Stuff Happens

Posted in Uncategorized on November 10, 2013 by richardhowle

I haven’t posted here in quite sometime. A new job has meant that, although this is a personal blog, I have to be a bit more cautious with my public utterings. But if a blog is for anything, it should be to record significant events in ones life and this weekend I have had such an event.

My parents are now both in their 70’s and whilst they are fit and able (which they both very much are) they have taken the sensible decision to move out of their big four bedroom house into a much more manageable two bed ground floor flat. The house that they are leaving is one that I never lived in, they retired down to Devon from Cambridge within a year of me, the last of the chicks, flying the nest. However it is still very much the family home, the one where we have all gathered over the years, the one where we have seen the grandchildren grow up – it holds very many happy memories (and boasts stunning views across the River Exe estuary)
They are moving to my late Grandmother’s flat, half a mile down the road which has undergone an extensive refurbishment, but no matter how many new kitchen and bathroom units are installed – there is going to be a lot less space. The large family gatherings in the family home will be no more.

It also has required a great cull of the detritus of life. And that is a harsh term, because all of that detritus holds great, happy memories. This weekend has been spent in the house, for the final time, clearing out the loft. It was full of my “stuff” and whilst it is just “stuff” – old school work, toys, comics, photographs, etc. each is loaded with a memory. Each is a building block of my life, of me. But the reality is that it has all been shut in the loft for fifteen years – much of it came from the loft in the last house. It is just stuff, just paper – that is meaningless to everyone except me. So it had to go. The skip filled with stories I wrote as an eight year old, a project on steam trains put together aged ten, comics I read as a seven year old, my beloved, threadbare Snoopy soft toy……

But I enjoyed going through it all. Enjoying remembering, reliving the memories. Particularly those of my late teens and early twenties. My university years. I suppose it was because much of it had never been remembered before. Some of the older stuff I had looked though in previous moves, the memory had been established. But much of the newer stuff had never been looked at since it was acquired – so going through it all helped establish those memories.

But I didn’t throw all of it away, I did put aside a box for special memories – mainly letters (see Paul’s blog) and mementos of special events of my life. That box will go into the shed at home, and probably won’t be examined again for another 15 years, when I will enjoy reliving all the memories again.

The Commitments in Town

Posted in Theatre, Ticketing with tags , on April 26, 2013 by richardhowle

On Tuesday we had the launch of a brand new musical (always an exciting event) – The Commitments. It is based on the 90’s film written by Roddy Doyle, who has also penned the musical.

There will be plenty of time to get excited about the prospect of this show, but I just wanted to highlight a little excitement from a ticketing point of view. Half Price Previews.

Preview pricing isn’t a new thing or uncommon thing, many shows do it. But usually the discount is a modest one, £5 or £10 off regular prices.

As Mark Shenton says in his blog today for The Stage

A genuine, upfront offer like this will not only help to get audiences in when they’re most needed to help shape the show itself, but also help in its promotion (assuming the show is good), which is to start the most crucial thing of all: word-of-mouth. It’s a win-win situation for audiences and producers alike.

The financial restraints of putting on a show often make a pricing policy like this cost prohibitive, so it is fantastic that the producers of this production have found a way of making it work.

And the early signs are really encouraging, tickets are flying out of the door and a fantastic foundation of sales is being built. Packed previews full of ticket buying fans will surely provide a fantastic launch pad for the whole run.
Watch this space, or better still – book you own half price tickets for The Commitments musical.

Learning From History

Posted in Current Affairs, History, Society, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on March 17, 2013 by richardhowle

I have always loved history. At school I was lucky enough to have teachers who helped me understand that history is about understanding and learning, not facts and figures. Facts and figures are important, yes – but only to aid that understanding and to provide context.

This week Paul and I had a birthday break in Berlin and as we sat on tour bus going round the city (traveller tip – always a great way to get your bearings in a new city) my heart sank as the pre recorded commentary spouted pointless facts and figures about a beautiful city. “This road is 50 meters wide”. Who cares? I can see how wide it is, tell me something that will help me understand its significance to the city, tell me about the things that have happened here…..

