The West Sussex Record Office has been awarded the annual Business Archives Council cataloguing grant of £4,000 to enable the listing and description of the Sir Freddie Laker Archive.
The archive, deposited at the Record Office in 2019, chronicles the rise and fall of Laker Airways and Skytrain – two groundbreaking operations which helped to bring transatlantic travel within the grasp of ordinary people.
Founded in 1966, Laker Airways was a small independent aviation firm, flying mainly from Gatwick, which owed its success largely to its charismatic owner, Sir Freddie Laker.
It challenged the grip that larger companies had on transatlantic travel and paved the way for budget airlines such as Ryanair and easyJet.
Sir Freddie Laker’s innovative low cost ‘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 archive dates from 1956 to 2004 and highlights include:
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 charting in detail the rise and fall of Laker Airways and Skytrain;
hundreds of moving letters of support sent to Laker following the collapse of his company documenting people’s reasons for and experience of travelling with Laker Airways – from the trip of a lifetime to the final chance to visit a sick parent.
The grant will enable the Record Office to fully catalogue the archive, which will mean that this significant collection will be available to researchers for the first time.
Wendy Walker, West Sussex County Archivist, said: “It is very exciting to be able to add this evocative and important archive to our collections and to play a role in preserving and sharing this unique chapter in the history of our skies. I am very grateful to the Business Archives Council and to the Laker family for making all of this possible.
“With air travel undergoing another radical transformation in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, this seems like a particularly appropriate time to be able to open up access to this archive.”
Freddie Allen Laker, Sir Freddie Laker’s son, shared: “My father stored these photos, records, and memorabilia for many years and upon his passing my step-mother and I continued to preserve them for many more years. Through this archive, and in conjunction with SirFreddieLaker.com, we hope that many more people will get to learn about his impact on the world.”
Lady Jacqueline Laker, Sir Freddie Laker’s widow, added: “Many of the items shared with the West Sussex Record Office represent fascinating moments in the history of aviation. We’re thrilled they have a home that will care for them as we did.”
If you’re interested in finding out more about the West Sussex Record Office, you can visit: westsussex.gov.uk/recordoffice or follow them on Twitter or Facebook (@WestSussexRO).