Balloon Repair Station

Up Up and Away – Joe Philp 8th October 1926 – 16th August 2013

1 St Paul's Upton CrossFollowing the sad death of Joe Philp on Friday 16th August 2013 his funeral was held at St Paul’s Church, Upton Cross at 2.30pm on Wednesday September 4th 2013. The small church was overflowing to the extent that the Village Hall across the road was pressed into use and the service transmitted by the marvels of modern technology. The mission church of St Paul’s is in the parish of Linkinhorne and the Anglican Diocese of Truro, Cornwall. It was built in the 19th Century to serve the mining community in the Caradon Hill district. It is said that it was built at the behest of the Rev. Poland the mining community refused to walk the 3 miles to St Melor’s Church in Linkinhorne.

His son Joss read a very moving piece on his dad and later John Armstrong, a long standing friend of Joes’, read a most entertaining and moving Eulogy which must have been extremely thoroughly researched and now forms Joe’s Obituary. The burial itself was a private family affair in the small graveyard to the rear of the church. The weather was near perfect with the sun shining and a flurry of clouds and while it was being conducted some rather lovely pictures of Joe and his family were shown in the church accompanied, very wryly, to Up, up and Away filling the church and Village Hall with Joe’s sense of fun and certainly made those that understood his sense of humour smile. Afterwards tea and buns were served in the Village Hall and we adjourned to Heather Joe and Joss’s lovely home, Addicroft where the garden in full flower hosted a fine afternoon of champagne drinking and pasty eating. Robin Batchelor called for glasses to be raised to Joe in proper fashion. As promised bottles of champagne were brought along and by the end all had been drunk. Joe, I’m sure, approved.

Obituary Joe Philp 8th October 1926 – 16th August 2013
1 Joe Philp serviceJoe was born in the family home at Addicroft, Cornwall. As a boy he had a pony, and enjoyed hunting out on the moors with his father. He fished for brown trout in the river below the house and was deeply rooted in this area. The pride and comfort he felt in it was an essential part of the Joe we all knew. Many friends have described him as a country gentleman.

Joe was sent to St Petroc’s prep school in Bude, and then, in 1939, to Kelly College in Tavistock. The public school regime in those days was very hard, and young Joe was not settled. He wasn’t a hero on the games fields, but he did excel at shooting. Wartime food rationing was in place and the life was tough. In his second year Joe received a letter from his mother in which she said that his father, who had been unwell was slightly better; within a few days, he was summoned to the headmaster’s office “Philp your father’s died, go back and get on with your prep” That’s how tough it was. Joe stuck it out, but was glad to leave. Joe then went to Reading Agricultural College where he had a good time. He hunted three times a week and enjoyed horse racing.

He left the college with no qualification, because on the day of his finals he found it preferable to ride in the 2:30 at Newbury. Joe owned his own point to pointer, and rode it to a win at the Easter Monday Point to Point at Tehidy, near Camborne.

When he left Reading Joe really got going with the racing he enjoyed so much. His friend Brian Markwand tells me that Joe had a good eye for a horse, and a good seat. He also, of course had that vital characteristic which he demonstrated later in ballooning: courage. He rode for several years for a stable in Wiltshire. His success on the racecourse was edging Joe towards a career as a professional jockey. Joe rode one race alongside Dick Francis. Unfortunately, a particularly nasty fall left Joe very badly injured, there was even a question as to whether he would survive. The horse’s attempt to make foie gras out of his liver left Joe very poorly and as a result he spent a year convalescing, and had to stop racing. As he began to regain his strength he took a job splitting slate in a North Wales quarry. At one stage Joe was earning a crust as a professional poker player. During this period he and a racing friend were thrown out of the Royal Hotel at Bath after a raucous late night rendition of “We’re a couple of swells”

Joe met Jean through some mutual friends, and they married on 2nd November 1957.