Thankfully the whole visit wasn’t like this and a visit to the Checkpoint Charlie museum helped provide an insight into what life was like in the divided city and what impact it had on all of our lives. I have been lucky enough to visit lots of museums and exhibitions in lots of cities around the world that have helped feed my love of history and my understanding of the world that we live in. The ones that have a human edge to them, real life accounts of what life was like, such as the Museum of Occupation in Riga or the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam, are the ones that are the most illuminating and informative.

However just reading about events or examining artefacts still isn’t enough. Nothing beats experiencing it for yourself. Meeting the people, seeing the locations,  watching, listening, smelling, touching – getting under the skin of a place is really what makes  history come alive.

When I was younger I was lucky enough to go to Moscow and there I visited the Moscow Arts Theatre and watched a production of Chekov’s A Cherry Orchard. I had studied it school and thought that I understood it. But it wasn’t until I saw the play in context, performed in Russia, by Russian actors with a Russian audience that I really understood it.

So whilst I have read a lot about Berlin, the second world war and the cold war, actually visiting Berlin has given me a whole new level of understanding. Seeing the city, understanding the geography and impact of the wall, visiting the museums, viewing the exhibits and displays and imagining what life must have been like. Then sitting on a train opposite an old German woman and realising that she had lived through it all, suddenly makes it real. Makes it human. What if it was you, what if it was your city? This didn’t happen to the nameless and faceless, this happened to you and I.

Berlin wall

A City Divided

This is why history is important. To help us understand what has happened, to provide context for what is happening today and to help inform our decision making about tomorrow.

Facts and figures, dates and statistics are all very good, but they don’t explain why and how. History is a real, living thing and we will do well to listen to it and to learn from it.

2012 Triumph

Posted in Theatre, Ticketing on February 9, 2013 by richardhowle

If you didn’t see it, this was my article published in this week’s edition of The Stage:

For those of us who work in theatre advertising and marketing, 2012 will be a year that we won’t forget – aside from what happened during that magical sporting festival.

As well as the Olympic and Paralympic Games we had the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations and one of the wettest summers since Noah applied for a pet passport.

For us, the planning began in 2011 and with so many different scenarios possible we didn’t so much have a Plan A and a Plan B but more of a Plan A-Z to cover every possible eventuality. No one knew what would happen.

As it turned out everything happened and we went through all of those plans and devised more – at the lowest points we quickly found ourselves rifling through Plans O,M and G. We launched new initiatives, found new sales channels and created new campaigns. It required cool heads and smart thinking, but we got through it.

Just how well we got through it was revealed by SOLT (Society of London Theatres) last week who announced that, against the odds, 2012 saw record breaking gross sales and a year-on-year (YOY) rise in attendances. The margin was only small, but considering the challenges it was our equivalent of winning five gold medals.

For me, the most revealing aspect of the numbers released last week was the average ticket price paid, which showed a YOY drop. This reflects the fact that, although we attracted more people to the theatre, we had to work much harder than ever before to reach out to them. Across the board shows engaged with promotions and discounted further than they have ever previously had to.

2012 was like a jam sandwich – a sticky mess in the middle with two thick bloomers either side. The beginning of the year saw amazing audience levels, with play attendance in particular helping to drive overall admissions. Then came the summer of despair, the low point being the final week of July – usually one of the best of the year – with many shows reporting YOY drops in attendance of up to 25%. But it quickly improved as people began to realise that the West End wasn’t the no go area that we had all been led to believe that it would be.

Then, as London 2012 became a triumph, we began to hear word of a phenomenon that gave us great heart. Our friends in the travel industry were reporting a massive upsurge in enquiries for London breaks. Domestic tourism was booming with bookings for the autumn surging. And then they came. With quality new product in the market, audience levels returned to the highs that we had seen in the first part of the year.

