Clarksons Travel Group

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Clarksons Travel Group was a package tour operator in the UK during the 1960s and early 1970s. The company ran into financial difficulties and was taken over by its major supplier of air travel, Court Line. However, after two years, on 15 August 1974, Court Line collapsed, taking down Clarksons with at least £7m owing to 100,000 holidaymakers and possibly twice as much.[1]


The company was based appropriately in Sun Street, EC2 in the City of London.[2] It specialised in cheap package holidays which included accommodation, full or half-board and air transport from the UK to the holiday destination.

Destinations included Spain, Portugal, Italy, Yugoslavia and Greece as well as Mediterranean cruises and a wide range of short tours to European cities and wine regions. A typical example was £50 with full-board in Palma, Majorca for 14 nights.[1] Flights also were made to Tunisia and other destinations.

The company installed the very first 'Real-Time' computer system in the western hemisphere which handled bookings, flights and hotels all-in-one. The system was a UNIVAC 96K 9400 card reading real time computer, also with a complete terminal using a teletype-like data entry point with hexadecimal data entered by pressing numerous buttons illuminated on the main board. There were 6 magnetic tape machines and 2 magnetic Disk drives, each 10 megabytes with 6 heavy metal disks for each machine, with a high-speed line printer, capable of printing customer tickets at a rate of about 1 every 3 seconds on multi-part paper. The room was maintained at 64°F and 65% humidity, and operated 7-days-per-week, 52 weeks per year.

Air travel[edit]

Clarksons had an air terminal at 202-204 Finchley Road, London, NW3, close to the junction with Frognal Lane. This was used for coach transport to Luton Airport, the main airport served by Court Line, which was Clarksons' main air transport supplier.

Court Line eventually had to step in and bail out the company when it went into financial difficulties as it was their largest customer. The collapse was referred to recently as "the most spectacular failure in package holiday history",[2] not even surpassed by the subsequent failures of Laker Airways in 1982 and Intasun in 1991. Flight International magazine estimated that in the five years before the collapse, eight million holidays had averaged £1 below cost.[1]

Flight International stated that the marketing of airline seats with Mediterranean hotels had given millions of ordinary people holidays once available only to the privileged and that the collapse was: "the inevitable consequence of continuing to see £25 flights for £20 and less".[1] This was compounded by high inflation, a sinking pound, doubled fuel prices and coups in Portugal, Cyprus and Greece.[1] On top of that was the three-day week in the key booking period. A takeover of their competitor, bankrupt Horizon Holidays[3] by Court Line failed to improve the financial situation.[1]

Flight International added that the UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), headed at the time by Lord Boyd-Carpenter, must bear some responsibility for the Court's and Clarksons' collapse and asked questions such as how interlocking companies were related. It also stated that the information should be public, as in the United States,[1] and criticised Peter Shore, the Secretary of State for Trade at the time, for continuing the government policy of secrecy, financial unprofessionalism and hiding behind the Civil Aviation Act of 1971.

Political repercussions[edit]

Clarksons held an Air Travel Organisers' Licensing (ATOL) licence and were therefore theoretically covered by their insurance bond. Unfortunately, although the 35,000 passengers stranded abroad were repatriated, there was insufficient funds for the 100,000 whose holidays had been paid in advance.[4][5]

The Trade Minister, at the time, Tony Benn assured customers that none would lose money as a result of the collapse, perhaps mindful that a second General Election in 1974 was likely, as indeed it turned out. All eventually had their money returned.[1]


On Friday evening, 3 July 1970, a Clarksons chartered Dan Air de Havilland Comet, registration G-APDN, en route from Manchester to Barcelona deviated from the intended course and crashed into high ground at Sierra del Montseny, Girona, in northern Spain. The aircraft was destroyed by impact and subsequent ground fire. There were three flight crew, four cabin crew and 105 passengers aboard. All suffered fatal injuries.

It was Dan Air's first fatal accident with fare-paying passengers.[6][7] The Dan Air G-APDN Air Crash Memorial is in Padiham, Lancashire.