So, You Think You’re Creative?

Possibly Britain's greatest engineer

Sir Stanley Hooker

A few days ago, an audio tape came to light, having been hauled out of the darkness of the back of a cupboard by my wife who was irritably looking for something else.
The tape needs a reel-to-reel analogue tape deck. I had thrown out my Walkman and my hi-fi cassette player at least ten years ago, but this tape pre-dates all that, as I found when I took it to Stanley Productions in Soho’s Wardour Street.
The tape was recorded in either 1970 or 1971 in a hotel in Bucharest. The communists were still very much in power then, but they had struck a deal with the British Aircraft Corporation to assemble its BAC 1-11 in Rumania. And, for this project to fly, it specifically needed Rolls-Royce Spey engines.
My father in law was Sir Stanley Hooker. The son of a Sheerness docker, he was the most intelligent, creative and self-deprecating person I have ever met. His autobiography, “Not Much of An Engineer” ,is available from Amazon, and gets a solid 5 Star rating from a wealth of reviews, including mine. He ended his career as Technical Director of Rolls-Royce Aero Engines.
The tape contains a forty minute interview. Stanley was the interviewer. The interviewee was Henri Coanda.
This Rumanian gentleman started as an aircraft designer in Bristol, for the Bristol Aeroplane Company, in 1910. Stanley, years later after the end of the Second World War, was technical director, of  Bristol-Siddeley Aero Engines. Both he and Coanda were aviation pioneers, and both were highly creative. In a later post, I’ll write about what was said on the tape.
I’ve made my living by working in and with creative businesses. On and off, I worked in advertising agencies in the UK, the USA and France for twenty-nine years, so I ought to know something about creativity.
Agencies do sometimes get a little condescending when explaining to some client why their proposed ideas are worth the money. Sometimes they really are highly creative; sometimes they’re not.
But I can say without hesitation that Sir Stanley was one of the most creative people I ever met. Early in our relationship I was surprised, but, after a little reflection, the surprise evaporated. Engineers depend on creativity. Ever wondered how they built the pyramids?
Agencies, quite understandably, jealously guard their creative reputations. Clients will put up with a lot of irritation providing the agency is a fecund source of effective selling ideas. But they do not have a monopoly on creative ideas.
A little while ago, I went to Bonham’s in South Kensington. Bill Bedford, the Hawker test pilot for both the Hunter and the Harrier, gave a talk about flying the early jet fighters. He didn’t know that one of Stanley’s daughters, two of his grand-daughters and one of his sons-in-law was in the audience. The Harrier is powered by one of Stanley’s engines, the R-R Pegasus.
At the end of his talk, Bill paused and said, “I’m often asked who our greatest engineer is or was. Well, Brunel is the obvious leading candidate. But, on balance, and after a bit of thought, I’d say it was Stanley Hooker.”
My next post will have a look at the nature of creativity.
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