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I WAS researching the Miles M.57 Aerovan, but got sidetracked by romance. Maybe you’ll share my enthusiasm for F.G. Miles and his wife Blossom as well as their aircraft, about which I’ll write in a couple days.
The first chapter of Blossom begins, “She was christened Maxine Frances Mary Forbes-Robertson, when she married she became The Honorable Mrs Inigo Freeman-Thomas the Viscountess Ratendone, and then… she fell in love with someone called Fred.”
It was 1930 and Fred Miles, later known as Miles or simply F.G., reciprocated in his feelings for Blossom, albeit reluctantly at first. Her husband, the Viscount, was the money behind the fledgling flying school owned by Fred and his partners.
In emotional turmoil, Fred sold out his portion of the business, bought a trainer plane and shipped it to Cape Town, South Africa, to start a new life. However, it took him less than three months to realize this wasn’t going to work.
He returned to England just about when Blossom’s divorce was completed. Miles and Blossom were married on August 6, 1932.
Blossom came from theatre people. Her father was Johnston Forbes-Robertson, an English actor considered the 19th century’s finest Hamlet. He was knighted in 1913. Blossom’s mother was American actress Gertrude Elliot, born May Gertrude Demot.
The family rubbed elbows with the likes of George Bernard Shaw, Jerome K. Jerome and Noel Coward. By the way, key elements in Shaw’s 1909 play Misalliance include an airplane and “The New Woman.”
Blossom’s aunt, Maxine Elliot, after whom she was named, was also an actress, indeed an extremely successful and wealthy one. The Maxine Elliott Theatre, co-owned by the actress, was a Broadway venue until its closing in 1960. (Both spellings Elliott and Elliot appear in records; I’ll follow author Fosterkew’s lead with the latter.)
Today, we’d call Aunt Maxine a control freak. Back then, she had an overbearing influence on Blossom’s life. Maxine was well-connected, with friends Winston Churchill and Oswald Mosley, the latter notorious for his British Union of Fascists activities (and father of Max Mosley of Formula 1 fame).
By contrast, Fred Miles built his first one-off aircraft in 1921 on the premises of his father’s laundry business. Later, he co-owned a flying field in Shoreham, on the English Channel 55 miles south of London. While there, Fred helped distribute England’s Daily Mail newspaper, which during a national strike was being printed in France, its copies flown over each day.
Both F.G. and Blossom picked up their working knowledge of mathematics, structural engineering and aircraft design from colleagues. Each brought unique talents to their common enthusiasm for flying and the aviation business that evolved.
One of their first shared activities was barnstorming throughout the U.K. Then they got backing from Poole & Powls, a small but successful firm running a flight training school/flying club at what came to be known as Woodley Aerodrome, near Reading, about 35 miles west of London.
Blossom worked at Poole & Powls/Miles Aircraft as principal designer, structural analyst and draughtswoman. In 1938, the British government, not without controversy, inaugurated a Civil Air Guard, its purpose training pilots—of either gender. Blossom served as one of the CAG’s five commissioners.
With the coming of World War II, Blossom anticipated the need for women in the aircraft workforce in positions other than secretaries and typists. Women trained by her in the company’s Experimental Department’s Liverpool Road drawing office became known as “Blossom’s Babies.” In 1943, she established the Miles Aeronautical Training School preparing young men and women for careers in aviation.
With aircraft development becoming more specialized during WWII, Blossom left the direct design work to others. She expanded company benefits to include newsletters, amateur dramatics with the Aerodrome Players and other morale-building efforts.
Caught up in post-war British economic doldrums, Miles Aircraft went bankrupt in 1947.
Blossom and F.G. had two children, Jeremy born in 1933 and Mary Susannah born in 1939.
F.G. died in 1976, age 73. Blossom died at age 82 in 1984.
In a couple days, I’ll write about their M.57 Aerovan. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2014