Flying over the South coast of England 05/02/2020 © Richard Bryant
I was born in Hammersmith and in my early childhood we lived in a prefab in Northolt in what was then Middlesex, moving then to a new build Council house which even had ground floor central heating – quite a luxury in those days. My junior school was also in Northolt as was the grammar school I wanted to attend but I had the opportunity to apply for a scholarship at Haberdashers School. If I recall correctly this was in Hampstead which would have involved a horrendous journey whereas the school I wanted to go to was two minutes away from my house – so, when asked at the interview what I aspired to be, I said “Cowboy” – Westerns were all the rage at that time – and it worked as I was not offered the scholarship!
Ours was a very happy family and I really enjoyed my teens.
My grandfather and father were both banjo players and the late 50s and early 60s saw a traditional jazz revival and with Chris Barber etc LPs at full blast I was able to be a Trad Jazz banjo player. I still love Trad and still play the banjo – or, at least, try to!
The evolving Rock ‘n Roll scene was so exciting and in my late teens I was lucky enough to go to two Beatles concerts at the Odeon, Guildford. Building track bikes was good fun and with my mates we did lots of cycling, on and off road.
Left to right, Richard Grace, my son Andy, me and Caroline Grace
They were happy days!
In 1962 my dad, who had always worked for J Lyons and Co. (apart from serving in the RAF during the war) was promoted to Area Manager, Guildford and we moved to Ash Vale where my parents bought their first house. I had one more year of schooling to complete and I went to George Abbot school in Guildford where I met my wife-to-be.
A career had to be chosen and the school had arrangements with several local firms who met pupils and discussed careers in their type of business. One of my talks was with a firm of Insurance Brokers in Guildford and I must have impressed them as they said that if there was a vacancy they would have taken me on. I was given five introductions to Insurance Companies with a Guildford office, all of whom directed me to a London office. I chose to go to Norwich Union, now called Aviva, in their London West End office. This was on 1 July 1963.
I was six years at West End and was itching to get out of the office and become what was then called an Inspector who was responsible for developing relationships with Brokers and increasing premium income. There was a problem – at 23 I was too young as there was a minimum age of 25. So, although I did not want to leave NU, I applied to other Insurers – and let my office mates know. Sure enough they blabbed and, just days later, I was summoned to the Manager’s office and offered the position of Inspector at Worcester.
From left to right – Elaine my sister (now living in Aldwick, my Mum, me aged about 10, Minnie my Abyssinian guinea pig and my Dad © Richard Bryant
By that time I was married and we had bought a house – a new one costing £3,400! We had to move to a village between Sittingbourne, Kent and the Isle of Sheppey for that price – a similar house at Yateley was too expensive at £4,400.
So it was off to Worcester two years later and my new challenge – to turn around the underperforming area of south Worcestershire and north Herefordshire and I loved it.
My reward? Another move three years later to Edinburgh and No 2 to the Chief Inspector. It was at that time when the unions were getting more of a presence in insurance companies and the government imposed a pay freeze. Financially, times were hard and we were a long way from “home”. I did not want unions to negotiate my conditions of employment – I wanted to work hard and well and prove my worth.
Fortunately I had maintained regular contact with the Guildford insurance brokers with regular letters to and fro – no emails then! – which turned out to be a good move as they had a vacancy coming up. So I resigned from NU and we returned south, settling in Cranleigh. It was 1973.
A glider taking off at Lasham Airfield © Mike Turber
I settled into broking very well and revelled in having so many different Insurers with whom to negotiate deals. Over the years I set up numerous insurance schemes and also secured a huge extended warranty scheme for the latest kitchen appliance – microwave ovens. There was no computer system at that time so managing this scheme involved delivering applications from purchasers to home typists in Cranleigh (mostly Round Tabler’s wives!) and collecting their typed certificates which were put in envelopes by my children. They were franked the next day at the office and posted. My employer never really understood how this scheme ran so efficiently!
In 1976 the new Legal and General manager called in and, seeing framed Spitfire photos on my wall, asked me if I was interested in aviation. It transpired that he was a gliding instructor at Lasham which, at that time (and possibly still is) the biggest gliding centre in the World.
