WHAT HAPPENED OVER THE YEARS?
Professor? Professor of what?
Well, absolutely nothing, actually. But the log-in page asked for a nick-name and I took it at its word. I assume computers know what they’re doing when they ask damn fool questions. And every damn-fool question deserves a damn-fool answer. How did the nick-name come about? Well, that’s a long story but if you’ve got the time I’ve got the web site space.
sounds crass to say you recall your first day at the City of Bath Technical
School – like saying you remember your first pint of beer or your first
motor bike or your first… well, whatever. But, the fact is, I do remember
it. First pint of beer as well! My starting date at CBTS must have been about
September 1956. I lived out at Whiteway and travelled in by bus with another
new boy called Peter Blight. (Are you out there somewhere in the
The old city-centre school building was a real piece of history. Bare wooden floors, a brick-built latrine hut at the far side of the playground and the occasional sound of pigs squealing in the slaughterhouse across the road. Do you remember all that, chaps? There were a number of annexes: St James’s Hall just down the road past the Modeller’s Den, and some rooms up near the old Pump Room. Dispersed sites? We walked out to the old prison near Brougham Hayes for our woodwork and metalwork lessons and thought nothing of it.
I left the
City of Bath Technical School in 1961, a year after moving out to the Brougham
Hayes site. My father was posted to Rosyth Dockyard in Fife and I spent the
next two years at
The Job? In
time I decided that enough was enough. I was fed up with
first, if you want to control aeroplanes you must first learn to fly them. In
the cold snows of January 1966 I got my private pilot’s licence at
Cambridge Aero Club. Flying in the middle of snow clouds was interesting
– trying to get your wheels back on the ground before the snowstorm hit
the field! The instructor was a suave old RAF pilot. Pulling on his pure white
gloves, he would say, “Try not to hit anything when you take off, old
boy. Tends to make a mess of the aeroplane.” Navigation wasn’t my
best subject so I got hold of a map showing all the railway lines in the area,
and followed them whenever I was off on a solo cross-country. They actually had
railways lines scattered around the countryside in those days. After a couple
of courses at the college, I then spent most of that year back in
year I did a couple more college courses – great to be back in Bournemouth
in the summer time – and then spent some months working at the old
Preston Air Traffic Control Centre (now as defunct as the CBTS city-centre
school). Then I did a spell at a long-range radar station in
The third year
of training again involved a couple of college courses and then some live
experience at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at
At the end of
the three-year cadetship, in 1968, I was posted to
Fionnuala and I were married and then moved south to that long-range radar
station again. It was called Ulster Radar and was a joint civil-military base
on the coast of County Down about thirty miles south of
The crunch came when I went on duty one Sunday afternoon. Rioting started on the road between the radar site and the nearby RAF domestic site. Cars were stoned and mob rule took over. My watch supervisor gave me an “early go” that afternoon. He wasn’t daft, he wanted to see what would happen to me before he set off home himself. I had recently bought my first brand new car, a little orange coloured Fiat 500 that cost me all of five hundred pounds. That was a lot of money when you bear in mind that controllers are paid only half the salary of an airline pilot. Anyway, I set off home with some trepidation. Rather than risk the wrath of the mob, I took a by-road which was the long way home but seemed to be a better bet. Some miles farther on I came to a road block. A car was pulled sideways across the road and a group of people were stationed either side of it. Who were they? Loyalists or nationalists? I couldn’t tell and I wasn’t prepared to turn and run as it would invite a bullet up my back end. Better to bluff it out, I decided. As I came closer, they pulled the car aside and waved me through. I waved back regally and breathed a sigh of relief. But why did they just wave me through? On my next duty I had a chat with the watch supervisor, an old guy who lived next door to the Chief of Police in Downpatrick. “Bit worried about you, old boy,” he said. “Especially after you bought that new car. The local IRA brigade leader has an identical car to that!”
