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25th March 2015
Location: Blind Veterans UK, Brighton
Interviewer – Holly Parsons & Andrea Dumbrell
Videographer – Dan Cash

00.04 – Tony: It was called a Bluebird. Which was a very simple aeroplane. I mean, it was the first one I ever built. My auntie was well aware of that, so it was quite a simple, just a balsa wood construction, with tissue paper over it. Cellulose, and an elastic band and a propeller. So that was the first one. But again, I didn’t make many of those kits, because I used to do all my own designing and that’s what triggered it all off really. And I was going to be a, I wanted to be a commercial airline pilot originally, but that was about £50,000 for training which my parents couldn’t afford, so I tried other avenues which didn’t work out, so I settled for designing instead of flying them. And that’s basically what happened.

Quite often in a Sunday, my father would take me up to London to a place called Petticoat Lane, which is just a huge, well more than one road, it’s a massive great place of stalls where they sold all sorts of, everything you could think of. It was just a sort of marketplace really. And my father would take me up there about once a month, something like that. And we’d catch the bus up, and would go through Croydon. And Croydon was an airport then, so as you went down the main road, to the left, immediately to the left and the right were aeroplanes. And that was one thing that started me off. And the other thing was, when I passed my eleven plus, I went to grammar school. I went up to have a look at it, and there was a Sopwith Pup, a full size aeroplane at the school, so I thought Oh that’s for me.

Holly: So what did you do with your aeroplanes once you’d made them?

Tony: Flew them. [laughs] Funnily enough.

Holly: Oh, so were these remote controlled ones or . . .

Tony: well, radio control, and other means of controlling it, but yeah, I just flew them. Actually, when I was fifteen I think it was, I saved up, ‘cos I was still at school, I saved, I worked on the post office over Christmas, and I saved up, I can still remember it to this day, four pound, fourteen and sixpence, which I used for buying my first engine and that was with me for a good many years.

Andrea: And the other thing I’m interested in is, you were saying about making these planes. Did you make them – and you said you flew them – did you then make sure that they stayed in one piece?

Tony: Yeah, had to. I was forever, as any aero modeller will tell you, you’re forever repairing them. Happens all the time. I was repairing them more than flying them. But that’s the way it goes.

ENDS 3m 10s

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25th March 2015
Location: Blind Veterans UK, Brighton
Interviewer – Holly Parsons & Andrea Dumbrell
Videographer – Dan Cash

00.05 – Tony: Away you go.

Holly: Where were you born and when?

Tony: I was born in Brighton on the 9th of July 1933.

Holly: And where did you spend your childhood?

Tony: 100 yards away from where I was born.

Holly: So Brighton again

Tony: Yeah. My home town.

00.26 – Holly: And do you remember having a teddy bear?

Tony: Yes.

Holly: What was your teddy bear like?

Tony: Oh, a bit non-descript. He was nothing in particular. Just a teddy bear. I can’t even remember its name. Didn’t mean an awful lot to me.

Holly: You’ve answered about four of my questions there. [laughter]. So do you remember playing with it, what sort of games did you play?

Tony: Oh, nothing really.

Holly: No?

Tony: I wasn’t particularly interested in it. I think someone gave it to me, but okay. Didn’t do a lot for me.

Holly: So what are you your best memories of the teddy bear or do you not have any really?

Tony: don’t have any

Andrea: [laughing] He just said he doesn’t like it!

Tony: What’s wrong?

Holly: I’m asking the wrong questions apparently.

Andrea: I was just saying – you just said that you didn’t particularly like it and then she asked you what your best memories were. It just made me laugh.

Tony: [laughs]

01.28 – Holly: So how about dolls? Did you remember having any dolls?

Tony: Leave it out.

Holly: What about toy soldiers?

Tony: Toy soldiers?

Holly: Yeah

Tony: Of yeah, had lots of those. Used to have battles with them.

Holly: So tell me some more about your toy soldiers. What sort of games did you play?

Tony: Well we used to buy them in Woolworths or any old places and build up an army of them and then a friend of mine would come round and we’d have a battle.

Holly: Yeah. Would you be on opposing sides or would you be fighting on the same side?

Tony: Oh we’d be against each other.

Holly: Yeah. Very good friend then.

Tony: Yeah

Holly: Yeah. And how about – what are your best memories of your toy soldiers?

Tony: Well mainly where I’d bought them and we used to paint them ourselves.

