Ode to Concorde


Congratulations to Director Chris Purcell and his expert team on the development of ODE to CONCORDE!
This beautiful film distils the essence of the Concorde experience and will stand as an inspiring tribute to the amazing legacy of the world's first supersonic passenger aircraft.

My own Concorde involvement has extended over many years, and it was a great pleasure to contribute background material for the film from my archive files.

My first Concorde work assignment was in 1975, when I was head of the Sales Training Department at British Airways. The introduction into commercial service of the world's first supersonic passenger jetliner was scheduled for January 1976, so we prepared technical training material for the airline's sales staff, travel agents and associated organizations worldwide. The instruction package covered key topics such as: product features, customer benefits, the operational schedule, reservations and ticket sales procedures, passenger check-in, seat assignments, checked baggage regulations, the allowance for carry-on cabin bags, special handling arrangements for Royalty, Heads of State, VIPs and affinity groups, the timings of principal flight connections and related international fare calculations.

In the early days of operation, Concorde advertising campaigns focused mainly on the unique delta-wing shape of the exterior fuselage and the general public had received relatively little information about the Concorde cabin. British Airways sales staff had to handle strings of questions from mystified would-be passengers, for example:

"Will we have to wear oxygen masks and helmets, like Air Force pilots in the movies?"

"Do we need to stay strapped in for the whole flight or are we allowed to walk around the cabin occasionally?"

"With Concorde flying at twice the height of Mount Everest, how can we expect washroom taps and toilets to work properly?"

"Um ... will Concorde be going anywhere near those Russian ... um ... Sputniks?"

"If it's true we'll travel faster than a rifle bullet and at twice the speed of sound, will my Henry's hair-piece fly off?"

And, not surprisingly, the celebrity obsession:

"Is it alright to say 'Hello,' if Paul McCartney comes through the cabin?"

In the mid-1980s I participated in a major Concorde upgrade programme at British Airways. I was privileged to work as Controller Corporate Identity at the time when the airline was transitioning from government- to investor-ownership. To prepare for privatization a dramatic new brand image was created to cover every visual element of the airline including: aircraft exterior livery schemes, aircraft interiors, ground handling equipment, airport check-in and lounge areas, city ticket offices and corporate premises, advertising messages, staff uniforms, signage, documentation and stationery (at that time the programme was classed as the most comprehensive of its kind -- and the most expensive -- ever recorded in aviation history).

Obviously, Concorde was going to provide the "halo effect" for the entire airline, and I still have vivid memories of standing in the basket of a "cherry-picker" elevator, early one (fortunately) non-breezy morning, when we proudly affixed the first decal version of the British Airways Coat of Arms (Motto: To Fly, To Serve) to the vertical tail section of the first Concorde scheduled for transformation to the new corporate identity. For the Concorde cabins the decision was made to develop a distinctive design treatment featuring supersonic shades of grey: for British Airways this was a major aesthetic leap into the future! Over several months I recall busy sessions in the Concorde hangar when new-style, glove-soft, dove-grey leather seat covers were tested and installed, along with matching finishes, fittings and accessories, all topped off with sparkling silver-tone lighting effects. To comply with safety certification requirements and operational weight restrictions, we had to work hard to meet design specifications and standards that were far more challenging than those associated with subsonic fleets, for example: Concorde's misty-grey curtains were made of an ultra-lightweight Trevira fabric instead of the much heavier woven wool normally used by major airlines; Concorde's smoky-tone mod-acrylic blankets were as featherweight as a luxury pashmina shawl; and Concorde's charcoal-shade carpets were relatively flat and thin compared with the thick, cut-pile, pure-wool blue carpets that had traditionally been a distinguishing feature of British Airways cabin décor schemes. Of course, we were all delighted when the new "look" of the British Airways Concorde cabins rapidly became classed as the epitome of high-style "executive-chic", subsequently emulated by airlines across the globe.

In the late 1990s I was fortunate to fly Concorde as an independent commercial passenger, both on Air France and British Airways, and I took some photographs which I count among my most treasured aviation souvenirs. Well, it was indeed an education to sample the customer reactions to my own cabin-interior work during the preceding decade! But passenger comments had definitively evolved, for example:

"There still isn't any seat-back TV -- but perhaps it wouldn't work technically at Mach 2?"

"When will there be a wide-body Concorde, so we can bring our 'Roll-aboard' suitcases inside the cabin?"

"Ooh, my knees! Let's start a campaign for Concorde sleeper-seats!"

However, the long-standing celebrity obsessions had not changed:

"Is it alright to say 'Hello,' if [by that time ennobled] SIR Paul McCartney comes through the cabin?"

In 2003 and 2006 my essay entitled "Concorde Unique" was published in the first and second Editions of my book, Jetliner Cabins; and in 2014 a Case Study version of the text, with accompanying Picture Galleries, was published in the third Edition, the E-BOOK APP entitled JETLINER CABINS: Evolution & Innovation (available on Amazon, Apple iTunes, Google Play and www.jetlinercabins.com).

Yes, over the decades I have truly loved every moment I have spent with Concorde! And I am thrilled that some of my archive files have provided assistance for the development of Chris Purcell's film. Thanks to ODE to CONCORDE, the experiences of many of the original Concorde specialists will continue to inspire future generations of aviation enthusiasts.

Jennifer Coutts Clay
New York
August 2015

Jennifer is Associate Producer of Ode to Concorde, a short art house documentary from Right Angle Films, now in production, directed by Chris Purcell. Click the PICTURES link above to visit Jennifer's Concorde Air France & British Airways Picture Galleries (Previews).

Copyright Jennifer Coutts Clay
August 2015



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By Jennifer Coutts Clay, Principal, J. Clay Consulting

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Grateful acknowledgement is given to the airlines and other organizations credited in this book for permission to use their photographs.
There are other images, also credited, that come from publicly available sources, for example, company sales brochures and websites. Pictures that are displayed
without photo credits come from the Collection of J. Clay Consulting.

Jennifer Coutts Clay has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
First Edition in Hardback © 2003 Jennifer Coutts Clay. Second Edition in Paperback © 2006 Jennifer Coutts Clay. Third Edition in Digital Format © 2014 Jennifer Coutts Clay.