THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF ALAN BRISTOW

Alan Edgar Bristow was born in south London on September 3 1923, and spent his early childhood in Bermuda, where his father ran the Royal Navy Dockyard. Then the family returned to England. At the age of 16, on the outbreak of war, he joined the British India Steam Navigation Company as a cadet. In 1943, after being sunk by both the Japanese and the Germans, he enlisted with the Fleet Air Arm to train as a pilot and learned to fly helicopters. After demobilisation he joined the Westland Aircraft Company as its first helicopter test pilot, but was sacked for punching the company’s sales manager. Alan Bristow’s pugilistic tendencies became a legend in the industry. He was reputed fearless. In 1949 he was in Indo-China where he rescued French forces under Viet Minh mortar fire and was awarded the Croix de Guerre. In 1951 he formed Air Whaling, a company that used helicopters to spot whales in the Antarctic. In 1955 Bristow started operating flights in aid of oil exploration in the Persian Gulf. Engaged by the former RAF fighter ace Douglas Bader, his company became highly profitable and Bristow a wealthy man. Bristow Helicopters eventually expanded to cover most of the globe outside Russia and Alaska, with notable profit centres in the British North Sea, Nigeria, Iran, Australia, Malaysia and Indonesia. Alan Bristow’s reign over the British helicopter sector came to an end in 1985. Bristow was bought out by the Cayzers Holdings, and retired. The company was sold and became Offshore Logistics which in 2006 rebranded itself Bristow group. Alan Bristow died 26 April 2009. “I have drunk champagne with billionaires in the best hotels in the world and hauled my men out of some of the seediest whorehouses in South America. I have been court-martialled for desertion and awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Order of the British Empire. I have triumphed in shipboard brawls which would have appalled the Marquis of Queensbury and have represented my country at four-in-hand carriage driving with the Duke of Edinburgh. I have put a lot of backs up and disjointed a lot of noses, physically and metaphorically, and in an era when most companies are controlled by risk-averse men in suits shuffling other people’s money and creaming off their cut, my way of doing business is perhaps an anachronism. But by God, it was fun while it lasted!” - Alan Bristow