Holly: What colours did you paint them?

Tony: Well mainly, well either red or khaki, depending on what year the soldiers were.

Holly: Yeah.

Tony: If they were 1800s we’d probably paint them red.

Andrea: So what size were they?

Tony: What size? Um, about 3 inches.

Andrea: Okay. So metal ones?

Tony: Yeah, they were cast. In lead.

02.52 – Holly: So how about construction toys? Did you play with any construction toys?

Tony: That was my life. From the age of about three. I’ve been an engineer ever since.

Holly: Yeah

Tony: So my whole life really. If we’re going to start talking about toys they were all Meccano and things like that.

Holly: So tell me about your Meccano. What colour was it?

Tony: I had every set there was. Starting with, I think it was 3, going right up to the top ones. And, I don’t know whether it was the chicken or the egg that came first but either I was interested in engineering or making Meccano got me interested in engineering, I’m not sure, but that’s what I did. And that’s what I’ve been ever since.

Holly: So what did you make from your Meccano?

Tony: Oh, anything and everything. You mentioned it, I made it. I didn’t use the book very much. I just made up something. If I wanted a crane I’d build a crane, or a car I’d build a car.

Holly: And do you still have any of your Meccano?

Tony: No [laughs]

Holly: You said you were still an engineer. I thought you may still . . .

Tony: I am. But I had an engineering company. Not a Meccano set. I had a factory. [laughs]

Andrea: So what sort of engineering?

04.22 – Tony: Well, basically I’m an aircraft designer. That’s what I was trained as. But over the years I slowly changed until eventually I had an engineering company which manufactured anything that was mechanical or electro mechanical. And that could have been anything. Well, it was anything. But we, for no real reason I used to get colossal orders for vending machines, so a lot of our work was vending machines, but it could have been anything. In fact we designed a motor car that was up in – do you remember Tomorrow’s World?

Holly: Yeah

Andrea: Yeah

Tony: Well it was on there, and it was up at the car show. On we go. Holly: So, did you have any other construction toys you can remember?

05.13 – Tony: Well, yes I did. My life has been split into two, as I’ve just started to explain. Well, three actually, but we’ll leave the other one for now. I was, from the age of about six, my auntie bought me a model aeroplane kit and that was another thing that’s been with me all my life. ‘Cos that’s what I did for a living for many years. Aircraft designing. So they’re the two main things really. So I didn’t muck about with these toys that you push around on the floor and all that sort of thing. The other thing that I was very interested in, and I did a lot of it, was like most kids, model railway engines. I had lines going all over the house pretty well.

Holly: We’ve got a massive model railway set up at the toy museum.

Tony: Have you? Okay.

Holly: Yeah, it goes all the way round the museum.

Andrea: What, the 0 gauge?

Holly: Yeah. And it’s meant to be going through Hastings as well isn’t it?

Andrea: oh, that’s the 00.

Tony: [laughs]

Holly: It’s just a train to me.

Andrea: The 00’s the little one Holly. The 0 gauge is the bigger one.

Holly: Okay

06.31 – Andrea: This airplane kit you said your aunt bought you. What was it like?

Tony: It was called a Bluebird. Which was a very simple aeroplane. I mean, it was the first one I ever built. My auntie was well aware of that, so it was quite a simple, just a balsa wood construction, with tissue paper over it. Cellulose, and an elastic band and a propeller. So that was the first one. But again, I didn’t make many of those kits, because I used to do all my own designing and that’s what triggered it all off really. And I was going to be a, I wanted to be a commercial airline pilot originally, but that was about £50,000 for training which my parents couldn’t afford, so I tried other avenues which didn’t work out, so I settled for designing instead of flying them. And that’s basically what happened.

Andrea: So when your aunt bought you the kit were you already interested in designing planes?

Tony: Yes I was. I’ll tell you what happened. Quite often in a Sunday, my father would take me up to London to a place called Petticoat Lane, which is just a huge, well more than one road, it’s a massive great place of stalls where they sold all sorts of, everything you could think of. It was just a sort of marketplace really. And my father would take me up there about once a month, something like that. And we’d catch the bus up, and would go through Croydon. And Croydon was an airport then, so as you went down the main road, to the left, immediately to the left and the right were aeroplanes. And that was one thing that started me off. And the other thing was, when I passed my eleven plus, I went to grammar school. I went up to have a look at it, and there was a Sopwith Pup, a full size aeroplane at the school, so I thought Oh that’s for me.

