The Life Of A Sixties Air Stewardess

23 May 17

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The Life Of A Sixties Air Stewardess

Hilary Farish, the inspiration behind the Globe-Trotter spring/summer collection on joining BOAC and living the high life during the most glamorous age of air travel.

I flew as an air stewardess for nine years from 1960, nearly spanning the entire decade that became known as the Swinging Sixties. At that time, not many people flew, so it was considered a very glamorous job. In fact, for a young girl, after becoming a model, being an air stewardess was probably the most glamorous thing you could do.

It was the golden age of air travel – full of excitement and romance. I worked in first class on 707s. I had 16 passengers to look after, and we used to learn their names beforehand so we could greet them personally.

I was a Stewardess for BOAC – the British Overseas Airways Corporation, which operated the long-haul flights out of what was then called London Airport, before it became Heathrow. BOAC was eventually merged into British Airways. Flying was a different experience in those days. The passengers dressed smartly, the men in jackets and ties, and they were impeccably polite to the cabin crew. We served them with champagne, caviar and oysters, and big joints of beef that we carved on a trolley in the aisle.

There were certain things that all aircrew did. One was to buy a Globe-Trotter suitcase, as they were the strongest at the time.

Becoming an air stewardess was not easy. In 1960, BOAC took two per cent of applicants, and you had to go through two interviews. My father was not happy about the idea, and refused to drive me to the station to go to London for my interview. In the end, he accepted it, and I think he was very proud. He never flew.

Previously, I had been nursing and teaching, which I enjoyed but I was young and wanted to see the world. Once I’d been selected by BOAC, I trained for three months and was then put on a flight to New York and back on Christmas Day. After that I flew all over the world – to Sydney, Bombay, Fiji, you name it. People ask me now how many countries I visited, and I simply couldn't tell you.

We used to spend a lot of time at stop-overs, as there were fewer flights in those days – only two a week to Hong Kong, for example. That meant the crew could relax and even hire cars. We used to say that working as a cabin crew was really a way to travel from one party to the next! It was the Sixties and we were young, so it seemed natural to go out all the time. When I was somewhere like New York, which had great restaurants – and remember, the food at home was pretty terrible back then – we were often taken out. In fact, I remember one Swissair Captain phoning me in Earl's Court, where I lived, asking whether I happened to be flying to New York that day as he’d like to take me for dinner. I was, and so we met up.

There were certain things that all aircrew did. One was to buy a Globe-Trotter suitcase, as they were the strongest at the time. Another was to visit Takashimaya department store in Tokyo to buy a plug-in water heater and a special bottle opener for taking the caps off tonic bottles without bending them. This meant that we could replace tonic water with gin, and ginger ale with whisky and reseal the miniature bottles so no one would notice. This was for trips to Bombay, where there was prohibition.

I had a lot of adventures as an air stewardess. I was lucky enough to have one Royal Flight, after which we were given a signed photograph, so that was very special. I remember many of the things we got up to. Being thrown into the pool at the Karachi Rest House in Pakistan as I was about to leave for my flight, and pulling the uniformed Captain in with me in the struggle; being stopped by a policeman on my way home from the airport in London in my Mini and getting into terrible trouble, because when he asked me where I had come from, as I was in my uniform, I said Cairo.

It seems incredible to say today, but at the time you were only allowed to work for ten years because they wanted to have young unmarried girls on the aeroplanes. I nearly completed my ten years. After my wonderful nine years with the airline, I married Tim and became Hilary Derouet, a farmer’s wife, and lived on a remote farm in Thanet – a very different life.

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