2020 BAC Cataloguing Grant Winner

The judging panel for this years’ Cataloguing Grant for Business Archives were impressed with the variety of records of firms represented from across the UK. After individual scoring and joint deliberation, the panel has awarded the grant to West Sussex Record Office for the collection of the Sir Freddie Laker Archive. The Archive documents the rise and fall of Laker Airways and Skytrain and provides an important insight into 20th century aviation. The records are also a significant resource for social history, recording a revolution in air travel and tourism, the impact of which is still being felt today.

Founded in 1966, Laker Airways was a small independent aviation firm which owed its success largely to its charismatic owner, Sir Freddie Laker. Laker Airways paved the way for budget airlines such as Ryanair and easyJet and challenged the firm grip of larger airlines such as British Airways and Pan Am on long haul flights. Sir Freddie Laker’s innovative Skytrain concept, launched in 1977, did not require advance reservations and provided passengers with a ‘walk on, walk off’ service at an incredibly low price. It captured the public imagination, proving to be hugely popular.

Laker Airways went bankrupt in 1982 despite enormous public support, both for the airline and for Sir Freddie Laker himself. The company went on to successfully pursue a landmark antitrust suit against British Airways and Pan Am (amongst others), arguing that they had slashed their fares to below-cost levels to drive Laker Airways and Skytrain out of business.

The archive dates from 1956-2004 and comprises a diverse range of material, including Sir Freddie Laker’s appointment diaries from 1962 to 1983 which cover key years in the development of Skytrain. A rich series of press cuttings from 1966 to 1982 chart in detail the rise and fall of Laker Airways and Skytrain whilst annual reports and accounts relating to Laker Airways from the 1970s-1980s, Laker’s office filing, 1970s-1980s and promotional and advertising material relating to the launch of Skytrain, c1977 provide an insight into the running of the company. A particular highlight are hundreds of letters sent to Laker following the collapse of his company in 1982 which document the backgrounds of those who flew with Laker Airways and their many different reasons for travelling - from the trip of a lifetime to the final chance to visit a sick parent. Finally, a series of legal documents record the antitrust case brought by Laker Airways against British Airways, Pan Am, TWA and others in 1985.

The grant will enable WSRO to fully catalogue the archive with the completed catalogue being made available on WSRO’s online catalogue, Search Online, and it will mean that this fascinating archive will be available to researchers for the first time.

The panel were impressed by West Sussex Record Office’s well thought through application for a collection that contains information of local, national and international interest. Plans for the cataloguing of this archive to lead to other future projects, including more detailed descriptions of parts of the collection by volunteers and a potential oral history project involving former Laker Airways staff and customers also impressed the panel, who felt it an appropriate time to open up access to collection.