So what lies ahead for 2013? Well, advance sales are at record highs and, as well as all the favourites, there are some great new shows due to open – combined with very strong forecast figures from tourism bodies, this year looks set to be a blockbuster.

But we can’t rest on our laurels; we can’t just expect audiences to come along. With the economy showing little sign of recovery the fight for the leisure pound remains as tough as ever. Our world leading creative industry has to put on high quality product and we have to create high quality campaigns that will sell them.

We must also be aware that some of the tactics that we employed last year were for exceptional reasons and should guard against them becoming the norm. We need to be wary of training our audiences to wait for last minute discounts. Like the rest of the world, the costs associated with producing theatre are going up. With inflation rising, further falls in the average ticket price will become unsustainable. This shouldn’t preclude us, however, from making theatre accessible and developing audiences for the future.

We also need to be acutely aware that at the heart of the West End’s commercial success is work derived from the subsidised sector which is facing severe cuts in its funding. Money generated through ticket sales is going to become even more important in the creation of the productions of the future.

Despite the success of last year, 30% of seats went unsold. As an industry we need to continue to be more innovative and creative at finding more persuasive ways of attracting audiences. By embracing new technology, employing modern thinking, opening our minds to dynamic pricing (up AND down) and by giving ticket buyers the best experience, we can do this. We can encourage the person who comes twice a year to come three times; we can convert the person who doesn’t think that theatre is for them.

2012 was a triumphant year, but the success will count for nothing if we can’t build on its legacy. The capital had the world’s attention and many more people will experience the city and our theatre as a result. We need to show to all those new visitors who have been attracted by last year’s events exactly why London is one of the greatest cities on the planet, the home of the greatest theatre.

Upcoming in 2013

Posted in Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , on January 13, 2013 by richardhowle

One of the curses of my job is that I am frequently asked for recommendations as to what to see. This is always a real minefield, what is considered good can differ from person to person, that is what makes life so varied and interesting. Going to theatre can involve a serious outlay so making a recommendation brings with it great responsibility.

I am a great believer in that quality will out so a stock answer is always Billy Elliot, Jersey Boys, Matilda, War Horse and One Man Two Guvnors – there is enough variety in this selection for people to then make their own choices to suit their own tastes. I can take comfort in the knowledge that which ever one of these they choose they will enjoy their experience.

I have just realised that in writing this there is a huge mantrap ahead of me if I don’t mention all the great shows in the West End (The 39 Steps and Woman in Black have just sprung to mind). Oh well, publish and be damned, I say!

So what of 2013, what am I looking forward to this year? What are my recommendations for this year?

The first one I have already seen. It is an extraordinary, exciting, endorphin-raising, experiential piece of theatre. Created by the Argentinian team behind Del La Guarda, Fuertzabruta returns to London after a six year gap during which it has gone around the world. It is playing again at the Roundhouse which reopened with this production first time round and I am not sure if there has been a product there since that better fits this space. It is a show that is really difficult to describe other than how it makes you feel – joyful, inspired, alive – it is a cross between a spectacle and a rave. Get your tickets quick http://www.roundhouse.org.uk/fuerzabruta as it is only playing until 26th January. (Oh and don’t be upset when it says the tickets are “standing” they all are – that is part of the experience.)

Previewing from 5th Feb, A Chorus Line at the London Palladium is the production that many theatre aficionados are most looking forward to. It is a classic of musical theatre, breaking the mould when it first opened on Broadway where it set new standards and broke all the records, but hasn’t been seen in the West End since 1976. One of the main reasons for this is that there are only three London stages wide enough to fit the full cast. And what a stage, The London Palladium, an iconic building for an iconic production. Tickets at www.achoruslinelondon.com

Also breaking the mould is another musical from Broadway which I am really looking forward to. The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales theatre is outrageously funny. Be prepared to be shocked and to laugh a lot at this Tony award winning musical which deliciously lampoons (all) religion. If you liked Avenue Q, this is definitely the show for you. www.bookofmormonlondon.com

