BBC's Friday Night is Music Night programme to come from RAF Scampton - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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BBC's Friday Night is Music Night programme to come from RAF Scampton

A few days after settling back in my office after returning from the Soviet Union, I was invited by the CFS Commandant and the Team Leader to move my office from the CFS HQ into No 4 Hangar with the rest of the Red Arrows personnel. That certainly made it much easier to keep in touch with the Team without the long trek between 1 and 4 hangars and from then onwards I was able to devote more time to dealing with Red Arrows PR, which was, of course, what I had applied for in the first case over a year earlier.

One very dark and wet Friday afternoon early in 1991 the Station Commander, now Group Captain Richard Gowring, telephoned and asked me to meet him outside the MT Hangar which was in a corner of the airfield not far from the Red Arrows hangar. Some BBC people wanted to have a look at the hangar with a view to broadcasting a band concert from within. Naturally I said I would be there, but I was mystified by the choice of venue. It turned out that the BBC had planned to record one of their popular Friday Night is Music Night radio programmes from RAF Coningsby on Thursday 16 May, for broadcast the following evening, the 48th anniversary of the famous Dam Busters' Raid in 1943. It so happened that the date coincided with the delivery to British Airways of a brand-new Boeing 747-400, registration GBNLT but always known simply as Lima Tango. The aircraft was to be named City of Lincoln by the Lord Lieutenant of Lincolnshire out on the airfield at Coningsby. Lima Tango would be parked nose to nose with another City of Lincoln, the Lancaster of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) based at Coningsby.

Unfortunately, the Station Commander at Coningsby had decided that he would be unable to offer the necessary facilities for the BBC concert because of the on-going Gulf War. Many of Coningsby's personnel were still away on active service in the Middle East so one could understand his reluctance to have a public concert on base. The BBC researchers and engineers were dismayed when we showed them inside the Scampton hangar. It was exactly what you would expect an MT hangar to be: dirty, dark, cold, and full of vehicles. In any case the BBC wanted a space large enough to accommodate the BBC Concert Orchestra, the Central Band of the RAF, and an audience of about 1,000. Our MT hangar was obviously quite unsuitable.

The BBC researchers were desperate and asked if there were any other hangars at Scampton that might be suitable. I suggested No 1 Hangar: it was under-utilised at that time and the few aircraft that usually spent the night in there could easily be moved into one of the other three aircraft hangars just for one night. We drove, in driving rain, to 1 Hangar half a mile way at the other end of the airfield. Instantly the BBC folk were delighted with what they saw. It was much larger than the MT hangar, it was clean, and it had its own efficient heating system. Group Captain Gowring committed himself to hosting the band concert.

What we did not know then was that the BBC wanted the two City of Lincolns, the B747 and the BBMF Lancaster, to appear together when the concert was recorded, the Lancaster inside the hangar with the audience seated around it and the Jumbo somewhere on the airfield but close by. When I questioned this requirement for aircraft to be in position at a radio concert, the BBC researcher assured me that they always tried to make their sets look as pleasing as possible for the audience at the recording session. The theme for this programme would be the two City of Lincoln aircraft in a programme coming from the City of Lincoln itself and it was, therefore, important that the audience at the recording could see both aircraft and get up close to them even if the audience on the radio could not.

I thought it worth pointing out there and then to the BBC folk that Scampton is not actually in the City of Lincoln, any more than Coningsby is. The confusion this quirk of geography causes was something which, from time to time, niggled the councillors of the West Lindsey District Council in whose bailiwick Scampton really is. West Lindsey DC has its headquarters in Gainsborough which is twice as far from Scampton as Lincoln is.

Most ordinary people don't worry themselves about local politics, but I had learned soon after starting work at Scampton that there was a long standing jealousy between the District Council and the City Council and that civic protocol was all important - to the councillors at least. For example, the Mayor of Lincoln was not permitted to attend a function at RAF Scampton wearing his official Chain of Office without getting the prior permission of the Chairman of the District Council. The BBC researcher was not fazed by this intelligence but, as the RAF Scampton Community Relations Officer, I had to make sure that the Chairman and councillors from West Lindsey DC were invited to the concert, and they would no doubt make sure that the Mayor and Corporation of the City of Lincoln did not get all the glory.

The BBC had decided, for reasons that were never explained, that they would still like the short naming ceremony for the two City of Lincolns to be held at RAF Coningsby, the home of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, even though the concert was now to be held at RAF Scampton, the former home of the Dam Busters. I suppose the BBC thought one runway was much the same as any other and that it was a simple matter for the huge British Airways Boeing 747 to transit the short distance between the two airfields. In fact, it would have been much easier to fly the Lancaster to Scampton so that the naming ceremony could be held there.

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