By Amir Amirani
Producer and director of Concorde – A Love Story
A few weeks ago, my film crew and I were standing outside a fairly unprepossessing entrance to a drab looking office in mid-town Manhattan.
This was the office of Kissinger Associates, the private business consultancy of Dr Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of State and, by the by, one of the most frequent flyers on Concorde.
This was the last stop on my journey to make Concorde – A Love Story for BBC Two’s Timewatch.
By this stage, I had met some remarkable characters, many unknown to the general public, who had guided me through almost 40 years of the turbulent life of Concorde.
Nothing to lose
I had never expected to meet this man, certainly not to talk about Concorde, but then I had never expected to make a film about Concorde, or even fly it. Now I was doing both, as I had flown on Concorde to New York for this interview.
During the research, I’d read that Kissinger had flown hundreds of times on Concorde. I had nothing to lose.
So I rang international directory inquiries and asked for the number of Kissinger Associates in Manhattan.
I took their fax number and faxed my interview request. A week or so later, they emailed me to say “yes”.
And a few weeks later, we were sitting in his office, with him telling us that “after I flew Concorde, I really flew nothing else”.
I was lucky in that most of the key players in the story were alive and happy to talk. I soon discovered that Concorde is one subject that is hard to be neutral about.
You love it or hate it, and it seemed most people loved it. Hence the title, suggested by Timewatch editor, John Farren. And the idea of the love between the public and the plane became the heart of the film.
Although it has to be said that Concorde had its opponents, mainly in the shape of civil servants, certain politicians, and environmentalists.
A chance meeting with a friend who had featured in a previous film I had made led me to Richard Wiggs, now deceased, who started the anti-Concorde project with his wife and daughters who survived him. They were vehemently opposed to the notion of Concorde
But I also found the test and airline pilots, designers and engineers in France and Britain, all full of admiration for their ‘baby’, some swelling with pride and their eyes almost welling up when they spoke about their achievement.
As the film progressed, the significance and scale of the achievement began to dawn on me too. The story was as dramatic as any I had come across before, a fantastic mix of social, political and cultural currents.
Concorde had been lying dormant in the depths of my consciousness since I came to England from Iran as a nine-year-old boy in 1976 – the same year Concorde came into service.
When I was asked to make this film, I hadn’t ever really given it much thought. Except for thinking that it was very far out of my reach and I would never fly on it. But I was curious enough to find out, and it has been a thrilling story to film.
I even discovered that Iran, where I was born, had intended to buy two Concordes, a story beautifully and frankly told by Lord Heseltine.
He was joined in the film by many others such as Sir David Frost, and by JJ Burnel – bass player with the Stranglers – who wrote a song protesting about the American refusal to grant Concorde landing rights in New York.
Robert McNamara, President Kennedy’s defence secretary, told us how the American attempt to build a competitor failed because, as he told us, he did the sums quickly on a sheet of paper and decided it had no future.
By now, I was itching to get on board and experience Concorde myself.
British Airways were good enough to give us a flight. They even lent us one of their Concordes for half a day so that I could take my time to film it in a style to reflect and match its own unique style and look.
I was busy concentrating on filming as we boarded and readied for take off, and only noticed something odd once we were airborne.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Then I realized what it was. Nothing was moving. No shake. Nothing. The plane was rock solid.
But it’s only when you land that you get the biggest shock. Just over three hours after take off, you land in New York. Like a train ride to Manchester, only infinitely more interesting.
For a short few months, while making this film, I felt like I had belonged to the small Concorde family and been part of the love story.
For anyone out there, whether a young aspiring pilot, designer or budding tycoon who wants to see a ‘Son of Concorde’, I can reveal that a successor to Concorde was in fact developed but abandoned.
Called Version B, it had greater range, was quieter and more efficient. But no one would invest in it.
I can tell you where to find the drawings and plans and who to talk to. But in return, I’d like to make the film about your attempts to bring it to life. This story is not over yet.