It was, I
decided, time to move on. The “boss” of the radar unit told me in
no uncertain terms that any request for a posting would mean moving to
The job of controlling aircraft at Tiree wasn’t exactly onerous. We worked up to a peak traffic rate of one flight a day in the summer. It wasn’t as busy as that in the winter. I was also the aerodrome manager and, to pass the time, I took all the furniture out of the manager’s office and built a model railway around the walls. I was sitting in the control tower one sunny summer morning, building an OO gauge model of a GWR locomotive, when a naval helicopter landed. The pilot wandered across for a chat and we got into discussion about seeing similar locomotives passing by our old school. “What school?” I asked. “The City of Bath Technical School at Brougham Hayes,” he told me. His name was, to the best of my recollection, David Paul. Perhaps someone might remember him.
wasn’t enough to keep me entirely occupied so I had a couple of sheep
which I kept in our back garden and I also set about growing tomatoes in the
Visual Control Room. It was a funny sort of VCR that stuck out from the side of
the old wartime control tower, but it caught the sun and I figured to make good
use of it. When the plants reached maturity they tended to block off my view of
the runways. Sitting reading a book one morning, I got my first radio call from
the inbound Loganair flight, gave him the weather and decent clearance and went
back to my book. Half and hour later I peered through the foliage to see him on
the apron disgorging his passengers. I had forgotten about him and he had
forgotten about me. It was that sort of life out in the
I had one daughter, Fiona, when I was posted to the island. When we left three
years later we also had two sons. Probably something to do with the fact that
there was no television reception out there. Somewhere I have an old
black-and-white photograph of Fiona as a two-year old sitting at the Tiree ATC
desk. An interesting item as she was the only one to follow in father’s
footsteps and become and air traffic controller. She worked nine years at
After three years in the wilderness I decided that I
really had to get back into the thick of air traffic control once again. So, in
1975, I volunteered for a posting to the Scottish Air Traffic Control Centre at
Outside of the central area of Scotland, radar was (in those days) non-existent below 25,000 feet and the weather and winds made pilot’s reports and estimates rather unreliable. I remember trying to help a pilot who was lost. I asked him what he could see below. With a cry of joy he said that he could see the Forth Bridge. Now, the Forth Bridge is on the east coast of Scotland and my radio cover didn’t extend that far. He was actually near Oban on the west coast and looking at something called the Connell Bridge. Getting lost is one thing, you should at least know which side of the country you are flying over!
By the time we moved into a new en-route control building with new equipment in 1978 I was a watch training officer. I enjoyed that job and decided to do a five-year tour as an instructor at the College in Bournemouth. So, in the winter of 1979/80, we were on the move again and bought a family house in Wimborne, a quaint old Dorset market town. I began work as a college instructor and one of my early trainees was Chris Brain, another CBTS old boy although he came from the 1970s era. I have a feeling they called the school something else by then. These Bath Tec old boys seem to crop up again and again.
I should have gone back to operational ATC after five years but I had a nasty heart attack and my controller’s licence was withdrawn. I eventually got it back with a pointed suggestion that I should never again try to practice the privileges of the licence as a controller. The stress of the job would not be good for my health. Instead, I stayed on as an instructor and became a part of the furniture: a sort of “Mr Chips” of air traffic control. That was about the time I first became known as the “professor” and the nick-name sort of stuck.
In time I took over the training of ATC instructors and that gave me the opportunity to run a few courses overseas. Running a course in the Ferringhi Beach Hotel in Penang was great, so was the course in Hong Kong. First time I’ve seen people take out their lunch boxes, set up a picnic on the desk, and start eating – all in the middle of one of my lessons. Imagine doing that in one of “Bill” Hayman’s lessons! The course in Frankfurt wasn’t such a hot experience – I didn’t realise the Germans could be so brutal towards their trainees. It’s not exactly overseas, but I occasionally get to run courses up in Scotland. I get used to leaving Southampton Airport in thirty degrees of sunshine and arriving in Glasgow in the freezing rain. But it’s a diversion away from the rigours of everyday life.
Nowadays, Fionnuala and I have a nice retirement bungalow in Ferndown, on the outskirts of Bournemouth. Next year, assuming the company’s pension plan is still intact, I plan to retire early at age fifty eight. As a career, it’s gone on long enough and now it’s time to move aside and make way for younger blood. Fiona, our daughter, is now an instructor at the College of ATC, so I feel I’ve done my bit for the on-going needs of the company.
So, we go back to the original question, “Professor of what?” Like I said at the start, “absolutely nothing at all.” But it’s been an interesting journey getting there!
(Class 1Y of 1956)