Holly: So what did you do with your aeroplanes once you’d made them?

Tony: Flew them. [laughs] Funnily enough.

Holly: Oh, so were these remote controlled ones or . . .

Tony: well, radio control, and other means of controlling it, but yeah, I just flew them. Actually, when I was fifteen I think it was, I saved up, ‘cos I was still at school, I saved, I worked on the post office over Christmas, and I saved up, I can still remember it to this day, four pound, fourteen and sixpence, which I used for buying my first engine and that was with me for a good many years.

Holly: excellent. Any other aeroplane related questions?

Andrea: Oh, we could ask loads of aeroplane related questions.

Holly: I don’t understand aeroplanes. You’ll have to ask those questions.

Tony: [laughs]

Andrea: Any aeroplane related questions Dan?

09.40 – Dan: No. I was just interested in if, you said you were an aircraft designer, if there were any aircrafts that we’d be familiar with that you designed?

Tony: Very much so. I was involved, and I’m sure you’ll remember it, the very very first commercial jet liner, the sky, the comet. And I was very involved with that, and I was also very involved with sorting out why it crashed. And I was at a company called de Havilland’s, and we also had all sorts of latest technology, supersonic flying wings and things like that, and I, two or three of the staff got killed and I used to, as an apprentice I used to have to go and clear the bodies out on a Monday morning. [laughs]. They’d crash on the Sunday, Saturday afternoon and tow and throw the bits in the back of their lorry and take them back to the factory in Hatfield and first thing Monday morning I’d have to go out and sort out all the bits [laughs].

Dan: Was it true about the corrosive fuel used to make it even more dangerous? Weren’t just explosive, but the fuel itself would . . .

Tony: No. No, it was just the opposite.

Dan: Oh really?

Tony: Mm

Dan: Oh, I seem to have remembered having heard a rumour that they used corrosive fuel

Tony: No. No. No, I mean there was a fuel that came out even better than the one we were using, but the one that we first started using was only paraffin, as opposed to petrol. And all jet engines are powered by paraffin of some sort or the other.

11.20 – Holly: So back to toys for the moment

Tony: Back to what?

Holly: Back to toys

Tony: Yeah? [laughter]

Holly: What?

Tony: I think you’re going to get the sack soon to be quite honest.

Holly: It’s fine, I’m a volunteer, they can’t sack me.

Tony: [laughs]

Andrea: She’s supposed to be discussing toys. We’ve been going off on a tangent, not her!

Holly: Was there any toys that you wanted but you didn’t have?

Tony: Yes

Holly: What were they?

11.42 – Tony: Well, you’re half right. I came from a very musical family. My father was a band leader. And I’m sure I was listening to music in my mother’s womb. I was born and bred on music. And when it got to, well first of all my father was – you know the Dad’s Army thing? Well, he didn’t have to go in the army, ‘cos he was working in a factory during the war. And they used to have this Dad’s Army going round the streets on a Sunday morning, keeping up the morale of everybody. And they said to him, well you can’t carry a piano round with you, so go and find yourself another instrument that you can use your musical knowledge and adapt it to something else. And he managed to find, in the Brighton lanes, a clarinet for 30 shillings, I think he paid for it. And he could really paly it but anyway, when he was at work I used to grab it and have a go at playing it. ‘Cos I was also having piano lessons. And when my mother, when my father came home from work instead of saying to my mother ‘Hello, how are you, have you had a good day?’ and all the rest of it, he’d say ‘Has he had his practice’?’

Holly: [laughs]

Tony: And I didn’t like it all that much at first, but as he said to me, you will appreciate it later on, so I’ve been playing the piano ever since. But to answer your question, what happened was, when I got to the age of 16, he bought me a saxophone. ‘Cos he knew I was dead keen on all that sort of thing. And thereupon came a dilemma. What did I do with my life? Did I become a musician, or did I go into the aircraft industry? And it was a bit of a difficult decision at first, but then I thought about it – why not do both? Which is what I did. And I’ve had a tremendous life, because I’ve played with some of the finest orchestras and bands in the country, and had a hell of a life going all round the world come to that, playing. And so it’s been an interesting life. I’ve played, being at the factory during the daytime and playing in an orchestra in a ballroom or somewhere during the evening. So I’ve had a tremendous life really.

