Clearly being the Press Liaison Officer at RAF Finningley did not tax me too greatly and so I was eventually given two additional secondary duties. For six months I was the squadron's Winter Sports Officer. I knew absolutely nothing about winter sports and had no interest in them, so I kept a very low profile during the long, hot summer of 1961. I was also appointed Custodian of the Squadron Standard and Deputy Standard Bearer in preparation for the presentation of the Squadron Standard by HRH The Princess Margaret. (Below: That's me!)
As Custodian I would also be the 'Un-casing Officer' on the formal parade. That involved delivering the cased Standard to the centre of the Parade, immediately in front of Princess Margaret and then having one of the escorts pull the protective cover off and, finally, arranging the Standard in a neat fashion on a pile of drums. At a late stage, the official presentation was then delayed for a year when Princess Margaret became pregnant so, in the meantime, I had the onerous task of safeguarding the Standard in a locked, temperature-controlled room adjacent to mine in the Officers' Mess. No-one, but no-one, was allowed to touch the Standard apart from me (wearing white silk gloves) and the Standard Bearer, Flying Officer David Lee, who was the co-pilot on our crew.
Because there was so little flying on 18 Squadron, I found I was spending more and more time on secondary duties. The efficiency with which I carried them out must have pleased both my Squadron Commander and the new Station Commander, Group Captain J Miller CBE, DFC, AFC, because in Spring 1962 I was appointed to one of the few highly prestigious and much sought after General List Permanent Commissions. A General List PC guaranteed me a career to at least age 43 if I were then a flight lieutenant, or to 47 if I had gained promotion to squadron leader or beyond. Thereafter I was considered far too useful an officer to be given trivial secondary duties, so I was relieved of my duties as Winter Sports Officer and made 18 Squadron Adjutant instead with my own small office immediately next to the Squadron Commander's.
It was much more fun being the Adjutant because it meant I had unrestricted access to all the squadron files and correspondence. That was when I first discovered that individuals' personal files, kept in distinctive blue folders stamped top, bottom, front and back, 'Staff in Confidence', were far more interesting than the dark red Top Secret files. I also learned that there is little real satisfaction in having access to all manner of confidential and often titillating personal information about your work colleagues if you cannot tell anyone what you know.
Wing Commander Denys Sutton was my squadron commander until July 1962. He was always known as 'Clutcher' because whenever he saw you going from the crew room towards the squadron coffee bar the shortest way via the path outside his window, he was likely to call you into his office and give you a job. To avoid being 'clutched' most of the squadron personnel took the long route to the coffee bar around the four outside walls of the huge aircraft hangar that housed our squadron. At times it could be quite lonely in the Adjutant's office. Clutcher was a very conscientious and well-meaning officer and he gave me good advice from time to time.
"Tony, when you're a squadron commander you can do things your way," he told me solemnly on one occasion when I had been trying to persuade him to do something he didn't want to do. "Right now, I'm the squadron commander and so you'll do things my way."
He was, of course, absolutely right and I used that very phrase myself several times later in my career when I was a squadron commander. It was Clutcher Sutton who one day got me to prepare a letter for his signature from the Officer Commanding Number 18 Squadron to the President of the Officers' Mess asking for permission to use the Mess facilities for a Squadron function.
"But you are President of the Officers' Mess," I said, rather impertinently. "Why do you need to write to yourself?"
"Because we must have decisions recorded on file in the proper way," he replied patiently and without a hint of reproach. Thinking it over afterwards, I felt sure that he had been hoping I would ask that question.
A couple of days later I passed through to Wing Commander Sutton, on file of course, a handwritten memo from himself as President of the Mess to himself as Squadron Commander in which he regretted that permission could not be granted for the squadron function because the Mess staff were fully committed with other duties on the date in question.
"I guessed what the answer would be," he told me in all seriousness. He initialled his own letter, closed the file, and placed it in the out tray.
Denys Sutton (who had retired from the RAF in the rank of Air Commodore) died in 2004. I had an email from his son in January 2009. A family friend had pointed the son to my story about his father on this website. The son told me that he had not known his father had been called Clutcher when he was OC 18 Squadron, but he did recognise the reason. The following, slightly redacted, extract from that email is reproduced with permission:
"Obviously by the time he commanded 18 Squadron it had acquired metaphorical significance, but its origins were apparently literal. John (the family friend) advises that it dates from times he would grab the other pilot's upper arm when he wished to attract attention on noisy Shackleton flight decks. This technique for attracting or retaining attention continued. Probably because I was a victim of it from an early age, I was never conscious of it, but my wife and daughter enthusiastically confirm that it was a frequent accompaniment to chats, particularly on walks, which were often the occasions for friend and family one-to-ones."