The rise and fall of an airline pioneer

Cover of lakerLaker

The Glory Years of Sir Freddie Laker
Ania Grzesik and Gregory Dix
Recursive Publishing (£20)

Today we take the idea of cheap air travel to any destination we like for granted. But up until the end of the 1970s, flying was extremely expensive due to a combination of price regulation, lack of competition, and direct government ownership of airlines. Many factors led to the demise of this cosy club, but the most visible of them was Sir Freddie Laker, the controversial entrepreneur who was the first to challenge the big airlines. This book charts his rise and fall.

Laker is best known for his bargain-basement transatlantic flights, but the career that led up to his launch of these is almost as interesting. He made his first fortune by taking advantage of the demand for freighter aircraft during the Berlin Airlift of World War II, for example. He then enhanced that fortune by turning unwanted planes into scrap metal that could be used to meet the growing post-war demand for consumer goods. He founded Laker Airlines in 1966, and then embarked on a six-year battle to be allowed to operate between London and New York. The book serves as a history of post-war aviation as well as being a strong and engaging biography.

The book presents a generally sympathetic portrait of Sir Freddie, but it doesn’t shy away from pointing out his flaws too. Laker’s first wife, Joan, (who owned a stake in Laker Airways) played an important role in reining in his wildest schemes, for example, and if the two had remained married he might not have overextended the company and plunged it into bankruptcy.