Holly: Excellent. Is there any other toys that you can remember?

Tony: yes. I had a factory, not a factory, I had a company hiring out aeroplanes, and I had a nightclub down in the south of Spain, Marbella.

Holly: Wow

Tony: So is that enough to be getting on with?

Holly: Yeah, that’s enough to be getting on with, unless you guys have any other questions?

14.36 – Andrea: Yeah, what I’m interested in is, taking you back to toy planes and Meccano, and then growing up to be an engineer and design aircraft. Do you think that your interest in engineering came about because of the toys you played with, or do you think that you wanted to play with those toys because you were already . . .

Tony: I wish I knew. I can’t give you an answer to that in all honesty. I know my father made me a plywood aeroplane when I was very young and I was quite keen on playing with that, and I came from an engineering company. As well as my father being a musician, he was also an engineer, and very practical, so I think it was in the genes really, I got it from there really. It seems funny how he was an engineer and a musician and that’s how I finished up, so maybe there is something in the genes after all, I don’t know.

15.32 – Andrea: And the other thing I’m interested in is, you were saying about making these planes. Did you make them – and you said you flew them – did you then make sure that they stayed in one piece?

Tony: Yeah, had to. I was forever, as any aero modeller will tell you, you’re forever repairing them. Happens all the time. I was repairing them more than flying them. But that’s the way it goes.

Andrea: I only ask because we interviewed some people who used to make model planes deliberately in order to then destroy them. It was part of the play.

Tony: [laughs] No, that wasn’t the idea at all. The idea was to keep them intact. But it very rarely happened. [laughs]

Andrea: So remote controlled ones you said?

Tony: Well I only ever bought one or two. Most of the ones I did I designed myself. That’s how I learnt to draw really. I used to draw them out myself, and that’s how I got onto a drawing board.

Andrea: So what powered the toy ones?

Tony: Power?

Andrea: Yeah

Tony: Well, two or three sources. When you start off it’s rubber bands. Rubber. Elastic. And, or gliding, when you use the wind of course as energy. And after that then there’s a whole range of aircraft engines. In my early days it was just petrol engines but slowly, at the end of the war, diesel engines came in which were much easier to run and didn’t need an ignition system and all that sort of thing. So it was engines after that, and then they just got bigger and bigger basically, but they still, there’s nothing much. . . There are jet engines, I’ve never been involved with that, but there are jet planes and het engines for models. It’s a bit frightening yeah, they have a speed of about three hundred miles an hour. They have them at Shoreham at the exhibition day. They fly them before the big aeroplanes start and they’re frightening. I wouldn’t touch them with a bargepole. There was, it’s beside to point really, but when I was an apprentice, we started making model aeroplanes, and being aircraft apprentices, they were getting bigger and bigger, and heavier and heavier, and faster and faster. And in the end they were made of a substance called jabroc. Which is what all the fittings and fixtures to hold the aeroplanes while they’re manufactured are made of. Very, very strong and very, very heavy. And we were constructing these aeroplanes out of this stuff. And god, were they fast. And we used to have, in the de Havilland Venom and Vampire they had, in the nose for some unknown reason had loads and loads of elastic wound up round a big, in the front of the aeroplane, God knows what it was all for. And we had miles and miles of this elastic in the factory. So we used to construct a huge catapult, about a hundred miles long, with this elastic band, and then we used to stretch it back, and put two poles in the ground and stretch out, like a big catapult, this aeroplane, well, more than one, and they were ferocious things. And we used to launch them and they literally used to go about two hundred miles an hour. And we were doing this for about six months and then one of them went over and hit one of the apprentices in the back of the neck and killed him [laughs] so that was that, it was all cancelled after that. [laughs]

19.36 – Dan: Have you ever had a real job or have you always just played with planes? [laughter]

Tony: [laughs]. Well, I’ve built quite a lot. Things like Tiger Moths we used to make as apprentices. Wood out of spruce and that sort of thing. So . .