My final (and perhaps strongest) recommendation is for a play that I raved about on these pages when I saw it at the National a few months ago. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time is quite simply one of the best things I have ever seen. Funny, moving, brilliant staged and performed by a fantastic cast, it is transferring to the West End’s Apollo Theatre from 1st March. Based on the book by Mark Haddon it is about a 15 year old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome and his struggle to fit into the world. It is a beautiful piece of theatre that had me blubbing like Victoria Pendleton when I saw it. www.curiousonstage.com

Not theatre, but I do want to give a shout out for another upcoming in 2013, and that is my friend Chloe who is releasing her first album this year and is being tipped to be one of the new voices of the year. As a special treat here is a link to a sample from her first single – just remember you heard of her here first!

One final note – all the links I have out on here take you to the official websites where you can buy tickets safely. If you so buy tickets elsewhere, make sure you do it securely. Check to see if the agency you are buying from is a member of STAR (Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers) look out for the STAR logo and check that that is is legit on the STAR website

My 2012 review

Posted in Society, Theatre, Ticketing with tags , , on December 30, 2012 by richardhowle

Everywhere we look there are reviews of the year. So why not join them?

How will history reflect on 2012? Will it be a year to remember in twenty years time. How often do we reflect on 1992?

Well, of course, the outstanding feature of 2012 – the one that will mark it as a year to remember- is the Olympics. As everyone else is devoting hours of airtime and thousands of words to it I will keep my thoughts here brief and simply say that I thought it was terrific. It lived up to all my expectations and then some, proving all the doubters wrong. I was always a great supporter and had faith in our ability to deliver a great games – witness my blog post on 16 October 2010 here.
What I was particularly thrilled about, was the complete conversion of the doom- mongers and nay-sayers who ended up being some the biggest fans of the games (including my partner Paul). One of my favourite moments of the year was in the Olympic stadium as Mo Farrah picked up his second gold of the games in the 5,000 final and the whole place going ballistic. Paul and I hugged with tears streaming down our cheeks. As it died down the man next to Paul said “it’s great isn’t it?” and Paul responded through the tears with “yes, and I don’t even like sport”!

Professionally the Olympics provided some unique challenges in 2012. There is normally a pattern and flow to ticket sales in the West End based upon which we build our marketing and advertising campaigns – but this year the text books were thrown out of the window and we had to be creative and flexible in order to sell tickets in a challenging market. After a strong first quarter, sales fell away, particularly over what is normally the strongest time of the year, the summer and we had to work really hard to get sales. A good final autumn has given an early indication as to what we might expect for 2013 and has helped boost the overall numbers. When the final numbers for London theatre attendance in 2012 are released I expect them to be up on last year and there will be much comment about how the Olympics wasn’t as bad for theatre as everyone said. But closer inspection of the numbers will reveal that this was only achieved by more promotion and discounting as well as a lot of effort. One thing that is guaranteed is that those of us whose job it is to sell London theatre, to drive admissions won’t get any of the praise or plaudits for delivering against the odds. But I know how much work, imagination and passion it took to achieve those numbers. So from a professional point of view 2012 has been a tough, challenging, but rewarding year and I am very proud to work alongside some incredibly talented people.

Politically and socially 2012 has seen a continued move towards society being driven by moral outrage and panic. The scandals have been endless.This is led by a seemingly righteous media, but is in reality about selling newspapers. No institution or organisation is safe and every fault or failing is endlessly picked over until someone or something breaks or another, juicier story is found. The problem with this is that it hides the real issues of our time, the ones that have no right or wrong answers, but have a more profound effect on our society than what a cyclist in Downing Street did or didn’t say to a policeman. What about the recession, the plight or the poor, investment in enterprise, immigration, falling education standards, disenfranchised youth, our role in Europe the fate of Syria etc etc?

