B.O.A.C. was Britain's iconic long-haul airline for a 35 year period between 1939 and 1974. Nigel Robertshaw takes a look at the often forgotten support vehicles that were available during this time and kept the airline flying
You you're getting old when the next generation has a different outlook on things around you. For example, you’re getting ready for bed and your kids are getting ready to go out, or you need next door’s 10-year-old to reset your DVD player.
A similar thing happened in the world of toy collecting recently. My keen collector sons had gone to the NEC toyfair but I had been unable to attend. I received a phone call early on Sunday morning from one of my sons who gave me details of a model he thought I would like. He described it as a 1960s’ Hong Kong friction model of a Thames Trader lorry. Well that was easy, I know a good deal about early Hong Kong models and I’m familiar with the Thames Trader range. He went on to say that it had an unusual opening and lifting rear body section. I couldn’t place it but he added that it had ‘bo-ack’ lettering. I’d not heard of this so I asked him to spell it and, of course, B.O.A.C. was the response!
Throughout the years of operation, Britain’s flagship airline had always been referred to by either its full title of British Overseas Airways Corporation, or by its initial letters (which seemed to trip off the tongue) but never by its initials shortened to just a one-word acronym. Anyway, the ‘bo-ack’ as he called it, or more properly the B.O.A.C. Thames Trader, was secured for a reasonable price and the episode sparked the idea for this article…
A brief history
Even a brief history of the Corporation will have to start in the era of Imperial Airways in the 1920s. This business received Government subsidies to operate overseas services particularly focusing on the development of new routes to the Empire, notably the African colonies and to India and beyond.
Intervention in the running of the airline by the Government was to be an ongoing feature of the business and in 1939, just prior to World War II; Imperial Airways was combined with British Airways (not the same organisation that we shall encounter later), who operated many European routes, to form B.O.A.C.
After the War the European and domestic routes were moved to a new business, British European Airways (B.E.A.), leaving B.O.A.C. as Britain’s long-haul carrier. And so it stayed, more or less, until a further initiative brought the two divisions back together in 1974 as British Airways.
We’re not looking in detail at the aircraft operated by B.O.A.C. for two main reasons. Firstly they are a complex and specialist area in their own right, and also, due to the generally huge scale differences, the aeroplanes and ancillary vehicles do not sit well together as models. However we can’t totally ignore the planes or the contemporary models.
In the early years Short Flying Boats, from the Imperial Airways era, continued to be operated and these were one of the many aeroplane models produced by Dinky either side of the War, although their model was not finished in B.O.A.C. livery. In the post-war years the B.O.A.C. fleet was strengthened by aircraft developed from military types, again a model Avro York being produced by Dinky but only available in a simple silver livery.
Moving into the 1950s, B.O.A.C. could claim a first with the placing in service of the sadly ill-fated De Havilland Comet Jet Airliner. This aircraft was produced in full B.O.A.C. livery (with the famous Speedbird logo) by Dinky Toys and a little later by the less well-known Lone Star. The Dinky version subsequently reappeared in India under the Nicky Supertoys name.
B.O.A.C. also operated the British-built Bristol Britannia (although the relevant Dinky model was only available in Canadian Pacific colours and the Lone Star version only in an unusual British & Commonwealth livery). BAC VC 10s and Super VC 10s and the more controversial American built Boeing 707 and 747s were also operated in quantity by the Corporation.
Finally, B.O.A.C. has a further claim to fame as they did test-fly Concorde, although British Airways had been formed by the time it entered passenger service. However Corgi and one or two lesser manufacturers did finish their early 1970s Concorde models in full B.O.A.C. colours.
The service vehicle fleet
There was a wide range of ancillary and support vehicles that carried the B.O.A.C. livery, some designed exclusively for air-side use, others for road use and no doubt a number of vehicles that operated on either side of the airport perimeter. In reality many vehicles, although in full livery, would be operated, and probably owned by third party contractors, particularly at the overseas airports.
During the B.O.A.C. era of operation toy manufacturers recognised the iconic nature of the business and the appeal of air travel and produced an interesting and unusual selection of ancillary and support vehicles. Some models were simple adaptations of existing castings whilst many were bespoke models produced exclusively for their B.O.A.C. role.
