Patrick O'Shea

Research Group: Modern Interiors Research Centre
Award studied: PhD

Project title

BOAC and the interior of the jet aircraft: 1939-1974


As Britain redefined itself in the aftermath of the Second World War, the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) occupied a unique position in enabling, through design, the promotion of British products and services where the traditional influence of Empire had retreated. By establishing foreign terminals, using certain aircraft and flying certain (in some case exclusive) routes, BOAC was able to create itself a platform from which to show itself off as a progressive and 'transnational' company.

This research project presents the first examination of this influence and aims to fully document the design history of BOAC throughout the period of the Corporation's existence. Using the interiors as a site of investigation, the thesis will contribute a unique understanding of the role that the Corporation played in the development of British design history following the end of the Second World War.

With the aircraft interior acting as the focal point, the thesis will bring together and contribute to several key areas of research: BOAC as a business; the myths and preconceptions surrounding the aircraft interior; aircraft design in the context of transport design and the technical achievement of British manufacturers; the British design establishment; and the 'branding' of Britain in the immediate post-war period.

In the process of this investigation, I will present original historical material from the BOAC archive held at British Airways, the Brighton University Design Archives, and several smaller archives which hold key documentary evidence of British aircraft manufacturers. I also hope to challenge several established views on the aircraft interior and the design establishment, including: challenging the dominant perception of glamour in post world war air travel; showing the extent to which the Council of Industrial Design influenced British companies; revealing the contribution that émigré and foreign designers had on the British design landscape, in particular the design policies of BOAC. Finally, the thesis will explore how we may start to see the Corporation as the creators of a very early 'brand of Britain', one that pre-dates the standard design history narrative of British national identity represented at the International exhibitions.


VC10 interior illustration c.1964, London, British Airways Speedbird Centre