Dan: It doesn’t sound like you ever stopped from the age of three, all the way through, designing your own planes, building them

Tony: No I haven’t. I’ve literally, I literally worked from morning till night. And I didn’t regard it as work, I used to love every minute of it. I mean there was a time when I was about eighteen I suppose, and I was, I was doing my apprenticeship and every Friday evening I would come down, soon as I could get out of work, and go round to the pier pavilion in Worthing, and play there until about midnight. And then Saturday evening I would be at the Assembly Hall in Worthing until midnight, and then I’d go on to a jazz club in Brighton and play all night until about eight o’clock in the morning, have a bit of breakfast and then I’d go back to, can’t think of the name of it offhand, in Worthing for a jazz club there, until about one o’clock, have a quick bit of lunch, over the road back to the pier pavilion for a rehearsal with the Worthing Symphony Orchestra, Sunday night do the concert, and then Monday morning go back to work. When I slept I haven’t the slightest recollection!

Holly: I don’t think I’d be able to do that much with no sleep.

Tony: So now you understand why I’m having my life story published.

Andrea: I do

Holly: We do, we do. We do. Feel a bit, our twenty minute interview a bit . . .

Tony: No, I’ve had a wonderful life. Yes, hilarious.

Andrea: Anything else you want to ask Holly?

Holly: No.

Tony: We’ve covered most of it I should think. All that can be published anyway. [laughter]

RECORDING ENDS 21m 46s

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25th March 2015
Location: Blind Veterans UK, Brighton
Interviewer – Holly Parsons
Andrea Dumbrell
Videographer – Dan Cash

Tony: Away you go.

Holly: Where were you born and when?

Tony: I was born in Brighton on the 9th of July 1933.

Holly: And where did you spend your childhood?

Tony: 100 yards away from where I was born.

Holly: So Brighton again

Tony: Yeah. My home town.

00.22 – Holly: And do you remember having a teddy bear?

Tony: Yes.

Holly: What was your teddy bear like?

Tony: Oh, a bit non-descript. He was nothing in particular. Just a teddy bear. I can’t even remember its name. Didn’t mean an awful lot to me.

Holly: You’ve answered about four of my questions there. [laughter]. So do you remember playing with it, what sort of games did you play?

Tony: Oh, nothing really.

Holly: No?

Tony: I wasn’t particularly interested in it. I think someone gave it to me, but okay. Didn’t do a lot for me.

Holly: So what are you your best memories of the teddy bear or do you not have any really?

Tony: don’t have any

Andrea: [laughing] He just said he doesn’t like it!

Tony: What’s wrong?

Holly: I’m asking the wrong questions apparently.

Andrea: I was just saying – you just said that you didn’t particularly like it and then she asked you what your best memories were. It just made me laugh.

Tony: [laughs]

01.22 – Holly: So how about dolls? Did you remember having any dolls?

Tony: Leave it out.

Holly: What about toy soldiers?

Tony: Toy soldiers?

Holly: Yeah

Tony: Of yeah, had lots of those. Used to have battles with them.

Holly: So tell me some more about your toy soldiers. What sort of games did you play?

Tony: Well we used to buy them in Woolworths or any old places and build up an army of them and then a friend of mine would come round and we’d have a battle.

Holly: Yeah. Would you be on opposing sides or would you be fighting on the same side?

Tony: Oh we’d be against each other.

Holly: Yeah. Very good friend then.

Tony: Yeah

Holly: Yeah. And how about – what are your best memories of your toy soldiers?

Tony: Well mainly where I’d bought them and we used to paint them ourselves.

Holly: What colours did you paint them?

Tony: Well mainly, well either red or khaki, depending on what year the soldiers were.

Holly: Yeah.

Tony: If they were 1800s we’d probably paint them red.

Andrea: So what size were they?

Tony: What size? Um, about 3 inches.

Andrea: Okay. So metal ones?

Tony: Yeah, they were cast. In lead.

02.47 – Holly: So how about construction toys? Did you play with any construction toys?

Tony: That was my life. From the age of about three. I’ve been an engineer ever since.

Holly: Yeah

Tony: So my whole life really. If we’re going to start talking about toys they were all Meccano and things like that.

Holly: So tell me about your Meccano. What colour was it?

Tony: I had every set there was. Starting with, I think it was 3, going right up to the top ones. And, I don’t know whether it was the chicken or the egg that came first but either I was interested in engineering or making Meccano got me interested in engineering, I’m not sure, but that’s what I did. And that’s what I’ve been ever since.

Holly: So what did you make from your Meccano?

Tony: Oh, anything and everything. You mentioned it, I made it. I didn’t use the book very much. I just made up something. If I wanted a crane I’d build a crane, or a car I’d build a car.

Holly: And do you still have any of your Meccano?

Tony: No [laughs]

Holly: You said you were still an engineer. I thought you may still . . .