Inevitably whilst some examples are excellent scale models others are quite crude, many are now quite difficult to track down, some are copies of other models, some quite valuable, others less so, and one, the earliest, must be the best known B.O.A.C. model, and is our starting point.
Dinky Toys B.O.A.C. Coach, No. 283
In production from 1956 to 1963 the make of this vehicle used to present problems to bus enthusiasts. Its companion under-floor engined coach in the Dinky line-up was clearly marked as a Leyland Royal Tiger with Duple Roadmaster bodywork (which every self-respecting bus spotter already knew) but the B.O.A.C. coach was devoid of any such helpful information. It required a lot more research to establish that it was based on a little known and relatively unsuccessful Harrington Contender-bodied Commer Avenger centre entrance coach.
Commers were popular with the Corporation at this time and a few years earlier B.O.A.C. had purchased a batch of bonneted Commer Commandos with one and a half deck bodywork in the style of the earlier Dinky Toys Observation Coach.
The Dinky B.O.A.C. Coach was only available in one colour for the whole of its production run and couldn’t even claim any significant variations for the specialist collector. This classic Dinky Toy did however provide inspiration for at least two Hong Kong based manufacturers, one taking the opportunity to add variety to the liveries available.
Mak’s Hong Kong B.O.A.C. Coach, No. 2003
This copy is slightly larger than the Dinky model and like most Hong Kong-produced copies of British die-cast models from the 1960s it has several additional features. The model boasts front and rear windscreens together with interior seating (the Dinky was devoid of these features) and of course a friction-drive motor, so common in all but the smallest Hong Kong models.
There was some classic period artwork on the box including a little artistic licence which showed the coach with a driver and compliment of passengers, all much more appealing than the fairly plain Dinky Toys box.
Unlike the Dinky version, the Mak’s coach came in a variety of other colours, some two-tone, others single colour. If you have one in the same dark blue and white B.O.A.C. livery but missing its B.O.A.C. decals and lettering, then don’t worry. This is a genuine Mak’s issue and was differently boxed as the Luxury Travel Coach.
Unbranded Hong Kong B.O.A.C. Coach, No. R 4402
This version moves up a little more in size from the Dinky and Mak’s models. It has no maker’s (or importer’s or distributor’s) name on the model or box, not uncommon at this time and probably linked to the models being what we would now call an unlicensed copy. Not that this position seemed to concern most Hong Kong manufacturers at this time! The only identifying feature on the model is the reference R 4402 where the R is enclosed in a circle.
This coach includes all the added features seen on the Mak’s version, and is probably a copy of this model rather than the Dinky Toys original. It is not as finely or accurately made and even runs on sports car-style wire wheels, which must have been taken from other models in this manufacturer’s range.
Unusually, in addition to the friction version, this coach was also available as a remote control model complete with a battery operated handset. As with all 1960s Hong Kong produced toys these coaches are hard to find in original boxed condition.
Mettoy Castoys B.O.A.C. Van, No. 870
This is an excellent large die-cast Morris van produced by Mettoy as part of a small range of ‘heavy cast mechanical toys’, sold under the Castoys brand. Because of the substantial size and weight of the models they all had rather ineffective clockwork motors. The vans were available in several liveries and carried the Mettoy-derived registration MTY 870. They featured opening rear doors, with the B.O.A.C. version displaying standard B.O.A.C. lettering with the Speedbird logo on the van sides and a Fly by B.O.A.C. legend on the roof. They are real rarities.
Production ended in the late 1950s by which time Mettoy’s much more successful Corgi Toys brand was fast developing.
Budgie Models BOAC Cabin Service Lift Truck, No. 302
During the early 1960s the less well-known firm of Budgie Toys produced some superb and quite unusual models, including a number of airport support and ancillary vehicles.
There was an Airside Foden Pluto Aircraft Refuelling Tanker in Esso colours and a superb Air BP AEC Superfueller Tanker, both models boasting stylish coachbuilt cab units. Budgie also added the unusual six-wheel Alvis Salamander Crash Tender and finally to a larger scale, their only model in B.O.A.C. colours, the Cabin Service Lift Truck. The cab unit is modelled on a rather uninspiring Commer commercial but the rear body section is more interesting with two opening ramps and a complicated scissor action lifting mechanism designed to raise the body to the aircraft fuselage access doors.
