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Tim Revill: A Look Back at Gibraltar in the Early 1980’s

Tim Revill · Photos: Gibraltar Old Photos (Facebook Group)

Tim Revill: A Look Back at Gibraltar in the Early 1980’s

As a Spanish friend at a dinner party in the early 1980s so delicately put it “To us Spaniards, Gibraltar is like one of your very ripe English Stiltons … on the one hand the concept revolts us and yet we just can’t resist it”

Arriving in Gibraltar in 1982 to open a new subsidiary of our Isle of Man financial services business (based in Athol Street, Douglas, the only street reputed to be shady on both sides), it felt exotic. I had met the late Peter Isola Snr. at a Commonwealth Parliamentary shindig in the Isle of Man and the late Dick Neilson, who was about to be appointed Deputy Governor.

Gibraltar in the 80's Tim Revill

Both persuaded me that there was a huge opportunity in Gibraltar servicing the new market for British expats on the Costa del Sol, once the border opened, scheduled for April. My partners and I took the bait; I volunteered to path-find and set up shop in Main Street in March that year.

No sooner had we signed the office lease, than President Galtieri of Argentina decided to annex the Falkland Islands. This was particularly alarming to Gibraltarians, who have always lived under the threat of Spain’s claim of sovereignty.

Tim Revill Gibraltar 1980s

My goodness how the community pulled together then … I vividly remember the S.S. Uganda’s conversion from a schoolchildren’s educational cruise ship into a hospital ship. The guys at the dockyards built a helicopter pad, fitted out her below-decks with hospital wards, installed more fresh water makers, painted the whole ship white with 8 red crosses … all in 72 hours, working 24 hours per day. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when she sailed out of the dockyard and turned Southwards, with the band playing!

So the border remained shut until 15 December 1982 when it opened for Spanish and Gibraltar resident pedestrians only.

Thank goodness that the Spanish had a practice run earlier in the day since, whilst it had been closed for 13 years, they had laid two coats of tarmac their side and the gates were jammed shut ! An obrero with a pneumatic drill was dispatched to remove 10 cms. of the surface, which saved embarrassment. The border did eventually open fully in February 1985.

Gibraltar in the 1980's

So the newly arrived class of ’82 adapted to working in a city under siege. There was no fresh milk (HE the Governor had not exercised his right to keep a cow), so you’d better take your coffee black or get used to condensed milk out of the tin. All the fruit, veg and fish was imported from Morocco (and I think we got what was left over after the souk at Tangier closed !).

No e-mail in those days, so communication with HQ was by telex (dear children … this was like a large weaving machine, with which you had to punch holes in a long ticker tape and then feed this into the reader to be transmitted as a series of high pitched burps through the telephone network).

At that time, Gibraltar had two communication centres : one in the middle of the Rock operated by the tri-service sneaky beakies (which we civilians were absolutely not allowed into) and the other was Ye Olde Rock, a rather shabby pub in the piazza, which I believe has now closed down.

Ye Olde Rock Gibraltar

Friday nights, in particular, were the time for the finance centre class of ’82 to meet for a warm beer and pick up all the latest gossip from the local network. I remember my good friend Robert Vasquez cutting his political teeth there and Joe Garcia, the Editor of the local newspaper, Panorama, in the corner with his notebook.

It was in Ye Olde Rock that the idea developed that the new and growing finance centre should establish a mess (a social club), so we could repay the hospitality of the Armed Forces stationed in Gibraltar. We named it “The Financial Mess”, but that’s another story!

Tim Revill: A Look Back at Gibraltar in the Early 1980’s

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