Amy Johnson, Croydon and me

By - Tuesday 31st January, 2017

Writer and actor Jenny Lockyer on how Croydon’s pioneering pilot inspired her new show

Sculpture of Amy Johnson by Stephen Melton.
Photo author’s own.

Right now, I’m creating a piece of theatre inspired by the aviator Amy Johnson. It’s called ‘Amy Johnson: Last Flight Out’. It presents parts of her life but also looks at how she thought about things. Amy’s linked closely to Croydon; it was from Croydon airport (then of course, London’s only airport) that she set out in May 1930 on her record-breaking flight from England to Australia. So it’s particularly inspiring to me that I’ll be performing the new show for the first time here in Croydon, at the Croydonites Festival of New Theatre this March.

I think the day Amy Johnson realised she did not have to rely on others for her own happiness was the day the world opened up to her. It was just as she discovered flying. She was twenty-four. Amy said later that on walking into Stag Lane Flying Club for the first time she was ‘.. overwhelmed with a sense of belonging’. Not only could flying provide her with the adventure she craved, but she also truly believed aviation was the future, and that she could be part of it.

Placing people in boxes is convenient when searching for scapegoats

Challenging those who would label us is something I have thought about in working on the show. We are all placed in boxes, be it ’woman’, ‘man’, ‘disabled’, ‘gay’, ‘straight’, ‘immigrant’… and in our boxes we become easy to identify. But it’s also a way of defining us, setting limits on who we are. Boxes become very convenient when governments are looking for scapegoats. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that our learning is split into subjects at school. Separating ‘subjects’ from each other is sold as efficient under a system geared towards hard results. Governments which are looking to curb spending cut departments such as drama and art where learning outcomes of improved well-being, confidence and communication skills are harder to measure.

Making our own happiness is not necessarily easy. Letting go of things we cannot control and having faith in ourselves requires the thing which can often elude us, self-belief. It’s hard enough for me, in 2017, to accept that as a woman I am OK, that my body is my body and that my aspirations are valid. And I must also acknowledge that whilst I have the vote, there are those who would very happily take it away from me.

So back to Amy. I’m thirty-six years old and only just beginning to fully believe I am capable. While I am waking up to this, the bulldozers are continuing to roll in. I could blame ‘them’, that faceless establishment, the banks, the advertising agencies and the politicians. I could scream “IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT THAT I’M OPPRESSED!” But in my heart, I know I am not and my heart chooses to believe it. I’m finding, like Eleanor Roosevelt said, that no one can make me feel inferior without my consent.

Amy dealt with a deluge of sexism and the assumption that she would fail

I experience the environment and the people in it but I am responsible for how I feel in response to their actions. When I trust me and have self belief, those are the days I am happiest. And that’s when I get loads done.

I was drawn into Amy’s story first through the letters she wrote and soon after by reading Midge Gillies’ biography Amy Johnson, Queen of the Air. I found out about Amy’s early life leading up to her moving to London from Hull, unsettled and unfocused. But then, she discovers flying.

In England in 1928, women have only just won the legal right to vote. Amy Johnson is full of fire and determined to make a career from flying. She has found what she wants to do and it’s something she can throw her heart into. The fact that working as a professional pilot is seen as men’s work is of no consequence to her. She writes to her father declaring it more than just a hobby for her, that she truly believes aviation is the future. There was certainly something about this focused, determined young woman which meant her father had faith enough to help pay for flying lessons.

I take up Midge Gillies’ biography and read again about Amy gaining all that knowledge at Stag Lane Flying Club. She learns to fly and trains as a ground engineer, all while holding down a full time office job. Alongside the physical and mental challenges of her training, Amy is also dealing with a deluge of sexism and the general expectation that she will fail. It’s exhausting, but Amy finds her way through it. Her father’s encouragement to her to slow down and take one thing at a time means she gives herself space to make good decisions. She has some really dark days but she returns time and time again to the faith she has in herself.

I am astounded and inspired by this woman

Amy said of the England to Australia flight: “My flight was carried out for two reasons: because I wished to carve for myself a career in aviation, and because of my innate love of adventure.” These were a driving force. This was a trip that could make Amy’s career and while still working for her pilot’s licence, Amy utilised all resources available to her including friends, family and colleagues to pull together one of the most impressive exercises in project management I’ve ever heard of. Ten days before she was due to fly she didn’t even have a plane, but her father and Lord Wakefield stepped in to buy the de Havilland Gipsy moth she would call Jason, making everything a reality. With just eighty-five hours of flying under her belt and having only ever flown the distance of London to Hull, Amy took off from Croydon Aerodrome on May 5th 1930 on the adventure that would make her name. As I read about this woman, I am astounded and inspired by her absolute belief that she is capable. And she is.

Amy was just thirty-seven when she died on January 5th 1941 while on a routine flight for the Air Transport Auxiliary. She died a record-making and breaking pilot, hugely experienced and respected. I believe that flying and practical thinking gave Amy a great sense of perspective. She literally saw the world from afar and her travels enabled her to know where she came from that much better.

Perspective, empowerment, knowledge, understanding, joy. These are things the Donald Trumps of this world fail to grasp, but take apart those boxes that contain us and there’s no reason we can’t all experience them. Right now. In Amy’s words: “The skeptics actually do much to further progress — they hold a pistol at the head of the dreamer and the optimist, challenging them to bring their dreams to reality. The answer of Progress to ‘it can’t be done’ is ‘hold tight and watch’”.

Jenny Lockyer‘s one woman show, Amy Johnson: Last Flight Out is on at the Spreadeagle pub theatre in Katharine Street at 7:30pm on Thursday 23rd and Saturday 25th March as part of the Croydonites Festival of New Theatre 2017. Tickets cost £10 and are available here.

Jenny Lockyer

Jenny Lockyer

Jenny has been running Storytime for seven years now alongside work in music, comedy and her role as director of Funsense Theatre Company which offers accessible and fun sessions for disabled and non-disabled children to enjoy together. More info:

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    I would go and get tickets immediately after reading this but …… I got them yesterday! Can’t wait :-)

    • lizsheppardjourno

      What night you going, Blath8? :) We’ll be there on the 25th – maybe see you then?


    Yes, see you there. Also going to see Zella Compton on the 30th