After completing my full-time service with the RAF in 1984 I spent a couple of very happy years in Oman working for the Sultan of Oman's Air Force (SOAF - as it was then called).
Above: There were some exciting landing strips in Oman. I took this on one of my occasional trips in a SOAF Skyvan
Returning to UK, at the end of my contract and still only 51 years old, I looked around for something else to do. In due course I took on a job working as a Retired Officer for the North and West Region of the Air Training Corps. I was based initially at the East Lancashire Wing HQ inside a TA barracks in Bury and later at the Regional HQ at RAF Sealand just inside Wales but very close to Chester.
Group Captain John McMinn, the Regional Commandant, and I were both employed as RAF Retired Officers (RO). Unlike officers in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and Royal Auxiliary Air Force, ROs wore normal RAF uniform with no special insignia. Apart perhaps from the visible signs of advancing years, I was indistinguishable from any active service squadron leader. One of the perks of being an RO, although not everyone would see it as a perk, was that once appointed the individual could remain in the service, should he or she so wish, until the age of 65. This always irked the Civil Service whose own servants were, at that time, required to hang up their equivalent of flying boots at age 60. I always got the impression that the Ministry of Defence branch of the Civil Service eyed the RO corps with a certain degree of jealousy because they considered we were commissioned officers who had passed their sell-by date and who, by hanging on to rank, power and privilege, were depriving real civil servants of jobs where they could hang on to rank, power and privilege. One of the first things I was told when I was first appointed to the RO post was that it is was incumbent upon each RO to ensure that any subsequent changes to their job specification would ensure that only another RO would qualified to fill the post - and that also got up the noses of the civil servants. I must confess that when the time finally came for me to retire I did not do that - for reasons that I will explain later.
ROs did not get the same rate of pay as a serving officer of the same rank and seniority was getting. I used to tell anyone who asked that I worked for half pay; that was roughly correct but I usually omitted to mention that I was also getting a pension for my years served on the active list and my tax-free gratuity from SOAF.
Early in 1989 I was getting homesick for Yorkshire. I have always believed that all exiled Yorkshire folk sooner or later want to return to God’s own county and, if they don’t, then they should. Initially, just out of curiosity, I put myself on the MoD mailing list of RO job vacancies on the eastern side of the Pennines with a preference for posts in Yorkshire. It would have been polite and proper for me to have told my Boss what I was about, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that I was even considering a move, especially when there was no guarantee that I might find a suitable job. John McMinn was a thoroughly nice man – apart from his habit of chain smoking all day long every day, which subjected me, his driver and the rest of his small civilian staff to the unpleasant effects of secondary smoking. I knew that he would try to persuade me not to leave Sealand because the two of us had an excellent working relationship.
After registering with the MoD Retired Officers’ organisation I received reams of paper every week giving details of vacancies in all parts of the UK. In spite of specifying that I would only consider positions in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, the system had presumably looked up my qualifications and included in their weekly mailings job vacancies for ROs in all parts of England and even one or two in Scotland. The first vacancy in my chosen area did not come up until a couple of months after I had registered; it was for what was described as a newly-created post at RAF Scampton: Public Relations Officer for the Red Arrows.
The essential and desirable criteria listed for the post seemed to fit my qualifications exactly: I was a retired squadron leader pilot with media experience; I was, or rather had been, an A2 qualified flying instructor, although it was by no means clear why that was important for a PR job for the Red Arrows; I had graduated from various staff college courses; and I had completed at least one staff appointment. It seemed to me that a job which involved working with, and writing about, the Red Arrows was just my cup of tea. I knew that it was a job I could do and enjoy doing so that same evening I wrote out my application. However, before I had time to post it on the way to work the following morning, another quite different job specification for a another job at Scampton arrived in the morning post.
That second job description was for a Community Relations Officer (CRO), a retired officer post in the rank of flight lieutenant. It stated that 18 CRO posts had been created in early 1989 at major RAF flying stations dotted around the UK specifically to deal with the increasing number of complaints from the general public about low flying aircraft. The complainants in some parts of the country had, the vacancy notice said, been getting more and more vociferous and so the RAF had decided that a group of strategically based CROs might be the answer. Those officers would get to know their local communities and would even visit some complainants at their homes to try and pacify them and explain why the RAF needed to fly at low level. I read that job description with only passing interest because I was not at all interested in a flight lieutenant post, nor did that type of work appeal to me.
I posted my application for the Red Arrows job but added at the end, under the heading 'Further Comments', that I was not interested in, and would not consider, the flight lieutenant CRO post. To my great surprise, an invitation to attend an interview at RAF Scampton arrived on my desk at Sealand only a few days later, almost indecent haste I thought at the time because things did not normally move very quickly in the Retired Officer's world. Clearly Scampton was very anxious to fill the Red Arrows post.
The day before the interview I had a telephone call at home from an old friend who was a serving air commodore at MoD. He had heard through his own grapevine that I was applying for what he described as "the Scampton job". He wanted me to know, before I committed myself, that the Central Flying School Commandant and the Station Commander at Scampton had "a less than totally harmonious working relationship". He also told me something that was very significant: there were no other applicants for the Red Arrows job. Because I fitted precisely all the criteria in the job specification and I was the sole applicant, under Civil Service rules an interview was actually unnecessary: a simple transfer from Sealand to Scampton was all that was required. I was intrigued!