A review of the new, and long awaited, VC10 book from Scott Henderson that was released in October 2017.
The book about the VC10 that most fans have been anxiously waiting for is Scott Henderson's new title 'The Incomparable Vickers VC10', which was released on 5 October 2017. This book has been announced several years ago and with the original title from Scoval, 'Silent, Swift, Superb: The story of the VC10' being a firm favourite for many, Scott's updated version is one book that is sure to sell well amongst fans of this aircraft.
With a title like 'The Incomparable Vickers VC10', I cannot resist a comparison. Not between the VC10 and other types though, but between the two titles from Scoval Publishing that cover the VC10. I'm not sure the author will appreciate me doing this, as he stated clearly that the new book would be a replacement for the earlier title, not a volume two in a series. Because of that it will obviously be a one-sided contest as the original title is almost 20 years old by now and can therefore never cover the story as completely as the new book can. Still, there are some interesting points to consider. Let's look at the facts first:
As someone who has owned the original book since it was first published in 1998, I have always felt this to be a great tribute to the VC10. It is a large format book with plenty of large photos, almost all of them in colour. If you already own this 1998 book, I guess the main question is: should you get the new title as well? Let's try to answer that question here.
From the facts stated above, it is clear that you are getting more content than was present in the 1998 title. Not only are there more pages in the book, the author has chosen a smaller variant of the distinctive font that was also used in 1998. Because of this there is obviously more text available in the second title, and this is needed to cover the service life of the VC10 between 1998 and 2013, when ZA147 performed its final flight, as well as some of the resting places of the preserved VC10s, including XR808's move to RAF Cosford. Particularly this last exercise, one that certainly deserves attention, has delayed this title somewhat as the author felt that the story of the VC10 would not be complete without covering this mammoth task that was taken on by Gary Spoors' GJD Services and completed in 2015. Only after the C1K was safely reassembled and on display at the RAF Museum, could the story of the VC10 be finalised and put down on paper.
The end result is a book that has the same look and feel as the original title, and which covers the same ground, broadly speaking, but with many additions and with almost a completely different set of colour photos. This was one of the author's goals, to avoid reusing photos from the original book as much as possible. This means that there are several photos in this new book which have not been published before, including a very interesting view of the original Ghana Airways colours on the nose of their first VC10 during testing. Even though it's a small photo, it shows that after all these years there are still aspects of the VC10's story that we don't know about.
The book feels well produced, the paper quality is superb and even though the font size is quite a bit smaller than in the original title, it is easy on the eye and reads well. It is slightly smaller (only in width) than the 1998 title, but it is still a tome that will look very good on any VC10 fan's coffee table and will provide you with a lot of reading and browsing pleasure.
Going through the contents of this book, Scott Henderson has used the same approach as in the original book, with separate chapters for the different operators of the type as well as highlighting the various stages of design, development, production, testing and several other elements of the type's long career. If you're familiar with the original title, no doubt you will recognise some sections, but that is excusable seeing as the book is meant to replace the 1998 title and obviously the VC10's civil career was already thoroughly covered in that. If you're familiar with this website you will undoubtedly also recognise several sections in the book, this is mainly caused by Maurice Ungless' well-written account of his years at Weybridge and Wisley having been reproduced word for word (with Maurice's permission) from this site. Where the 1998 version already included chapters about 10 Squadron and 101 Squadron, this part of the book has been expanded to cover the many operations that the VC10 participated in. There are also many additional bits of information that have been added throughout the text, the new book does a better job of detailing the work done by XX914 with RAE Bedford's Aero Flight for example, but other stories and facts that have come to light since the original book was published have all been added. There are many interesting anecdotes scattered throughout the text but all the important facts of the type's career are also present, and the mix makes for an easy read that smoothly takes you through the type's 49 year career. And if you just want to browse through its pages, it is filled with plenty of photos as well as several of Nick Webb's great illustrations, which serve to illustrate both real and 'what-if' liveries on the VC10.
If there is a negative point here, it has to be the quality of some of the photos that have been reproduced in the book. In the original book you could go from page to page and admire all the immaculately reproduced, generously sized photos. If you browse through the new book you'll notice that there are several photos that have lost a bit of their sharpness in the reproduction process, or show some JPEG artifacts, which is the technical term for the jagged edges that occur if you blow up a JPEG image too much. Unfortunately this isn't restricted to older images, but it appears as if especially some of the newer photos have suffered this problem. Scott has explained that this issue is related to the process between publisher and printing company and that the quality in the book is the best that could be achieved. I'm no publisher so I'll have to admit that I wouldn't know how to do it differently, but I must admit that it is a shame. Will it distract from your enjoyment of the book? That is a difficult question to answer, as it depends on your own expectations in this department.
Looking at the overall quality of the book, judging the whole package from cover to cover, we cannot ignore the photo problem but also, there's a lot to like. I have always been a fan of the book's format, that combination of plenty of large photos and a good mix of anecdotes and facts in an easy to read narrative. Added to that are several appendices with the technical specifications of the different subtypes, histories of the individual airframes and some detail photos. The book covers both the VC7/Vickers 1000 'prequel' and some of the unbuilt variants, both military and civil, although the full design evolution from Vanguard-derived 'VanJet' to VC10 is not included. Reading carefully there are a handful of small errors in the text and captions that only the real VC10-geek will find, but I also noticed one or two inconsistencies that may have originated in mixing material from the 1998 book with new paragraphs (there is an erratum available here). Then again, do not underestimate the challenge in delivering 228 pages filled with details from a 49 year long career and getting all of them correct. I'm sure there are plenty of mistakes on my website that I haven't found yet.
Finalising this review, we need to get back to the question I posed earlier: should you get this book? If you already own the 1998 version then it is an expensive addition to your bookshelf for the amount of new material that it includes. If you don't own the 1998 version then I would certainly recommend it, provided that you can live with some less-than-perfectly reproduced photos. Compared to the other VC10 books that are available, 'The Incomparable Vickers VC10' provides more of the story and anecdotes than the Haynes manual while omitting some of the technical details from that book. It has less of the political backstory than Lance Cole's 'VC10, Icon of the Skies' but covers more of the VC10's career and certainly includes a lot more photos.
Scott Henderson has taken on quite a challenge in producing this book and has delivered on his promise of showcasing the wonderful design that is the VC10 in all its facets. Writing and publishing a book of this quality with this amount of content comes at a price and that is reflected in the retail price of this book. Even with its flaws, this book is a great tribute not only to the design, but to all the people that designed, built, maintained and operated the VC10 throughout its career.
This book is currently only available through the publisher's own website (see link below). It may end up being sold through other online booksellers as well but I don't know when or if that will happen.