Tony: I am. But I had an engineering company. Not a Meccano set. I had a factory. [laughs]

Andrea: So what sort of engineering?

04.17 – Tony: Well, basically I’m an aircraft designer. That’s what I was trained as. But over the years I slowly changed until eventually I had an engineering company which manufactured anything that was mechanical or electro mechanical. And that could have been anything. Well, it was anything. But we, for no real reason I used to get colossal orders for vending machines, so a lot of our work was vending machines, but it could have been anything. In fact we designed a motor car that was up in – do you remember Tomorrow’s World?

Holly: Yeah

Andrea: Yeah

Tony: Well it was on there, and it was up at the car show. On we go.

Holly: So, did you have any other construction toys you can remember?

05.08 – Tony: Well, yes I did. My life has been split into two, as I’ve just started to explain. Well, three actually, but we’ll leave the other one for now. I was, from the age of about six, my auntie bought me a model aeroplane kit and that was another thing that’s been with me all my life. ‘Cos that’s what I did for a living for many years. Aircraft designing. So they’re the two main things really. So I didn’t muck about with these toys that you push around on the floor and all that sort of thing. The other thing that I was very interested in, and I did a lot of it, was like most kids, model railway engines. I had lines going all over the house pretty well.

Holly: We’ve got a massive model railway set up at the toy museum.

Tony: Have you? Okay.

Holly: Yeah, it goes all the way round the museum.

Andrea: What, the 0 gauge?

Holly: Yeah. And it’s meant to be going through Hastings as well isn’t it?

Andrea: oh, that’s the 00.

Tony: [laughs]

Holly: It’s just a train to me.

Andrea: The 00’s the little one Holly. The 0 gauge is the bigger one.

Holly: Okay

06.26 – Andrea: This airplane kit you said your aunt bought you. What was it like?

Tony: It was called a Bluebird. Which was a very simple aeroplane. I mean, it was the first one I ever built. My auntie was well aware of that, so it was quite a simple, just a balsa wood construction, with tissue paper over it. Cellulose, and an elastic band and a propeller. So that was the first one. But again, I didn’t make many of those kits, because I used to do all my own designing and that’s what triggered it all off really. And I was going to be a, I wanted to be a commercial airline pilot originally, but that was about £50,000 for training which my parents couldn’t afford, so I tried other avenues which didn’t work out, so I settled for deigning instead of flying them. And that’s basically what happened.

Andrea: So when your aunt bought you the kit were you already interested in designing planes?

Tony: Yes I was. I’ll tell you what happened. Quite often in a Sunday, my father would take me up to London to a place called Petticoat Lane, which is just a huge, well more than one road, it’s a massive great place of stalls where they sold all sorts of, everything you could think of. It was just a sort of marketplace really. And my father would take me up there about once a month, something like that. And we’d catch the bus up, and would go through Croydon. And Croydon was an airport then, so as you went down the main road, to the left, immediately to the left and the right were aeroplanes. And that was one thing that started me off. And the other thing was, when I passed my eleven plus, I went to grammar school. I went up to have a look at it, and there was a Sopwith Pup, a full size aeroplane at the school, so I thought Oh that’s for me.

Holly: So what did you do with your aeroplanes once you’d made them?

Tony: Flew them. [laughs] Funnily enough.

Holly: Oh, so were these remote controlled ones or . . .

Tony: well, radio control, and other means of controlling it, but yeah, I just flew them. Actually, when I was fifteen I think it was, I saved up, ‘cos I was still at school, I saved, I worked on the post office over Christmas, and I saved up, I can still remember it to this day, four pound, fourteen and sixpence, which I used for buying my first engine and that was with me for a good many years.

Holly: excellent. Any other aeroplane related questions?

Andrea: Oh, we could ask loads of aeroplane related questions.

Holly: I don’t understand aeroplanes. You’ll have to ask those questions.

Tony: [laughs]

Andrea: Any aeroplane related questions Dan?

09.35 – Dan: No. I was just interested in if, you said you were an aircraft designer, if there were any aircrafts that we’d be familiar with that you designed?

