SIR Brian Burridge, the man charged with saving RAF Bentley Priory from the clutches of a private developer, is no stranger to adversity.

During a career spanning 40 years, he has conquered Mount Everest and commanded more than 43,000 personnel during the Iraq war in 2003.

Until his retirement from the Royal Air Force (RAF) last month, Sir Brian KCB CBE, was the most senior air chief in Britain,

The Observer can reveal this week the former Commander-in-Chief Headquarters Strike Command is the new chairman of The Bentley Priory Battle of Britain Trust.

The Trust was set up by Alan Curtis OBE, an associate member of The Battle of Britain Fighter Association, and includes such influential luminaries as motor racing tycoon Bernie Ecclestone and Nicholas Oppenheimer, the chairman of De Beers diamond company.

The priory played a vital part in the winning of the Second World War as the nerve centre for operations against the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain.

Members want to turn it into a teaching centre and museum and create a permanent memorial to those who served in the Royal Air Force and fought in the battle.

At the Grade II listed building on Thursday last week, Sir Brian, a father-of-two, spoke of his plans for the Trust.

He said: "The first thing I have to do is look at the feasibility of the future use of this building. I remember buildings like this coming up for sale in the 1950s and 1960s.

"Local authorities took them but found it hard to maintain them.

"There is no point in implementing something great in 2006 but which will not be sustainable in 2016."

Mr Burridge said he was looking at the position of all the key stakeholders, including the Ministry of Defence (MoD), English Heritage and Harrow Council and attempting to find a solution that would appeal to all of these interested bodies.

He said: "When I worked for the MoD, this was part of my property portfolio. Now my role is to look after the heritage aspect, particularly the aviation aspect."

Throughout the interview, he reiterated a diplomatic approach was required if the future of Bentley Priory was to be a sustainable and suitable long term one.

He said: "The Trust wants people to understand the significance of the building and its history and how important it is to the nation.

"This is the Trust's raison d'etre. There is no point in being in conflict with other organisations."

Other trustees who will aid Sir Brian include author and journalist Patrick Bishop, Air Marshal Ian Macfadyen CB OBE, former Governor of the Isle of Man, RAF Group Captain Patrick Tootal OBE and John Steel QC, an authority on planning law.

RAF Squadron Leader Erica Ferguson is an executive officer.

Sir Brian admitted if the Trust did acquire the property and turn it into a visitor attraction, it would consider charging entry fees to ensure the building could be maintained.

The 56-year-old lived and worked at the priory 10 years ago and has a vested interest in its survival.

He said: "I was the last officer commanding the 11/18 Group which had its headquarters here.

"My office was just behind this room.

"I lived in the Manor House and was here for just under two years. I know Stanmore quite well because I lived in Church Lane between 1996-98."

As a member of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, he has spent a lot of his spare time learning how to restore old buildings and he feels the priory, a national treasure steeped in wartime history, is one worthy of his attention.

While he was stationed here, he would often wander into the room where Sir Hugh Dowding worked during the Second World War, and read from the Air Marshal's wartime diaries.

The room has been preserved in its original state and Dowding's notebooks have been left out as if waiting for his return.

Sir Brian, who is married to Ellen, a British Airways captain, said: "He was an inspiration to me and is an intangible presence.

"We were both Air Marshals who commanded battles Britain was fighting. There is a natural synergy."


RAF Bentley Priory is one of a number of Ministry of Defenceowned properties in London likely to be sold by July. Project MoDel (Ministry of Defence Estates in London) aims to raise at least £200m from the sale of this and other bases in London. For many, the priory is a national wartime treasure which must not fall in private hands.


* 1170: The original priory was created as a home for Augustinian monks by Ranult de Glanville, later chief justiary of England.

* 1766: James Duberley, an army contractor, buys the priory and pulls down the original buildings to replace them with something more impressive.

* 1846: The Dowager Queen Adelaide, widow of King William IV, moves into the priory, where she dies three years later.

* 1882: The priory is converted into a residential hotel.

* 1908: The mansion becomes a girls' school, housing 70 boarders.

* 1926: The priory building is sold to the Air Ministry for £25,000.

* 1936: RAF Fighter Command moves to Bentley Priory from Uxbridge.

* 1939-44: Air Marshal Hugh Dowding directs the operations which beat the

Luftwaffe from here.

* 1979: A fire breaks out in the mansion and destroys much of the main staircase during a £1m renovation project.

* 2002: Bentley Priory is named as one of a number of RAF bases which may be sold.

* 2005: The Bentley Priory Battle of Britain Trust is formed in a bid to stave off any private developers eyeing up the property.

**2006: Powerful business figures from across the UK, including Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone, back the campaign to save the priory and join the Trust.

Campaign so far

* In September last year, the Observer revealed RAF Bentley Priory could be sold by the Ministry of Defence to raise money for redevelopments at its Northolt base.

* In October, Battle of Britain Fighter Association (BoBFA) joined the battle to save the priory and said it would like to take over the building and use it as a regular base for its 200 members.

* Later that month, the Observer had an exclusive tour of the priory.

* In November, Harrow East MP Tony McNulty joined the Observer's campaign to ensure the priory stays out of the hands of private developers.

* During the same month, members of BoBFA set up the charity The Bentley Priory Battle of Britain Trust. They hope to persuade the MoD to sell the priory to the trust and use it as a permanent memorial. They asked Observer readers to send in photos and memories of the priory.

* In December, the Observer exclusively revealed MoD officials had a meeting about the future of the priory with key stakeholders including Harrow Council and English Heritage.

* In January, Harrow's mayors, past and present, told the Observer why they backed our campaign to save the priory.

* This month, the Observer revealed Land Securities Trillium and consortium consisting of Vinci Plc and St Modwen Properties are the MoD's two shortlisted bidders.

* Meanwhile, high profile figures, including Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone, have donated funds and are backing the Save Bentley Priory campaign.

The Trust's aims

CONTAINED within the Articles of The Bentley Priory Battle of Britain Trust are the following aims:

* Acquire and maintain Bentley Priory as a centre for youth education, information and teaching of the history of the Battle of Britain and as a permanent memorial to those who served in the RAF and fought in the Battle.

* Maintain, restore, improve or reconstruct, as appropriate, the whole of the priory building, with certain areas to continue in existing use as far as practicable. These include the entrance, Officers' Mess, bars, kitchen, Ante-rooms, Dowding Room, Adelaide Room and Ladies' Room.

* To maintain and keep safe all contents within the priory building including all paintings, prints, and other artefacts there

* Look after the gardens and surrounding lands.

* To ensure the priory is accessible to the public.

* To offer all members of The Battle of Britain Fighter Association somewhere to store and display personal memorabilia.

* To provide a conference centre where issues relating to the priory, RAF history, aerospace history and aerospace technology can be discussed.

* To encourage the training of future aerospace engineers and technicians.

* To provide other facilities within the priory which will enhance, improve or extend the aforementioned activities.

* To maintain, at all times, close and permanent links with the Royal Air Force and other related Overseas Air Forces.