On 6 May 1989, I took a day out from my job at Sealand to attend the interview. I knew the date was exactly 24 years to the day after the very first Red Arrows' public display: irrelevant, of course, but I thought it might be useful to drop that snippet into the conversation during the interview. There was no need to tell John McMinn where I was going because it was a day off anyway. Mondays were always a day off because the group captain and I were out almost every Saturday and Sunday inspecting at least one of the 188 Air Training Squadrons in our Region. I had already visited all our squadrons at least once so I had got to know the M6 from the Lake District in the north to the Birmingham area in the south intimately.
As I was in a downstairs office in Station Headquarters at Scampton waiting to be summoned before the Board, I was handed yet another version of the job description - the third one! Scrawled on the top of the document, a handwritten note said, "Mr Cunnane: for your information before the interview". Reading quickly through the document, it was obvious that someone had been told to copy selected elements from the two job descriptions I had seen earlier and then type them into a new document but, editorially, the result was a botched job. That third job spec seemed to be based on an inverted command pyramid. The incumbent would have three different Bosses: the Commandant of the RAF Central Flying School; the Station Commander at RAF Scampton; and the Officer Commanding the RAF Aerobatic Team - that being the official name for the Red Arrows. The post title had also been changed, to "RAF Scampton Public and Community Relations Officer", which seemed tautological anyway. It seemed I was wanted - but by whom and to do what?
Under the first heading the appointed officer would be responsible to the Commandant of CFS for the coordination of "visits by Royalty and senior overseas military personnel to CFS." Under the second heading I read that the successful applicant would be responsible to the Station Commander for running visits to the station "by ex-serving members of previous resident squadrons including 617 Squadron, for liaison with the local media, administration of Command sponsored functions eg aerobatic competitions, and involvement in station charities." The third heading stated that: "The appointed officer will be responsible to the Red Arrows' Team Leader for the coordination of visits to the Red Arrows, liaison with the media on all matters concerning Team visits, lectures, and celebrity flying, and dealing with the media on all matters concerning aircraft accidents and incidents." I thought it a little curious that dealing with accidents should be a major component of the job description but at that time the Red Arrows had just been through a bad patch with a series of spectacular accidents that had attracted much media attention and dented their public image.
Before I had time to digest that third job specification, I was ushered upstairs into the interview room. There were three officers sitting in judgement on me: Wing Commander John Dyer, who was in charge of the Administrative Wing and was the Station Commander's representative; an officer from CFS HQ whose name now escapes me but who was presumably looking after the Commandant's interests; and Squadron Leader Tim Miller, Red 1, Leader of the Red Arrows. Someone I had fully expected to be a member of the Interview Board in his professional capacity was missing: Keith Ansell, the Command Public Relations Officer. Keith was a long-serving professional civil servant employed by what was then called the Government Information Service. He had been the Command PRO in Strike Command when one of my short stories was read on the BBC in October 1970; he had had to get MoD approval for my story to be broadcast. (My copy of the "as broadcast" script of that story is on this page of my website.) Before being invited to sit down, I was scrutinised intently by the interrogators. I felt rather like the little boy who was asked "When did you last see your Father?" in the W F Yeames' painting that had so fascinated me at St James' Junior School, Wakefield, in the 1940s. (See this page)
Irrespective of what they were going to ask me, there were many questions that I wanted to ask the panel. I needed clarification on exactly what the job entailed. Although there was no mention of low flying complaints in the third version of the job specification, I intended to reiterate what I had put in my written application about not wanting to deal with the irate public on the thorny subject of low flying aircraft. I also wanted reassurance about the likely difficulties of working for three masters at the same time - and it would certainly be difficult for me bring that subject up without betraying a friend's confidence. There were so many things I wanted to know, but my mind went blank as soon as I sat down and Tim Miller launched his opening salvo.
"Why do you think you're the right person for this appointment?" I had, of course, pondered that very question between first hearing about the job and being invited for the interview: it is a standard question that appointment boards the world over frequently ask as an opener. (Young readers going for your first job interview, take note!) For a few seconds I stared blankly at Tim and had a little panic. Was I really the right person? I had been worrying so much about the conflicting job specifications MoD had given me that I had no answer ready for Tim's question and I had to resort to waffle. It must have been obvious to the members of the Board that they had scored first. It was not a good start.
I can't now remember anything more about the interview but barely three days later I had a letter from the Admin people at Scampton congratulating me, stating that I was the successful candidate, and asking when I could start. There was a form attached to the letter which had to be signed by my current Boss certifying that he was willing to let me go. That worried me. It had not occurred to me that John McMinn could quite legitimately refuse to release me, especially since there was no obvious replacement. I was forced into action. I could not delay any longer and I had to tell John what I had done behind his back. He was indeed very hurt when I told him that I was planning on leaving Sealand,
although I had a sneaky feeling that he had already heard through the MoD
grapevine. He signed the form but I genuinely felt guilty about the way I had kept him in the dark about my plans. I agreed to work on a further three months so that the MoD system could advertise for, and appoint, a replacement for me at Sealand.