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 Lever (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
 
 
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
 
 

Spain - Dictatorship and Honour, by Gerry Catling (1960)

I am sure that many of us have encountered the problem overseas of the extent to which one's integrity and honesty are put to the test in achieving the operational and commercial interests of BOAC; trying to obey the law and the generally accepted standards of UK business ethics, while trying also to act within locally accepted standards, and achieving one’s objectives in a sometimes very different environment.

I had already encountered these dilemmas in Asia and Africa in various forms. I arrived in Spain when the Franco dictatorship had passed its zenith and was starting to decay; the strains of the aftermath of the Civil War were still very evident in society. Bureaucratic corruption remained particularly rife in the armed forces, which controlled most aspects of civil aviation. I have to say that in those days you were sometimes left to navigate the local company, political and social minefield without much guidance.

In Spain I soon found out that it was not personal abilities, or lack of them, that determined success or failure in the business environment, but whether you were seen to have both personal honour and prestige; also whether you were seen to abide by the socially accepted code of Spanish tradition (as modified by the modus operandi of the dictatorship). Life was either black or white - if you offended the personal honour of your staff, or worse, a government representative, there was no forgiveness and you could achieve nothing.

When I arrived, I did not know any of this, of course. No one met me as I got of the South America-bound Comet at Madrid Airport on a hot evening in 1960, so I wandered into the airport bar for a reviving gin and Campari, known then as a Fidel Castro. The Spanish bartender was quite generous and half filled a tumbler with gin before adding the Campari.

The bar was almost deserted, except for a short, ill dressed, almost depressed looking Spanish man – he looked something like the Spanish onion sellers on bicycles who used to ride around towns in the UK before the 39/45 war. He was sitting on a bar stool and I went and sat beside him, offered him a drink and had a conversation in my few halting phrases of Spanish and his of English. I told him that I had come to work for BOAC at the airport and he said his name was Señor Brun. He finished his drink, thanked me politely and got up to go, just as a member of our local staff came into the bar looking for me. He appeared very uneasy. “Do you know who you were talking to?” he said. He told me that this insignificant man was the chief of Franco's secret police at the airport. This gave me quite a jolt and brought on the need for another drink.

Subsequently, I was given to understand very obliquely that I had inadvertently passed some kind of test of acceptance with the authorities. If any particular difficulty arose with the air force at the airport, or at the air ministry, I had only to mention it to Señor Brun in casual conversation when I saw him, and matters would be resolved quite quickly. I also had the honour of being invited to the special reviewing stand to witness military parades with Spanish Air force Heinkel 111s and Messerschmidt 109s (provided by the Germans in the 1940s) thundering overhead.

There was an example of the benefits of my encounter very soon. The BOAC airport office, shared with BEA, was an old rustic Spanish peasant cottage beside the taxiway with a hard-packed mud floor. It was very convenient, as well as possessing a certain rural charm. One day a Spanish Air Force officer arrived and told us that we had to vacate within 24 hours, as they were going to demolish it. I protested, and requested another location, but he shrugged his shoulders and went away. The next morning I arrived to find that a bulldozer had knocked down half of the cottage and the BOAC assets (admittedly not many) had been dumped outside the donkey stable.

I went to se the colonel commandant who was polite but unhelpful. He indicated that it could be some months before alternative accommodation would be available. I learned later that this was a normal response in such matters and that a brown envelope containing a spontaneous donation to the Spanish Air Force benevolent fund would have solved most such difficulties. However, I mentioned my problem to Señor Brun over a drink at lunchtime and he was somewhat non-committal. I said that not only had the honour of BOAC been insulted, but also that my personal honour had been affronted by such treatment. Within a couple of hours after siesta time, the Spanish officer turned up with a lorry and said that BA/BEA had been allocated an office in the newly completed administration building, gave me the keys and relocated the BA assets with his lorry and detachment of soldiers. Honour had been satisfied and it had not cost BA a penny, just the casual offer of a drink at the right time..

My ‘honourable’ treatment was in stark contrast with the Portuguese air catering company who had gained permission to build their flight kitchens at the airport by passing the appropriate bulky brown envelope to the colonel airport commandant. Their facilities were already half built. Unfortunately, the colonel was promoted to general, (there were almost as many generals as private soldiers at this time), was posted away and his place was taken by another colonel. The successor commented to the catering company manager that certain irregularities had been discovered in the official licensing documentation to build the kitchens, but these inconveniences could be overcome by the payment of a substantial re-licensing fee. The catering manager was naturally furious, cast aspersions on the veniality of Spanish officers in general and some in particular, refused to pay up and stormed out.

The following morning, a detachment of the air force arrived on the kitchen building site armed with rifles and fixed bayonets and forced the building workers off the airport with instructions not to return, or face jail. The flight kitchens were required to be ready by a certain date to meet airline contracts, so after a few weeks of acrimonious haggling the ‘re-licensing fee’ was paid, amicable relations were restored and building re-commenced.

Nevertheless, the system could have its advantages, if ‘honourable’ procedures were followed. The BEA manager and I wanted to give a Christmas party for all our airport staff, but we had no entertainment budget to assist. The cost to our personal pockets would have been prohibitive. However, the cost of alcohol and other Christmas cheer was cheap - and even cheaper in the Gibraltar Airways staff discount shop where a bottle of whisky could be obtained for 10 shillings (50 pence) in those days.

BEA had a very convenient Viscount service, routed Gibraltar/Madrid/London with plenty of spare hold capacity on the Gibraltar/Madrid sector, which could be utilised for ‘company stores’. Spanish customs duty on imported liquor was very high and personal duty free allowances small, so there was no alternative but to resort to the ‘honour code’. We approached the airport commandant for his advice on what might be permitted to be brought in for the benefit of the airport staff in the spirit of the Christmas season and to foster good Anglo/Spanish relations and would naturally take into consideration any small personal requests that he might wish to make as well.

While we drank coffee in his office he produced his personal list and indicated that he foresaw no difficulties with customs, but we were not to bother with the unloading of our company stores from the flight, as his staff would make any necessary arrangements. I arrived back from Gibraltar with a substantial amount of company stores in the hold and my personal Christmas items, to be met at the foot of the steps by a green uniformed customs officer wearing white gloves, who saluted formally and escorted me directly through the formalities to my car and departed with traditional expressions of Spanish courtesy.

The next morning I found the ‘company stores’ stacked beside my office desk, minus the airport commandant's personal items and our Christmas party was then celebrated with considerable success, honour, much increased company prestige and a noticeable improvement in staff efficiency.


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