Air Outpost by John Taylor and Ralph Keen


This gem of a short film  from 1937 shows Sharjah from a very long time ago and a slice of airline history from this region long before the United Arab Emirates was created.

Directed by John Taylor and Ralph Keen and sponsored by Imperial Airways (today known as British Airways!), it shows 24hrs at the airport and city of 'Sha-jah'.

I got to know about this film almost a year ago via Fake Plastic Souks  and I've been trying to get my hand on a copy of this film ever since. Now that it's available online, I'm glad to share it here with you.

Here's an extract from Fake Plastic Souks, and I strongly recommend you read the full post by Alexander McNabb. It's very entertaining and worth reading.

Mahatta Fort used to be a mile from the old town of Sharjah. Today it’s enveloped in the city – but the road outside that leads from the traffic lights just down from Mega Mall past the ‘Saudi Mosque’ and through Ittihad Square to meet ‘Smile You’re Insane’ (Sorry, ‘Smile You’re In Sharjah’) roundabout is suspiciously straight and slab-like, with dribbles of bitumen infilling the slabs. There’s a reason for that – the road is actually the old runway of Sharjah International Airport, before the airport was moved out of the city.

In 1937 this runway was a sand landing strip and served Imperial Airways, the (at the time) miraculous air-route that led from Croydon to Australia – a route that traversed Europe, taking passengers to Egypt and from there either through Darkest Africa to Cape Town or through Darkest Arabia through India, Asia and down to Australasia.

The film itself is important, credited as being likely the first ever true ‘documentary’ film, one of a series made by director Alexander Korda for Imperial Airways by his London Films company – and featuring a soundtrack composed by William Alwyn, now recognised as an important C20th British composer. The film is preposterous in the extreme, from the quoits-chucking Brit goons playing in the courtyard of Mahatta to while away the time between arrivals through to the stiff fish carried on donkey-back from the ‘Arab city of Shar-Jar’ to serve the lucky guests. There’s even a grumpy looking Scottish station manager who signals to the Sikh walla to ring the bell announcing the arrival of the flight – using, as the instruction, the very same bell-ringing motion he could have used to damn well do it himself. The Iranian petrol-boys play cards as they wait for the flight to arrive and the Sheikh's guard of honour turns out to greet the passengers. Tally ho!


Related articles with more insight into this period that are also worth reading:
Flight path to modern era
When Sharjah ruled the skies