Cultures and caricatures of British imperial aviation

Passengers, pilots, publicity

By Gordon Pirie

Cultures and caricatures of British imperial aviation

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-0-7190-8682-3
  • Pages: 264
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £85.00
  • Published Date: June 2012
  • BIC Category: Modern History, History, Colonialism & imperialism, Aircraft: general interest, TRANSPORTATION / Aviation / Commercial, TRANSPORTATION / Aviation / History, Aerospace & Air Transport Industries, Humanities / Colonialism & imperialism
  • Series: Studies in Imperialism


The new activity of trans-continental civil flying in the 1930s is a useful vantage point for viewing the extension of British imperial attitudes and practices. Cultures and caricatures of British imperial aviation examines the experiences of those (mostly men) who flew solo or with a companion (racing or for leisure), who were airline passengers (doing colonial administration, business or research), or who flew as civilian air and ground crews. For airborne elites, flying was a modern and often enviable way of managing, using and experiencing empire. On the ground, aviation was a device for asserting old empire: adventure and modernity were accompanied by supremacism. At the time, however, British civil imperial flying was presented romantically in books, magazines and exhibitions. Eighty years on, imperial flying is still remembered, reproduced and re-enacted in caricature.


'In all, this is a fascinating view of a bygone era.'
Airways, 1 July 2013

'In this book, Gordon Pirie has managed to give readers the next-best thing by offering an entertaining and comprehensive study of the unique perspective on the twentieth-century British Empire offered by flying.'
John McAleer, H-Empire, H-Net Reviews. May 2014

'In this highly engaging and helpfully illustrated account of British Imperial aviation in the 1930s, Gordon Pirie builds on his near-unparalleled knowledge of inter-war British air services to expertly interweave an engrossing narrative history with a critical analysis of the academic and cultural significance of Britain's growing aerial aspirations and influence.'
Lucy Budd, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, 2014.

'... a worthy successor to Pirie's earlier Air Empire ... makes him the acknowledged expert on British imperial aviation .... It deserves a place on the bookshelves of the aviation historian as much as the scholar of Empire - indeed of anyone interested in the cultural upheavals of the 1930s'.
Peter Lyth, Journal of Transport History 34(2) (2013), pp. 218-220.

'This highly original and readable book is to be recommended to anyone interested in the history of air transport, and to scholars concerned with the culture and mentality of colonialism.'
Marc Dierikx, Journal of Transport Geography, 28 (2013), p. 214

'... another entertaining and enlightening study ...'
JE Hoare, Asian Affairs, 2013


General editor's introduction
1. Introduction
PART I Private flying
2. Aerial adventure
3. Seeking supremacy
4. Imperial encounters
PART II Commercial flying
5. 'PAX' Britannica
6. Imperial journeys
7. Personifying Empire
PART III Virtual flying
8. Imperial plumage
9. Imperial passages
10. Re-flying Empire
11. Conclusion


Gordon Pirie is Deputy Director of the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town

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