A brief summary of my life and times - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

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A brief summary of my life and times

I was born in the West Riding of Yorkshire in September 1935 and, with the cussedness of old age, I still refer to the West Riding when most younger folk, who have never heard of it, use the current but not synonymous, title: West Yorkshire. For most of my working life I lived outside God’s Own County, as it is known by true Yorkshire folk. Where I was born, and now live in retirement, was the West Riding of Yorkshire until 1974 and, as far as I am concerned, it still is.

On the first day of 1948, at the tender age of 12, I was having a little private worry about my destiny. I had just come across the word ‘serendipity’ for the first time in one of Dad's books I was reading. Having looked it up in a dictionary, I reckoned that serendipity had, even then, featured in my life several times but I was unclear whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. It was on that very day that I started keeping a diary and from then on I recorded all the events in my life, sometimes in embarrassing detail, and made a special note of any that might be attributed to serendipity. Looking back now through 70 years of diaries, I seem to have experienced more than my fair share of coincidences, whatever the cause and whatever I might call them. Without them, my life would have turned out quite differently, but I doubt if it would have been more fulfilling or more enjoyable.

At different times prior to joining the Royal Air Force at the age of 17, my ambition was to be a railway driver, a professional musician, an announcer on the BBC, a bank manager, a school teacher, an author, and an RAF pilot, more or less in that order. As it turned out I never worked in a bank, thank goodness! I could have been a professional musician but had to abandon that ambition for reasons completely beyond my control, but you can read about them in this website. I never drove a train, but I have been a lifelong railway enthusiast and there can’t be many people who have stood all the way from London Waterloo to Paris Gard du Nord and back in the driving cab of a Eurostar express. (I have had a lifelong, irrational fear of tunnels and that trip did nothing to allay that fear!)

I was never a teacher in civilian life but I spent quite a lot of my time in the RAF as either a ground or flying instructor. I taught, and examined, on such diverse subjects as resistance to enemy interrogation (and the converse – how to be an effective interrogator), anti-submarine warfare techniques, V-bomber electrical systems, and air-to-air refuelling operations. I spent several years in a variety of intelligence appointments in Europe and the Far East and I had two very enjoyable tours on exchange duty with foreign air forces: Pakistan (1969/70) and Oman (1984/5). Finally, when my flying days were over, I spent 11 years as the first full-time public relations officer for the RAF Aerobatic Team The Red Arrows.

I did become an author. I have had two books published, co-authored two more, and I’ve written a large number of articles for newspapers and magazines. I never worked officially for the BBC but I worked for them semi-officially when I was on RAF duty in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1954/55. Later, I made many radio and television broadcasts for the Beeb during my 11 years as the publicity man for the RAF Red Arrows (1989-2001).

People often say that ‘things run in threes’. Certainly, the number three seems to have a special meaning for me. For example: I lived in three different cities before I reached the age of three; I was educated at three different grammar schools; I qualified for three different RAF flying badges; I have made three parachute jumps; and I have three times taken off from, and three times landed back on, a US Navy aircraft carrier. More obscurely, I have been the subject of three ‘Desert Island Discs’ type of radio broadcasts – one of them broadcast live from a real desert island. Come to think of it, my local rugby league team in Wakefield is a Trinity - and one of my three great nephews plays for them.

I used to tell my friends that a true Yorkshire man would always return home eventually so it caused them no surprise when, within weeks of retiring from the RAF in 2001, I moved home back to Wakefield, to a house not more than four miles from the one in which I was born. (That's me on the left in about 2012)

Finally, to quote a great traveller of the past: “I have seen more than I remember and I remember more than I have seen.” I wish to make it clear that I never recorded, nor even hinted at, any classified material in my diaries. Where I have written on this website about military matters that once were classified, I have ensured that they are now unclassified. Where I have named other people, I have, where possible, checked with them and made any changes and corrections they suggested and I have acknowledged their contribution in the text. I thank them all. If there are still misrepresentations or errors, then they are mine so please let me know about them.

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