In the fourth trip down Majorca Daily Bulletin memory lane, we look back at the vital role played by the airplane in tourism development.
The front page of 17 October 1964 carried a remarkable collection of important news items. “Wilson Makes It” was the main headline. Harold Wilson was installed in 10 Downing Street but he was immediately presented with new faces and new dangers - China had exploded an atom bomb and the Kremlin had two new leaders. They both looked like bad news. While Kosygin and Brezhnev would have inspired shivers of fear and not just to a British public in a Majorca where matters of communism in other countries were covered closely by a Francoist-controlled press, the death of Cole Porter was also announced and there was an ad for daily BEA flights to Palma - 32 pounds return.
The jet plane is, in a sense, the story of Majorca since the 1960s. It revolutionised air travel and revolutionised tourism. It was hugely important to the island but it came with a risk. Majorca has never suffered a major air accident, but there have been moments and there were incidents elsewhere that reminded air travellers of the risk.
On 23 June 1964 the main story was that of “The Survivors”. A plane bound for Ibiza with 25 passengers on board crashed soon after take-off from Palma. It fell into the sea near Cala Gamba. No one was killed, indeed no one really suffered any injury. The story wouldn’t merit any more mention were it not for some curiosities in its reporting. The plane was not identified and nor was the airline, making one suspect that the identity was suppressed. The style of the report, by Robert S. Italia, was also curious. One couldn’t imagine a report today pointing out that one of the survivors, “lovely, young Elizabeth Lammin”, “stroked her long black hair” as she commented on the heroic efforts of two friends from East London who went to the aid of the pilot and co-pilot. Another curiosity was that “there were shouts of I can’t swim, I can’t swim”. Hardly anyone on board could swim. Local fishermen were also heroes as “very few of us would have made it”.
There were to be worse accidents. 4 July 1970, “British holiday jet to Barcelona lost”. A Dan-Air Comet had plunged into the Mediterranean. The loss of all 112 on board prompted an examination by The Bulletin of the Comet’s “troubled years”. 9 January 1972, “Crash victims are buried” in a mass funeral for the 98 killed when an Iberia Airlines Caravelle had smashed into the St. Joseph Peak in Ibiza. And on 29 March 1977, the headline “Worst Ever Crash” was sadly accurate. A Pan Am 747 and a KLM 747 collided on the runway in Tenerife and 559 people were killed. Traffic at the airport was reported as having been normal at the time of the accident, though flights had been diverted to Tenerife from Las Palmas on Gran Canaria because of a bomb blast in an airport flower shop.
The front page of 18 January 1966 had the news of another collision, not one between commercial aircraft but between two military jets, both American. A B-52 and KC-135 tanker collided in mid-air and the wreckage of both planes was found north-east of Almeria in southern Spain. The report does not go into a great deal of detail. What it failed to say was that the B-52 had let its payload go. Three H-bombs had been dropped. They were not armed but radioactive plutonium was scattered. To this day, demands are still being made of the US that it completes the de-contamination of soil. The Americans did eventually give compensation to those affected, more than 500 people, some of them members of the Guardia Civil who, unused to the technology, took few precautions and so suffered from exposure to radiation.
The commercial use of the jet plane spawned any number of airlines and charter operators, the names of which are inextricably linked to the growth of Majorca’s tourism. On 26 March 1969 “Sunair Holiday in Majorca” was a headline. “The spring sunshine was bright as the fortunate Sunair agents and executives arrived on their special BEA flight from London for a brief familiarisation trip in Majorca.” One of these executives was Harry Goodman, who was to sell off his interest in Sunair two years later and to found Intasun. On 5 May 1979 there was a report of a charter company, “the first new airline since 1966”, making its inaugural flight to Palma. This was Air Europe; its president was Harry Goodman. Ten years later, on 24 January 1989, Goodman, by now the chairman of ILG (International Leisure Group), was honoured by the Balearic government. He received a plaque in recognition of his having been, as the tourism minister Jaume Cladera explained, “a pioneer with a vision of the change in tourism”. Two years on, “Intasun to fold with loss of 1550 jobs” was news on 14 March 1991. ILG had gone bust.
Goodman’s place in Majorca’s tourism history cannot be underestimated. Along with various other entrepreneurs and businesspeople, he made an enormous contribution to the island’s economy and to enabling tourists to come to Majorca, tourists like those who, back in June 1964, had not been scrambling out of a plane that had crashed into the sea. The Bulletin used to list “Holidaymakers in Majorca”. Almost half a page was devoted to naming those staying at various hotels. What is in fact remarkable about this list is the number of visitors who were from the US and South Africa. Their combined numbers all but matched those from England.
This list is just one oddity from the earlier years of the paper and the earlier years of tourism. Of regular adverts for new nightspots, entertainment and attractions, one such was a full page of 15 August 1965: La Babalu, “a swinging discotheque”, “the new nightclub that changed Majorca the night it opened!”. The ad for this club in Can Pastilla featured a drawing of a young couple doing what was probably The Twist (though it’s hard to be certain). It also offered limbo dancers and its own adjoining go-karting course.
Then there were the tour reps. On 7 October 1973 “Rebecca” modelled Thomson’s new navy, red and cream uniforms. “A happy, relaxed team of Thomson representatives, who will appear cool and confident at all times, while maintaining a smart, efficient appearance is the result.” And there were also tourists in winter. On 3 January 1973 The Bulletin noted that the “last tourists of 1972”, Mr. and Mrs. E. Ricks, had entered Majorca’s airport, having arrived on a plane from Gatwick.
Mr. and Mrs. Ricks would have arrived on a jet plane and they would have left on a jet plane. But every now and then, it hasn’t been possible to leave on a jet plane. Not when the airport might be forced to close because a coach drivers’ strike traps tourists and leaves them without transport to or from the airport. “A Nightmare” was the front page on 29 June 2001. “The blackest weekend for the Balearics” featured clashes between pickets and police, the Red Cross mounting a special operation to look after the elderly and the young, and queues of over 1000 tourists at a time having to wait for taxis. The timing of the strike was bad, but it was especially unfortunate for the paper. On 30 June the Summer Special 2001 was published.