He worked for ULTRA a radio equipment firm making search and rescue beacons, and components for Concord. In the early ‘60s Joe owned a very smart Delage 1936 Cabriolet. He and Jean would attend the various Delage rallies and events. Joe became treasurer of the owners club. At a rally in Majorca in 1971 he won the event and there is a handsome silver trophy back at Addicroft. In the 1970s there was an Alvis, but when he could afford a decent car in later life it had to be a Delage. He bought that beautiful 1913 model with a 3 litre engine, wooden spoked wheels, and flamboyant restyled coachwork. He took great pride in its care and conservation. Joe got a lot of engineering help with these old cars from his friend Rob Blake, who lives below Addicroft, at the bottom of the hill. Very convenient really for on many occasions Rob has found a fine old car abandoned in his yard, having failed to bump start as it was rolled down the hill. Joe was meticulous with his cars, as with everything else. No job was too small, it all had to be restored perfectly.

Once he had the Delage in tip top condition Joe and Heather went touring in France and of course everyone fell under the spell of Joe and his elderly French motor car. On one occasion Joe was asked by the hotel owner to move the Delage and park in pole position outside the front door to impress the other guests, another time a hotelier cleared her own car out of garage to make space for Joe’s car. What an elegant trio Joe, Heather and the Delage must have made. Recently Joe decided that a more modern car would be less demanding and more suitable as a run about so he bought a 1925 Citroen, which is in the garage now and in near perfect condition.

Joe became interested in ballooning the late 60’s, probably in part as an enforced switch from the excitement of racing. He took time off work and went to several of the early meets and demonstrations by Gerry Turnbull and others. He joined a syndicate with Peter Sadler, Charles Meisl, and Rodney Whittaker to buy the balloon Serendipity and learn to fly. He flew his first solo on 5th December 1971. As you would expect, Joe threw himself into the world of ballooning. He was a sub editor of the national ballooning magazine, The Aerostat, from 1972. Here’s part of an article he wrote, ‘Many students go through a period of thinking that flying a balloon is terribly easy. Eschew this as you would Japanese brandy for if you don’t you will assuredly get your come-uppance. I firmly believe that 75% of flying is pure concentration. You will need to get your head down and graft at it with as much single mindedness as if you were carving out a century at Lords. The other day, I slopped about in the sky thinking fine thoughts and only averted disaster by sheer luck and a quick dive for the rip. After landing I was bitten by a donkey, which was exactly what I deserved.’

Joe undertook record breaking flights. Others took a high tech’ approach to such ventures but Joe took a rather more old fashioned ‘low tech’ approach. Of course he took oxygen, but his only specialised equipment was a thick tweed jacket and a pair of electrically heated socks. On 12 Nov 1972 Joe broke three British records for his size of balloon in one flight: Altitude 11,300 ft, Endurance 3hours 47 minutes, Distance 115 miles. A year later, in November 1973 he set a new altitude record of 21,400ft then in November 1975 he flew to 25,110 ft. This last was within 600 feet of being a world record. In autumn 1974 Prince Charles presented Joe with the Royal Aeronautical Society’s bronze medal for his contribution to ballooning.

For over 20 years Joe served on the panel of examiners for the Civil Aviation Authority. This required Joe to give student pilots a check flight to make sure that they were competent to be given a coveted pilot’s licence. Some were simply not up to it. One such was the hapless young man who dunked Joe in the water of Dozemary Pool out in the middle of Bodmin Moor, up to the third button of his waistcoat. Later, at a meeting of all the examiners, there was much discussion about what cardinal sins a student might commit which would result in an automatic fail. There were several contributions, poor fuel management, bad choice of landing site, failure to navigate properly, and so on. When the others had offered their thoughts Joe told the tale of the Dozemary Pool as being a dead cert for failure. Amongst the examiners this became, and still is, a yardstick: “Oh yes, that’s definitely a third button case”

Joe joined the Hot Air Balloon Company, HABCO, in 1979. It was an obvious and natural progression. If you enjoy doing something and you’re good at it then get paid to do it. He and Heather quickly became part of that team. Every single person I’ve spoken to when describing those times used the word “fun”. The summer months were spent on the professional ballooning circuit, touring from County Show to Agricultural Fair, flying balloons out of the main arena across the showground. It was not unknown for the pilots to huddle together considering the weather, Joe would suck on his pipe and suggest that the conditions might be not entirely suitable for a flight, the group would heave a collective sigh of relief and then disperse. Joe and Heather would retire to a remote corner of the car park, inflate the balloon and the next thing the other pilots would see would be Joe flying across the show at high speed. As Joe put it with a chuckle “If you can’t get one over on your mates; who can you get one over?” At the Southampton show one year, Joe pulled this stunt. Just as the organiser was just announcing to the crowd “Sorry folks the conditions are just not suitable for the balloons today”, confounding the poor commentator, Joe shot across the arena in his balloon.

