Living the High Life, Seventies style

The man who pays his way

Forty years ago this week, passengers on British European Airways (BEA) perusing the seat pocket in front of them found a novel addition. Alongside the emergency instruction card and sick bag was the first edition of High Life. The mission of this pioneering inflight magazine was spelled out by the founding editor, William Davis, opposite a full-page ad for Benson and Hedges Special Filter:

"We hope to entertain you, give you some useful ideas, and provide information .... In short, to help you follow Jonathan Swift's advice to 'live all the days of your life'." That looks uncannily similar to the mission of The Traveller.

Unlike many British travel innovations from that era, such as cross-Channel hovercraft, Motorail and Concorde, High Life has thrived over the decades. BEA was already part of the same consortium as BOAC, and would soon rebrand as British Airways. And High Life is still to be found (alongside the sick bag and emergency instructions) in the seat pockets of nearly 900 BA flights today. For its 40th birthday, the editor, Kerry Smith, assembled a travel think tank to forecast how the world will look 40 years from now. But what was the state of travel 40 years ago? The first edition of High Life from April 1973 provides a splendid time capsule.

Aviation was a more innocent world, as you would imagine, with no intensive immigration checks – which enabled BOAC to boast: "No other European airline can get you from seat to street in only 15 minutes at New York." Yet the mag reveals a British obsession with alcohol.

"I haven't yet worked out how much duty-free liquor we're allowed to bring in now that we're in the Common Market," reads one article, "but it's probably as much as you will be able to carry without breaking your arm." The first recipe in the cocktail column is for a "corpse reviver" (brandy, vermouth and Calvados).

A story headlined "The Night We Went to Epernay by Way of Tours-sur-Marne" was written by the late, great Alan Coren, who is described in the byline as a "Rolling English drunkard". His story ends: "The dawn is doing great things now. The birds are crazed. The sun is poised to warm the grape-buds out there beyond the ruins. There must be a hundred million bottles of the stuff in the immediate vicinity. I may stay here forever. If I can find my other shoe."

King-size cigarettes, Jumbo-size fares

Smoking was encouraged just as much as drinking. Judging from the number of full-page ads for cigarettes, High Life was profitable right from the off. Was this sort of message really allowed? "The simple things are important in the life of the American cowboy. Fresh country air and a good horse. The smell of breakfast steaks on an open fire. And time to enjoy the rich full flavor of a Marlboro cigarette."

You didn't merely read about cigarettes and drink – the bar tariff reveals you could buy them, too. A pack of 20 Players No 6 King Size Filters cost 15p. (For comparison, an equivalent pack today costs £7 or more.) You no longer have to pay 10p for "Vermouths Sweet and Dry" as drinks on BA flights are free, at least for the time being. Perhaps we will return to the days when you must pay for "Minerals and Cola" on domestic flights; if so, I bet they will cost more than 5p.

While the price of almost everything has soared since 1973, air travel has not. The airline has a fare of £69 return between London and Stockholm, but only "if you are prepared to make a firm booking at least two months before you set off and don't plan on staying for fewer than 10 days or more than two months".

You can pick up a Ryanair flight next month with no trouble for £44 return (though the cost will rise steeply if you want to check in luggage or order "Minerals or Cola" on board). To emphasise how the world has changed: at the minimum agricultural wage in 1973, it would have taken almost seven weeks to earn enough for a trip to Sweden and back; today, at the national minimum wage, you would earn the fare for that Ryanair flight in seven hours.

Hitting rock bottom

The relentless march of progress is evident. High Life announces the first flights to Los Angeles that did not stop en route in New York ("taking the short cut over the North Pole"). It also reveals that "BEA has become the first airline in Europe to produce tickets by a purpose-built, computer-controlled ticket printer", while London's newest luxury hotel, the Elizabetta on Cromwell Road, promises the chance to "dial New York direct from your room" (though without revealing how much that might cost).

Geopolitics were easier then: the magazine reports: "BEA begins a Cyprus service from Manchester to Nicosia on April 7th and all of the choicest resorts – Famagusta, Kyrenia, Salamis, Limassol – are featured in the Sovereign Holidays lists." The following year Nicosia airport closed after the Turkish invasion, and the first three of those "choicest resorts" are now in the self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, with no direct links from the UK.

Gender equality was a long way off. One ad talks only about "businessmen going to the States", while another article is introduced: "High Life sent Carol Wright to the bottom-pincher's paradise, Istanbul." Somehow, in the same edition, the magazine also sold a half-page advertisement to the Turkish tourist board.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
A daily miscellany of general election facts, figures, trivia and traditions
voicesThere's still time for someone to do something to make us care
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, goes back to his family's Sicilian roots in the first 'Godfather' film
film
News
news
News
Kim Kardashian speaks on the Today show about her step-father's transition
PEOPLE
Sport
Wenger and Mourinho square-up to each other earlier this season
sportAll the action from today's Premier League, including Everton vs Man Utd and Chelsea vs Arsenal
News
Tepper had a stunningly successful career as a songwriter
people
Arts and Entertainment
Len Blavatnik
music
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: MI Developer

    £35 - 45k: Guru Careers: An MI Developer is needed to join the leading provide...

    Recruitment Genius: Fitness Manager

    £20000 - £22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leisure organisation manag...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Manager

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Delivering an inspiring, engagi...

    Recruitment Genius: Learning Team Administrator

    £17500 - £20500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for a great te...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions