Lift off into history: one of the last two Heathrow based BA 747s leaves Heathrow on its final flight in October 2020. (Courtesy: British Airways)
With leisure travel leaping ahead, the ‘seventies saw the guild in the spotlight as never before. In the second of his series on the guild history, archivist John Ruler pinpoints the background to what proved a formative decade.
EVENTS dear boy, events – as someone reputedly said – forged the future for a decade ‘momentous for the expansion of consumer travel, and hence the guild’ , to quote Roger Bray who, by absorbing travel into his role as air correspondent for the Evening Standard, in 1972 joined a small core of members capable of putting the mammoth growth into context.
‘ For staffers at least,’ said Roger, ‘ the sedate days of destination writing were over. Many publications began briefing reporters to cover the tour operating and travel agency scene – as it affected consumers.
‘ Because we had multiple contacts in the industry, the handful of us who specialised in travel news – notably me and the late Arthur Sandles of the Financial Times – had cleaned up during the events of those dramatic months.’
Though most daily newspapers, recalled Roger, had air correspondents, the Evening Standard recognised that bundling together travel and aviation might not be a bad idea.
‘ These were still the days of lavish facility trips and upgrades. If copy wasn’t written in the office you called in and dictated it to one of a bank of telephone reporters, which occasionally led to irritating and sometimes hilarious mishearings.
‘ Brochure launches, particularly those staged by the big operators such as Thomson and Intasun, were still events not to be ignored and were attended by news and features writers.
‘Price wars made frequent headlines. So did Thomson by launching the first packaged short breaks to Moscow. Intasun grabbed them with the first packages to Florida – in summer, when it was too hot and humid for most Americans. The end of the decade saw China open to tourism.’
John Carter, too, recalls ‘ the seismic event of the 1970s, the collapse of tour operator Clarksons at the peak of the 1974 holiday season. As far as travel writers – or, more specifically travel journalists – were concerned, however, the entire decade brought one major development after another.
‘ The travel trade was coming of age, shedding its old decidedly dodgy reputation, reaching for respectability and trying to demonstrate that it could provide good value holidays for a reasonable price and protect its customers.
‘ Early in 1970, Pan American brought the first Boeing 747 “Jumbo” jet into Heathrow, so flying would never be the same again. Club 18-30 was launched. Holidays for the younger generation would, likewise, change for ever.
‘ The following year, major tour operators finally agreed to introduce a bonding system to protect their customers. It was expanded to cover the entire travel industry in 1972.
‘ That same year, the Civil Aviation Authority, created in 1971, introduced the Air Tour Operators Licence, to provide even more protection for the customers of an industry that had the reputation of all too frequently letting them down and leaving them stranded.
‘ After the Clarksons collapse, the tour operating sector was thrown into confusion. Many smaller outfits simply went out of business. Other minnows were snapped up by the larger fish.
‘ The USA featured strongly in travel developments at the end of the decade. Freddie Laker’s Skytrain overcame the machinations of both the UK and US governments, as well as the might of the US aviation lobby, and began services to New York from Gatwick in 1978…
‘ As the decade drew to a close, Harry Goodman, the charismatic boss of Intasun, announced he would be selling low-price summer holidays to Florida.
Roger Bray checks in for Concorde’s first commercial flight – ‘ to Bahrain, as the Americans had not yet sanctioned supersonic flights to New York.
At that time of print union power British Airways needed to have an open phone line to London open as I dashed off the aircraft, in order to file copy for the last edition with minutes to spare.
Had there been even a short delay the printers would have stopped work for the day.’ Huge operating costs, however, helped end the commercial worth of flying from London to New York in three hours and 30 minutes. Concorde ceased operating in 2003.
For Mary Moore Mason, guild chair from 2006-8, ‘ the launch of the jumbo jets saw her in her then PR role usher scores of UK and other media onto the afore-mentioned historic Pan Am trans-Atlantic flight on January 22,1970, for a sample flight ‘ around the roof tops’.
‘As I recall, the captain laconically announced: “Well, let’s see if we can get this crate up into the air,” thus beginning a new era in mass
international air travel and tourism.’
The fact, said Mary, that it could it carry two-and-a-half times more passengers than the Boeing 737 led not only to the launch of numerous new airlines from the USA, ‘ but further enhanced a period of considerable marketing flamboyance for both “The World’s Most Experienced Airline” and for me as its London-based public relations representative.
‘ My boss, Fred Tupper, and I worked closely with the entertainment business including the Disney empire – and in return for free flights for some of its staff we had access to some of the Disney characters for promotional purposes. After some initial clashes with the divaesque female Disney employee who portrayed Mickey Mouse I successfully worked on various USA-focused promotions with Goofy, Donald Duck and their cross-species buddies.