It was on 20 May 1976 that I had my first glider flight – and loved it! I flew solo on 19 September 1977 – an experience never forgotten.
I then flew regularly for just over 11 years until pressure of work meant I had no choice but to stop until there was time available.
I worked harder and harder and, eventually, my premium income exceeded that of any other director or account executive – but I was not being fairly rewarded so, in September 1983, I decided to take the plunge and go it alone.
Final checks, then ready for take off
I thought I would have to work three month’s notice but an improper action by my employer meant my contract of employment was set aside and I left immediately. The downside was that I would lose three months pay!
I traded under the title “Richard Bryant FCII” and my home number became my business number – nice and easy for people to find me! For several weeks I worked from home but straight away looked for office premises, ending up in Dudley House – two rooms and a small kitchen.
The business thrived! In just a few months I realised much larger premises were needed and the search began.
When Tylers closed in Cranleigh their premises were split into four shops. Their rear building and (then covered) entrance road was on the market with planning permission for office use – I bought it!
The council agreed to the entrance road being called Tylers Court. The building was two storeys with a flat roof. I called it Exeter House as Exeter Trust was the only firm to offer my fledgling business a mortgage!
This all happened in early 1985 and coincided with my good friend Jan Kesek joining me to form Bryant Kesek and Partners. We shared the same basic business plan – keep to one office, our staff (circa 13) were to be locals as far as possible, build a business with a first class reputation, give a second to none service and thrive on referral business – it worked!
Flying over the English Channel. If you look closely you can just see an Offshore Wind Farm to the right of the cockpit
Leaving the subject of work for a while, this is the time to mention my visit to the Biggin Hill Airshow in 1986 where I met Nick Grace who, the previous year, had finished the six year rebuild of Spitfire Mk9 ML407. He allowed me to take copious close up photos to enable me to authentically finish work on my model building project at that time – a radio-controlled 5ft 6in wingspan Spitfire Mk1 from plans which was a far cry from the Keil Kraft rubber band powered models I made as a kid!
Back at Tylers Court, 1987 was a memorable year for the wrong reason. We had secured permission to build a pitched roof, not only as flat roofs are trouble, but also to provide more office space and make the property look better. The roof had been removed and the building was protected by waterproof sheeting secured to the scaffolding when, on the night of 15th/16th October the infamous “Great Hurricane” struck sending scaffolding sheets flying through the air and causing the scaffolding structure to tilt. Mercifully no one in Cranleigh was injured and the rain stopped thus preventing any serious water damage to the interior and its contents. Phew!
At home, in 1992, the decision was made that the time was right to move house and have a “country experience” and in April of that year we moved from Cranleigh to Tismans Common, near Rudgwick and a Sussex cottage style house (built in 1980 but, to the unprofessional eye, looking a few hundred years old) with three acres including an acre of woodland, a stream, three small lakes, waterfalls and a meadow with fruit trees – idyllic!
Flying over the South coast of England 05/02/2020 © Richard Bryant
We had to have a dog – but what breed? We eventually settled on a curly coated retriever. We had him from a puppy and he had a good country life, living to the ripe old age for the breed of 13.
I have mentioned Nick Grace and his Spitfire. Tragically, just two years later, in 1988, Nick was killed in a car accident but his widow, Carolyn, kept the aircraft and qualified as a Spitfire pilot. In the video of Nick’s rebuild there is a clip where Carolyn was pushing their son, Richard, in a pushchair.
In 2009 I was able to fly in this two-seater and Richard Grace was my pilot! In 2015 I had my second flight this time piloted by Dave Puleston. Dave and Richard are the TRIG aerobatic team pilots and in both my two flights I inevitably enjoyed the exciting experience of loops, rolls, hesitation rolls, half rolls, half Cubans and, just before landing, two victory rolls over the airfield. I “had the stick” for and flew this 70 year old icon of the skies myself. I have an hour on Spits!
Back to Tismans Common – we had to face reality and prepare for downsizing. Although we had gardening help, maintaining three acres takes up a lot of time and effort so, in 2012, we moved back to Cranleigh. I have now lived and/or worked in Cranleigh for 48 years and we love it.