Due to the demise of Budgie it was in production for only a short time (1963-66) and is quite rare, but it still managed to inspire at least two imitators.
CM Toys Hong Kong B.O.A.C. Cabin Services Lift-Truck, No. 702
This large 1960s’ Hong Kong friction model can trace its roots back to two different Budgie Toys models. The rear body copies the opening and lifting features and lettering of the Budgie model above. However the maker has chosen not to model the rather bland Commer cab of the Budgie original instead using a Thames Trader cab and chassis unit, already in their range. This is a copy of a different Budgie Toy and highlights a big problem if you want to copy! The Budgie Toys Thames Trader casting is far and away its worst model and all the inaccuracies and mistakes of the original are reproduced on the Hong Kong version, but in a much larger scale!
However it’s so bad that with the passing of time it’s taken on a period naivety which is beautifully captured on the 1960s’ box, full of colourful and exciting artwork.
MMF Toys Hong Kong Cabin Service Truck, No. 811
This is another Hong Kong friction-drive mix’n’match copy. The rear Cabin Service Lift Truck section is again inspired by the Budgie Toys model with the same lettering and silver colourscheme, although now simplified with only one loading ramp and no lifting mechanism. This maker again ignored the rather uninspiring Budgie Commer cab and instead utilised an existing Bedford TK unit it also already had in its range with other body styles including Petrol and Milk Tankers, an Ambulance and a Refuse Lorry. The TK cab and chassis unit is a copy of the Dinky Toys version making this B.O.A.C. vehicle a Dinky/Budgie combination.
The Woolbro (British importer) branded box shows the lorry being loaded at an exotic far-away airport.
Now back to some rather unusual bus and coach models.
NFIC Hong Kong B O A C Coach, No. 3077
Whilst most 1960s’ Hong Kong models were copied from or inspired by contemporary die-cast (usually from Dinky, Matchbox or Corgi), this impressive NFIC double deck bus was a completely new design. It would be 40 years before EFE brought out their version based on the same unusual batch of B.O.A.C. double deck coaches. It is somewhat ironic that the early boxes show that the original maker wanted to protect its design with ‘patent applied for’ and related reference numbers, when most of its models were copies of other manufacturer’s items!
The NFIC model has a representation of the separate luggage area at the rear of the lower saloon and the dual offside emergency exit doors which this configuration demanded. The model is based on a Weymann-bodied (to a stylish Alexander design) Atlantean and has a plated Leyland sign on the rear engine cover. The real thing was delivered to B.O.A.C. at the end of 1966 and the model dates from this same period. A later version in B.E.A. colours was branded as a Telsalda toy.
Unbranded Hong Kong Airline Bus, No. 3383
This slightly smaller blue and white-liveried double decker is probably inspired by the NFIC example described above. However this manufacturer has used its existing model of a much more angular Weymann-bodied Leyland Atlantean. This in turn has originally been inspired by the first type single door Dinky Toys model introduced in 1962.
The model was also available in other liveries including blue and white and red and white with sister company B.E.A. British European Airways lettering.
Blue-Box Hong Kong Airport Bus, No. 77830B
This is an unusual mid-60s’ Bussing Senator left-hand drive dual-door single decker copied from one of the large range of Wiking models made in West Germany. However the distinctive B.O.A.C. livery and lettering with the sloping ‘s’ originated way back with the much earlier Dinky Toys model from the 1950s.
This bus was available in lots of different colours but the striking B.O.A.C. example appears to be one of the hardest to find.
Jimson Hong Kong B O A C Bus, No. 170A
Following copies of Budgie, Dinky Toys and Wiking models, this coach is a scaled-up reproduction of the Lesney Matchbox Series No. 66 Greyhound Bus, based on the American GMC six-wheel Scenicruiser. Unfortunately the model reproduces the incorrect proportions of the Lesney original which was shortened to ‘fit the box’ by the omission of the fourth long window in the raised upper deck.