‘ James Bond also regularly arrived on Pan Am, the scenes reinforced by flight footage we held in stock. And when Stanley Kubrick’s iconic 2001:A Space Odyssey hit the screens in 1968, its space shuttle and the stewardesses and other crew were all clearly Pan Am.
‘ That helped encourage some 93,000 people around the world to sign up for the airline’s First Moon Flight Club which I was then asked to explain to a BBC TV camera crew while perched on a bar stool in Chelsea’s Man in the Moon pub. And when the airline sponsored a London jazz event the media guests included photographer David Redfern who later became my husband.’
But Pan Am faced both terrorist threats and financial challenges, including competition from other US airlines. In 1991, with a failed merger with National Airlines and the 1988 fatal terrorist bomb explosion of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, the 64- year – old America’s unofficial flag carrier stopped flying.
Meanwhile Mary had gone on to help launch two of the new ‘darlings of deregulation’ the Dallas-based Braniff, which scheduled the arrival of its VIP pre-inaugural flight for February 29, 1978, and in 1981, Miami-based Air Florida.
‘ Fronted by handsome, silver-haired chairman Harding Lawrence,’ she said, ‘ who looked like he could have stepped out of the cast of Dallas – soon to break TV viewer records in the USA, UK and beyond – Braniff was on a roll to revolutionise air travel.
‘Forget the subdued colours of other airlines’ aircraft, its 747s and other aircraft would be vividly painted, sometimes based on designs by famous artist Alexander Calder; its First Class seats would be leather; and its cabin crew would be initially clothed in flamboyant, Space Age-inspired Emilio Pucci and later in chic Halston ultrasuede.
Controversy , added Mary, over where its Dallas/Fort Worth flights should land in London – Braniff insisted on Heathrow the British government demanded it be Gatwick – inspired an Evening Standard cartoon ‘ showing a cowboy, hands on his holsters confronting a British bureaucrat crowned by a bowler hat and armed with a brolly. If my memory is correct the caption read: “I say, old chap, that’s not how we do things in this country.”
‘ Finally, after what the Texans call a ‘Mexican Standoff’, Braniff backed down and agreed on Gatwick where its VIP guests including the mayors of Dallas and Fort Worth, crowned by gigantic cowboy emerged down the airline steps to be greeted by the Windsor Barracks Regional Band playing The Yellow Rose of Texas.’
As Braniff expanded its routes, Mary was sent to establish PR links in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. However, Braniff eventually over extended itself both financially and geographically – in one day alone it launched 32 new routes to 16 new cities! – and in 1982 ceased airline operation.
Footnote: Mary Moore Mason, the BGTW’s former – and so far only American – chairman is the founding and ongoing editor of Essentially America, the UK’s only travel and lifestyle magazine exclusively dedicated to the USA. Her book of memoirs Goodbye Hoop Skirts – Hello World! – The Travels, Triumphs and Tumbles of a Runaway Southern Belle is scheduled for publication in the spring, 2021.
America was by no means the only long haul destination opening up to a growing number of guild members. For Brian Jackman, a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and Travel Writer of the Year 1982, now living ‘ safe and secure in our idyllic Dorset lockdown’ it led to his legendary love affair with Africa. This is reflected in The Marsh Lions which, written in conjunction in Jonathan Scott, has been acclaimed as an African wildlife classic.
It began, with him joining The Sunday Times in 1970 at the invitation of Jean Robertson, their travel editor, having submitted a couple of pieces on weekend destinations in Britain.
‘ Somehow, despite having never worked for a newspaper before,’ he said. ‘ I managed to survive, and became a member of the Guild not long afterwards, having been proposed by David Tennant.
‘ From the start I had always wanted to go to Africa but had to wait until 1974, when I was invited on a press trip organised by Hilton International to visit their new Salt Lick Safari Lodge in the Taita Hills region adjoining Tsavo national park in Kenya. Even before I went, I knew I would love Africa and I was not disappointed.
‘ The animals were magnificent, and I will never forget the day I saw my first wild elephant,( see above ) which took exception to our vehicle and treated us to a spectacular mock charge.’
‘ John Carter was with me, and as we accelerated out of harm’s way I remember him asking our driver to slow down so that he could take another photo, which I thought was very cool at the time. The photo I took was from a much safer distance!
‘ Since then I have been back to Africa more times than I can remember. I got to a hundred safaris and lost count, and feel so privileged to have been able to share my experiences with so many readers over the years, in which time I have watched eco-tourism become a multi-million dollar business employing thousands of people all over Africa.
‘ Now it is in a state of collapse due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and without the revenue it generated I fear for the future of Africa’s wildlife and last wild places, and the wonderful people who depend upon its survival for their livelihoods.’
