Harrier on Pebble Mill at One – Keith Brook












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Ah, the Harrier.

Or, as somebody here cutely called it, the Harriet.

As you can see, it’s a bloody expensive way of getting a bloke from Rutland to Pebble Mill.

Actually, I’ve just checked. National Express don’t go there anyway and the train fare is off the scale so maybe it was the best solution after all.

Thanks to perspective distortion, in this picture I look taller than Marian Foster, although people who know me are aware that I just about came up to nipple height. I had the same problem with Sophia Loren. Oh dear, I think I’d better lie down.

The pilot, who is wearing a boiler suit for some reason, sits with his legs apart on top of the air intake. Now, if you’re a lady pilot, that’s not a big problem but for men pilots who haven’t had the sex change, this can be disastrous. To put it bluntly, using extra thrust can ruin your ability to make tadpoles.

Ah, just remembered, that’s not a boiler suit but a g-suit, designed to keep all your bits in the right place when you deck the throttle.

Anyway, the whole gig isn’t just him sitting on top of a very fast bomb. There’s a fleet of trucks whose sole purpose is to deliver all that metal sheeting to prevent the Harrier from doing a ‘Peter Seabrook’ to the back lawn. They also brought a tanker, presumably because his credit card wouldn’t stretch to a top up at the local garage in Selly Oak.

Now, when these guys say they’ll land at 13:12 they land at 13:12. The director was screaming that they were early but really he should have asked them what time they’ll get close enough to be seen, which is obviously 4 or 5 minutes earlier. So, the ensuing interview had to be cut short and we all legged it out the back. There’s a very nice TV phrase that’s often used in these circumstances called ‘shit, bollock, scramble’.

A helpful squaddie from the advanced party suggested I keep a respectable distance to prevent self-immolation. I’m so glad he told me because it allowed me to pin several rounds of bread to my chest both as protection and for a late

What a racket this thing makes when it hovers and the down-draught is incredible, much worse than a helicopter. However, because it’s a jet, it’s the heat that gets you. The bread proved a winner, but he landed a little too quickly for my liking.

Despite this thing costing hundreds of millions, I couldn’t believe it when they used an extremely old wooden window cleaning ladder for his dismount. Presumably, there’s a window cleaner in Rutland using a very expensive set of steps to ply his trade.

Once in the grasp of mother earth, he was beckoned for the interview with Marian Foster that you can see here. If I remember rightly the answer to the first question was ’10 years’, the second ‘Head for Leicester, straight down the M69, right at the M6 and left at Spaghetti Junction’ and the third ‘In time for afternoon tea’.

If you look closely, there are two very tight straps around his calves. I’ve mulled over these for some time and can only guess that they’re to prevent a toilet malfunction from making a mess in the cockpit.

But I digress.

After a few other Pebble Mill items, it was time for him to sod off.

With me in a safe place and my bread turned for the other side, he lit the blue touchpaper. This time he was showing off because he hovered for a few seconds at about 200ft, dipped the nose as he applied forward thrust, and…. it was gone!! Couldn’t believe it, just disappeared, whoosh.

There was a strange feeling of emptiness at that point but my toast was perfect, my eyebrows and nasal hair were a lot tidier and I didn’t need a haircut for weeks.

So, there we are. Basically a very expensive way of dropping in for a chat with Marian.

And it’ll always be, from now on, a Harriet.

Keith Brook

The following comments were left on the Pebble Mill Facebook group:

Marie Phillips: ‘This was definitely after 1979 because I didn’t join Pebble Mill until 1982 and I remember this so vividly. We watched it from the sixth floor and it was so exciting to spot it coming in the distance and the noise, as I think I have mentioned before, made my insides rattle !! Definitely more impact that Noel Edmonds’ helicopter !! Incidentally, as part of my Personnel duties, I had to advise the Nature Centre of the expected arrival of the Harrier so that they could sedate any of the more sensitive livestock if necessary. Also, Tally Ho when they trained the Police Dogs. We actually had to do this whenever any exceptionally loud activity was planned for P.Mill at One or Children in Need stunts.’

Stuart Gandy: ‘I certainly remember this, but if I recall the harrier visited Pebble Mill twice in the early 80s. I have some pics too of at least one of the visits. Must look them out. On the one occasion I was in the middle of my annual interview in my managers office on the 3rd floor when the first sounds of the plane were heard. Needless to say we both had to watch from the window as it came in to land and drop to the floor on the club field. The interview sort of fell apart after that!
Good times.’

Jane Clement: ‘Yes, the Harrier landed at least once during my tenure at Pebble Mill (1979-1988), thanks to PM at One director John Smith’s military connections, which led to many an interesting program. Some other highlights for me were the SAS storming the building and a live OB from a nuclear submarine somewhere in a Scottish loch. The bigger the scale, the more John liked it!’

Keith Brook: ‘Well, apart from Peter Poole, it seems you’ve all missed the point. This is a light hearted, hopefully amusing piece, using a bucket-load of poetic licence about an event that happened over 30 years ago. I can’t remember if this was the plane that came from RAF Cottesmore in Rutland or RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset and it doesn’t really matter. I’m sure these weren’t the answers to Marian’s questions but I hope they are funnier. And I can’t remember if the ladder was a window cleaner’s or not. The real intention of writing this piece was that someone would find it faintly amusing!!
Oh yes, the toast? I made that up.’

Maggie Humphries: ‘Great story teller Keith, good laugh, lets have some more, all those years of memories to draw on and remind us of our younger years.’

Pete Simpkin: ‘At the time the Harrier landed I was broadcasting live on Radio Birminghamwhich was on the first floor level and the sound got through the studio soundproofing so effectively it sounded like the end of the world resulting in me having to play back to back records for several minutes until the noise had died down enough for me to be able to explainto listeners what had happened!’

One comment on “Harrier on Pebble Mill at One – Keith Brook
  1. The pilot is Lt Cdr Andy Auld, CO of 800 Naval Air Squadron, based at RNAS Yeovilton, who had commanded the Squadron on HMS Hermes during the Falklands War.

    This visit probably occurred in late Sept 1982, after the SBAC’s 50th Anniversary Farnborough Air Show where the Fleet Air Arm’s Sea Harriers were a major attraction generating a lot of public interest; note the trees are in full leaf.

    For the aircraft spotters, the Sea Harrier FRS1 is XZ493/H/123, newly assigned to 800 NAS around 17-Sep-82, dating the visit to after that date.

    The straps around his calves have a much more health preserving function than postulated, they are guides for leg restraint straps fitted to the ejection seat to pull the pilot’s legs from the rudder pedals and stop his legs below the knees being left behind if he ejects from the aircraft, the seat getting him clear of the cockpit within 0.3 seconds of the pilot pulling the firing loop located… between his legs.

    Lt Cdr Nigel “Sharkey” Ward, who had commanded the Sea Harriers of 801 NAS on HMS Invincible during the conflict had “dropped in” to Pebble Mill on 20-Sep-79, flying the first Sea Harrier delivered to the Navy, XZ451/VL/100, then of 700(A) Sqn, the Sea Harrier flying training unit.

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