HUGH JANION was a jovial and rather irreverent naval officer who seemed a slightly eccentric choice as Flag Officer Royal Yachts and Captain of HM Yacht Britannia when he was appointed in 1975. But, although an unlikely courtier, he made a conspicuous success of the job - so much so that he was kept on for nearly six years, steaming over 100,000 miles in Britannia and visiting 158 ports in 44 different countries.
Janion masterminded the Jubilee Royal Fleet Review at Spithead on 28 June 1977 in which Britannia took her place as centrepiece. It was probably the Royal Yacht's greatest moment. Given subsequent events, it possibly also marked the point at which the monarchy reached a peak of popularity.
In 1976, Janion instigated the first 'corporate Sea Day', entertaining businessmen off Philadelphia during the bicentennial celebrations of American Independence. The success of these Sea Days in securing export orders for Britain has since become the most potent argument for the Royal Yacht's continued existence.
Janion was born in Alverstoke, Hampshire, in 1923 and spent his early years 'moving from one naval port to another'. The son of an engineer captain, he went to Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, at the age of 13. He joined the battleship Rodney in 1941 and subsequently served in the cruiser London on Russian convoy duties.
Janion was on board London in 1941 when she transported Lord Beaverbrook, Minister of Supply, and Averell Harriman, the US ambassador to Russia, from Scapa Flow to Archangel for discussions about lend-lease aid with the Russians. He took part in Combined Operations in 1943 and witnessed the Allied landings in Sicily and Italy before finishing the war in the Hunt class destroyer Brocklesby on the Mediterranean convoys.
He became navigating officer of the frigate Whitesand Bay in 1950 on patrol duties during the emergency in Malaya and saw action in the Korean war, including the landing of 70,000 US 10th Corps personnel at Inchon in September 1950, the turning point of the war. He specialised in aircraft direction in 1952 before serving in the carriers Indomitable, Glory, Centaur and Ark Royal as direction officer and before being promoted Commander in 1958.
His first sea command came in 1960 when he joined the minesweeper Jewel, part of the Dartmouth Training Squadron. Janion was a hugely popular Commanding Officer; he understood his sailors and knew exactly how to get the best out of them. He was a superb model for the young cadets in the squadron: open, mercurial and never taking himself too seriously. Promoted Captain in 1966, he commanded the Leander class frigate Aurora before becoming Captain of the Fleet, in effect the officer responsible for the morale and welfare of the Navy's seagoers.
He assumed command of the destroyer Bristol in 1973. The following year, the ship suffered a serious boiler-room fire while at anchor off Milford Haven and nearly capsized from the weight of the water being pumped into her from fire hoses.
In the confusion, no one thought to 'shake' the Captain and Janion merged bleary-eyed halfway through the proceedings wondering what was going on. But he soon took control and his calm and presence of mind helped to save the ship.
He was promoted Rear-Admiral in 1975 and appointed 'Fory', as the post is known by the royal household. Whilst always respecting the Britannia's traditions, Janion ran the Royal Yacht with a light touch and used his skill as a raconteur to good effect - his best stories were often against himself. He was also a master of the devastating one-liner. During a Sea Day in the Bay of Naples, an official introduced himself as the chairman of the committee on invisible exports. 'Oh really,' said the admiral, 'what have you got to show for it?'
Last month, the Queen held a garden party at Buckingham Palace in honour of Royal Yachtsmen to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Britannia's commissioning. Despite being confined to a wheelchair and in great pain from his cancer, Janion spent a very happy afternoon in the company of old friends.
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