"I started at the top and worked my way down"
Orson Wells, American actor, director and writer
QUIRK

LIVERY OF THE MONTH
   5653 views   
The 'Flying Bananas' of Hughes Airwest...
posted by Richard Green on 23/07/2017
 

Hughes Airwest was a California-based airline that operated regional flights in the 1970's. Its owner was the famous businessman (and later perhaps the world's most recluse) Howard Hughes, and its banana-yellow liveried planes were a familiar sight at west coast airports.

The company's strap line was 'Top Banana in the West' and it's banana-themed advertising was enough to thrill me as a kid when I was living in California. I was about seven and living in Palmdale, California, when my parents treated the family to a return Hughes Airwest flight to Los Angeles - it's a journey of under 100 kilometres, so it was more of a treat than anything. 

The airline's forerunner was Air West, which came into being in 1968 with the merger of Pacific Air Lines, Bonanza Airlines, and West Coast Airlines, until Howard Hughes - also the owner of TWA (Trans World Airlines)- bought the airline in 1970. The bright yellow paintjob was the brainchild of Mario Armond Zamparelli and first appeared in September 1971.

Zamparelli had a long association with Hughes and created the corporate identity of TWA and Hughes Airwest, plus designed the interiors of many Hughes-owned hotels; including the Desert in and The Sands in Las Vegas.

Nowadays it's become absurdly normal for airlines to be named after fruit - think Peach and Vanilla of Japan, and Mango of South Africa for example - and other banalities like Hop! (a low cost carrier from Air France), Up (part of El Al), Level (a long haul low cost airline owned by IAG), Wizz (Hungarian low cost carrier) and WOW (an Icelandic carrier).

But back in the 70's, airline names generally had a bit more gravitas - many were official national airlines that carried their flags to far off lands, like BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation), QANTAS (Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services), and SABENA (Societé Anonyme Belge d'Exploitation de la Navigation Aérienne). Their aircraft weren't generally painted in bold and amusing liveries - as with the 'flying bananas' of Hughes Airwest, which evolved an entire bendy fruit corporate universe to match. 

Naming an airline after a person goes back further that fruit-based monikers though. Still flying is Austria's Niki, named after its founder, the racing driver Niki Lauder, and of course Ryanair, which was founded by three men, two of whom had the surname 'Ryan'. And before that there was Ansett, an Australian airline named after its founder Reg Ansett; Wardair, a Canadian airline named after its founder Max Ward, and Laker Airways, started by Sir Freddie Laker in 1966. 

When I flew Hughes Airwest in the early 70s I travelled on a Fairchild F-27 twin turboprop, but these were phased out before the end of the decade, leaving the airline with Boeing 727s and McDonald Douglas DC-9s. 

The livery came about following the crash of flight 706, in which a Hughes Airwest DC-9 suffered a mid air collision with a US Marine Crops F-4B fighter jet. All 49 people on both aircraft were killed. It was decided that a new corporate identity would be a good idea to refresh and reinvent the brand, and so cue the 'flying banana' concept.

 

It's unclear as to just how far the design agency foresaw the marketing and PR link with bendy fruit at the outset, but for sure the ad men pounced on the slogans and humour of the colour scheme soon enough. Printed and TV adverts used the Top Banana line repeatedly, with the above TV advert being the most bonkers in its banana theme and banana placement. Did those poor crew/extras really have to sing whilst holding a banana? 

Even by the fickle standards of the airline industry, Hughes Airwest wasn't long lived, and after slipping up on a disastrous strike by ticket agents - that closed the airline for two months in 1979 - the airline was vulnerable to closure or takeover. The end came just four months after the strike when Hughes Airwest the was bought by Republic Airlines. In time Republic was bought by Northwest Airlines, which was them merged into Delta.

One More Thing...Ronald Reagan chartered Hughes Airwest aircraft to fly him around the US as part of his presidential campaign in 1976. The former Governor of California clocked up some 50,000 miles on Hughes Airwest, visiting 62 cities in 19 states.

