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Beyond the Blue Horizon: On the Track of Imperial Airways

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In Beyond The Blue Horizon Alexander Frater reveals and relives the romance and breathtaking excitement of the legendary Imperial Airways Eastbound Empire service—the world's longest and most adventurous scheduled air route. Written with an infectious passion, this is an extraordinarily original and genre-defining piece of travel writing by one of our most highly respected travel correspondents.

430 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1986

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About the author

Alexander Frater

13 books32 followers
Alexander Frater has contributed to various UK publications--Miles Kington called him "the funniest man who wrote for Punch since the war"--and been a contracted New Yorker writer; as chief travel correspondent of the London Observer he won an unprecedented number of British Press Travel Awards. Two of his books, Beyond the Blue Horizon and Chasing the Monsoon, have been been into major BBC television films. One, the Last Aftican Flying Bat (based on the former), took the Bafta award for best single documentary, while a programme for BBC Radio 4 (about his South Seas birthplace) was named overall winner of the Travelex Travel Writers' Awards. He lives in London, though, whenever time and money allow, is likely to be found skulking deep in the hot, wet tropics.

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5 stars
65 (48%)
4 stars
46 (34%)
3 stars
17 (12%)
2 stars
5 (3%)
1 star
0 (0%)
Displaying 1 - 16 of 16 reviews
Profile Image for Sathish.
11 reviews
July 11, 2022
Alexander Frater fell in love with aviation and the erstwhile Imperial Airlines as a little boy living in Oceania. In "Beyond the Blue Horizon" he traces and follows the legendary England to Australia service that the Imperial Airlines "pioneered" in the 1930s. Travelling through France and Greece and Iraq and India and Indonesia and many other countries the early Imperial flights ferried passengers to the land down under.

The premise of the book sets us up for a very gripping travelogue. However, the author fails to hold your attention till the end. For one, it is impossible to faithfully follow the old route thanks to the geopolitical situation of the time; so the author has to content with doing whistle stop tours of each of the 'aerodromes'. While starting off, the book has a dual narrative with quotes from passengers on the 1930s service interspersed with the author's present day (1980s) experience. The author abandons this storytelling device somewhere in the middle east. As he leaves Pakistan the anecdotes from the Imperial days completely dries up. By the time he reaches Indonesia we are subsisting on dreary conversations that the author has with other expats he finds at the airport. To add to this, the amount of spelling and grammatical errors in the latter half suggests that the editor stopped reading around Greece. If you soldier through all this, you are rewarded with a journey across Australia which is drier than the outback. As the author touches down in Brisbane at the end of the journey I thanked my stars for the fact that Imperial did not fly to New Zealand.

I liked Chasing the Monsoon by the same author better. "Beyond the...." was written in 1986 and shows its age. Might have been a better read when it came out. Gave it two stars because I enjoy Aviation History and loved those bits. Unfortunately, it might not be enough to fuel your interest till the end.
Profile Image for Babs.
563 reviews10 followers
Shelved as 'abandoned'
March 26, 2016
I picked this up to read after finishing my other book yesterday, but I'm afraid I couldn't get into it at all. The premise of it is lovely - following the route taken by the Imperial Airways Eastbound Empire service which flew from London to Brisbane, taking a total of 2 weeks to complete the journey! It was the golden era of air travel with comfortable airlines, amazing service and over-night stops in top class hotels.

Frater sets out to follow the route and to re-trace its steps. However as this book was originally written in 1986, what should be a modern-day comical look back on a long-forgotten era of air travel, actually ends up being a look back on two long forgotten eras of air travel!

Frater's book is written in the days of paper tickets, pre-9/11 security and cheerful British Airways staff (last seen circa 1986!!). It is just old-fashioned now and thus doesn't quite have the appeal of looking back on an even more old-fashioned time in air travel.

Besides all of that, I couldn't really get into the writing, and it quickly became repetitive. I couldn't face a whole book's worth of the same.

Abandoned: 1st February 2007
Profile Image for Suprit.
1 review
July 25, 2012
Have read it twice in the last 5 years. Discovered a copy in the attic and reading yet again. As vivid and enjoyable as ever!
1,292 reviews3 followers
January 9, 2020
A nostalgic look at aviation history full of charming anecdotes such as the one about Captain Ivan "The Turk" Smirnoff, a White Russian who had been a Tsarist Air Force ace before escaping from the revolution in a cattle truck and ending up as a pilot for KLM. One story made me sad: the author writes of his visit to the English department at Denpasar University Library in Bali where he found that the U.S. Information Service had donated 14 copies of The Story of Kit Carson, five Complete Pan Am Guides to the USA and a volume of photographs take by Jacquelime Onassis. As a retired USIS librarian, I am embarrassed. We should have done better than that.
7 reviews
February 26, 2021
Excellent telling of an interesting journey out to Australia via the old 'Empire Air Route.' Very well written with plenty of detail of the ports of call and the people and places therein. This is an old book and particularly interesting when describing the Gulf States when they were still fairly sleepy backwaters, before their massive building- enlargment phase.
Profile Image for David Robinson.
Author 8 books12 followers
June 15, 2021
I liked this book: well-researched and if you’ve travelled as much as me, true to life but with a good smattering of history. Shame about the typos, but who am I complain about that!
7 reviews
February 24, 2017
I am currently re-reading this, having first read it many years back. It was first published in 1986, and was a nostalgic read even then. Now, 1986 is 30+ years ago, and so the book is nostalgic on two levels. It will make a lot more sense to someone who has travelled the world to some degree, and knows a bit about the history of the places Alexander Frater passes through; it will make even more sense to someone who has an interest in the history of civil aviation, and is fascinated by those fearsome machines, the Empire-class Flying Boats, that carried airmail and a few privileged passengers between Britain and Australia via Singapore just before and just after WW2. (Nine days or more - just imagine it!) Maybe it will appeal more to the technically minded more than to those interested in ethnic textiles.

But overall, I think this is one of the best travel books I have ever read.
Profile Image for Lee Belbin.
1,031 reviews6 followers
February 14, 2016
If you are interested in early aviation history, this is an entertaining read. The author, a journalist, travels over the old Imperial (sic) Airways root from London to Brisbane. The exploits of the early pilots are fascinating and highlight the changes in speed, safety if not always comfort from the present day. I had never heard of the ditch across the deserts in the middle east, but having piloted myself in the semi-desert of Australia without any useful nav aids, it made me smile. Good bless those farmers who painted their property names on their roofs. The stories of daring blend nicely with the equally interesting conversations the author has with fellow passengers and airport staff, old and young. The book captures a different era, but with his travel in 727s, 747s and Friendships, shows some age in these rapidly changing times.
Profile Image for Jonathan Northall.
Author 3 books1 follower
January 12, 2015
Like the tortuous journey it tells the numerous stories of, "Beyond the Blue Horizon" is just as difficult to read. However, just as worthwhile as the journey in 1930's was then reading this book is just as rewarding. Full of intricate aeronautical detail, intertwined with stories of Imperial's history, it's infused with Mr Frater's contemporary reenactment. It's not a light read but a read that is physically demanding.
Profile Image for Eric_W.
1,924 reviews369 followers
Currently reading
April 15, 2010
Just started and I know I'm really going to like this...
9 reviews1 follower
July 2, 2012
Travelling was both much harder and much more adventurous, personal and luxurious at times. This book is a delight of those who like a bit of nostalgia.
23 reviews3 followers
June 9, 2018
It took me a while to read this book, his voice is not the easiest to get but once you do even this nice but mundane topic became a joy to read.
Displaying 1 - 16 of 16 reviews

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