And finally personally, it has been another good year. The 30’s are a good decade, a time when you finally become confident and comfortable of who you are. This allows you to take on and succeed with new challenges – for me that meant producing my first play. Green Forms at the Tabard Theatre was a sell out,raised over £10,500 for cancer charity, Maggie’s and was a personal triumph for me, giving me a self belief and confidence that perhaps I didn’t have before. It also gave me the opportunity to work on a project with Paul whose vision and talent made the project an artistic success as well as financial one. It was great teamwork that helped strengthen our personal partnership. Last week we celebrated the 16th year of that partnership, a year that added many more happy memories to our life together from producing plays, happy holidays and watching the Olympics.

2012 has been a really good year and there is much to be thankful for. I hope 2013 proves to be just as fruitful.

Wishing you all a Happy New Year

BBC bashing

Posted in Current Affairs with tags on November 12, 2012 by richardhowle

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a fantastic country and its people are amongst the finest in the world. It is a country and a people that have contributed so much to humanity and that have achieved so much. Yet to talk like this is distinctly un British

For of course we aren’t brilliant or the best all the time. Quite often we are distinctly average. But what annoys me is the way that when we are good at something we always talk it down and try to destroy it.

Take the BBC, probably the finest broadcaster in the world – we should be immensely proud of it. Yet, whenever it makes an error, displays a misjudgement we give it a disproportionate kicking. I am not saying that it should be untouchable and that it should have some sort of saintly status, but we are much less forgiving of it than we are any other media organisation.

And, actually, perhaps that’s the key. Is it really the British people who turn on the BBC or is it other media organisations? Do they take the lead when it comes to BBC bashing which everyone follows, or do they just reflect the prevailing mood?

I suspect it is the former. I think our news media is, on the whole, really good – travelling around the world and seeing how insipid other nations news reporting is, makes you realise how lucky that we are to have such strong journalism in this country. But they do have this distasteful habit of building something or someone up only to knock them down. There is a desperation to create their own stories, rather than just report what happens. In the case of the BBC, such is the vilification of their treatment one can only think that there are other motives. Jealousy perhaps?

The worst thing is that, so cowed has the BBC become, it now tends to lead the criticism of itself in a kind of masochist self flagellation. In doing so it only seems to make the problem worse.

There are three things that have struck me in the recent scandal / crisis.

1. This whole affair has meant that we the viewer/listener/reader have now been subjected to weeks of the media’s favourite subject – The Media. There is nothing more that journalists like talking about than themselves. On Saturday, BBC Radio 5 live they announced a special extended bulletin at lunchtime – had there been a terrorist attack? Had peace broken out in Afghanistan? No, the BBC Director General had spoken to one of the corporations journalists. Complete self indulgence. Do the public REALLY care? Surely there are more important things going on in the world

2. The DG eventually had to resign later that day because, as Editor in Chief, he had to take responsibility for his journalists making false accusations against someone. Yet I don’t remember any newspaper editors resigning when they falsely accused Christopher Jeffries of murder Story here

3. So busy has the media been talking about itself,that the real issue – child abuse – and the real victims seem to have been totally forgotten about.

I really hope that the British public are intelligent enough to see through it all. To recognise that, although the BBC has made some serious errors, it remains a fantastic institution that we should all be immensely proud of. This country would be a poorer place without it.

I Love Australia

Posted in Theatre, Ticketing, Travel with tags , on October 20, 2012 by richardhowle

I am currently  sitting in an airport lounge, a glass of Shiraz by my side waiting to fly back home from a country I love, Australia.

I am lucky that my work has provided me with lots of opportunities to travel but, although I have been in here several times before, I was last in Australia in 2008. It is a fantastic country that feels like a home from home. The setting is spectacular, the weather is fantastic, the atmosphere is relaxed and the people are polite, courteous and incredibly friendly.

Like all my previous trips this was a flying visit, in and out for a week, but I would love to come here properly, on holiday, to really get to know the place.  I am very lucky in that over the years I have made some good friends, both whilst I have been here and in London, who have always looked after me when I have travelled Down Under, shown me great hospitality – but I would really love to travel here with Paul and experience the joys of this fantastic country without having to dash from meeting to meeting.