Once, flying in South Africa, Joe landed near a township. He was quickly surrounded by enthusiastic locals all intrigued by this strange arrival, it was all boisterous and good humoured. Then the police arrived to find out what the fuss was all about. The friendly locals started throwing stones at the police, the way they do. The police then tried to arrest Joe for starting a riot. Another fine mess for Joe’s tact, charm and diplomacy to sort out. Joe spent three years out in South Africa, setting up the HABCO office, flying at dawn and dusk every day, teaching others to fly. He rang one of his students across the city at 4:00 am to find out if the weather on that side of the city would be any good for the dawn flight. The chap sounded a bit disorientated and not very with it, but reported to Joe what the weather was doing on his side of town. Of course the poor chap was confused, Joe had misdialled and pressed a total stranger into acting as his weather man.

One dotty sideline that HABCO had for the non flying winter months was the sale of toys and fancy goods. Heather and Joe went to the NEC at Birmingham, set up a stand and sold whacky gifts at a trade fair. One of the lines was the Telly Brick, a rubber brick to be hurled at the telly when a programme got you infuriated. The mug shot imprinted on this brick was Joe’s face.

Joe married Heather on 11th March 1983. In 1985 I had a student pilot who needed to take his written papers. I contacted Joe, his response was immediate and typically hospitable: “Bring him up, bring your wife, we’ll have lunch, he can do the exams” We enjoyed a very cheery lunch. As we were leaving Joe said “What a jolly time we’ve had. Its St George’s Day, why don’t we meet every St George’s Day and have dinner together?” We did; and every 23rd of April since 1985 we’ve met and enjoyed a fun dinner. Heather, Joss, that’s a tradition we shall maintain.

On 22nd December 1995 I flew in, and landed my balloon at Addicroft, the tenant’s ostriches didn’t like it much, and there was Joe standing in the field with a grin from ear to ear, and a bottle of Bollinger in one hand and six glasses in the other. Joss had been born that very morning. Joss brought great pleasure to Joe. One of the best family holidays ever was a trip to Amsterdam, when Joe, aged 85, enjoyed with Joss and Heather all that that great city has to offer. Heather sent us a photo of them sitting outside a liberal café captioned “At last a game the whole family came play together”

Joe last flew on 30th May 1994. On the shelf at Addicroft is a pile of 10 logbooks. Joe once told me that his book choice for Desert Island Disks was his log books, so he could relive all the wonderful adventures that ballooning had given him.

Once he was spending more time in Cornwall Joe started playing golf again and got much pleasure from the courses around the county. He resumed his interest in fishing and started to teach Heather. Joe continued to enjoy days and days at the races, often meeting old friends from way back in his racing days.

One little known talent was Joe’s skill as a competitive chef. For many years he entered the Linkinhorne Village Horticultural Show pasty making competition using his mother’s pre-war recipe. At first his offerings were marked down on technicalities, no greaseproof paper under, uneven pastry crimping, gravy leaking from the pasty and so on. Then he won, three years in succession, and in his last show he won Best in Show in the food section. He then retired from such fierce competitive cooking.

Ballooning friends would telephone from time to time. One told me that he thought it would be disrespectful to phone Joe without a glass of Champagne in his hand.

Joe told one caller that he was about to lop branches off a tree with a chain saw. “What safety precautions are you taking, Joe?” he was asked “Oh, I’ve taken my tie off”

On the 12th November last year Heather arranged, in secret, a party for Joe to celebrate the 40th anniversary of his finest record flight. More than 60 of Joe’s oldest ballooning friends gathered in Ross on Wye. Two of Joe’s favourite balloons were found and the mothballs shaken out. One needed significant repairs, valiant friends were up to the task, and on the night the two old balloons were inflated and ready.

