‘It can’t be done – hold tight and watch’ this is a quote taken from an article written by Amy Johnson in Woman Engineer. In a series of articles written in the 1930s Amy confronts head-on, traditional gender roles and expectations. She had quite a bit to say on the subject of women’s liberation and equality; just one of the many things the Kardomah 94 audience learned tonight, about Hull’s high-flying heroine.
Jan 5th 2016 was the 75th anniversary of Amy Johnson’s death in 1941. The day was marked by an event called, ‘Remembering Amy’ using music, film, spoken word and theatre performance, to celebrate a remarkable life.
The Amy Johnson Festival begins on July 1st, when a programme of events are planned, to not only celebrate her marvellous exploits in aviation – first woman to fly solo to Australia – but that also pay tribute to her less well-known, but no-less remarkable prowess in the field of engineering: Amy was the first British woman to receive an aircraft ground engineer’s license.
‘Remembering Amy’ was the perfect way to begin to learn and understand more about, who Amy Johnson was. A new short play written by Dave Windass, with the role of Amy Johnson delightfully played by Rachel Harris, asked that very question. The earlier on-street performances of ‘Three Cheers for Amy’, captured the public’s attention. The solo performance – like Amy’s famous solo flights – serves as a rallying cry for adventurers and dreamers the world over and once again raises questions over ‘that’ statue.
Images of the young actor dressed in flying jacket and hat, performing next to the Amy Johnson statue on Prospect Street, were shared online, far and wide.
This statue has long been a source of consternation for the people of Hull, because of its rather unflattering likeness of Amy. Two new statues have been commissioned for the festival, one to be sited in Herne Bay and one here in Hull on the site of the old Amy Johnson School.
The evening’s entertainment began with a selection of songs, with vocalist Ruth Getz’s take on classics from the era, such as Ain’t Misbehavin, You Made Me Love You and the Ella Fitgerald number A-Tisket, A-Tasket. Ruth would return throughout the evening bringing her sparkle and glamour, to a host of songs made popular during Amy’s lifetime.
In ‘Wonderful Amy’ a revealing documentary made by the BBC and last broadcast in 1974, we learned so much more about this young woman, whose only expectation in life was to become the wife of a solicitor from Beverley. This quaint description raised more than a few laughs from the women-folk in the audience.
While the film covered the numerous record-breaking feats of long-distance flying and the adulation bestowed upon Amy by nations across the globe, it was her private life or rather her public life the film focuses upon: Amy was hijacked by English high society when in 1932 she married the aviator Jim Mollison. As the film progresses Amy is shown as something of a tragic figure, trapped by her own success, and somewhat sadly, crushed and controlled by that, which she had fought so hard to resist.
Amy’s words, thoughts and ideas, are elegantly brought to life through a series of readings by Cassie Patton. Reading from both ‘Amy Johnson, Queen of the Air’ by Midge Gillies, and Amy’s own title, ‘Sky Roads of the Air’, the spirit of adventure that so captured the world’s imagination is revealed. There’s a touch of the Victorian women explorers in a passage describing the time when Amy crash lands in India. With help from students at a nearby engineering college, she has to mend the wing fabric on her beloved ‘Jason’ with old shirts and pink sticking plaster.
There is so much more to the story, to coin a phrase. I feel sure that tonight’s audience numbering a hundred or more, came away with a new found respect for Amy and a desire to understand more about this remarkable Hull woman, who only ever wanted a career in aviation and aeronautical engineering.
Most memorably perhaps, was the poem ‘The Last Testament of Amy Johnson’ by Ian Duhig, read by Cassie towards the close of the night. The last few atmospheric lines were delivered with just the right amount of emotion, perfectly expressing the reverence and majesty of flight.
Back on the ground there is a growing campaign to bring Amy’s plane to Hull, if not in time for the festival in July, then for our year in the cultural spotlight in 2017. Petitions are being signed and there is a movement to support the festival’s ambitions of having Jason – currently housed on the third floor in the British Museum in London – back here in Hull. One academic described the current situation as being like our very own Elgin Marbles.
If we harness some of that same spirit and determination, displayed by Amy throughout her life, maybe we can achieve our ambition, and place the Gypsy Moth at the heart of our celebration of Hull’s aviation heroine.