Great figures of aviation, Lord King and Sir Richard Branson, on BBC Radio 4’s “Desert Island Discs”

British Airways Concorde
British Airways Concorde

We recently browsed the archives of BBC Radio 4’s long running series “Desert Island Discs” and found two recordings from over 20 years ago, featuring two giants of aviation.

The first is Lord King, the former Chairman of British Airways who, together with Colin Marshall, oversaw the transition of BA from a nationalised industry to the “World’s Favourite Airline”. The second is Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic.

The interview with Lord King was first broadcast on 19 April 1991. The interview with Sir Richard Branson was first broadcast 9 June 1989. Both were interviewed by Sue Lawley.

Whilst the interview Lord King covers much of his time at British Airways, the interview with Sir Richard Branson barely touches on Virgin Atlantic – the main focus being Virgin Records which at the time was owned by Virgin. At the time Virgin Atlantic was just five years’ old. Interestingly, the relationship between the two airlines, which was to later sour significantly, isn’t mentioned in either interview.

The contrasting styles of Lord King and Sir Richard Branson are very much evident in the interviews.

That said, whilst Lord King does come across as a little cold at first he does warm up later into the interview. Furthermore, whilst Lord King’s style is seen as very much from a different era of business, so much so that Financial Times journalist Lucy Kellaway once wrote of his “bombastic rudeness” (legend has it that Lord King personally ordered the removal of BA advertising from the Financial Times after he took exception to a profile of him written by the paper), it is clear he has a genuine passion for business.

Furthermore, there is little Lord King says in the interview that many current aviation CEOs of today (Willie Walsh of International Airlines Group or Richard Anderson of Delta) would disagree with, particularly the references to the need for rational decision making and that sometimes painful decisions have to be made in the long term interests of the company.

Lord King also complains about government regulation and the barriers to true consolidation in the industry – two issues which are very much alive today.

As far as music choices go, neither interviews yield little surprises. The Flower Duet from Lakmé, famous for its use in many BA ads, features in Lord King’s choices. Many famous tracks from the Virgin Records back catalogue feature in Sir Richard Branson’s choices.

You can listen to the Lord King interview here and the Sir Richard Branson here.

Sadly, there was one other programme we would have loved to have covered here. That is an interview with the late Alan Whicker from 1967 but, alas, there is no audio online.

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