Rumours abound all around the College but the secret is stíll secure - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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Rumours abound all around the College but the secret is stíll secure

I was amazed at how much work was necessary. First of all there was a major and unforeseen problem at Cranwell on our chosen date. Monday 23 September was set to be "Black Monday", the day when the senior entry of student officers hear their fate and are told whether they will be graduating or not. On the evening of Black Monday there is always a huge party in College Hall Mess. The problem was that Nigel Spong, the Thames TV Chief Engineer, needed 24 clear hours to construct the set in College Hall and the recording would be taking place just as the Black Monday celebrations were starting. The two events were completely incompatible.

I went across to the College to meet the Director of Initial Officer Training, Group Captain Beney. Much as I dislike name-dropping, I had no alternative: I had to name drop myself. I gave him the story about This Is Your Life without telling him who the subject would be. I told the Group Captain that I had the Commandant's full authority to make such arrangements as I saw fit and that the Chief of the Air Staff would be present. The good Group Captain was very helpful. He quickly decided that rather than postpone Black Monday, he would move all his students out of the College Hall Mess on the Sunday evening into York House, the Staff Officers' Mess, in a different area of the campus, and the Black Monday celebrations could take place there. That would leave the whole of College Hall free for the TV Company to build their sets and do whatever they needed to do. The production team was delighted with this plan. I persuaded John Graham that it would a great PR gesture if Thames Television could provide some beer for the York House Mess to help the Black Monday party go with a swing. They did in fact eventually donate £500 as a token of their appreciation to the student officers for moving out of their own Mess.

The next few weeks were a whirl of activity. From time to time I gave JR a fictitious update on how plans for This Is Your Life Ray Hanna were progressing. I made sure that JR knew everything that was being planned - everything except the identity of the subject! One day I had a heart-stopping moment when JR told me that he had just bumped into Ray Hanna at Duxford. However, all was well and JR had been very careful not to give the game away. I found that the secret diary I was keeping, codename Phil, had become absolutely invaluable. Without it I would never have been able to remember what I had told and to whom!

As the date of the recording approached, I began to have worries about another little problem. I had told Mandy, the Production Manager, that I would provide an audience of 200 to fill all the available seats in the College Hall dining room which was being transformed into the theatre for the recording. The audience would have to be in their seats for the rehearsal at 1715hrs. Where was I to get 200 people at tea time on a Monday afternoon? Word had been spreading around the whole of Cranwell Campus that something big was afoot. I decided that I might just as well add to the rumours by sending out invitations to all the squadrons and departments at Cranwell inviting them to apply for tickets to the filming of a BBC programme about the Red Arrows. I had the Station Commander's approval to let people come in working clothes, including flying suits, because then they could come straight from work. I thought it likely that people might eventually guess that we were doing a This Is Your Life programme but that it was extremely unlikely that they would guess the name of the subject.

In order to keep tabs on how many people were likely to attend, I made it a ticket-only affair. To comply with all the fire regulations, I invited the College Fire Department to visit the College Hall dining room to assess the maximum number of people who could be seated within for the recording of a TV programme. They agreed that an audience of 200, plus the RAF College band on the balcony and a stage party of about 30 would be OK. I designed and printed the tickets myself on my home PC and got one of my young assistants to issue them from my office. I need not have worried about getting 200 names; I could have easily made up an audience of double the number required.

It was after my invitations had been sent out that I realised most people were in fact assuming that This Is Your Life was coming to Cranwell; rumours were rife about who the subject was and there were some very wild guesses. Some devious people thought that I was bandying around the name of the Red Arrows as a red herring. Some thought that the subject must be the College Commandant, because we were filming at the College and had gone to the trouble of re-locating the Black Monday party. Some thought it would be Raymond Baxter because he had been seen at the Red Arrows a few weeks earlier - on an entirely unrelated private visit as it happens. Some thought it would be the Prince of Wales because he had done his flying training at Cranwell.

The rumour that gave me most amusement was that the subject would be Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Why did that amuse me? Because, when I had first started my secret diary and when Ray Hanna was still the subject, I had used the nickname Phil in my private notes to refer to the subject. I wondered if anyone had managed to rifle through my diary but I'm fairly certain no one had; it was just an odd coincidence. Curiously, right up to the day of the recording, no-one seemed to have thought the subject might be Ray Hanna and I was genuinely surprised by that. Another surprise was that no-one had thought that John Rands might be the subject. Incidentally, Thames Television always used a codename, internally within the company, for their This Is Your Life subjects. I didn't find out until after the event that their codename for the John Rand programme was 'Leader' - and that would certainly have given the game away if anyone at Cranwell had heard it.

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