As for myself, it seems odd to think of Australia as once being regarded as the place for ’visiting friends and relatives.’ So much so that in 1970 as a humble travel editor of the Croydon Advertiser and Travel Correspondent for Riding magazine my first long-haul flight was to Oz where I sent back reports during a fortnight’s individually planned press trip with Qantas.
Watching the sun rise over the Red Heart while sipping champagne served with a First Class breakfast, on naturally a Jumbo jet , is a memory I will treasure; so will galloping back to a remote railway station in the Blue Mountains in the nick in time to catch my flight back home.’
All of which posed a challenge: were we in this newly opened world ‘ the guild of drivel writers’ lumped alongside an undeniable number of freeloaders or a real force in the this Golden Age of travel ? A clue lies in a guild working party report on promotional writing way back in 1973.
Basically it concluded that the cosy 1960s’ intimacy of both travel-writing and the trade had been replaced by ‘the harsher mass marketing techniques of a modern age.’ This left the guild wavering between being a social club and a genuine player in the travel world.
The report concludes that, judged by quality rather than quantity, the guild was probably stronger than ever before. ‘ But’ it warns ‘ meetings are not well attended and the guild is not treated seriously in all quarters.’
Critics included some Fleet Street travel editors, with one gleefully pursuing the ‘drivel writers’ tag. Even the genial Bill Bryson took a pop at us. This, said Roger Bray, was very unfair to such knowledgeable writers as Brian Jackman and Arthur Sandles, guild chairman 1976-68; David Tennant, chairman from 1970-71, was likewise keen on increasing the number of news writers, being as with Ken Westcott, already well respected for his transport knowledge.’
By the end of the decade both Roger and Arthur had been voted Travel Writers of the Year, an award organized by TTG.
Though the report was focussing on by-lined copy appearing in tour operating brochures, viewed by some as wrong but not by others, it inevitably raised the age old problem of integrity in a business which still relies on facility trips and a close working relationship with the travel trade.
It worth mentioning here that past criticism of the guild also came from national newspaper travel editors a few of which when declared redundant sought refuge by applying for guild membership.
Talking of which, maintaining the ‘quality’ of membership stems from Margaret Hides, who as Membership Secretary, was a stickler when it came to vetting would-be members. Many rightly went away with a flea in their ear…
Born in 1925, she died aged 83, leaving behind a devotion not just to the Guild but, disabled herself, to improving the lot of disabled travellers.
For this reason alone, especially for newer members, her story needs telling from, how following an accident at the age of two, she spent eight years in a sanatorium, suffering from a damaged hip. She had 13 major operations and was proud to have been a pioneering patient of the famous orthopaedic surgeon, Sir Harry Platt.
It was while there that Margaret began entertaining the other children who were equally immobilised on hideous spinal contraptions with tales of derring do. And derring do is what she did best.
Margaret began to walk at the age of eight and at the age of 14 began work as a copy-typist on the Manchester Evening News. Her sunny personality proved a much needed comfort to the war reporters phoning in their stories, and she was on duty during the Manchester Blitz.
She then transferred to the Guardian, which was also based in Manchester at the time, and covered as a copy typist many major stories such as the Manchester United Munich air disaster in which the paper’s own sports correspondent was killed.
It was at the Guardian she met and married fellow journalist Michael Hides in 1953. They later moved to London when the paper transferred its offices. It was around this time, too, she had a hip replacement, and was warned she would only walk for another five years at the most.
Being determined to make the most of the time available – and to prove the doctor wrong – she and Michael set off on a trail blazing overland trek in a Land Rover through North Africa to India and back. Margaret arranged funding for the trip partly by sponsorship and partly by arranging to interview the wives of famous men and heads of state along the way.
Thus began her career as a journalist and travel writer. The Guardian asked her to write a series of articles, which led to an immediate invitation from the Sunday Times to join their small team of freelances. She was with them for the next 11 years, then a further eight with the Observer travel section ‘The world became my oyster,’ she said.
And so it did – with Margaret, who joined the Guild in 1966, not only setting the trend for pioneer writers to visit far-flung places but doing so despite her disability. It was not until confined to a buggy that she decided in her own words, ‘to hang up my boots’. This did not stop her pursuing her campaign, often through her writing, to improve the lot of the disabled traveller.
Her own determination to overcome the need to wear surgical boots – ‘I take a spare pair – with their three-inch raise devilishly unyielding to pack’ she once said – was reflected in the incredible journeys she made. This included going alone to China in 1965 which at that time was a tightly controlled country.
The couple moved to Margaret’s beloved Derbyshire when Michael became editor of the Sheffield Morning Telegraph, a role he retained from 1968 to 1983. He died several years ago after the couple moved to Canterbury in 1983 as Margaret’s mobility decreased.