Heather brought a somewhat reluctant Joe to the party. As they arrived Joe’s face lit up when he saw the balloons, and before the car had even stopped he was out and running towards his old friends. He turfed the pilot out of one of the baskets and clambered in, with Joss close behind. It was a magical evening in perfect weather.
Later, the champagne flowed and the stories got wilder and wilder. It was a truly memorable party. Joss, what a chance for you to meet many of Joe’s friends for the first time, and learn so much of his ballooning exploits. You found what a hero your Dad had been. Those memories you will treasure forever.

Joe had so many diverse foibles. I’ll miss those enthusiastic letters and postcards, littered with exclamation marks and underlinings, all written in that distinctive turquoise ink. Remember the flying kit of the red leather jacket and a crash helmet, Joe with the BBAC tie, the waistcoats, the well cut tweed jackets, the Primus stove brewing tea at the showgrounds, the pipe, exotic old cars and of course Champagne.
This very week Heather received a statement of account from Joe’s bookmaker. The last entry was four wins from four bets at Glorious Goodwood, a great end to a long punting career.

I’ve talked about the serious bits, the fun bits, and the fond memories, but what really made Joe such a dazzlingly special man to so very many people? In the ballooning world he was a hero who became an icon, respected for his wit and sense of fun, valued for his wisdom.

To all who knew him, he was stylish and elegant, a real gentleman with old fashioned values, treasured for his steadfast friendship. Joe, may you rest in peace.

John Armstrong St Paul’s Church, Upton Cross 4th September 2013


Amongst the family and friends that gathered for the funeral was former Aerostat editor Roger Barrett, Bob White, Alan Dorman, most of HABCO including Tessa Tennant, Colin Prescott, Lucius Peart, Ian Ashpole and Whizz who flew into Bodmin airfield, Andy Rawson, Graham Elson, John Albury and the lovely Debbie, Giles Hall and another, Lenny and Helen Vaughan, Birdman Batchelor, Steve Kingsey, Trish Watkins, Richard Turnbull and Jenny and a very well looking Arthur Street.

Many pictures were taken on the day and many condolences and tributes were received. I’m sure over time many more stories will come to light. Below is a selection so far. If you would like to add anything please let us know and we will be happy to post it.

John Medlock;
Joe and Heather were great supporters of me in my first few weeks at HABCO. When I was homeless for a while they took me in, gave me work on the farm and Joe was gracious enough to put up with my early attempts to fly balloons. I took an old Dante Balloon Group balloon, G-BIGY down to their house and Joe stood there patiently, and sometimes impatiently, while I attempted one-eyed steep approaches. I knew I was on the right track when he allowed his, then, over 90 year old mother to get on board after a practice intermediate landing. As we came in for final landing in a slightly increasing wind I remember him saying “Take the sting out of it John, just remember you have my mother on board!”. So no pressure then.

I still remember his mischievous and wicked sense of humor. Heather used to find a bystander to pull on the crown line while she dealt with the fan when they inflated the British Gas balloons on their own. You probably remember their story about the occasion Heather asked a chap who was walking his little dog to tie the dog off somewhere then help on the crown. As Mr Wonderfuel stood up, there was the little dog hanging by the neck from his fingertip!

I rarely hark back to “good old days”, but I have to say that I really have fond memories of times with Joe and Heather on the commercial circuit in the 80’s. Almost 30 years later I still fly the way he taught me and concentrate, concentrate, concentrate.

Patrick (Kato) Nishio;
I am out of the country and will not be able to get down to the funeral tomorrow.
Joe truly was a “Gentleman in a field of Yobbos”. Please can you pass on my condolences to Heather for me. Will come out of hiding one of these days and have a drink to Joe.

Phil (The Tree) Whittington;
A sad day for british Ballooning. So sad to hear of the Passing of Joe Philp, I am in the USA so sadly am unable to attend the funeral or Remembrance Service. Please remember me to Heather and Joss, he was great to work with, we shared a lot of laughs and several tears, I wish I could be there.

John Albury;
A lovely day, he would have been thrilled to see us all, what a turn out for a great guy. We shall all miss him terribly. He phoned Debbie & I every Christmas & it will not be the same without his cheery greeting. He was a great friend & mentor to me & I feel very sad that he has gone. We spent a glorious day down @ Looe yesterday with thoughts of Joe alongside the odd pasty & ice-cream, I am sure he would have approved!