Air Commodore Alex Dickson OBE QVRM AE** MPhil FRSA
Honorary Air Commodore No 7644 (VR) Squadron RAuxAF
Alex Dickson was born in Edinburgh and worked in journalism for most of his life. He worked initially for the Daily Mail and rose to be the managing director of Radio Clyde. He flew light aircraft and was a qualified gliding instructor. As Alex’s civilian career developed in the media he saw the opportunity to use his skills in a military capacity within the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. In due course he became a valuable asset on which the military could call.
When Turkey invaded northern Cyprus in 1974, he was the only reservist sent to help handle the 300 odd media who arrived from all over the world. His capability was quickly recognized and he was tasked to recruit others from the media whose skills would mirror his own and to form a Public Relations Flight within the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. Individuals from this Flight could be mobilised to deploy, in uniform, to any trouble spot in the world to support the complex world of military / civilian communications and press briefings.
In the task of building his No 7644 (VR) Public Relations Flight, Alex’s people skills came to the fore. He would sanction only those who would bring key skills to the table, who would respect the skills of others, who showed further potential and who would ‘fit in’. Alex surrounded himself in excellence. He looked after his Flight like ‘a family’. And each and every one, despite holding down demanding primary jobs, was ready to deploy in uniform at very short notice to any trouble spot – as Alex had done to Cyprus so many years ago.
Alex was one of the first reservists into Saudi Arabia for the first Gulf War and he was the last to leave the Kingdom after the war. He briefed senior military officers on what to say publicly when questioned on difficult topics. He served alongside members of his ‘PR family’ in Germany, Holland, the USA, Gibraltar, Croatia, Kuwait and Iraq. He even dodged Scud missiles. When President Gorbachev came for lunch with Mrs Thatcher, the Royal Air Force had set up a press centre for the world's media in a rather small room in RAF Brize Norton with very limited facilities. Alex immediately seized upon the opportunity and used his skills and his team to good effect smoothing the way to world peace.
When not in a trouble spot, Alex masterminded and ran courses in media communications for the RAF. He presented to politicians and senior military officers at times challenged what they probably didn’t want to hear. He produced more than a dozen films ranging from military low flying to security and for his work and impressive leadership he was promoted to the rank of Group Captain.
If all Alex’s achievements were not enough, he went on to become the Honorary Air Commodore of his former Unit, as it became a full Squadron. This appointment was a particularly senior position approved personally by Her Majesty the Queen.
Alex’s military story is quite unique. No one else formed a unit from scratch, personally selected and trained his ‘dirty dozen’, and commanded them for over 12 years. For his exceptional work he was appointed as a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Later, in recognition of his further outstanding contribution to the military, he was decorated as an Officer of the Most Excellent Order. He was awarded an Air Efficiency Medal gaining two bars to this medal; decorated with a Gulf War medal with clasp, appointed as a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society and finally awarded the rare Queen’s Voluntary Reserves’ Medal. Then the icing on the cake – his appointment as the Honorary Air Commodore of the Unit he founded. All this coupled with his Master of Philosophy, his Air Cadets’ Medal and a King’s Scout badge. Totally unique; unlikely ever to be repeated.
Alex was married to Anna who survives him and they had a son Simon, now a very successful television producer.