This trip started in Melbourne, where arriving on a Sunday night ahead of a Monday morning start is a fantastic way to beat the jet lag, which I have thankfully (on the whole) managed to avoid. aka now have two offices in Australia, one in Melbourne and one in Sydney – in Melbourne I was there to do some consultancy for one of our clients,  the Arts Centre Melbourne.

It was also an opportunity to catch up with a couple of ticketing types from London who have now relocated to the city, Damian Murphy – formerly of Ticketmaster and Dawn Walker – formerly of the Victoria Palace Theatre. It was a lovely  evening, great to catch up with old friends and to visit bars and restaurants that I would never discovered as a tourist.

I was also able to spend some time with the incredibly talented Kendra Reid, who runs aka Australia, and her wonderful partner John Lloyd Fillingham. John is an old friend of Paul’s and his name has been part of our relationship for the past 16 years, so it was great to finally meet this man who Paul holds in such high regard. Another fantastic night. I was also able to catch up with Brett Haylock, the genius creative  producer of one of my all time favourite shows, La Soiree, which has just opened in Melbourne. Late night drinks with him and some of the La Soiree acts meant for a fuzzy head the next morning, but it was definitely worth it.

Then, before I knew it, it was time to depart for Sydney to spend time in aka’s newest office which is headed up by my fantastic friend, Amy Maiden. I was really excited to get there, much as I like Melbourne, I LOVE Sydney. It really is my kind of town. In my view, if you were to design a perfect city, you would design Sydney. Not only is it set in spectacular surrounding, never far from the water – it also has a really easy vibe about it. The city motto could almost be “G’day mate – do you fancy a beer”. It really is a kick off your shoes and relax type of place, even if you are there on business.

Alongside London and New York, Sydney is my favourite city in the world.

After a couple of days of  meetings, including with our clients Global Creatures (who are the producers of Walking with Dinosaurs, are producing War Horse in Australia, have just launched their new musical King Kong and are in pre production for Strictly Ballroom), my working week was over.

But I still had a day left and what a day it was. Meeting up with ex -London aka-er Yolande Phillips and her gorgeous daughter Elouise, we joined the beautiful Angela Gahan and her family to spend a day on their boat in the harbour. It was a glorious day, sun shining, temperature in the low 30’s and Sydney looking spectacular. Drinking champagne with fantastic friends as we motored through one of the world’s greatest natural harbours in beautiful weather I struggled to think if life could get any better than this. There was just one way it could be, if Paul had been there too.

Why I work in the theatre

Posted in Theatre with tags , on October 4, 2012 by richardhowle

I am really lucky to work in theatre. So many people do soul destroying jobs in industries that they hate or that no one cares about. But theatre means so much to so many people. People get so passionate about it. It is easy to forget that for many going to see a show is something special, a real treat, something glamorous and special that will stay in their memory for a long time. I am lucky enough to be a small cog in the machine that provides that.

And I AM lucky – thousands want to work in theatre and many do not get the opportunity as I witnessed this week. I arrived at the London Palladium on a (very) wet Monday morning to find an enormous queue for the open auditions for the upcoming production of A Chorus Line. This was, of course, very much life imitating art – the audition process being the subject of the show – but here, first hand was what it was all about. A dedication and a passion to perform that meant hundreds of people standing in the rain for hours, just for the opportunity to try and perform on the London stage.

In the dry of the stalls as I watched the first 50 nervous hopefuls take to the stage,the tension was palpable – without being too X Factor – this was their moment. It is a tough brutal business – step forward, say your name, perform two pirouettes. That was is it, the qualifying standards were high, fewer than 50% made it through to the next round. Thank you. Goodbye. Queuing since 5am, perform for 30 seconds and it is all over. But, it is their dream, their passion – it’s worth the wet, cold and boredom if you get through. My hat goes off to all those who gave it a go.