Reagan making a banana look like a plane while flying in a plane looking like a banana. Photo Hughesairwest.com 


TRANSPORT QUIRK
   4110 views   
A tale of two niche car museums...one creative and clever, and one not
posted by Richard Green on 19/07/2017
 

The plush and imaginative interior of the Retro Museum in Varna. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Within two weeks in June 2017 I happened to stumble on a couple of motor museums associated with car production in the Soviet era; one was the Retro Museum in Varna, and the other was the official GAZ Museum opposite the huge car plant in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod.

One was new, completely contrived and in a ghastly modern shopping centre, while the other was opposite one of Russia's most famous car plants in the former sealed city of Gorky. One was a crashing letdown and the other intriguing and top notch, but which was which?

Varna's central Grand Mall is the unlikely home of the Retro Museum. Photo My Bathroom Wall

I was in Varna as a guest of EasyJet on their first ever flight to the city, and as part of the itinerary, our guide took us to the unlikely Retro Museum. Located on the 2nd floor of the large and garish Grand Mall in Varna, it's based on the private collection of local businessman Tsvetan Atanasov.

In the Grand Mall you can browse Refan, Reebok, and Roberta Biagi; or the Retro Museum. Photo My Bathroom Wall 

It opened in 2015 and showcases the car industry of the Soviet Union the Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern  Europe from 1944 to 1989. All of the 50 or so cars on display are in full working order and driveable. 

A wax Brezhnev next to a two-tonne V8 Gaz M13 Chaika. Photo My Bathroom Wall

The first machine you meet as you step into the deeply red carpeted 4,000 square metre space is a huge black and chrome Gaz Chaika with a life size waxwork of Leonid Brezhnev standing beside it. More than 3,000 Chaika's were built and were the limo of choice for the Communist Party elite - First Secretaries in the Soviet Union and abroad used them, and Khruschchev gave one to Castro. 

General Jaruzelski and a lonely PZInz. Photo My Bathroom Wall

And this clever display theme is carried on throughout the large display area, with Nicolae Ceausescu standing next to examples of the Romanian produced Dacia, General Jaruzelski next to the PZInz, and Erik Honicker beside two East German manufactured Trabant and Wartburg. Even Fidel Castro gets a look-in standing next to one of Cuba's locally produced trucks. 

A slightly Thunderbirds-esque Nicolae Ceausescu next to a Dacia. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Along the outer walls are also displayed lots of Soviet era memorabilia, in the form of children's toys, cameras, and even airline bumf from the days of Air Balkan. 

A cornucopia of Communist-era cameras. Photo My Bathroom Wall

It's well lit, well presented, and definitely worth a look if you happen to be in Varna and have an interest in cars from the period, or happen to find yourself enduring an unusually rainy day. 

A couple of weeks later and I was in Nizhny Novgorod, an important industrial centre 400 kilometres east of Moscow. I decided to use the 90 minutes before my train left for Moscow, to try and find the Gaz Museum.

In truth, since owning a Volga I had many times thought what it might be like to visit Nizhny. But whereas elsewhere in Europe there is interest in classic cars, in Russia I soon stopped mentioning the Volga, as it only ever solicited a weary shrug of indifference. Except for the Great Patriotic War - as the Russians call the Second World War, there seems scant interest in many aspects of their history inside the country. 

The shockingly profound and remote Gulag Museum that I visited a few years back outside of the Siberian city of Perm has now been closed, and many important Soviet era structures are now in peril through neglect and disinterest. 

Although my taxi driver spoke no English, I'm sure there was a glimmer of a smile when I said I wanted to visit the Gaz Museum - all the while pointing at a picture of my car on the mobile.

The Gaz training centre and car museum in Nizhny Novgorod. Photo My Bathroom Wall

It was 12 kilometres from the centre, and whilst you can't miss the vast Gaz factory, the driver's SatNav just brought us to a car park by the side of the busy road, in front of a few drab office blocks. Sportingly, he came with me and asked in one of the blocks for me, where the woman there gruffly sent us next door.

It was like no other museum I've been to. Outside were the words 'Training Centre' and inside a notice on the wall said 'Welcome to training centre'. It certainly had all the dreary hallmarks of a training centre, but there was a bemused human receptionist, and the taxi driver asked her about the museum. I mimed as back-up, and she beckoned me to go through the steel door to her side.

