Hughie’s flying opportunity is knocked back over Cowes

A young Hughie Green  as a pilot for the RCAF
A young Hughie Green as a pilot for the RCAF
Lieutenant Colin Churcher

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You may remember this photograph published earlier this year. It is of a Princess flying boat built by Saunders-Rowe at Cowes in the Isle of Wight.

Built at a cost of £10m, they were sent for scrap in the early 1960s.

A Princess flying boat that Hughie green wanted to buy from Saunders Rowe , Cowes, isle of Wight.

A Princess flying boat that Hughie green wanted to buy from Saunders Rowe , Cowes, isle of Wight.

I thought there might be more to the story, but could find nothing other than the government thought jets a more profitable idea.

However, purely by chance, last week I visited a bookshop and came across Hughie Green – Opportunity Knocked, an autobiography and fascinating look into the man either loved or hated by television viewers.

The truth is that Green was an astute businessman but, more than that, he had a licence to fly 36 different aircraft. During the war he flew aircraft for the RAF from Canada to Britain and after the war delivered aeroplanes all over the world.

He was in showbusiness before the war and continued long after with his two most well-known shows, Double Your Money and Opportunity Knocks.

In his book Green tells of how he tried to buy the one remaining Princess flying boat and one of the reasons he was not allowed to was because flying in the Solent would interfere with Cowes Week!

Green was shocked when BOAC and the RAF turned their backs on flying boats because he reckoned he could see their potential.

At the time there were two services from Britain to Australia – one by conventional aircraft which flew over land and another by the flying boats. The boats, although slower, were more popular.

Indeed when the older boats were withdrawn from service they were still running with full passenger lists while the ‘land-planes’ ran half empty.

Green says the folly of the RAF not having a flying boat in service was highlighted in 1958 when a KLM Dutch Super Constellation crashed 100 miles west of Shannon, Ireland.

A Shackleton air/sea rescue flight was sent and spotted survivors in the sea but, of course, could do nothing. They died soon after in the freezing sea.

Green said: ‘Can you imagine the frustration of the men, women and children floating in the freezing waters of the Atlantic as they watched a land plane circle above. Absolutely useless.’

When he first visited Cowes and saw the Princess, Green had his breath taken away. They were massive and he knew he had to buy one.

He had a conversation with his Greek friend Tony Couloucoundis.

‘Who paid for these boats?’ Couloucoundis asked.

‘The British taxpayer,’ Green replied.

‘How much?’

‘They didn’t get a lot of change out of £10m,’ Green told him.

Green went on: ‘That’s nothing. Taxpayers paid for a flying test bed for the Bristol Brabazon. It cost £13m, flew a few times and then was sent for scrap.’

Green made many inquiries about buying the seaplane but was knocked back so many times by government officials who didn’t want to be seen as idiots if Green made a success of flying the Princess.

And so after being told by the official at Saunders-Rowe that if he did buy them they would not want anything to do with maintaining them and the fact he would not be allowed to use the Solent for take-off purposes he abandoned the idea.

More’s the pity.