Sir Hugh Dundas

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The Independent Online
The Auxiliary Air Force (later the Royal Auxiliary Air Force) was the brainchild of the first Lord Trenchard. Numbering nearly 20 squadrons, eventually all on fighters, they made an essential extra contribution to the strength of Fighter Command during the Second World War, an extra which may have tipped the balance of the outcome of the Battle of Britain. Its members showed unique qualities of dash and elan. Sometimes derided as mere members of weekend flying clubs, they proved themselves eventually at least the equal of the regular squadrons.

Hugh Dundas, tall, good-looking and almost casual in manner, fitted this general image like a glove. He was universally known as "Cocky'' but this nickname in no way indicated conceit or over- confidence. It is supposed to have derived from some imaginary resemblance to a rooster.

Dundas was born and received his early education in Yorkshire and thereafter at Stowe. He was destined to become a solicitor but from an early age set his heart on a full flying career in the RAF. This ambition was foiled by a number of failures to reach the required medical standards. However, he was accepted by No 616 (South Yorkshire) Auxiliary Air Force Spitfire Squadron; his older brother, later shot down and killed in 1940, was already a member of 609, the West Riding Auxiliary Squadron.

Dundas fought hard and fiercely in the Battle of Britain and, before it, over at Dunkirk; as he described vividly and honestly in his book Flying Start (1988), in which he was never reluctant to admit fear. He scored a number of victories but in mid-August 1940 he was shot down and bailed out with injuries which kept him out of the final phase of the battle. He soon rejoined the fight and later took part in the offensive fighter sweeps over France as a flight commander of 616 Squadron, and thereafter as a squadron commander and later wing leader of the new and untried Typhoons in the renowned Duxford Wing.

By January 1943 Dundas had been in the thick of the fighting for two and a half years but, even so, he now started on the most successful and strenuous period of his career, which lay in the Mediterranean theatre. He was posted to North Africa to command a wing of five Spitfire squadrons, thence to Malta and finally to Italy where he joined Brian Kingcome, Duncan Smith and other legendary leaders of fighter ground-attack aircraft.

His constantly brilliant leadership and fighting spirit led to his becoming in November 1944, aged 24, probably the youngest group captain ever to have served in the Royal Air Force. Nevertheless, he was no longer aiming for a regular air force career. His future lay elsewhere.

During their time on active service Dundas had been a close friend of Gp Capt Max Aitken and his immediate future comprised a successful career with the Beaverbrook newspapers, finally, in 1960, as their North American correspondent. At this stage he encountered Beverly Lyon, the legendary founder of Rediffusion, which Dundas joined in 1961, eventually becoming chairman. He moved from there to Rediffusion's parent, BET, of which he in 1982 became a highly successful chairman as well as of Thames Television in 1981.

Dundas's charitable activities became almost as demanding as his professional and commercial ones: they included 13 years with the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund's F&GP Committee and the chairmanship of the Home Farm Trust and the Prince's Business Trust.

Christopher Foxley-Norris

Hugh Spencer Lisle Dundas, air force officer and businessman: born 22 July 1920; DFC 1941; DSO 1944, and Bar 1945; director, Rediffusion Ltd 1961, deputy managing director 1968, managing director 1970-74, chairman 1978-85; director, Thames Television 1968-87, chairman 1981-87; managing director, BET 1973-82, deputy chairman 1981-82, chairman 1982-87; CBE 1977; Kt 1987; married 1950 Enid Rosamond Lawrence (one son, two daughters); died 10 July 1995.

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