A Life in a Year – 16th May, My First British Passport

In the spring of 1976 I made arrangements for my very first trip to continental Europe and booked a Cosmos holiday to Sorrento in Italy.  Having never been abroad before or flown on an airplane I needed to apply for my first passport.  This was quite a different process in 1976 because although now over 80% of the UK population has one, thirty-five years ago it was less than 20% so to have one and to travel felt a little bit exclusive.

My first passport was issued on 16th May 1976. It was a 32-page document with a dark blue cover, known nowadays as the old blue style. This much loved style had been in use into use in 1920 with the formation of the Passport Service following international agreement on a standard format for passports, and remained in use until replaced by the European-Union-style machine-readable passport in late 1988. Details were handwritten into the passport and included: number, holder’s name, profession, place and date of birth, country of residence, height, eye and hair colour, special peculiarities, signature and photograph and, at the back, details of the amount of foreign exchange for travel expenses because only a limited amount of sterling, typically as little as £50, could be taken out of the country.

And so, on the appointed Saturday, we travelled to Luton airport for the Monarch Airlines flight to Naples.  Apart from the Isle of Wight this was the first time that dad had been overseas as well and to be honest he was slightly overdressed for the occasion in his rather formal sports jacket and tie.

As well as passports and foreign currency exchange, airline travel was different in 1976, the flight had proper seat allocations and the plane had comfortable seats with adequate legroom and stewardesses who wore smart orange uniforms and served a complimentary hot meal and we both enjoyed our very first airline journey.

The plane landed at a Spartan military airport base near to the city of Naples and after I had already taken a picture of the plane we were firmly warned against taking photographs.  It wasn’t an especially welcoming sort of place as we passed through a rather austere passport control and baggage reclaim hall both decorated in drab grey and in dire need of a welcoming makeover and made our way through to the coach that was waiting for us.

It is hard to remember how different travelling was thirty years ago.  Staying in touch was difficult because there were no mobile phones, no satellite television with United Kingdom news broadcasts and whilst I could happily do without those today there were no bank debit cards or ATMs if you ran short of cash, which I now find rather handy.

Getting holiday spending money estimates right was quite important because getting a top up if you needed one was a real problem.   Dad and I had taken £60 each for spending money, which I suppose would be about £200 now and although this didn’t sound a lot we were on full board arrangements at the hotel and I didn’t drink quite so much beer in those days!   In 1976 £60 in sterling converted to several thousand Italian Lire and so for a few days we were able to spend as though we were millionaires.

One response to “A Life in a Year – 16th May, My First British Passport

  1. Unfortunately I was too young to get an Old Blue Style passport. But I do remember my first flight, and it was an interesting time as I fainted on the stopover in Bahrain. Still, it did not stop my wanderlust…

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