Tony: Very much so. I was involved, and I’m sure you’ll remember it, the very very first commercial jet liner, the sky, the comet. And I was very involved with that, and I was also very involved with sorting out why it crashed. And I was at a company called de Havilland’s, and we also had all sorts of latest technology, supersonic flying wings and things like that, and I, two or three of the staff got killed and I used to, as an apprentice I used to have to go and clear the bodies out on a Monday morning. [laughs]. They’d crash on the Sunday, Saturday afternoon and tow and throw the bits in the back of their lorry and take them back to the factory in Hatfield and first thing Monday morning I’d have to go out and sort out all the bits [laughs].

Dan: Was it true about the corrosive fuel used to make it even more dangerous? Weren’t just explosive, but the fuel itself would . . .

Tony: No. No, it was just the opposite.

Dan: Oh really?

Tony: Mm

Dan: Oh, I seem to have remembered having heard a rumour that they used corrosive fuel

Tony: No. No. No, I mean there was a fuel that came out even better than the one we were using, but the one that we first started using was only paraffin, as opposed to petrol. And all jet engines are powered by paraffin of some sort or the other.

11.15 – Holly: So back to toys for the moment

Tony: Back to what?

Holly: Back to toys

Tony: Yeah? [laughter]

Holly: What?

Tony: I think you’re going to get the sack soon to be quite honest.

Holly: It’s fine, I’m a volunteer, they can’t sack me.

Tony: [laughs]

Andrea: She’s supposed to be discussing toys. We’ve been going off on a tangent, not her!

Holly: Was there any toys that you wanted but you didn’t have?

Tony: Yes

Holly: What were they?

11.38 – Tony: Well, you’re half right. I came from a very musical family. My father was a band leader. And I’m sure I was listening to music in my mother’s womb. I was born and bred on music. And when it got to, well first of all my father was – you know the Dad’s Army thing? Well, he didn’t have to go in the army, ‘cos he was working in a factory during the war. And they used to have this Dad’s Army going round the streets on a Sunday morning, keeping up the morale of everybody. And they said to him, well you can’t carry a piano round with you, so go and find yourself another instrument that you can use your musical knowledge and adapt it to something else. And he managed to find, in the Brighton lanes, a clarinet for 30 shillings, I think he paid for it. And he could really paly it but anyway, when he was at work I used to grab it and have a go at playing it. ‘Cos I was also having piano lessons. And when my mother, when my father came home from work instead of saying to my mother ‘Hello, how are you, have you had a good day?’ and all the rest of it, he’d say ‘Has he had his practice’?’

Holly: [laughs]

Tony: And I didn’t like it all that much at first, but as he said to me, you will appreciate it later on, so I’ve been playing the piano ever since. But to answer your question, what happened was, when I got to the age of 16, he bought me a saxophone. ‘Cos he knew I was dead keen on all that sort of thing. And thereupon came a dilemma. What did I do with my life? Did I become a musician, or did I go into the aircraft industry? And it was a bit of a difficult decision at first, but then I thought about it – why not do both? Which is what I did. And I’ve had a tremendous life, because I’ve played with some of the finest orchestras and bands in the country, and had a hell of a life going all round the world come to that, playing. And so it’s been an interesting life. I’ve played, being at the factory during the daytime and playing in an orchestra in a ballroom or somewhere during the evening. So I’ve had a tremendous life really.

Holly: Excellent. Is there any other toys that you can remember?

Tony: yes. I had a factory, not a factory, I had a company hiring out aeroplanes, and I had a nightclub down in the south of Spain, Marbella.

Holly: Wow

Tony: So is that enough to be getting on with?

Holly: Yeah, that’s enough to be getting on with, unless you guys have any other questions?

14.30 – Andrea: Yeah, what I’m interested in is, taking you back to toy planes and Meccano, and then growing up to be an engineer and design aircraft. Do you think that your interest in engineering came about because of the toys you played with, or do you think that you wanted to play with those toys because you were already . . .

Tony: I wish I knew. I can’t give you an answer to that in all honesty. I know my father made me a plywood aeroplane when I was very young and I was quite keen on playing with that, and I came from an engineering company. As well as my father being a musician, he was also an engineer, and very practical, so I think it was in the genes really, I got it from there really. It seems funny how he was an engineer and a musician and that’s how I finished up, so maybe there is something in the genes after all, I don’t know.

Andrea: And the other thing I’m interested in is, you were saying about making these planes. Did you make them – and you said you flew them – did you then make sure that they stayed in one piece?

Tony: Yeah, had to. I was forever, as any aero modeller will tell you, you’re forever repairing them. Happens all the time. I was repairing them more than flying them. But that’s the way it goes.

