The new plot is accepted and now I have a lot of work to do - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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The new plot is accepted and now I have a lot of work to do

When John Graham went off the line, I telephoned Karen and told her that I would like to call in before her children came home from school so that I could discuss a proposal for a television programme. I had assumed, wrongly as it turned out, that JR would have told his wife that we were planning a This Is Your Life programme about Ray Hanna.

"Karen," I said as soon as we sitting down in her lounge and had exchanged the usual pleasantries, "what I'm about to tell you must go no further - not to your children and certainly not to JR." We even referred to John as JR to Karen.

"That's all right," she replied. "I can keep a secret."

"I expect JR has told you about a television programme we're doing with Ray Hanna?"

"No - that's news to me. But let me guess. You want to get JR on This Is Your Life - am I right?"

"How did you know that?"

"I didn't - call it woman's intuition if you like. As soon as you mentioned Ray Hanna just now, I knew I was right."

My mind was racing. Should I tell her the whole story and risk her being disappointed that JR was the BBC's second choice, or should I conceal that part of the story. I decided on the latter course of action, for the time being at least.

"I'm not very keen on the idea," said Karen. "I had an idea that you, Tony, might come up with something like this one day before he leaves the Reds and I've been thinking about what I might say."

"Look at it this way," I said. "JR has earned this special tribute. He's been an outstanding Leader. All right, I know he'll be very embarrassed about it but I imagine most subjects of This Is Your Life are embarrassed at first. His parents and you and your children are very proud of him - and his many friends, in and out of the RAF, will want to contribute to the programme."

"What do you want me to do?" asked Karen, quietly.

"I want you to meet the programme researcher. It's really crucial that you don't mention this to anyone yet, not even your children. No-one but you and I and the programme producer's small team know about this."

That evening I put together a complete story board for John Graham and I faxed it to him first thing the following morning. John rang back a day later and gave the green light for the new programme. I told Karen the news and I think she received it with mixed emotions. I assured her that I had passed on her misgivings to the Producer.

I next telephoned Wing Commander Andy Stewart from my home. Andy had been the Red Arrows Team Manager until 1991 and he now worked for the RAF's Director of Public Relations in the Ministry of Defence. As such, he had easy access to the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon. Being rather neurotic about security, I had decided that this was one conversation that really was safer carried out from my own home where I could not be overheard.

I told Andy about the Ray Hanna plot and how it had gone wrong. I then told him what was being planned in its place and I asked him to speak to CAS as soon as he could, tell him what was being planned and ask CAS for his approval. We would want CAS to be at the recording of the programme, so we needed to get the date in his diary quickly. I suggested to Andy that as far as everyone else was concerned we could say that CAS was coming to the Red Arrows to take part in a PR film that the BBC was making. No-one would see anything unusual in that because it was well known that Sir Michael was a great friend of the Red Arrows. Indeed, I added, warming to my theme, CAS must have given his approval to the citation which had led to the award of the OBE to JR - if he had not actually written it himself. A couple of days later Andy rang me to say that CAS had given his approval and would come to Cranwell for the recording of the programme.

Thereafter, things started to move rapidly and I found myself leading not a double life but a triple life. I could count on the thumb of one hand the people at Cranwell who knew about the JR plot - there was only one - me! There was a slightly larger number who knew about the now-dropped Ray Hanna plot; and a growing number of people knew, or thought they knew, that we were planning a film about the Red Arrows.

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