The interview was the very next day, 6 May 1989, so I could not have cancelled it even had I wanted to but I did have a disturbed night’s sleep. In fact, I was positively curious to go and find out what was really going on. I knew I could always decline the job if it was offered, without betraying the confidence of my friend at MOD. Coincidentally, I knew the date was exactly 24 years to the day after the very first Red Arrows' public display: irrelevant, of course, but I thought it might be useful to drop that snippet into the conversation during the interview.
As I was in a downstairs office in Station Headquarters at Scampton waiting to be summoned before the Board, I was handed yet another version of the job description – the third one! Scrawled on the top of the latest document, a handwritten note said, “Mr Cunnane: for your information before the interview”. Reading quickly through the document, it was obvious that someone had been told to collate selected elements from the two job descriptions I had seen earlier and then type them into a new document. Editorially, the result was a botched job.
That third job spec seemed to be based on an inverted command pyramid. The incumbent would report to three different Bosses: The Commandant of the RAF Central Flying School; the Station Commander at RAF Scampton; and the Officer Commanding the RAF Aerobatic Team – that being the official name for the Red Arrows. The post title had also been changed, to ‘RAF Scampton Public and Community Relations Officer’, which seemed tautological anyway. Significantly, there was no mention of low flying complaints! It seemed I was wanted – but by whom and to do what?
The first paragraph of the Job Spec stated that the appointed officer would be responsible to the Commandant of CFS for the coordination of “visits by Royalty and senior overseas military personnel to CFS.” The second heading stated that the successful applicant would be responsible to the Station Commander for running visits to the station “by ex-serving members of previous resident squadrons including 617 Squadron, for liaison with the local media, administration of Command sponsored functions eg aerobatic competitions, and involvement in station charities.” The third paragraph stated that: “The appointed officer will be responsible to the Red Arrows’ Team Leader for the coordination of visits to the Red Arrows, liaison with the media on all matters concerning Team visits, lectures, celebrity flying, and all media matters concerning aircraft accidents and incidents.” At that time, the Red Arrows had just been through a bad patch, with a series of spectacular accidents that had attracted much media attention and dented their public image.
However, before I had time to digest that third job specification properly, I was ushered upstairs into the interview room. There were three officers sitting in judgement on me: an officer from CFS HQ whose name now escapes me but who was presumably looking after the Commandant’s interests; Wing Commander John Dyer, who was OC Administrative Wing and was the Station Commander’s representative; and Squadron Leader Tim Miller, Red 1, Leader of the Red Arrows. Someone I had fully expected to be a member of the Interview Board in his professional capacity was missing: Keith Ansell, the Command Public Relations Officer. Keith was a long-serving professional civil servant employed by what was then called the Government Information Service. He had been the Command PRO in Strike Command when one of my short stories was read on the BBC in the 1970s; he had had to get MoD approval for my story to be broadcast.
Before being invited to sit down, I was scrutinised intently by the three ‘interrogators’. I felt rather like the little boy who was asked “When did you last see your Father?” in the WF Yeames’ painting that had so fascinated me at St James’ Junior School in the 1940s. “Why do you think you’re the right person for this appointment?” That was the Board Chairman’s very first question. I had, of course, pondered that very question between first hearing about the job and being invited for the interview: it is a standard question that appointment boards the world over frequently ask as an opener. (Young readers going for your first job interview, take note!) For a few seconds, I stared blankly at Tim and had a little panic. Was I really the right person? I had been worrying so much overnight about what my informant at MOD had told me that I had no answer ready for Tim’s question and I had to resort to waffle. It must have been obvious to the members of the Board that they had scored first. It was not a good start.
I can’t now remember anything more about the interview but barely three days later I had a letter from the Admin people at Scampton congratulating me, stating that I was ‘the successful candidate’, and asking when I could start. There was a form attached to the letter which had to be signed by my current Boss certifying that he was willing to let me go. That worried me. It had not occurred to me that John McMinn could quite legitimately refuse to release me, especially since there was no obvious replacement for me at Sealand. I could not delay any longer and I had to tell my Regional Commandant what I had done behind his back. He was indeed very hurt when I told him that I was planning on leaving Sealand, although I got a sneaky feeling that he had already heard through the MoD grapevine. How many other people had been talking about me, I wondered. He signed the form and I agreed to work a further three months so that the MoD system could advertise for, and appoint, a replacement for me at Sealand.