Andrea: I only ask because we interviewed some people who used to make model planes deliberately in order to then destroy them. It was part of the play.

Tony: [laughs] No, that wasn’t the idea at all. The idea was to keep them intact. But it very rarely happened. [laughs]

Andrea: So remote controlled ones you said?

Tony: Well I only ever bought one or two. Most of the ones I did I designed myself. That’s how I learnt to draw really. I used to draw them out myself, and that’s how I got onto a drawing board.

Andrea: So what powered the toy ones?

Tony: Power?

Andrea: Yeah

Tony: Well, two or three sources. When you start off it’s rubber bands. Rubber. Elastic. And, or gliding, when you use the wind of course as energy. And after that then there’s a whole range of aircraft engines. In my early days it was just petrol engines but slowly, at the end of the war, diesel engines came in which were much easier to run and didn’t need an ignition system and all that sort of thing. So it was engines after that, and then they just got bigger and bigger basically, but they still, there’s nothing much. . . There are jet engines, I’ve never been involved with that, but there are jet planes and het engines for models. It’s a bit frightening yeah, they have a speed of about three hundred miles an hour. They have them at Shoreham at the exhibition day. They fly them before the big aeroplanes start and they’re frightening. I wouldn’t touch them with a bargepole. There was, it’s beside to point really, but when I was an apprentice, we started making model aeroplanes, and being aircraft apprentices, they were getting bigger and bigger, and heavier and heavier, and faster and faster. And in the end they were made of a substance called jabroc. Which is what all the fittings and fixtures to hold the aeroplanes while they’re manufactured are made of. Very, very strong and very, very heavy. And we were constructing these aeroplanes out of this stuff. And god, were they fast. And we used to have, in the de Havilland Venom and Vampire they had, in the nose for some unknown reason had loads and loads of elastic wound up round a big, in the front of the aeroplane, God knows what it was all for. And we had miles and miles of this elastic in the factory. So we used to construct a huge catapult, about a hundred miles long, with this elastic band, and then we used to stretch it back, and put two poles in the ground and stretch out, like a big catapult, this aeroplane, well, more than one, and they were ferocious things. And we used to launch them and they literally used to go about two hundred miles an hour. And we were doing this for about six months and then one of them went over and hit one of the apprentices in the back of the neck and killed him [laughs] so that was that, it was all cancelled after that. [laughs]

19.20 – Dan: Have you ever had a real job or have you always just played with planes? [laughter]

Tony: [laughs]. Well, I’ve built quite a lot. Things like Tiger Moths we used to make as apprentices. Wood out of spruce and that sort of thing. So . .

Dan: It doesn’t sound like you ever stopped from the age of three, all the way through, designing your own planes, building them

Tony: No I haven’t. I’ve literally, I literally worked from morning till night. And I didn’t regard it as work, I used to love every minute of it. I mean there was a time when I was about eighteen I suppose, and I was, I was doing my apprenticeship and every Friday evening I would come down, soon as I could get out of work, and go round to the pier pavilion in Worthing, and play there until about midnight. And then Saturday evening I would be at the Assembly Hall in Worthing until midnight, and then I’d go on to a jazz club in Brighton and play all night until about eight o’clock in the morning, have a bit of breakfast and then I’d go back to, can’t think of the name of it offhand, in Worthing for a jazz club there, until about one o’clock, have a quick bit of lunch, over the road back to the pier pavilion for a rehearsal with the Worthing Symphony Orchestra, Sunday night do the concert, and then Monday morning go back to work. When I slept I haven’t the slightest recollection!

Holly: I don’t think I’d be able to do that much with no sleep.

Tony: So now you understand why I’m having my life story published.

Andrea: I do

Holly: We do, we do. We do. Feel a bit, our twenty minute interview a bit . . .

Tony: No, I’ve had a wonderful life. Yes, hilarious.

Andrea: Anything else you want to ask Holly?

Holly: No.

Tony: We’ve covered most of it I should think. All that can be published anyway. [laughter]

RECORDING ENDS 21m 40s

Tony

Tony is a member of the art and craft workshop at Blind Veterans UK, Brighton. He was born in Brighton in 1933 and became an aircraft designer at de Havilland before running his own engineering company. He is also a musician.

In the short version (3m 10s) of his interview he talks about toy planes. In the full version (21m 46s) he also discusses toy soldiers, Meccano and aircraft design.