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An officer and a gentleman

PUBLISHED: 12:57 03 September 2009 | UPDATED: 09:55 13 July 2010

Sir Colin Turner

Sir Colin Turner

In her latest Face to Face interview, KAREN BETHELL talks to Sir Colin Turner who, after enjoying a distinguished and eventful career that saw him cheat death in a wartime plane crash, serve as a member of parliament and run a group of international media companies, has decided that, at the age of 87, the time has come to take life a little easier .

In her latest Face to Face interview, KAREN BETHELL talks to Sir Colin Turner who, after enjoying a distinguished and eventful career that saw him cheat death in a wartime plane crash, serve as a member of parliament and run a group of international media companies, has decided that, at the age of 87, the time has come to take life a little easier . . .

Born in London in 1922, Sir Colin was educated at Highgate School and St John's College, Cambridge. In 1940, at the age of 18, he volunteered for RAF aircrew training, and, after qualifying as an air observer, completed his bomber crew training in South Africa.

His first operation was in the Egyptian desert at the Battle of El Alamein - one of the decisive victories of the Second World War. He and his pilot went on to complete 83 wartime operations, with Colin, who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, returning to the UK in 1944 as a pilot officer.

The same year, he was made navigation officer of Cambridgeshire-based 527 Calibration Squadron, and, on a mission escorting a group of dignitaries to the North East, his aircraft hit thick cloud, its engine failed, and it crashed over Durham.

The pilot was killed, and, flung from the plane as it crash-landed, Colin sustained facial injuries and fractures to an arm and a leg.

However, after being transferred to an RAF hospital, it was discovered that his injuries were potentially fatal, as he had also broken his spine.

Defying doctors' expectations, he recovered after 10 months in hospital and, after a further 6 months in a rehabilitation centre, he was invalided out of the RAF in 1946 and joined his father's international media company, later forming international media representatives and publishers the Colin Turner Group.

Running parallel to a successful business career which saw him travel as far afield as South East Asia, the Caribbean and the Far East, was a career in politics launched shortly after he became a member of Enfield Young Conservatives at the age of 24.

He was made a member of the party's National Executive Committee the same year and fought Enfield East as a parliamentary candidate in 1950 and 1951. Sir Colin won West Woolwich in the 1959 general election after a 3-year stint as a councillor for Enfield.

During his five years as an MP, he chaired a number of committees concerned with overseas affairs, also leading a parliamentary defence group inspecting HM Forces in Aden and Southern Arabia.

Other roles have since included chairman and vice-president of the Conservative Commonwealth Council, founder and president of the Overseas Press and Media Association, executive committee member of the Commonwealth Press Union and chairman of North Norfolk Conservative Association.

A member of the Royal Air Forces Association (RAFA) since 1947, Sir Colin joined Sheringham branch when, 16 years ago, he retired to West Runton, where his family has had a home since the 1930s.

He served as branch chairman from 1994 until he was made chairman in 1999, but, after many years of co-ordinating fundraising efforts which have seen the branch attract donations of up to £6,000 a year, he recently decided to take on the less challenging role of chief public relations officer.

He was made an MBE for services to the RAFA in 1985 and, in 1993, received a knighthood in the Queen's Birthday Honours List.

When not keeping up with current affairs or attending RAFA meetings and functions, Sir Colin enjoys gardening, fishing and spending time with his 4 children, 14 grandchildren, 3 great-grandchildren, and his wife Evelyn, whom he met at Enfield Young Conservatives Club in 1948.

What is the best thing about your job?

I have always believed that if you join something, then it should be because you want to play a real part and I would say the best thing about my role with RAFA has been working to increase the amount of money raised and the size of the branch at the same time as having a lot of fun.

And the worst?

The worst thing during my time in the Air Force was the loss of my pilot. When you have flown with someone and put your life in their hands on 85 occasions there is a real bond.

What is your favourite Norfolk building?

The Norfolk and Norwich - I've spent a lot of time in that hospital over the years, so it has come to mean a lot to me.

What makes you angry?

The sheer stupidity of some people; there are some whom I completely and utterly trust, but others who have absolutely no idea of the meaning of responsibility.

What is the one thing you would change about yourself?

As a young man, I was very, very shy, and I probably would have changed that, but, over the course of my life, that problem has disappeared.

What is the one thing you would change about north Norfolk?

Nothing, I absolutely love north Norfolk!

What is your greatest achievement?

Leading a squadron into battle with my pilot and knowing that all these people have faith in what you are doing. I also think having made an awful lot of lifelong friends is a great achievement.

And your proudest moment?

Collecting my Knight Bachelorhood from Her Majesty the Queen.

Whom do you most admire?

My mother and father - without them, I wouldn't be the person I am today.

Who or what is the love of your life?

My wife Evelyn - we just get on like a house on fire and I couldn't ask for anything better than the marriage I've had. Without it, I'd be completely lost.

Favourite book, film and TV programme?

I can't thing of any in particular, but they would all be to do with politics!

How would you like to be remembered?

As a friendly individual and as a good father and grandfather.


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