A less than inviting barrier to the museum, and a steel door by her side. Photo My Bathroom Wall

I half expected the metal door to be locked, but it wasn't, and I tore through and bounded up some stairs and across a hall, then through a small door. There was a simple cash office and I paid my 100 rubles.

In front the display area was poorly lit. Everything was in old display cases, and there was not a jot of English. 

And time was running out if I was to make my train. I dashed through another door and downstairs past four woman in camomile-coloured overalls and head scarves. They were gossiping on frumpy maroon settees, with dusters and aerosols in hand,in case anyone important might appear at the top of the stairs. 

Fusty display cabinets reveal little to the non Russian speaker. Photo My Bathroom Wall

The long room was crammed with Gaz cars, but there didn't seem to be any thought to the order, and there was nothing signed in English. But at least I'd made it, and so I raced along the sardine-packed line of cars, passing a Chaika and a cabriolet Chaika, before I found the one and only Gaz-24 mark I on display. 

The sole Gaz-24 Mark I in the museum, of over one million made. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Considering the plant across the road made over a million of them, and that they were used by the KGB, the police, Soviet ambassadors abroad, and latterly taxi drivers, plus were rallyed, were converted to ambulances, airport ramp vehicles, and even for railways track inspection, it was a poor show.

I learnt precisely nothing from the museum, as the meagre signage was only in Russian. 

I was crestfallen to see the museum looking so woebegone, but happy to have made it. I'd spent so little time inside that the woman in the cash desk waved her arms and shouted in Russian that the cars were downstairs. Then I burst back into the sunshine, and my taxi driver took me back into the city and to the train station.  

Nizhny Novgorod has a impressive new football stadium at the confluence of the Volga and the Oka rivers, and Russia is making great play of it hosting the football World Cup in 2018, with Nizhny as a host city. Such a shame that nobody has yet thought to spruce up the Gaz museum with a more use friendly entrance and some English signage inside.

And for once I was positively looking forward to exiting via the gift shop, but there simply wasn't was.

***  

One more thing...The Gaz factory has an unusual history. In 1930 Henry Ford struck a deal with the Soviet Union and 'exported' 300 workers from his Detroit plant to help build a new car making factory in Nizhny Novgorod. The city was known as Gorky between 1932 and 1990 as Russian writer Maxim Gorky was born there - it is now back Nizhny Novgorod. The plant was part of Stalin's first Five Year Plan to industrialise the Soviet Union and started producing cars in 1932. It became known as GAZ (Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod, or Gorky Automobile Plant).

The Gaz factory main gate, Nizhny Novgorod. Photo Gaz Motor Company

The deal represented a significant leg up for the Soviet motor industry, which went on to produce the Ford Model A (as the NAZ-A) and Ford Model AA (NAZ-AA), and later the Chevrolet G506 army lorry. But the timing for the US workers couldn't have been worse. They arrived in 1930 and had just got settled when Stalin's Great Purge began, which led to many of the Americans - including their famllies - being arrested, deported, or disappeared. 

The most famous of the unfortunate Americans was Victor Herman. He and his family, like many of the others who made the journey to Russia in 1931, held communist sympathies. He was 16 when his family upped stickes from the States; his father signed up for a three-year posting while retaining their US citizenship, which was part of the deal. 

Another lorry counted off the end of the production line

Herman's athleticism was noted by the Soviet Air Force, who taught him to parachute. Then in 1934 he made what at the time was the world's highest parachute jump - from 24,000ft. But on the world record forms he put his citizenship down as US - and not the USSR as the authorities had wanted - and so sealed his fate.

His extraordinary 18-years in captivity that followed was written up as 'Coming Out of the Ice' in 1979 and was made into a TV film in 1982. Both follow the story of his arrest in 1938 for 'counter-revolutionary activities', his year being tortured in a local prison, followed by an even more brutal 10-year stint doing hard labour in a Siberian gulag.

Stalin died in 1953 and the gulag system began to creak. Herman was eventually allowed to leave Siberia, but not yet Russia, and so spent 20 years in various locations doing odd jobs, before finally being allowed to return to the USA in 1976. Hi died on the 25th of March 1985. 

