Passengers, pilots, publicity

Imperial flying was not just about machines, timetables and routes; it was also about ideas, values and practices. This book focuses on the way airborne mobility itself expressed imperialism. Imperial Airways projected an idealised Britain to the Empire, and interpreted and refracted the Empire to Britons. Passengers in commercial aircraft had adventures in the early days of Empire flying, in a mild way, fleeting, organised overnight stops at foreign places. Writing about and publicising imperial flying in the 1920s and 1930s created the first caricatures of Empire aviation. Words and images about long-distance air journeys, aircraft, landing grounds, passengers, crew and landscapes were necessarily selective and partial. Amy Johnson, in a BBC broadcast, said Great Britain was ready to make a decisive bid for world supremacy in the air. Wealthy people were the passengers (acronym 'PAX' in current airline parlance) on scheduled civil aircraft services in the 1930s on routes between England, Africa, India and Australia. The flying crew and ground staff personified the values of their employer and the Empire. Making the public 'airminded' was certainly part of deliberate acculturation in late imperial Britain; Imperial Airways tapped the Empire for publicity. The virtual mobility, presented by the 1930s texts and images, were enjoyed by earthbound readers and viewers. However, the first life of Empire aviation ended in 1939. In the past six decades, Empire aviation has been actively re-imagined and reincarnated as historical subject, hobby, and period artefact and icon.

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re-constitute the heroism, enterprise and atmosphere of Empire. But these tales and images were caricatures of a technology, airline enterprise and ‘upwardly mobile’ people. They publicised what was remarkable rather than what was ordinary, dependent, callous and regrettable. They also overstated the safety and interest of flying. Ambiguity, dreariness and risk were seldom

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imperial dreams behind those projects and flights, and the practical difficulties of bringing the Empire airways and commercial air services into operation, are the subject of Air Empire , a previous volume in this book series. In this book, Cultures and Caricatures of British Imperial Aviation , the focus switches from the impetus for Empire aviation, and its geopolitical, commercial and technical

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King’s Head Theatre, London, the satire was ‘a ripping story of bare knees, young pluck and stern endeavour’. Like a Boy’s Own magazine yarn from the 1930s, the self-caricaturing comedy dealt with the trials of four members of the First Little Poddington Scout Troop. Flying by Imperial Airways to India for a jamboree with scouts from all over the globe, the boys

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-drawn caricatures of the countries served or flown over. The outline of Australia, for example, contained a pair of cricket wickets, a rabbit, a Kangaroo and a sheep. 4 A 1931 ‘Summer Programme’ advertisement for the Indian and Cape services listed the sequence of stops together with crisp, dramatic, clichéd encodings relating to legends and resources. Cairo: Nile and pyramids. Baghdad

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American ‘aviation pulp’ and build an airminded culture: Britain must fly, he wrote, ‘because the nation which does not fly will be left behind’. 5 Johns became (in)famous for creating ‘Biggles’ (Maj. James Bigglesworth, DSO), a redoubtable young pilot in boys’ stories. The caricature chipper, upper-class Englishman appeared in several London magazines

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differed. Tasks were differentiated by skill – and therefore race. Employees wore different uniforms. The 1933 film ‘Wings over Africa’ contains a clip of a Sudanese man wearing a shirt bearing the words ‘ Imperial Airways ’. Caricature was perhaps an even more insidious discriminator. Shell’s ‘service station’ manager at Entebbe aerodrome was identified, in colonial custom, without

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their experiences, repress their individuality, and render them and their flying as products and statements of Empire, as its unappointed agents and as influences on Empire. The coincidence of late Empire with their determination, indulgence and daring in the sky is certainly hard to ignore. Caricatures are hard to resist. By the 1930s, years of dreaming, aeronautical progress

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passage of the wife (and not more than three children younger than sixteen) of permanent overseas staff members and those returning on normal leave at the end of their first and subsequent contract or those on permanent transfer. 107 Passenger diversity Even if the caricature of the ‘typical’ Imperial Airways passenger included the

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writing itself presented the world beyond in a matter of fact way, seen only through Western eyes. Whether by air or overland, foreign travel was to, and with, a set of familiar British overseas contacts who enjoyed a carefully nurtured insularity from indigenous people who continued to be presented mostly in caricature. 92 One overland traveller did pause to consider how

in Cultures and caricatures of British imperial aviation