Then, last night, I was reminded why I love this business so much when I was lucky enough to attend the sensational National Theatre production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Cottesloe Theatre. As I said on Twitter afterwards – it was one of the theatrical highlights of my life.

Because of my job I see a lot of theatre, and often going to the theatre can feel like work. For that reason those that know me know that I am quite a tough judge of what I see on stage – it takes a lot to impress me these days. Last night I was more than impressed, I was blown away by an amazing piece of theatre.

My partner, Paul had been badgering to see it for someone time, he had not only loved the book but had recently worked with play’s leading actor Luke Treadaway (on a film called Wasteland – featuring at the London Film Festival, get your tickets), but it had sold out, so he was thrilled when I was able to get my hands on a precious pair of tickets. It did not disappoint. Those that have read the book (I haven’t ) will know the powerful story and unique style and will fear as to how it can translate to the stage. Don’t fear – it does. The theatricality is brilliant, often simple – but enormously effective. The cast are sensational, the staging imaginative, the multi media set and lighting help paint the pictures and the adaptation delivers. The result is a piece of theatre that will stay with me for some time, it made me laugh and turned me into a blubbering wreck. Some have said that it is a little too long, but for me I didn’t want it to end.

It also did one other thing – remind me why I work in theatre.

The Easy Life With Easyjet

Posted in Travel with tags , on September 27, 2012 by richardhowle

When things go wrong or we are unhappy about something we shout it from the rooftops, tweet, post on Facebook, write angry letters etc etc – we want everybody to know. It feel like our own little piece of retribution for whatever perceived ill that we have been a victim of. But we don’t always make such a fuss when things go well or when we are pleased about something.

With that in mind I want to shout out about Easyjet, the oft maligned airline who revolutionised the aviation industry. I think they are really good and I am very satisfied customer.

I have been lucky enough to do a lot of travelling – a few years ago when I was lying all over the place for work I calculated that I had been in the air for a total of two whole weeks one year, so it is fair to say I know my way round a plane and have a fairly wide range of experience of the qualities or otherwise of different airlines.

And I would put Easyjet up there with the best of them. Paul and I went down to Southern Spain last week to catch a bit of sun before the long, grey autumn and winter ahead of us and we travelled there and back on Easyjet and once again I was hugely impressed by them.

We all know that they are good value, that’s how they made their name (although prices aren’t always rock bottom -our fares on the busy route to Malaga were good value, but not cheap), but the range of destinations and the frequency of flights also make them stand out. The booking process is easy (particularly for me as Paul did it!) and when you get to the airport the bag drop process is straightforward and usually without too much queuing.

At this point I would like to also shout out about Gatwick Airport, which always used to be a package holiday hellhole, but now, since it is under new management, has become a really pleasant and efficient airport – particularly the new North Terminal.

Although it does involve a fair bit of queuing, boarding is done pretty smoothly and if you consider how quickly they turn round their flights, pretty efficiently (although they are now about to start allocating seats – which may cut down the queues, but may slow down the boarding process) and it is at this point that you begin to notice the airline’s best quality, it’s staff.

In my opinion the cabin crew at Easyjet are some of the best in the business. I would put them alongside Virgin (who are brilliant) always friendly and courteous, cheerful, energetic with seemingly endless patience and who are also extremely hard working. Speedy boarding afforded me a front row seat where I was able to watch the cabin manager greet every single passenger by name, engage with them and make them feel welcome and at ease.

Easyjet is a no frills airline, they make no pretence to be anything else and for travelling short haul that is fine. In fact it is better than travelling with a “regular” airline – because if you want something to eat or drink at least you can buy it. Throughout the flight the cabin crew are visible and available to serve you and seem happy to do so (unlike some other airlines I could mention)

Finally, and I recognise that others may have different experiences, I find them reliable and punctual. I can only recall one significant delay and that was when a passenger had suffered a heart attack on the preceding service.

My only wish is that they would fly from London City as well!

So in a world of complaints and moans I am happy to give a big thumbs up with a thank you and well done to Easyjet.