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Gordon Pirie

The actuality of imperial flying never quite reached the pitch that was hoped, and a great deal of the service anticipated from Empire aviation in the inter-war period was to reside forever in inter-war imaginings. After Empire flying ceased, the mass media continued as a medium of sporadic and partial recall of the thick confection of Empire aviation. Intriguing personal recollections of imperial air travel emerged in the BBC's 1979 television series that drew on one social history text and generated another. Alfred Hitchcock followed with his 1940 film 'Foreign Correspondent'. It featured a full-scale mock-up of an Imperial Airways Empire flying boat In the 1980s, an icon of Empire aviation was used to brand a popular merchandising incentive and customer loyalty scheme in Britain.

in Cultures and caricatures of British imperial aviation
Passengers, pilots, publicity
Author: Gordon Pirie

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.