of assisting other branches of the police with their enquiries, came bustling over, also in a state of high excitement. With a broad smile and waving another folder.  He looked like a man whose hour had come.

“How long has this aircraft been here?” he demanded.

“About two hours” I said. 

“That’s not enough, not enough” he insisted, “The security instructions say it must be in a secure area 24 hours before departure!”

“Fine” I said, “You go and tell the President”.

He sort of melted into the distance. We didn’t see him again that day. Nor did we ever speak about it again.

A few minutes later the VC10, always impressive, headed noisily into the air and pointed north. We headed a few yards east to the little shack that passed as the Chileka Club. Its cold (Malawi) Carlsbergs were perfect.  Thank you Denmark!

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