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The Kettering Group

Tyneside, UK
2024 Jul 24
Wednesday, Day 206

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The Australian Link - Jos Heyman writes...

In August 1979 Geoff Perry was invited to address the 1979 Australian Astronautics Convention, held in Perth, Western Australia. Geoff's work had come to the notice of the Society's secretary and Convention organiser, Geoff Davies and it was decided that Geoff Perry should be one of the principal speakers. As no airline could be found to sponsor the air fare the organising committee took the bold risk to pay for the air fare.

The Astronautical Society of Western Australia was established on 31 August 1973 as the Western Australian Branch of the Astronautical Society of Australia and changed its name in September 1975, when it separated, as an independent body, from the Astronautical Society of Australia. The Society continued to exist until 2006 when its operations were taken over by the Tiros Space Information consultancy.

After Geoff Perry arrived in Perth on he was billeted with one of the Society members to save some money. Fortunately Geoff did not have any 'star tantrums' and was quite happy to share lodging in this manner.

Obviously Geoff was used for a range of lectures. On Friday 17 August 1979, he addressed the members of the Society with a relaxing talk entitled 'An evening with Geoff Perry', a light hearted affair. In this talk Geoff recalled some of the more eventful and unusual occasions that had taken place in the Kettering group. He illustrated his talk with recordings of several Soviet cosmonauts and also gave a brief description of the techniques the group used. During the meeting Geoff was made an Honorary Member of the Society, something that he always held in high regard and, over time, honored on many occasions.

During the Convention Geoff also gave two papers. The first one was 'The Kettering Group', the second was entitled 'The Soviet Space Programme - A Kettering View'. In between Geoff was used in a media parade, whilst several Society members took him for a more scenic tour of Perth, including the Western Australian Cricket ground, where Geoff appropriated a piece of turf.

In November 1986 Geoff was again sponsored to visit Australia. The visit was arranged by the Astronautical Society of WA, with sponsorship by COSSA (the nearest to what Australia had as a space agency), the Australian Institute of Physics and the Institution of Engineers and the Space Association of Australia. In addition the British Council assisted. This time his visit was not restricted to Perth, where he arrived on 9 November 1986, but also included Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide, returning to Perth again from here he left on 2 December 1986 to return home to the UK.

Before Geoff left for home, I had the honour to record an interview with whilst I also took him to a typical Western Australian pub where he feasted himself on a big steak, which for years to come remained a talking point.

In 1995 I went on a trip around the world, visiting principally the United States, but also the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. One of the highlights of that last part was a lecture I was going to give to the British Interplanetary Society in London on 10 July 1995.

I had also made arrangements to meet up with Geoff and he had suggested that we would meet on the day of the lecture and that he would accompany me to the BIS where I could be assured of at least one interested person. The idea was that Geoff would travel to London by train and that we would meet up with him at 4.00 pm at his Athenaeum Club.

It was a hot day on London and I had decided to wear an open necked shirt and a pair of neat trousers (I would have selected blue jeans if it were not for the BIS lecture, where I feel I should be somewhat presentable in my representation of Australia).

Earlier that day, I had checked out the location of the Athenaeum - I found it difficult to find and had to ask several times. By about three o'clock I had enough of my sightseeing and decided to go and visit Geoff in his club. We could perhaps talk an hour longer.

So, I presented myself to the front entrance of the club, announcing that I was there to see Mr. Perry. Indeed, the lady at the reception said, Mr. Perry was in his room but there was no way I was going any further than the front lobby: you see, no tie, no coat. Not even on such a hot day. Anyway, more to the point, Mr. Perry was still having his shower but he would come down in five minutes, leaving me standing in the lobby.

The institution of 'the club' is very much an unchallenged British invention steeped in an air of mystery and intrigue. It immediately brings up notions of a fraternity of old gentlemen who sit in deep lounge chairs, smoke heavy cigars and are served drinks by a butler who, in spite of being employed by the club, knows each gentleman's requirements by heart. The British clubs are institutions in their own right: they are big, mostly exclusive, rich, and more often than not, the membership qualifications are very restricted. Based on what I had read in travel brochures, I had earlier concluded that the Athenaeum was one of the most august of these institutions and also the most unsociable and uncomfortable. Its members have been drawn from the arts and sciences as well as the field of politics.

Geoff came duly down from the magnificent staircase and before he was fully informed of my plight and restricted-to-the-lobby presence, one of the ladies in the lobby - Beverley, thank her sweet soul - produced some piece of cloth that resembled a tie, and some coat which did not fit me at all and I could not do up. But, equipped with a tie and coat, I was suitable dressed. So I was accompanied by Geoff into this club - my first London club experience.

The real heart of the club is the Silent Room and old men wander alone up and down the broad staircase (always walk up the right-hand staircase!). A bust of Charles Darwin stands in the hall and the club has a cavernous dining room. Geoff showed me the various curious sights: the wheelchair in which Faraday died, the desk at which Darwin wrote his works and a range of other curious things, until we went into the drawing room. True to form, a few members were sleeping in a chair in a corner, but we went to a table where a beautiful and sweet young North country lass, with an endearing accent, served us with tea and scones with cream and jam.

Once back in Australia, I wrote this up in the News Bulletin of the Astronautical Society of Western Australia (of which I was the editor) and some months later, one member remarked that 'in the company of Geoff Perry I should have better things to do than drool over a pretty lass that served me tea and scones'. My reply was to assure my reader that 'although the lass was indeed pretty and warranted all the drooling, Geoff and myself did discuss some serious matters like astronautics and we did our share of plotting for the benefit of the Society and astronautics as a whole.' And I continued: 'the word 'plotting' implies a certain level of 'can't tell, especially when the plotting happens in the august Athenaeum club. So the formal proceedings of our little meeting over tea and scones must remain restricted to the pretty lass'.

It was indeed during this tea and scones session that Geoff casually asked me what I knew about Express. Fortunately, earlier that year I had done a write up about that spacecraft that had been launched from Japan, was Russian built and was to have been recovered at Woomera in Australia, but, according to all reference sources, never got into orbit. Geoff said something along the lines that he knew where it was and that, when he had confirmed it, would I like to publish it - world first. Since the News Bulletin of the Astronautical Society of Western Australia was a small affair, and since I was always on the search for bits and pieces to publish, and since Geoff had published in the News Bulletin before, I readily agreed - the 'world first' idea had not yet impacted on me.

Back in the Athenaeum Club Geoff and I finished the tea and scones and then we went briefly into the city where we had dinner in some steak house on Piccadilly, before we went for a sandwich packed ride in the late rush hour underground to go to the BIS, where I duly gave my talk to a packed audience of about 20. According to Geoff that was a good attendance. Afterwards, Geoff went back to the Athenaeum whilst I took the underground back to my hotel.

That was the end of that story - for the time being - although the tieless affair remained an on-going joke to the extent that when I met Geoff again in January 2000 in Bude, I made sure to wear a roughly strung tie - just to make sure he would led me into his domicile.
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