***

32

Varna Airport is nine kilometres west of the city centre and handled 1.7 million passengers in 2016. EasyJet fly there from London Gatwick and Berlin Schoenefeld. Most flights are seasonal - running from May to October - but there are year round flights from Sofia and Burgas with Bulgaria Air, from Vienna with Austrian Airlines, Istanbul with Turkish Airlines, and Moscow with S7Airlines

Nizhny Novgorod International Airport is 3.5 kilometres southwest from the city and handles almost a million passengers annually. There are year-round flights from Moscow with Aeroflot, UTair and S7, from Minsk with Belavia, Istanbul with Pegasus, St Petersburg with RusLine.  

35

Retro Museum, Varna; see the Grand Mall, the Facebook page of the Retro Museum, and Visit Varna.

Gaz Museum, Nizhny Novgorod; unsurprisingly there isn't a website for the museum. For info about the Gaz company now, see http://gazglobal.com/. For World Cup 2018 information, see Fifa 2018 and Welcome 2018


TV/FILM QUIRK
   4055 views   
Peter Butterworth - the spongy-faced comic actor who survived 16 Carry On films and the real Great Escape...
posted by Richard Green on 16/07/2017
 

Charles Hawtrey (left) and Butterworth (right) sharing a joke with the extras between filming

Peter Butterworth had one of those faces, and the talent to back it up, that stole many a comic scene. Bumbling and browbeaten, and always entertaining to watch, he was a mainstay of the Carry On films - a franchise of 31 low budget movies that drew inspiration from the British tradition of bawdy music hall turns and saucy seaside postcards. 

My favourite Carry On scene is centred on a piece of Butterworth brilliance. It’s the governor's black tie dinner from the 1968 ‘Carry On Up the Khyber’ - Khyber Pass being Cockney ryhming slang for 'arse' - where the British embassy compound is shelled by the The Khasi of Kalabar (played by Kenneth Williams) and Bungdit Din (Bernard Brezlaw). There are direct hits on the residency all through the meal, but the staff continue to serve food and drinks and the band plays on to entertain Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond (Sid James), Joan Sims (Lady Joan Ruff-Diamond) and Captain Keene (Roy Castle).

Roy Castle, Sid James, Julian Holloway and Peter Butterworth during the infamous residency dinner

All except for Butterworth's character epitomise the very British concept of 'keep calm and carry on', and display ludicrous nonchalance in the face of extreme danger. But here Brother Belcher (Butterworth’s character) is the only person who’s beyond stiff upper lipping; he twitches and jumps in fear, ducks for cover under the table, and grabs a wine bottle and starts swigging from it.

It's said that Joan Sims ad-libbed the "Oh dear, I seem to have got a little plastered" line; that there are no close-ups of Angela Douglas (Princess Jelhi) as she couldn't stop laughing at the deadpan performances going on around her, and that everyone tried to avoid looking at Butterworth during his wonderful reactions to the ensuing violence. 

Incidentally, being such a low budget film, Carry On Up the Khyber was actually filmed at London's Pinewood Studios, and on location in England and Wales. The Pass of Llanberis in Snowdonia stood in (rather unconvincingly) for the Khyber Pass in Afghanistan, and was the furthest afield that filming ever took place in the Carry On series. The British colonial residence and fort was actually Heatherden Hall in Iver Heath in Buckinghamshire - itself in the grounds of the studios and still used as offices, film sets and a wedding venue. Incidentally, the real Anglo_Irish treaty of 1921, that led to the creation of the Irish Free State was signed in the hall. 

Peter William Shorrocks Butterworth was born on the 4th of February 1919 in Bramhall in Cheshire – and although he was best known for his roles in the Carry On films, he was also popular on children's television and radio, played a Doctor Who villain called the Meddling Monk in five episodes (the Dr's first recurring baddie), and was married to the actress and impressionist Janet Brown.

William Hartnell as Dr Who and Peter Butterworth as the Meddling Monk; the franchise's first recurring villain

He served as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm in WWII, when his Fairey Albacore was shot down when he was 20 in 1940 off the Dutch coast and made a forced landing on the island of Texel, where he was taken prisoner and sent to Dulag Luft POW transit camp, near Frankfurt.

