High flier? No thanks not me
I was once seconded from the main Liverpool
factory to one of our Southern Outposts.
I was away for the best part of a year,
Mondays to Fridays, starting sometime in late 1972 until mid
The place where I worked was called
Stoke Park and it used to be a stately home.
We had the floors upstairs whilst on
the ground floor was Stoke Poges Golf Club.
Sometimes, on the odd occasion you used
it, the lift overshot and you ended up in the golf club restaurant
but we normally went to and from work by the back door of the
building, where a staircase led directly up to the first floor,
so we never mixed with the locals.
My office was on the top floor, probably
where the servants used to live, and I could look out over the
course, but I never took much notice because we were too busy.
I stayed at a Hotel in Windsor, called
"The Hart and Garter", opposite the castle (I believe
the place is still there but fashion has dictated a change of
Every night I would have either roast
duck or fillet steak and this went on for the best part of a
We always wined and dined well with
And we were paid extra for working away
from home. I think it was something like 20%, and we were re-imbursed
for every penny of expenses we spent.
Initially I flew weekly from Liverpool
to Heathrow where a Humber Hawk, the company car, would collect
me. In the short period I flew on this route there were five
The first was in a Viscount, the old
prop-driven aeroplane. It was dark and we were coming in to land
when the Engineer emerged from the cockpit, went to a side locker
and fished out a torch. I was sitting in a seat by the starboard
wing and he leaned over me and shone his torch out the window.
"Can you see a little peg sticking up about there",
he said, waving his torch at an area roughly above where the
wheel was. "I think so", I said. "Jolly good",
he replied, "That means the wheel's down and locked"
and he went back, presumably to give the pilot the good news.
We landed normally.
The second incident was on a similar
plane at roughly the same point on our flight. The Engineer dug
around in a locker and produced something that looked like a
starting handle. He rolled back the carpet, opened a flap in
the floor, poked in the starting handle and proceeded to turn
it, occasionally looking up at the bemused passengers and grinning.
When he'd finished, he muttered something about winding down
the flaps, and we landed and all was well.
The third incident was when we were
on our final approach in a BAC111. The cockpit door opened and
the Engineer said we were landing at Hawarden to check something
before continuing to Liverpool. As this was only a few miles
further I can only presume they didn't want to mess up the main
runway there! Behind him I saw the instrument panel had lots
of red lights. We landed on a very short runway and after a few
minutes a large vehicle arrived and a heavy cable was plugged
into the aircraft. Through the open cockpit door you could see
flashing lights. Finally the pilot announced that he'd had an
instrument panel fault but it was really nothing. We took off
and landed normally at Liverpool about 20 minutes late.
The fourth problem wasn't that serious.
They just couldn't start one of the engines. They tried a couple
of times then told us all to get off. After a lot of mechanics
had been fiddling he eventually got the engine going. He later
explained in a rather garbled way that he wasn't allowed to keep
trying to get the engine going. If it didn't work on the second
attempt we had to leave the plane and it had to be looked at.
It wasn't very re-assuring and we were very late leaving. When
we arrived over Heathrow we had to go round and round for ages
before we could land. I thought we'd run out of petrol.
The fifth incident was going the other
way in a BAC111. Over Birmingham a stewardess came to the back
of the aircraft where I was sitting with a colleague. She leaned
over and asked Bill, who was in the window seat, in a whisper,
if he'd heard anything odd. "Yes he said", very laid
back, (he was always laid back about everything; I think it's
because he always got up very early and did Canadian Army Exercises),
"Come to think of it, there was a bit of a bang from outside
and I think the engine stopped". "Oh", she said,
"We wondered about that because the pilot thinks the engine
might have stopped too". And she went back. The pilot came
on the speakers a moment later and said an engine had stopped
and we were proceeding to London because we'd gone more than
halfway. There was nothing to worry about because the aeroplane
was designed to fly on one engine. And it did but at this point,
December 1971, I decided, in future if there was an option, to
travel by road.
I had saved enough money to buy a new
car, and as it had just won the RAC rally, I settled on a Saab
96 for which I paid the princely sum of £1,072, so then
I drove down every Monday morning and drove back every Friday
We were working on a competitive study
for a major Military Project that involved lots of computers
for the British Army. As the system was to be implemented many
years in the future I couldn't propose the use of any existing
hardware. "Find out what will be around", said my boss,
"Contact the main manufacturers and see what they've got
planned in five years". Typically I did this by ringing
up the switchboard of one of the computer companies, such as
Ferranti, and asking to be put through to their "Computer
Design Department", but not the boss. I then managed to
find a design engineer who would be willing to talk about their
company's plans. I never had any trouble. No-one ever bothered
to check who I was or appeared to worry about confidentiality.
I discovered details of all the military computers that were
on the drawing boards of the various companies, and even, in
two or three instances, made an appointment to visit a firm and
actually see prototype hardware.
Of course we had a hidden agenda. Our
company was also developing a military computer and it was this
we wished to sell to MoD. Details of our competitors' computers
were needed so we could explain how much better ours was.
The ploy worked and we ended up winning
the contract on the basis of the strengths our own computer and
the weaknesses of theirs.
Strangely, once we had started detailed
design many years later, the boss of the largest Defence Company
in the UK managed to oust our machine and substitute his own.
I never understood how he did this because I don't understand