If you think the British Airways Airbus A380 looks resplendent in its new livery, you probably ought to thank, at least in part, the late former prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
Thatcher openly disapproved of BA’s bold decision to abandon its Union flag colours in favour of a multitude of ethnic designs intended to reflect its global reach – a controversial marketing ploy spearheaded by then-chief Bob Ayling.
When she encountered the models of a BA Boeing 747-400 and an Aerospatiale-BAC Concorde during the 1997 Conservative Party conference, Thatcher pronounced her verdict.
“Absolutely terrible,” she said, in front of the cameras, and – in a moment that has passed into legend – retrieved a paper tissue from her handbag to cover the 747′s fin. Concorde, carrying a stylised version of the flag, was untouched.
Virgin Atlantic and BMI mischievously responded by incorporating the flag in their own colour schemes, while operational concerns emerged as to whether the diversity of BA fins might cause identification problems.
BA backtracked on the fin designs just two years into the scheme, declaring that it would cap the number of aircraft. When the repainted fleet reached triple figures, in 2001, the airline gave up completely, scrapping the tail art to bring back a “simpler identity” that would illustrate “consistency and unity” – and, of course, be less likely to suffer a “handbagging” from her ladyship.