Her most bizarre travel experience, she told Michael Leech, a close guild colleague, how while still relying only on a walking stick, she accidentally clouted a fully armed Afghan tribesman while visiting the North West Frontier. Fortunately he laughed the incident off to save face… or so Margaret assumed.
Her favourite experience was sailing in the Galapagos Islands aboard a gaff rigged ketch in the 1970s well before large ships were allocated landing rights. She also recalled during one of our many enlightening, yet almost casual, conversations of escaping possible death when, along with a few other Guild members, her Finnair flight plunged into a giant bank of snow at the end of the runway at Rovaniemi back in 1969. She, along with others, escaped by clambering on to the wing ‘and, as I then only walked with a stick, tobogganed off, shooting into umpteen feet of snow.’
Margaret was immensely fond of New Zealand – and was one of the very few people to interview Sir Edmund Hillary, who rarely gave interviews. at his home.
All this, along with crossing seven deserts and taking a bumpy six week bus ride from Rio de Janeiro to Lima – daunting enough for the able-bodied – leads you to only one conclusion. Margaret, was not just a Guild giant but an inspiration to all travel writers, past and present.
The decade also increasingly became what another former chairman, Gary Buchanan, describes as ‘ a closely knit group of specialists’ (in his case cruising of which more later) witness the specialists’ section of the yearbook.
One such expert was Celia Irving whose unique knowledge the old Yugoslavia, even to the extent of speaking fluent Serb-Croat, saw her appear regularly on Yugoslave television. She even owned a house on the island of Korčula a Croatian island for 20 years. Penelope Turing concentrated on Germany and music. Sylvie Nickels was the expert on Finland. And to this day, Carol Wright still remains the widely travelled whizz kid when it comes to food and cookery books. More about guidebooks generally later on.
Another former guild chairman who joined the Guild in 1970/ 71 was Robin Mead. ‘ The Guild was only 50 or so members strong at that time, and I soon got dragged into being Secretary – a post I held for 11 years. The duties were not too arduous in those days: one of my tasks appeared to be to advise an elderly lady member what to wear for our very regular monthly meetings.
‘ She’d phone and say: “Is it very formal, dear? Should I wear my red or my blue? And will a cardigan be out of place?” As I had no idea what her wardrobe contained I’d have to take a wild guess, but she always seemed quite happy with the result.
‘ The names attached to many of those old faces live on in Guild history. We often travelled together. Ken Westcott Jones may not have been the world’s greatest writer, but he was a fantastic raconteur and I loved travelling with him. Betty Jones, Jim Holloway, Arthur Eperon, Rex Grizelle, David Pela, Arthur Sandles… all gone but not forgotten. Carol Wright was (and happily still is) great company. And on one trip to America my friend John Ruler taught me to ride a horse! (A pleasure… John)
‘I’d hate to speculate on the future of travel. Everything is so clouded at present. Deep sea cruising is a very wounded beast, and so are long-haul holidays. Neither may fully recover. How lucky we were to be around for the years 1970-2000 – the Golden Age of Travel – and of Travel Writing.’
Like other guild members, Robin, who was chairman from 1980 to 1981, has gone on to writing and publishing, his highly recommended memoirs aptly entitled Press Trip. In it, he recalls the close affinity the guild had with the major tourist public relations office – and still has at least through ANTOR and AITO.
In particular, Robin refers to ‘the charming and gloriously Anglophile Pierre Claus’ of the Belgian Tourist Office and ‘the highly efficient but acerbic Phyllis Chapman who represented Finland.’ Too this I would add Pauline Hallam of the French Tourist Office and Eiler Henson of the Danish Tourist Office.
It may not have the grandeur of our annual gala dinner at the Savoy, but one joint ANTOR and Guild Carnival held at the Burford Bridge Hotel, Dorking, on January 30,1970, will be one to remember for John Carter – both for the arrival the then Peter Whelpton on horse back and the high jinks enjoyed by some 300 leading travel trade faces.
Hailed by Travel Trade Gazette as a new social function among the UK’s travel trade’s social priorities, rated alongside the annual ABTA ball, it gave guests the chance ‘ of bit of frivolity at a time when travel functions were a little too formal.’
And so it did. Forty carnival musicians were flown from Switzerland, the Sidney Lipton Orchestra – a big name in those days – were engaged along with the Ivor Chin steelband.
Conditions of entry was a five guinea ticket (£5.25 ) a fancy dress costume and a mask. The only person without one was Peter then travel editor of the Daily Mail. As the masks were removed at mid-night, a Hawaiian girl turned out to be Colin Collins a TTG editor before becoming press officer for Clarksons.
In 1977 the Silver Otter award was announced with Santorini etc (Greece) being the first winner in 1978. More later…