After the curly coat died we waited a year before acquiring another dog, this time a Labradoodle. He was amazing, winning the Billingshurst Dog Training Club Agility Cup in 2013 (out of 40 dogs) and even coming third two years later without trying! He was well loved in the village and at the office when he frequently came in with me.
One absolutely hilarious occurrence was when I was trying to get him to feel safe going through the dog agility tunnel. Being a long-legged tall dog he had a problem with tunnels. I borrowed one from the club and on a nice sunny day I crawled through the tunnel depositing biscuits behind me along the way. When I exited the tunnel there was no sign of the dog – the cheeky thing had followed me through the tunnel, gobbling up biscuits on the way! He was a very intelligent dog, much missed.
He was also 13 when he died. I counted his rosettes – 49 in all.
I arranged the insurance on the support vehicles used by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and was lucky enough to attend private visits to RAF Coningsby in 2012 and 2013. On both occasions I flew in their Dakota and, well strapped in, I was able to “hang out” of the loading door frame and wave to people on the ground waving to us! Those that were agile enough were able to crawl through the Lancaster fuselage and sit in both the pilot’s seat and that of the rear gunner. Those crews were so brave.
In 2014 I was able to resume gliding and this time I joined Southdown Gliding Club, Parham. I re-soloed and since joining SGC I have had 270 flights. There would have been a lot more if it had not been for Covid!
A couple of interesting facts – on the front of a glider canopy a short length of wool has been taped in place. Why? If you are flying accurately the wool will always be straight back even in a steep turn. If it is to one side or going all over the place, the glider is being flown inefficiently and unnecessary height is being lost. It is a very accurate, and cheap, turn and slip indicator!
My remote controlled Spitfire Mk1 model in construction
The second is that on 21 June 2018 an SGC glider pilot flew 807km at an average speed of 89.2km per hour in 9hrs 4 minutes which is the equivalent of Parham to Rome and back in a straight line – remember, there is no engine power!
Back to work – as our business was so well respected, Jan and I regularly received interest in buying the business but it was not until 2010 that we looked into this possibility. Why then?
Well, EU driven compliance and regulation was just so “over the top” and it was said that if these rules were typed onto A4 paper the stacked pages would be 8ft high. It was a minefield and wasted so much unnecessary time.
On 1st November 2012 we sold the business to an independent broking firm with an excellent reputation and, very importantly, a full-blown Compliance and Regulation department on which we could offload all that tedious work.
I worked for my new employer until I retired on 1 July 2014. I had been in the world of insurance for 53 years to the day.
In retirement, apart from gliding, I was a founder member of Cranleigh Civic Society, served on the parish council for a short while and joined U3A helping people to learn to play the ukulele.
Just about to take off in this 70 year old iconic aircraft
I also play banjo at Cranleigh Acoustic Sessions who, pre-Covid, met once a month at the Arts Centre.
In 2017 we realised we had regular visits from hedgehogs and we now have them visiting every night. We leave out water and special food with all visits recorded on two wildlife cameras. It is magical to see a fox and a hedgehog eating at the same time from the same bowl.
A year ago we were lucky enough to purchase an eighth of an acre of woodland which backs on to our garden which is our wildlife haven in which we have had a wildlife pond built.
This “People Profile” is a result of me contacting Crane Spotter after reading his July account of seeing white storks over Cranleigh. I told him of an encounter I had in June 2018 when I was flying a glider along the South Downs at about 800ft. This flight lasted 1hr 44mins and, being silent (no engine) I had already had several close sighting of buzzards and red kites who are not afraid of the “big white birds” flying the ridge. This day was different as coming towards me were three white storks in V-formation about 10m away so very close.
On the way home I called in to RSPB Pulborough Brooks and they confirmed they would be Knepp Estate birds as they had released some of “their” white storks to colonise new areas. Knepp later confirmed this to me.
It is amazing what you can see flying high above the air, maybe you should try it some day?
For further information please contact:
Gliding Trial Lessons: www.southdowngliding.co.uk – 01903 742137
Spitfire flights – Goodwood has two seat Spitfires: www.boultbeeflightacademy.co.uk
Note: ML407 is located at Sywell in the Midlands