He escaped from the camp in June 1941 through a tunnel and managed to cover 43 kilometres over three days before being spotted and turned in by a member of the Hitler Youth, causing him to joke in later life that he could never work with children again.

Butterworth as the ticket collector with Margaret Rutherford in the 1961 version of Agatha Christie's Murder, She Said

He took part in other escapes, but never made it beyond the camp’s grounds, and was eventually sent to Stalag Luft III, infamous as the scene of The Great Escape. Whilst there he met Talbot Rothwell, who went on to write many of the Carry On films. He and Rothwell sang duets in camp shows, so that the booing or applause would cover the sounds of other inmates digging an escape tunnel. 

And Butterworth was one of the people who used a gymnast's vault to provide distracting cover for the escapees during the escape portrayed by the book and film ‘The Wooden Horse’. Ironically, he auditioned for the film in 1949 but was turned down because he "didn't look convincingly heroic or athletic enough".

Butterworth taking time out from the Khyber filming in order to plug the newly released Carry on Doctor

In the same camp as Butterworth and Rothwell were the future actors Rupert Davies, Stratford Johns and John Casson - the son of Lewis Casson and Sybil Thorndike (two very prominent British actors). All five remained close friends after the war ended and all appeared on Butterworth’s appearance on This Is Your Life when in 1975.

Tolly (Talbot) Rothwell helped him a good deal after the war, and during a summer show at Scarborough introduced him to the impressionist Janet Brown, who he married in 1946. Brown later became known for her television impersonations of Margaret Thatcher during the 1970s and 1980s. Their son Tyler Butterworth is an actor and is married to the actress Janet Dibley.

Peter Butterworth appeared in pantomimes and bit parts in films, before coming to national notice in five episodes of a Terry-Thomas TV sketch programme called ‘How do you view?’ in which he played the chauffeur ‘Lockitt’. His warm personality and amusingly expressive face led him to present several children’s programmes in the 1950s, including ‘Whirligig’ and ‘Butterworth Time’.

In 1965, he debuted in the Carry On films as ‘Doc’ in Carry On Cowboy, largely thanks to Rothwell (who’d been screenwriting on four of the films by then) who convinced the creator of the series – Peter Rogers – to offer him the job.

Butterworth was often cast as a stooge - in Carry on Screaming! he played Detective Constable Slowbotham, the foil for the incompetent Detective Sergeant Bung (Harry H. Corbett), and in ‘Carry On Don't Lose Your Head’ he played the toady Citizen Bidet, assistant to Citizen Camembert (Kenneth Williams).

Harry H. Corbett, Jim Dale and Peter Butterworth in Carry On Screaming!

Though in Carry On Camping Butterworth’s gentle eccentricity was ideal for the part of Joshua Fiddler - the dodgy campsite manager who relieves Sid James of most of his cash. He had a substantial role in Carry On Abroad (1972) too, in which he played 'Pepe' the manager of an unfinished hotel, who greets his unexpected guests in the guise of the builder, the porter, the receptionist and a telephone operator.

Peter Butterworth and Hattie Jakes in Carry On Abroad

Butterworth remained with the series until the final film, Carry On Emmannuelle (1978), and made three appearances in the films of Richard Lester - A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966), The Ritz and Robin and Marian (both 1976) alongside Sean Connery, Richard Harris and Audrey Hepburn. He made an uncredited cameo in the film version of the musical Oliver! (1968), and was in an episode of Catweazle in 1970, and Dad's Army in 1975.

When the Carry on films finished in 1978, Butterworth took a small part in The First Great Train Robbery with Sean Connery, and was in the Alan Bennett play ‘Afternoon Off’ - both shot in 1979 and broadcast posthumously.

Peter Butterworth as 'Pedro' in Carry On Abroad 

After filming The Great Train Robbery, he was in a pantomime production of Aladdin as Widow Twankey at the Coventry Theatre. He failed to return for a matinee and was found dead in his hotel room on 16th January 1979, just before his 60th birthday, having apparently suffered a heart attack.

Peter Butterworth is buried in the village of Danehill, eight kilometres northeast of Haywards Heath in East Sussex.

The headstone at Peter Butterworth's and his wife Janet Brown's grave in East Sussex 


 
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