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News > Pangbournian Stories > Book Reviews > An Accidental Life by Michael Hannon (45 - 49)

An Accidental Life by Michael Hannon (45 - 49)

Robin Knight reviews An Accidental Life written by OP Michael Hannon (45 - 49) who we sadly lost this year.
23 May 2023
Written by Robin Knight
Book Reviews
Michael Hannon - An Accidental Life
Michael Hannon - An Accidental Life


by Michael Hannon (45-49)

(2021; pp91; published privately by the family)

This is a slender volume including 20 pages of photographs. As Mike’s son Peter tells it, having heard his father recount one his amusing and entertaining stories for the umpteenth time, he suggested that they be written down so that people could read them at their leisure. Typically, Mike did not hesitate and started working on a book the following day. Printed for his 90th birthday in 2021, this little volume tells the story of a man who regarded his life as a series of accidents. It is, claims the strap line on the front cover, “the memoirs of a layabout.”

Quite why Mike approved of this description of his life is a bit of a mystery. As one realises absorbing the many tales of success and initiative recounted in the book, nothing could be further from the truth. An Irish Catholic on both sides of his family, Mike’s grandfather Sir Patrick Hannon for 30 years was a popular Conservative MP “with the gift of the gab,” always championing the poor and taking a great interest in mathematics. He also seems to have funded Mike’s education.

Pangbourne features briefly in the book. At the College Mike learned to dance and not to ask silly questions or make irritating remarks; R.J. Fidler (44-48) gets a mention in this context. Maths, Physics and Shooting proved to be his forte. After the NCP Mike hoped to do his National Service in the Royal Navy but it was “full” at the time so he ended up in the Army for two years. A brief spell as a budding nuclear physicist at Harwell followed before he returned to the Army for 18 years as an officer in the Royal Artillery, completing a degree at the Military College of Science at Shrivenham (now the Defence Academy) and serving in Malaysia, the Middle East and Germany.

During a posting in Germany in the late-1960s as the post-World War 2 Army continued to shrink, he came across computers. A strong rapport was quickly established. Retiring as a Major in 1968, he joined IBM and spent the next two decades in sales and marketing jobs with the company working all over Europe. In 1990, IBM became the “victim of its own technology” and began to slim down drastically. A generous redundancy package followed.

Mike and his wife Ann then spotted a niche in the tourist market and founded a firm called ‘Grapeshot’ eventually offering eleven upmarket tours of continental Europe in the footsteps of Napoleon Bonaparte. The business lasted 19 years and, while enjoyable, was never less than hard work. “Looking back,” concludes Mike at the end of his memoir, “I think it is true to say that my first two careers were more like fun than work because most things happened to me by accident…During the ‘Grapeshot’ years I actually had to work to make things happen. But that would not have been possible without the discipline of the army on one hand and the insistence on excellence of IBM on the other.”

Most pages in this book are replete with amusing or wry anecdotes. One that stands out involves the IBM office in Dusseldorf which overlooked the Intercontinental Hotel, used as a staging post by Lufthansa crew. One day, shortly after lunchtime, Mike and his colleagues watched engrossed from his office as a Lufthansa air hostess entertained a Lufthansa pilot. By way of thanks, a bottle of champagne was sent to the room. Adaptability and a strong sense of humour proved to be the key to Mike Hannon’s long life and career – and the bit of luck along the way that everyone needs. He died in 2023 aged 91.

by ROBIN KNIGHT (56-61)

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