Most of the Jimson coaches feature the accurate Greyhound fleetname and logo but less commonly and inaccurately it was available with B.E.A. or B.O.A.C. lettering. It’s very doubtful that the two British airlines operated any of these iconic American vehicles.
Unbranded Hong Kong BOAC Airline Bus, No. 444
We are now entering the early 1970s and new model releases from Hong Kong manufacturers seemed to lack the period charm or appeal of earlier toys. This is certainly the case with this model, a shortened version of a Duple Viceroy-bodied Bedford or Ford coach. At least it does not look to be a direct copy of any other model although Dinky produced its own version around the same time.
It retains the characteristic Hong Kong friction motor but has blacked out windows with no interior seating. The B.O.A.C. version is quite rare and it is more commonly found with the later British Airways fleetnames.
Maxwell India Airlines Passenger Coach BOAC, No. 532
This die-cast model was produced in Calcutta, India and is based on an extremely angular TATA commercial vehicle. It was available in a number of other liveries, including Indian Airlines, and the bodywork was also altered to form a whole range of other commercial vehicles including a Coca-Cola lorry and a Circus Van complete with two giraffes.
The range sometimes appeared under the Miltan and Morgan Milton brand names. The B.O.A.C. version was probably first issued in the 1970s and initially carried just the B.O.A.C. name, but later a dual BOAC British Airways legend appeared.
During the 1950s and 60s several toy manufacturers had coaches in their ranges which they described and marketed as a ‘B.O.A.C. Coach’ although they did not carry the specific livery or lettering of the Corporation. For example:
Tri-ang Toys Minic B.O.A.C. Coach
Tri-ang Minic produced two models which were both described as a B.O.A.C. Coach, one in the early 1950s and one around ten years later. The first was based on a Harrington-bodied Commer Avenger (with dorsal fin coachwork) initially produced by Rovex but later joining the Tri-ang Minic range.
The second was much larger but poorly proportioned and was probably based on a Bedford SB Duple combination. Both types of coaches were operated by B.O.A.C. and it’s a pity the models didn’t carry the relevant name and logos.
Fun-Ho! New Zealand B.O.A.C. Coach, No. 7
This is a rather nice little die-cast model of a Commer Avenger one and a half deck coach. Unfortunately it was not large enough to carry the appropriate lettering but it was catalogued and boxed by Fun Ho! as No. 7. Available in various colours, it was produced from 1964 to 1972.
Reflecting the real thing, several 1960s’ double decker toy buses carried between deck B.O.A.C. adverts promoting the Corporation. Most were Hong Kong-produced and included two differently scaled Lincoln International models and two unknown copies of the first type Corgi Routemaster and Dinky Atlantean buses. Sadly the earlier British-made friction-drive buses seemed keener on promoting Players Please and Woodbines cigarettes on their adverts!
With many unusual vehicles from even more obscure manufacturers there must be other toys produced in the B.O.A.C. era (up to the mid-70s) that have been missed. Hong Kong makers have been a particular focus and there must be even more models that were inspired by the regular sight of B.O.A.C. planes flying in and out of the Colony.
I know that there are also a few generic tinplate cars (and probably lorries) from Japan with various airline markings, including B.O.A.C.
Whilst Dinky and Budgie produced B.O.A.C. vehicles, a look at early Corgi Toys only revealed their Concorde model and the much earlier Mettoy van. Matchbox can claim a B.E.A. model with their delightful little one and a half deck Coach (No. 58) and Spot-on with their Vauxhall Cresta car, but sadly nothing B.O.A.C.-related.
There have been lots of recent models aimed at the adult collector’s market but if you know of any more B.O.A.C.-related old toys from the mid-70s or before, then please let us know.
Over and Out
During the 1950s and through to the 70s B.O.A.C. was a British institution known to all boys and a name they grew up with. However very few of those boys would have the opportunity to actually fly with the airline. This was all some years before cheap flights and mass air travel, a time when flying was expensive and exclusive for the privileged few.
However boys could at least feel part of the whole excitement of air travel by collecting their own fleet of B.O.A.C. planes and airport ancillary service vehicles. And of course back then there was not a mention of ‘bo-ack’!
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