The Commandant gives me carte blanche to make what arrangements I deemed appropriate - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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The Commandant gives me carte blanche to make what arrangements I deemed appropriate

When I arrived at work early the following morning, I started keeping a private diary for the This is your Life (TIYL) project. Tony Charles had stressed that secrecy was all-important because if word leaked out to the subject that he was being set up, the whole programme would certainly be cancelled. One of the major problems, as I saw it, was that the Red Arrows tended to meet up with Ray Hanna several times each year at air shows in various parts of the country. Great care would be needed to make sure that word did not accidentally slip out during the course of one of those meetings. I decided that I would keep all my notes on the project in my briefcase which went everywhere with me. I needed a code-word for the programme's subject in case someone saw my papers by accident. I chose the name "Phil", completely at random - it was simply the first name that came into my head. However, this choice was to have an amusing side effect that I didn't learn about until the day of the programme.

First of all, I told John Rands, Red Leader and always known simply as JR, what was afoot. He thought it was a good idea and told me to get on with it and keep him informed. The next thing I had to do was ask permission from the College Commandant for the use of College Hall. I telephoned his Personal Staff Officer to make an appointment but the Commandant, Air Vice-Marshal Tony Stables, answered the phone himself. I asked him if he could spare me a few minutes to discuss a major PR matter affecting the College. He asked me to go over straightaway to his office on the first floor of College Hall to explain what was being proposed. The Commandant was very enthusiastic about the concept of using the College Hall for the programme and he gave me his full authority to make whatever arrangements were necessary.

"Tell the whole story only to those who really need to know," said the Commandant. "Tell everyone else that I've given my approval for the use of College Hall and that will be the only authority you need to get done whatever you need to be done." I was grateful for the Air Marshal's instant approval and the free hand he had given me to get on with the arrangements. There's nothing like tossing the name of a 2-star officer into the conversation when you want to get something done!

A few days later I had a telephone call from Mandy Lee, the Production Manager for Thames Television, to say that they had gone firm on 17 July for recording the programme and that she and her producer would like to come to Cranwell on 31 May to have an on-site meeting. Other members of the team they would bring with them were Alec Lom, the script writer; Avril Norton, a researcher; and Nigel Spong, the Facilities Engineering Manager. I readily agreed and told Mandy that I now had formal permission for them to use College Hall.

Mandy then said that Mark Hanna was having difficulty in getting hold of his Father's diary to check for other commitments on 17 July. Mandy was worried about making too many arrangements, and spending money, until she was absolutely certain that Ray would be available. I told Mandy to tell Mark that John Rands would write to Ray formally inviting him to come to Cranwell to fly with the Team. I thought a written invitation from JR would ensure that Ray would make himself available.

In the meantime, I continued making my secret arrangements. I fully briefed the Station Commander, Group Captain Jake Jarron, and the CFS Commandant, Air Commodore Simon Bostock. Both were content to let me get on with the planning. One of my worries as the days passed was that word would leak out accidentally. It was too dangerous even to acknowledge that we, the Red Arrows, were doing a This Is Your Life programme because word would inevitably have leaked back quite innocently to Ray Hanna through the air show grapevine. Instead, I deliberately let it be known that the BBC was preparing a documentary about the Red Arrows. Everyone would believe that because there were often TV crews in and around the Team's HQ.

On 30 May while I was at Cranwell waiting for the arrival of the planning team from Thames Television, John Rands was at Duxford on business and bumped into Ray Hanna as well as his wife, Eunice, and son Mark. In a quiet corner, when Ray was well out of earshot, Mark Hanna told John Rands that the family were no longer keen about the programme and had not realised that things had progressed so far. It seems that in the recent past Ray Hanna and Tony Charles had had a major disagreement about something. Mark and the family feared that if Tony turned up when the programme was about to be recorded, Ray would simply walk off the set and refuse to take any further part.

JR telephoned me straightaway to tell me of the family's fears and I passed on the news to the Thames production team just as they were gathering in my office. John Graham decided to talk to Mark Hanna at his office at the Old Flying Machine Company. To John's dismay, Ray Hanna himself answered the phone. With a quick bit of thinking, John passed himself off as a friend of Mark. Somehow Mark got his father out of the office while he had a lengthy conversation with John, who eventually persuaded Mark that all would be well and that Tony Charles would not have any part in the preparations for the programme and would not be at Cranwell when the programme was recorded.

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