Article by Tony Dando.(re-John Grantham)

Tony Dando


Lt. John Grantham RN

John Grantham - or Johnny G as he was known to so many - passed away on the 25th March 2005, aged 62. Whilst flying the Bell 214ST as a contract pilot for Bristow Helicopters the previous November, he became aware of a persistent pain in his back and this soon was diagnosed as bone cancer. He remained very positive throughout his illness but he slipped away at home with great dignity with his wife Suzie at his side and in the presence of his children, Andrew and Sacha, their spouses Vicky and Andy, and John's four grandchildren, Eloise, Lauren, Laila and Joe.

Many of John's friends and colleagues came to pay tribute at his funeral. Ex-FAA friends were Richard and Bobbie Sutton, Chris and Mary Cane, Eric Pashley's wife Pam and son Mark, Dave Tink, Mike Clark, Rick Balfour, Mike Perry, Chris Powell and John Whale. Apologies if I have missed anyone out - there were so many there. It was typical of John and Suzie's humour that underneath a photo of him on the front of the Order of Service were the words "I knew this would happen".

One way or another Johnny G was involved in aviation for 47 years. He joined the Royal Navy in 1957 and as an Artificer he worked on Hunters in 766 Squadron, and on Buccaneers both in the Buccaneer IFTU and with 801 on Victorious. In 1967 he was commissioned and flew the Wessex 5 in the Commando role with 847 and 848 Squadrons, and was a staff pilot on 707 at Culdrose. He left the RN in 1974 and worked for BEAS (British Executive Air Services), flying helicopters on the North Sea and then from 1980 he spent several years flying in the Sultan of Oman's Air Force.

I didn't know John in the RN, but in the summer of 1987 his name was on my list of interviewees for the position of line pilot in British Caledonian Helicopters (BCHL). From the moment he walked into my office he became a firm friend and we must have flown together for many hundreds of hours in the following 13 years with BCHL and then Bristow until my retirement. Every flight with John was an enjoyable experience, regardless of what the helicopter, the weather or the oil companies threw at us. In fact on one trip he and I were reported by some oil company stuffed shirt who thought it unprofessional that we were both roaring with laughter during the interminable straight line flight to a distant rig. On "special" flights his passengers would be presented with a beautifully marked and sometimes amusing route map. It was always the little touches that showed how John cared about making a "proper job" of anything he did.

One day on the first flight of a new contract with new faces in the back, I remember him turning round in his seat to make his usual eye to eye contact and brief the passengers as we taxied out at Aberdeen - "You're in good hands today folks - always look at the pilots and if you reckon their age added together exceeds 100, as today, then you can be assured of a safe flight". Typical John, always up for a wizard prank or a jolly jape as he would say. I know he would certainly have seen the funny side of his funeral being on April Fool's Day. He revelled in being different, a tad eccentric, even some might say, barking mad. You only needed to look at his transport to spot the amusing oddball in him. Either holding up the traffic on his homemade electric trike or barging the cyclists and joggers into the ditch with the Rolls Royce but, trike or roller, they'd all get the same wave and a cheery smile.

The Bell 214ST contracts frequently took John away to Norway, Bulgaria and many other offshore and island detachments. In his latter years, apart from the occasional contract work out of Aberdeen for Bristow, it was mainly WIP work around the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, based in Jeddah, with the Latsis Group and the Saudi Royal Family. His sense of duty, his loyal, caring character and easy personality ideally suited him for this role.


John, unlike a lot of us, was never idle. His inventing skills, in particular his "Mindless" shopping trolley steering mechanism of the late 1980's, took him onto the BBC's "Tomorrow's World" TV programme where he met and befriended the other loony inventors like Mr Clockwork Radio, Trevor Bayliss. He won the competition for Scottish Inventor of the Year 1990 and was one of the 250 individuals/businesses granted the Millennium Product Award in 2000, once again in recognition of his invention and development of the steerable shopping trolley. Then there was the wheelie bin towing clamp for those with long country driveways, the life enhancing, simple but clever devices he made for the disabled as part of his involvement with Remap, an organisation which helps design gadgets for disabled people, plus the bizarre steam driven walking stick and the upstairs fire escape for his cats.

His latest project of a Childrens' TV Cartoon entitled "Over The Moon" featuring Clootie and Dumpling, his two Highland Cattle, should arrive on British TV screens within a couple of years. He is personified in the series as "Mr Make-it", the mad inventor, and each episode will end with John's favourite farewell of "Toodle-pip".

He didn't just talk about doing things, he spent his life beavering away developing ideas and producing the goods. Within hours of arriving anywhere new, John would be chatting up the local workshops, scrounging odd bits and pieces for his latest project and most importantly making new and lasting friends.

John, however, was so much more than the sum of his many achievements. One just couldn't help but love his friendly nature and his perpetual cheerfulness. On many a dank, early morning winter shift in Aberdeen he'd lift our spirits with his usual greeting of "Hello old bean, how the devil are you?"

John has been known to enjoy the odd pint, okay, two pints. One recent summer he and his team were leaving Jeddah on the Saudi Royal Yacht for the much more liberal Tangier and looking forward to a run ashore. His first postcard to me lamented their bad luck in arriving just as Morocco had been plunged into 3 weeks of mourning for a Royal death, which to John's chagrin meant no beer in any of the cafes. However, those of you who knew John well will be aware that he had a healthy disregard for authority and considered rules to be "for guidance only". I might have guessed that his easy charm would soon find a way around this particular problem. His second postcard a few days later rejoiced in telling how, after extensive searching, they were now regulars in a dingy backstreet cafe where by chatting up the proprietor they'd become favoured customers and were being served pots of what John described as "Special Tea".

To me, John's ability to form an instant rapport with absolutely everyone he met was one of his most endearing characteristics. Heads of state and the mega rich got exactly the same treatment as the lowliest of servants. Courteous, friendly respect was his trademark. Every day in the Middle East John had a pleasant friendly word for each of the staff who looked after him. His lovely manner actually made a difference to people's lives. Such was his universal popularity that, wherever you went after John, the house-boys, dobi-wallas, waiters and palace guards would all ask "when is Capt John coming back". The sad reality is of course that Johnny G won't be coming back any more. The world is a duller place without him, and I, along with many others, will miss him terribly.

Tony Dando